Conspiracy theories characterize views in Europe and on Europe
Conspiratorial narratives of internal disintegration and external threats increasingly affect the opinion of the European Union and Europe. Our confidence in society is tested in crises such as COVID-19 when various groups are singled out as the bad guys. In extreme cases, this can inspire acts of terror. Researchers from Uppsala University are among those who demonstrate this in the new book Europe: Continent of Conspiracies. Conspiracy theories in and about Europe.
“For example, we can see how the refugee crisis in 2015-2016 led to a climate of polarizing debate. Migration has been presented as a conscious attempt to wipe out nation states and European identity. Such ideas still circulate in the press and social media and are used by populist political forces, “says Andreas Önnerfors, associate professor in the Department of History at Uppsala University. He and opinion researcher André Krouwel of VU Amsterdam (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) edited the book.
The volume is the result of the European COMPACT research project on the comparative analysis of conspiracy theories, which ran from 2016 to 2020. Fifteen authors – including political scientists, media researchers, social psychologists and historians – tackle the subject in 13 chapters.
One of the scientific methods used is quantitative opinion research encompassing the views of a large number of people across Europe. The book also includes analyzes of media reports, a textual interpretation of terrorist manifestos, and investigations into how conspiracy theories were used to mobilize voter support. The researchers also took into account the results of several previous studies.
They found a clear correlation between people skeptical of European cooperation and conspiracy theory thinking. In the shadow of increasing immigration, especially in the context of the 2015 refugee crisis, populists have succeeded in exploiting people’s need to find easy answers to complex problems and identify the culprits. negative developments, write the researchers.
A chapter analyzes the British press in the context of the Brexit referendum. It shows how the blame placed on the EU and xenophobia interacted. Other examples of how conspiracy theories flourished include the Greek debt crisis, which rekindled anti-German narratives and the myth that the EU is really a continuation of the Third Reich. Some conspiratorial movements also deny the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany which led to attempts to storm the German Reichstag in Berlin during the 2020 protests against the coronavirus.
The researchers say radicalization motivated by conspiracy theories has inspired acts of terror in some cases, such as twice in Germany. In 2019, a right-wing extremist opened fire on a synagogue, and in 2020 another racially motivated person murdered 10 people in an attack on several hookah cafes.
Andreas Önnerfors discusses this in his chapter examining how the racist and xenophobic “Great Substitute” conspiracy theory may have motivated these two acts of terror. French far-right writer Renaud Camus (1946-) developed this conspiracy theory, arguing that migration to Europe should be seen as a biopolitical weapon. He claims that the European elites have allied with the invading masses to extinguish the soul and essence of the continent.
“I analyzed the German translations and popularizations of Renaud Camus’ texts. My interpretation is that they substantiated and legitimized acts of terror in Germany in 2019 and 2020. Both perpetrators left behind their own terrorist manifestos. These are deeply influenced by Semitic and Islamophobic conspiracy theories which can be directly linked to Renaud Camus’ ideas, ”says Önnerfors.
One conclusion the researchers draw is that there is a contradictory duality in the conspiratorial worldview of Europe and the EU. On the one hand, he portrays Europe and its political unity as a powerful threat that conspires against the diversity and individuality of nation states. On the other hand, he describes Europe as a weak and dying force too weak to defend against the plots created by various external enemies.
“Our book is the first to treat an entire continent as the subject of conspiracy theory. We see the risks that these narratives could undermine Europe’s political culture and lead to further fragmentation of society,” says Önnerfors .
The book: Andreas Önnerfors, André Krouwel (2021). Europe: continent of conspiracies. Conspiracy theories in and about Europe. Routledge, April 30, 2021, 282 pages, ISBN: 9780367500689.
Learn more about the comparative analysis of conspiracy theories, COMPACT: http: // www.
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