George W. Bush murdered thousands by orchestrating 9/11. Barack Obama is a Kenyan national and holds the presidency illegally. Education standards developed by state governors are part of an anti-Christian communist plot that will turn children gay. Unemployment rates and the reported numbers for Obamacare sign-ups are lies engineered by the White House. Water fluoridation doesn’t prevent cavities in children and has been adopted for a range of nefarious purposes. And on and on they go.
Conspiracy theories have been woven into the fabric of American society since before the signing of the Constitution. But what was once dismissed as the amusing ravings of the tin-foil-hat crowd has in recent years crossed a threshold, experts say, with delusions, fictions and lunacy now strangling government policies and creating national health risks. “These kinds of theories have the effect of completely distorting any rational discussion we can have in this country,’’ says Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center who recently wrote a report on the impact of what is known as the Agenda 21 conspiracy. “They are having a real impact now.”