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A recent report by the think-tank Demos has warned of the hazardous and ‘multiplying’ effects of extremist conspiracy theories upon our society, and has recommended strategies to mitigate these effects – including the infiltration of conspiracy websites.

‘The Power of Unreason’, which has analysed the literature, ideology and propaganda of over fifty extremist organisations – ranging from religious-hate groups to 9/11 conspiracy theorists – has charted how the radicalising viewpoints trotted out by such cliques has become a mainstream cultural phenomenon.

The report illustrates how these coteries develop theories through ‘cognitive dissonance‘ – by only acknowledging information which reinforces their preferred viewpoint. This psychologically-dysfunctional process builds fantastical ‘demonologies of the enemy’, while the cabal seeks to ‘deligitimise voices of dissent and moderation’ against themselves. Most worryingly, as their theories ‘drive a wedge of mistrust between governments and particular communities’, they often ‘encourage violence’ to achieve their nefarious objectives.

“It’s extremely disconcerting that people read the hate-mongering Daily Mail, or the The Times as it was calling for an invasion of Iraq to ‘defeat terror’, and do not see it as deluded propaganda,” voiced a spokesperson for the report, “especially as their presented viewpoint are often supported with little or no credible evidence.”

The flimsiness of these theories is most evident in what the report calls, ‘the notorious and influential 9/11 conspiracy’, which has become a ‘large and growing political force’. Although the FBI admits they still haven’t charged Bin Laden for 9/11 due to a lack of evidence, since 2001, dangerous conspiracy theorists in Washington and Downing Street have worked fanatically to iconify him as a ‘demon’. Firstly they fanned public hysteria and paranoia while minimising opposition voices to their warped viewpoints. They then embarked upon two extremely-unpopular wars against Bin Laden and his ‘acclaimed allies‘ – wars which have already cost millions of lives, shattered many millions more, and wasted trillions of taxpayer’s money.

7/7 theorists were also singled out for analysis: one such conspiracy website called ‘The Sun’, has prematurely asserted that the politically-timely London bombings were conclusively the work of Muslim extremists – while posing as ‘evidence’ a discredited anonymous report, and grainy photos regarded as fakes. While the most bizarre case of cognitive dissonance occurred when a contributing editor of Wired used an example of an obscure 1950s UFO-cult to back-up his Bin Laden conspiracy theories.

To counter such wild accusations, the Demos report recommends that conspiracy websites such as The BBC should be ‘openly infiltrated‘, while blogs and internet chatrooms should be hijacked to plant ‘seeds of doubt’. The report also makes recommendations to make our education system more ‘critical‘, and our government institutions more transparent – although Demos admitted that if this were to happen, we might well find themselves on the other side…

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