Anna Merlan, journalist and author, "Republic of Lies"
Air Dates: April 10-12, 2021
This week’s guest on REPORT FROM SANTA FE is Anna Merlan, journalist, and author of "Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power." "Republic of Lies…" is described by Kirkus Reviews as an "Engrossing assessment of the profitable mainstreaming of conspiracy-mongering in civic and political life."
Merlan defines “conspiracy theories” and describes the roles they have played throughout American history. She explores some of America's most popular conspiracy theories such as UFOs, aliens, 9/11, QAnon, CIA/Gov't coverups, who killed JFK and MLK, Flat Earth, birtherism, Pizzagate, white supremacy, antivaxx, Lizard people, and more. Merlan reveals the popularity of conspiracy theories on both ends of the political spectrum – there are both right-wing and left-wing conspiracy theories.
“Electoral conspiracy theories are incredibly old. They literally go back to the founding of the United States... There was so much concern about voter fraud by the 1850s that somebody filed a patent for a glass ballot box so that they could see the ballots in the box.” Merlan adds that the idea of elections being rigged or stolen has occupied Americans for pretty much as long as we have had our system of government. She points out that it is an incredibly effective way to get people angry and to get them in the streets for your candidate, which is why political candidates promote electoral conspiracy theories over and over.
Author Merlan suggests that one way to take the power and primacy away from these electoral conspiracy theories is to understand that they are done to promote an individual and that they are not being done because these folks want to save the country. It is as useful to look at the roots of where these conspiracy theories come from as it is to understand the history of how far back these theories go. “I think a lot of the folks who are really engaged in the idea that this election was stolen would be very surprised to learn that basic accusations of voter fraud are like a proud American tradition. So, understanding our history is the best way to move forward,” explains Merlan.
In her analysis of the medical conspiracy theories, Merlan suggests that we acknowledge how common medical misinformation is, but also understand the people who feed it to us are often doing it to make money. There is a huge industry of bogus and alternative cures promoted by some of the people who conspiracy theorize about things like COVID-19 or vaccines. A lot of them are selling something.
Anna Merlan is a New Mexico-born, New York/Los Angeles-based journalist, specializing in politics, crime, religion, subcultures, conspiracy theories, and women’s lives. She is currently a reporter at the Special Projects Desk of VICE. She has previously worked as a senior reporter at Jezebel, and as a staff writer at the Village Voice and the Dallas Observer. Her work has also appeared in Rolling Stone, BBC Travel, Topic, and on the op-ed page of the New York Times. She has been accused of being both a lizard person and a CIA agent, but never at the same time.