By George Johnson
WHILE most of the world waited for news of the official investigation into the Oklahoma bombing, callers and talk show hosts on World Wide Christian Radio, the Nashville shortwave station that has become the shrill voice of the far right, had it all figured out: the Federal Building was destroyed as part of a plot by the United States Government, acting on behalf of a secret international cabal, the New World Order, whose symbol, the cold staring eye in the pyramid, mocks Americans from the back of every one dollar bill.
Within days, the bombing had been tightly woven into the sprawling conspiracy theories that have obsessed some Americans since the beginning of the Republic. The historian Richard Hofstadter coined the phrase "the paranoid style in American politics" to describe this pathological world view in which history is a Manichean struggle between the forces of light and of darkness. The conspiratorial fantasies are not simply an expression of inchoate fear. There is a shape, an architecture, to the paranoia.
Rule No. 1: The conspirators are internationalist in their sympathies. In this century the main targets of conspiracy theories have been Jews, depicted as people whose loyalty to fellow Jews makes them endemically antipatriotic, and international Communism. The United Nations is suspect, as is the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, Interpol and even the Red Cross because they supposedly place international agendas above patriotic concerns. In the 19th century, the chief conspirators were said to be the Vatican and the Freemasons. In the mind of today's political paranoiacs, which include some militia members, followers of the Liberty Lobby (the Holocaust-is-a-myth crowd) and the Ku Klux Klan, all these groups are mushed together into the New World Order, or One World Government.
The first rule is of more than academic historical interest because of Rule No. 2: In a conspiracy theory, nothing is ever discarded. Right-wing mail order bookstores still sell the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the anti-Semitic fantasy hatched in Russia a century ago. Another big seller is "Proofs of a Conspiracy, " a 1797 book reprinted by the John Birch Society, which fueled speculation that a Freemasonic group called the Order of the Illuminati plotted with the Jeffersonians to turn over the fledging United States to followers of French Enlightenment philosophy -- the 18th century equivalent of secular humanism.
This brings us to Rule No. 3: Seeming enemies are actually secret friends. As evil as the Communists, in the right-wing mind, are the Rockefellers and international bankers (often a synonym for Jews). Through the lens of the conspiracy theorists, capitalists and Communists work hand in hand.
To what end? That's Rule No. 4: The takeover by the international godless government will be ignited by the collapse of the economic system. In an elaborate decades-long check-kiting scheme since the dollar was removed from the gold standard, the Federal Reserve has been creating money out of thin air. Once the conspirators give the word, the bankers will yank out the rug from this house of cards and your money will be worthless.
As a sign that the conspirators have taken over the currency, they had printed on the back a Freemasonic symbol: the all-seeing eye of the enlightened ones perched atop the pyramid. And there, under the emblem, is their name: Novus Ordo Seclorum.
Finally, Rule No. 5: It's all spelled out in the Bible. For those with a fundamentalist bent, the New World Order or One World Government is none other than the international kingdom of the Antichrist, described in the Book of Revelation. Revelation also speaks of the "mark of the beast," a symbol of the satanic leader that will be imprinted on everyone's forehead and right hand. Fundamentalist preachers like Hal Lindsey have popularized the notion that the mark of the beast is the zebra-striped Universal Product Code, which will be tattooed on everyone by laser to increase the acuity of the panoptic big eye.
We may never know what went through the real conspirators' minds when, as investigators say, they rented a truck, packed it full of fertilizer and fuel oil, and ignited it where it would do the most harm. But if they hung out at militia meetings, or even just tuned in occasionally to WWCR, they would have been exposed to this kind of thinking, over and over and over again.
GRAPHIC: Photo: Father and son, 13, training in Michigan. (Reuters)