Friday, January 6, 2023

From UFOs to Nazi flying saucers: How conspiracy theories can foster hate


cults UFOs Nazi holocaust denial Zundel historical revisionism Toronto Ontario delusions

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have brought with it a renewed interest in UFOs in this country. UFO sightings surged early in 2020, and interest in UFO research has recently been further bolstered by the government. Last year, Canada released of 20 years of UFO documentation and began sharing related information with the American government; elected officials from several parties have encouraged further work on the matter. According to Canadian UFO researcher Chris Rutkowski, although sightings decreased as lockdowns dragged on, UFO subcultures have enjoyed a swell of public interest.

Fascination with UFOs is often entirely benign, even positive. It can be driven by some of our better angels, particularly curiosity, discovery, and wonder. As scholar Michael Barkun has pointed out, though, UFO-related cultures can also contain the “seeds of conspiracist thinking.” When curiosity is stymied, discovery derailed, and wonder denied, UFO interests can easily be twisted into conspiratorial fantasy and outright scientific rejectionism. Much of UFO culture is immersed in the murky waters of suspicion and paranoia, where an anything-goes ethos encourages engaging with heterodox sources and adjacent stigmatized subjects. It's not a coincidence that rising engagement with UFO culture in Canada has corresponded with the spread of so-called theories that, according to polling data released last June, now have millions of Canadians thinking conspiratorially.

Conspiracy theories are, it seems, like potato chips: you can’t have just one. Two of the most prominent figures in the development of UFO culture in Canada illustrate how easily the conspiracism that often accompanies UFO fascination can be exploited: Henry McKay, an Agincourt-based electrician and UFO researcher who also promoted fringe topics such as paranormal and psychic research, fell into the type of conspiratorial thought that more malevolent figures in the community, like the infamous neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, sought to prey on. Zundel’s engagements with UFO culture were grounded in the assumption that people who already believed in one such theory could be susceptible to further radicalization and in the knowledge that figures like McKay were already in conspiratorial headspaces.  (more...)

From UFOs to Nazi flying saucers: How conspiracy theories can foster hate

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