The Atlantic

Conspiracy Without the Theory

Trump’s claims of rigged elections and witch hunts aren’t “conspiracy theories”—they’re bare assertions.
Source: Joshua Roberts / Reuters

When swirling charges of rigged elections, witch hunts, and a coup plotted by the “deep state” are referred to as “conspiracy theory,” this is not just a misnomer but a misunderstanding, one with consequences. Conspiracy and theory have been decoupled; we face the distinctively malignant phenomenon of conspiracy without the theory. Like all conspiracism, it rests on the certainty that things are not as they seem, but conspiracy without the theory dispenses with the burden of explanation. We see no insistent demand for proof, no exhaustive amassing of evidence, no dots revealed to form a pattern, no close examination of the operators plotting in the shadows. Instead, we get innuendo: Some government agency “has an agenda.” Or it takes the form. Or, most often, conspiracy without the theory is bare assertion, “rigged!”—a one-word

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