The “New World Order” (NWO) — the idea that there’s some sort of elite cabal that rules the world from the shadows — is one of those classic conspiracy theory tropes that almost everyone has heard of. The “Deep State” is a newer term that many didn’t become acquainted with until the Donald Trump presidential era, and while it seems somewhat similar, the alleged cabal is more limited in scope, supposedly focusing on controlling domestic politics within the United States more than ruling the entire world.
Both the NWO and the Deep State are alluded to in issue #12 of The Department of Truth, where Hawk Harrison, a jaded U.S. government agent, decides to give the young protagonist Cole Turner an impromptu history lesson. He starts talking about the social chaos of the 1970s — the Weather Underground bombings, the disastrous end of the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal and Richard Nixon’s impeachment, news reports of cults and serial killers, and persistent rumors that a government conspiracy killed John F. Kennedy and pinned it on Lee Harvey Oswald. All this destroyed many Americans’ trust in institutions, and created the perfect environment for the rise of anti-government conspiracy theories.
While the election of Ronald Reagan gave moderate Americans some hope that it was “morning in America” again, Hawk says the militias didn’t buy it, and when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but the military-industrial complex just kept chugging along, “they got worried that George Bush Sr. and his CIA cronies, and then the Clintons with their international free trade deals and government healthcare programs, were planning on secretly handing over American sovereignty to the United Nations as part of the New World Order.”
Most historians who’ve studied the American militia movement would agree that it dates back to the 1970s and it flared up in the ’90s, as Hawk said, but if we want to find the origins of the conspiracy theories about the “New World Order,” we’ll have to go several decades further back.
The phrase “New World Order” appears to have been first used by President Woodrow Wilson shortly after World War I, in his advocacy for the League of Nations and principles like self-determination, collective security, and free trade, which he hoped could prevent future world wars if they were widely adopted. However, the U.S. Senate rejected membership in the League of Nations, and the term fell from use when it became clear the League was not living up to expectations.
The term “new world order” was seen very little in the immediate period after World War II, although the phrase was used by some in retrospect when assessing the creation of the post-World War II set of international institutions, including the United Nations, NATO, the Bretton Woods system, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Marshall Plan.
During the Red Scare of the 1950s, agitators of the American political right, influenced by Canadian conspiracy theorist William Guy Carr’s books Pawns in the Game and Red Fog over America, increasingly embraced and spread fears of Freemasons and Jews as the alleged driving forces behind an “International Communist Conspiracy.” The Red Scare came to shape one of the core ideas of the political right in the United States, that communist infiltration was pervasive in America, and that by advocating for social welfare programs and involvement in international institutions, both New Deal Democrats & Rockefeller Republicans were contributing to a gradual process of collectivism that would inevitably lead to a communist one-world government.
As it turned out, books about the NWO survived the end of the Red Scare and proved incredibly durable. A whole cottage industry arose on the far right, where writers would start with some of the older conspiracy theories that previous authors had covered, and then add some new elements of their own, almost like fan fiction based in a “shared universe.” In 1966, Mary M. Davison wrote The Profound Revolution, which traced the alleged NWO conspiracy to the establishment of the U.S. Federal Reserve in 1913 by international bankers, who she claimed later formed the Council on Foreign Relations in 1921 as a shadow government.
Then, in 1970, the former FBI employee W. Cleon Skousen took the communist plots he described in his 1958 book The Naked Communist and expanded them in The Naked Capitalist, to encompass virtually all of the major players in American banking and industry. Skousen’s book was a major influence on G. Edward Griffin’s documentary film The Capitalist Conspiracy: An Inside View of International Banking, which connected the NWO with the Federal Reserve.
After the fall of communism in the early 1990s, the main target of the American paleoconservatives shifted from “crypto-communists” to “globalists” plotting on behalf of the NWO. American televangelist Pat Robertson, with his 1991 best-selling book The New World Order, popularized a belief among the religious right that Wall Street, the Federal Reserve, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group, and the Trilateral Commission together control the flow of events from behind the scenes, nudging politics covertly in the direction of world government for the Antichrist.
It’s important to keep in mind that many of the elements of the supposed NWO cabal — like the United Nations and its auxiliary bodies like the IMF and World Bank — are real enough, as are foreign policy think tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderbergers and the Trilateral Commission. It’s also important to point out that we can have totally normal debates about whether specific actions these groups have taken or policies they’ve recommended have been beneficial or harmful, all without assuming it’s as malevolent and as centrally controlled as conspiracy theorists tend to imagine.
One of the best conceptual tools for evaluating any particular conspiracy theory is Hanlon’s Razor, which states “never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence.” And once you broaden your view from the handful of organizations that conspiracy theorists tend to focus on to all of the various international organizations and foreign policy think tanks, you realize how decision-making emerges from a vast, decentralized network of competing executives and power brokers and their advisors, each with their own motivations that only occasionally align with each other.
Much the same can be said for the elements of the so-called “Deep State.” The modern concept of a deep state is associated with Turkey and the role its top military officers play in its government behind the scenes, but the term came to be applied to the United States around 2016 as a synonym for the “swamp” in Washington, D.C., that Donald Trump kept promising he would “drain” if he became president.
This stuff about a “deep state” isn’t completely fictitious. Way back in President Eisenhower’s farewell address in 1961, Americans had heard about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex” wielding undue influence over our foreign policy, and of course the “deep state” could be taken to mean the top brass in the American military, as well as the top ranking officials in the intelligence agencies and the federal bureaucracy, who are unelected and whose tenure often overlaps from one presidential administration to the next. There are completely rational critiques of the power that these people wield and the policies they advocate, without invoking allegations of occult practices or child sex trafficking, a la “Pizzagate”.
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