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Saturday, Apr 06 2013 10:00 PM

ROBERT PRICE: Paranoid, yes, but we've got good reason

By The Bakersfield Californian

Barack Obama is doing a miserable job as the Antichrist. His acts of overt evil haven't been nearly as blatant as one would expect of such an auspicious figure in human history. But that's what second terms are for. Now that the voters have spoken, the 44th president can really roll out his dark agenda of misery and despair. So, if you're among the 13 percent of Americans who truly believe that Obama's elevation to leader of the free world portends the End Times, there's still, er, hope.

I do not make these things up. Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina-based organization that usually confines its research to more staid topics such as political preferences and social attitudes, dove into some amusing (and frighteningly illuminating) research last week: conspiracy theories. And the verdict is in: one man's crackpot speculation is another man's certainty that the Powers That Be have our worst interests at heart.

PPP used automated telephone interviews to pose questions to 1,247 registered U.S. voters over four days, March 27-30. The results revealed the stunning depth of our national paranoia.

For example, the poll found that 28 percent of voters believe in the existence of a clandestine power elite that conspires to rule the world by way of an authoritarian global government, or New World Order. Far more Republicans (34 percent) and independents (35 percent) believe in this pseudo sci-fi threat than do Democrats (15 percent). That party-affiliation breakdown was typical: Republicans tend to believe in political bogeymen more often than Democrats.

&dcFour;That goes a long way toward explaining how some Americans can view even the most innocuous of United Nations resolutions as infringements on U.S. sovereignty. Ever hear of Resolution 1261, which addresses the travesty of using children as combat soldiers? That's just a cover for the U.N.'s real aim: usurping U.S. parents' right to raise their children as they see fit. Because, even with civil war in Syria and unrest in Mali, the U.N. cares about what time your kid goes to bed. Sigh.

Five percent believe that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was surreptitiously replaced as a Beatle by someone who looked and sang exactly like the orignal -- and just happened to also play the bass left-handed. Seven percent believe the moon landing was faked. And 51 percent say John F. Kennedy's assassination was part of a broader conspiracy. (OK, that's a possibility I might consider.)

Some alleged conspiracies had a lot of mainstream believers. Did the Bush administration intentionally deceive the public about weapons of mass destruction to stir up support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq? Forty-four percent think so. Among those who know of the Downing Street memo, which quotes British intelligence as saying "the case was thin" for an invasion, I'm guessing it's even higher.

I was surprised to see that only 29 percent believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life. Those are some vast cosmos out there, vast beyond our imagination. Perhaps some respondents visualized Klingons or David Bowie. If your definition of aliens includes single-cell soil-dwellers, however, the possibilities expand.

Some intriguing conspiracies were completely ignored by the pollsters. PPP asked no questions about the Tuck Rule game, in which the Oakland Raiders were deprived of a hard-fought 2002 playoff victory over the New England Patriots when the referees invoked an obscure rule that has since been rescinded. Neither were there questions about the Lords of Bakersfield, the shadowy, loose-knit society of powerful local men who preyed on (and were occasionally murdered by) teen boys during the '80s and early '90s.

But there were plenty of old favorites. Does the government use aircraft contrails to spray unsuspecting Americans with mind-altering chemicals? (5 percent say yes.) What about treating municipal water supplies with fluoride for the same nefarious purpose? (9 percent believe it).

Why do people believe this stuff? Maybe because there's a widespread sense of futility out there. Maybe because the world seems so complicated and the single-source news coverage so many Americans favor paints such a bleak picture of what the other side is doing to us. But people have been suspicious of and cynical about figures of authority since there were figures of authority. These days we just have more efficient ways of sharing our delusions of persecution.

Perched as I am on this side of the newsprint, I'll concede that some may view me as one of those figures. As such, I was alarmed to see the feedback on this question: "Do you believe media or the government adds secret mind-controlling technology to television broadcast signals or not?" An astounding 15 percent said they did and another 15 percent were "unsure." I'm here to tell you it's pure bunk, and if you take off your tinfoil hat and log on to Bakersfield.com, I will transmit a more complete telepathic explanation.

Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at rprice@ bakersfield.com.

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