September 16, 2023 | RNZ

Julia Ebner on the ‘conspiracy mentality’: How it starts and how it evolves

ISD Senior Resident Research Fellow Julia Ebner spoke to Radio New Zealand about the mainstreaming of extremist ideas and conspiracy mentalities, and why they are a sign that Enlightenment values are being eroded.

Julia explained how those who adopt one conspiracy theory are likely to fall into a multi-conspiratorial mindset: “There are a few studies now that have shown that something like a conspiracy mentality exists. […] Sometimes people started to believe in one conspiracy myth and then adopt more and more, because they already have such deep distrust in the established institutions, including political institutions, but also the media, and science even.”

However, Julia highlights how sole distrust of institutions is not inherently extremist either: “What we call extremist, at least at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue where I work, is once people start adopting some kind of a dehumanising or supremacist worldview, where they believe that there’s an outgroup and that outgroup is strongly demonised, dehumanised, and the ingroup is seen as superior to that outgroup […] So, very often, you see when antisemitic layers are added to a conspiracy myth, that’s usually when it when it becomes dangerous, or when you have other minority communities being systematically demonised.”

She explains the four key factors that have led to the mainstreaming of extremism are 1) crisis grievances, 2) technological amplification, 3) celebrity endorsement, and 4) political legitimization.

“British politicians have used dog whistles such as ‘invasion’ when speaking about migration or cultural Marxism, which is very much tied to antisemitic conspiracy myths.”

“And I think in times like these, it is important to take a closer look at the phenomena that are driving this. And it is very true that it’s also necessary to look at the root causes and people do have legitimate frustrations and […] legitimate grievances against politics and against the institutions, but it is I think it is important to continue understanding why.”