As a conspiracy theory, the term New World Order or NWO refers to the emergence of a totalitarian one-world government.
The common theme in conspiracy theories about a New World Order is that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government—which replaces sovereign nation-states—and an all-encompassing propaganda that ideologizes its establishment as the culmination of history's progress. Significant occurrences in politics and finance are speculated to be orchestrated by an unduly influential cabal operating through many front organizations. Numerous historical and current events are seen as steps in an on-going plot to achieve world domination through secret political gatherings and decision-making processes.
Prior to the early 1990s, New World Order conspiracism was limited to two American countercultures, primarily the militantly anti-government right, and secondarily fundamentalist Christians concerned with end-time emergence of the Antichrist. Skeptics, such as Michael Barkun and Chip Berlet, have observed that right-wing populist conspiracy theories about a New World Order have now not only been embraced by many seekers of stigmatized knowledge but have seeped into popular culture, thereby inaugurating an unrivaled period of people actively preparing for apocalyptic millenarian scenarios in the United States of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. These political scientists are concerned that this mass hysteria could have what they judge to be devastating effects on American political life, ranging from widespread political alienation to escalating lone-wolf terrorism.
History of the term
During the 20th century, many statesmen, such as Woodrow Wilson and Winston Churchill, used the term "new world order" to refer to a new period of history evidencing a dramatic change in world political thought and the balance of power after World War I and World War II. They all saw these periods as opportunities to implement idealistic proposals for global governance in the sense of new collective efforts to address worldwide problems that go beyond the capacity of individual nation-states to solve, while always respecting the right of nations to self-determination. These proposals led to the creation of international organizations, such as the United Nations and NATO, and international regimes, such as the Bretton Woods system and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which were calculated both to maintain a balance of power in favor of the United States as well as regularize cooperation between nations, in order to achieve a peaceful phase of capitalism. These creations in particular and liberal internationalism in general, however, would always be criticized and opposed by American ultraconservative business nationalists from the 1930s on.
Progressives welcomed these new international organizations and regimes in the aftermath of the two World Wars, but argued they suffered from a democratic deficit and therefore were inadequate to not only prevent another global war but also foster global justice. The United Nations was designed in 1945 by U.S. bankers and State Department planners, and was always intended to remain a free association of sovereign nation-states, not a transition to democratic world government. Thus, activists around the globe formed a world federalist movement hoping in vain to create a "real" new world order.
British writer and futurist H. G. Wells would go further than progressives in the 1940s by appropriating and redefining the term "new world order" as a synonym for the establishment of a technocratic world state and planned economy. Despite the popularity of his ideas in some state socialist circles, Wells failed to exert a deeper and more lasting influence because he was unable to concentrate his energies on a direct appeal to intelligentsias who would, ultimately, have to coordinate a Wellsian new world order.
During the Red Scare of 1947–1957, agitators of the American secular and Christian right, influenced by the work of Canadian conspiracy theorist William Guy Carr, increasingly embraced and spread unfounded fears of Freemasons, Illuminati, and Jews being the driving force behind an "international communist conspiracy". The threat of "Godless communism" in the form of a state atheistic and bureaucratic collectivist world government, demonized as a "Red Menace", therefore became the main focus of apocalyptic millenarian conspiracism. The Red Scare would shape one of the core ideas of the political right in the United States which is that liberals and progressives with their welfare-state policies and international cooperation programs such as foreign aid supposedly contribute to a gradual process of collectivism that will inevitably lead to nations being replaced with a communist one-world government.
Right-wing populist advocacy groups with a producerist worldview, such as the John Birch Society, disseminated a multitude of conspiracy theories in the 1960s claiming that the governments of both the United States and the Soviet Union were controlled by a cabal of corporate internationalists, greedy bankers and corrupt politicians intent on using the United Nations as the vehicle to create the "One World Government". This right-wing anti-globalist conspiracism would fuel the Bircher campaign for U.S. withdrawal from the U.N.. American writer Mary M. Davison, in her 1966 booklet The Profound Revolution, traced the alleged New World Order conspiracy to the creation of the U.S. Federal Reserve System in 1913 by international bankers, who she claimed later formed the Council on Foreign Relations in 1921 as the shadow government. At the time the booklet was published, "international bankers" would have been interpreted by many readers as a reference to a postulated "international Jewish banking conspiracy" masterminded by the Rothschilds.
Claiming that the term "New World Order" is used by a secretive elite dedicated to the destruction of all national sovereignties, American writer Gary Allen, in his 1971 book None Dare Call It Conspiracy, 1974 book Rockefeller: Campaigning for the New World Order and 1987 book Say "No!" to the New World Order, articulated the anti-globalist theme of much current right-wing populist conspiracism in the U.S.. Thus, after the fall of communism in the early 1990s, the main demonized scapegoat of the American far right shifted seamlessly from crypto-communists who plotted on behalf of the Red Menace to globalists who plot on behalf of the New World Order. The relatively painless nature of the shift was due to growing right-wing populist opposition to corporate internationalism but also in part to the basic underlying apocalyptic millenarian paradigm, which fed the Cold War and the witch-hunts of the McCarthy period.
In his 11 September 1990 Toward a New World Order speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, President George H. W. Bush described his objectives for post-Cold-War global governance in cooperation with post-Soviet states:
Until now, the world we’ve known has been a world divided—a world of barbed wire and concrete block, conflict and cold war. Now, we can see a new world coming into view. A world in which there is the very real prospect of a new world order. In the words of Winston Churchill, a "world order" in which "the principles of justice and fair play ... protect the weak against the strong ..." A world where the United Nations, freed from cold war stalemate, is poised to fulfill the historic vision of its founders. A world in which freedom and respect for human rights find a home among all nations.
The New York Times observed that progressives were denouncing this new world order as a rationalization for American imperial ambitions in the Middle East, while conservatives rejected new security arrangements altogether and fulminated about any possibility of U.N. revival. However, Chip Berlet, an American investigative reporter specializing in the study of right-wing movements in the U.S., writes:
When President Bush announced his new foreign policy would help build a New World Order, his phrasing surged through the Christian and secular hard right like an electric shock, since the phrase had been used to represent the dreaded collectivist One World Government for decades. Some Christians saw Bush as signaling the End Times betrayal by a world leader. Secular anticommunists saw a bold attempt to smash US sovereignty and impose a tyrannical collectivist system run by the United Nations.
American televangelist Pat Robertson with his 1991 best-selling book The New World Order became the most prominent Christian popularizer of conspiracy theories about recent American history as a theater in which Wall Street, the Federal Reserve System, Council on Foreign Relations, Bilderberg Group, and Trilateral Commission control the flow of events from behind the scenes, nudging us constantly and covertly in the direction of world government for the Antichrist.
Observers note that the galvanization of right-wing populist conspiracy theorists, such as Linda Thompson, Mark Koernke and Robert K. Spear, into militancy led to the rise of the militia movement, which spread its anti-government ideology through speeches at rallies and meetings, through books and videotapes sold at gun shows, through shortwave and satellite radio, and through fax networks and computer bulletin boards. However, overnight AM radio shows and viral propaganda on the Internet is what most effectively contributed to their extremist political ideas about the New World Order finding their way into the previously apolitical literature of many Kennedy assassinologists, ufologists, lost land theorists, and, most recently, occultists. The worldwide appeal of these subcultures then transmitted New World Order conspiracism like a "mind virus" to a large new audience of seekers of stigmatized knowledge from the mid-1990s on. Hollywood conspiracy-thriller televisions shows and films also played a role in introducing a vast popular audience to various fringe theories related to New World Order conspiracism (black helicopter, FEMA “concentration camps”, etc.), which were previously confined to radical right-wing subcultures for decades. The 1993-2002 television series X-Files, the 1997 film Conspiracy Theory and the 1998 film The X-Files: Fight the Future are often cited as notable examples.
Following the start of the 21st century, specifically during the late-2000s financial crisis, many politicians and pundits, such as Gordon Brown, and Henry Kissinger, used the term "new world order" in their advocacy for a comprehensive reform of the global financial system and their calls for a "New Bretton Woods", which takes into account emerging markets such as China and India. These declarations had the unintended consequence of providing fresh fodder for New World Order conspiracism, and culminated in talk show host Sean Hannity stating on his Fox News Channel program Hannity that "conspiracy theorists were right". Fox News in general, and its opinion show Glenn Beck in particular, have been repeatedly criticized by progressive media watchdog groups for not only mainstreaming the New World Order conspiracy theories of the radical right but possibly agitating its lone wolves into action.
American film directors Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel released New World Order in 2009, a critically acclaimed documentary film which explores the world of conspiracy theorists, such as American radio host Alex Jones, who are committed to exposing and vigorously opposing what they perceive to be an emerging New World Order. The growing dissemination and popularity of conspiracy theories has created an alliance between right-wing populist agitators, such as Alex Jones, and hip hop music’s left-wing populist rappers, such as KRS-One, Professor Griff of Public Enemy, and Immortal Technique, which illustrates how anti-elitist conspiracism creates unlikely political allies in efforts to oppose the political system.
There are numerous systemic conspiracy theories through which the concept of a New World Order is viewed. The following is a list of the major ones in relatively chronological order:
Since the 19th century, many apocalyptic millennial Christian eschatologists, starting with John Nelson Darby, have feared a globalist conspiracy to impose a tyrannical New World Order as the fulfillment of prophecies about the "end time" in the Bible, specifically in the Book of Ezekiel, the Book of Daniel, the Olivet discourse found in the Synoptic Gospels, and the Book of Revelation. They claim that people who have made a deal with the Devil to gain wealth and power have become pawns in a supernatural chess game to move humanity into accepting a utopian world government, which rests on the spiritual foundations of a syncretic-messianic world religion, that will later reveal itself to be a dystopian world empire, which imposes the imperial cult of an “Unholy Trinity” — Satan, the Antichrist and the False Prophet. In many contemporary Christian conspiracy theories, the False Prophet will either be the last pope of the Catholic Church (groomed and installed by an Alta Vendita or Jesuit conspiracy) or a guru from the New Age movement or even the leader of an elite fundamentalist Christian organization like the Fellowship, while the Antichrist will either be the president of the European Union or the secretary-general of the United Nations or even the caliph of a pan-Islamic state.
Some of the most vocal critics of end-time conspiracy theories come from within Christianity. In 1993, historian Bruce Barron wrote a stern rebuke of apocalyptic Christian conspiracism in the Christian Research Journal, when reviewing Robertson's 1991 book The New World Order. Another critique can be found in historian Gregory S. Camp's 1997 book Selling Fear: Conspiracy Theories and End-Times Paranoia. Religious studies scholar Richard T. Hughes argues that "New World Order" rhetoric libels the Christian faith since the "New World Order", as defined by Christian conspiracy theorists, has no basis in the Bible whatsoever and that, in fact, this idea is not only unbiblical; it is anti-biblical and fundamentally anti-Christian because, by misinterpreting key passages in the Book of Revelation, it turns a comforting message about the coming kingdom of God into one of fear, panic and despair in the face of an allegedly approaching one-world government. Progressive Christians, such as preacher-theologian Peter J. Gomes, caution Christian fundamentalists that a "spirit of fear" can distort scripture and history by dangerously combining biblical literalism, apocalyptic timetables, demonization, and oppressive prejudices; while Camp warns of the "very real danger that Christians could pick up some extra spiritual baggage" by credulously embracing conspiracy theories. They therefore call on Christians who indulge in conspiracism to repent.
Freemasonry is one of the world's oldest secular fraternal organizations, which arose in late 16th- to early 17th-century Britain. Over the years a number of allegations and conspiracy theories have been directed towards Freemasonry, including the allegation that Freemasons have a hidden political agenda and are conspiring to bring about a New World Order, a world government organized according to Masonic principles and/or governed only by Freemasons.
The esoteric nature of Masonic symbolism and rites led to Freemasons being first accused of secretly practicing Satanism in the late 18th century. The original allegation of a conspiracy within Freemasonry to subvert religions and governments in order to take over the world traces back to Scottish author John Robison, whose reactionary conspiracy theories crossed the Atlantic, and during the 19th century influenced outbreaks of Protestant anti-Masonry in the United States. In the 1890s, French writer Léo Taxil wrote a series of pamphlets and books, denouncing Freemasonry, charging their lodges with worshiping Lucifer as the Supreme Being. Despite the fact that Taxil admitted that his claims were all a hoax, they were and are believed and repeated by numerous conspiracy theorists, and had a huge influence on subsequent anti-Masonic claims about Freemasonry.
Some conspiracy theorists eventually speculated that some of the Founding Fathers of the United States, such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, of having Masonic sacred geometric designs interwoven into American society, particularly in the Great Seal of the United States, the United States one-dollar bill, the architecture of National Mall landmarks, and the streets and highways of Washington, D.C., as part of a master plan. Accordingly, colonial American Freemasons are portrayed as having embraced Bavarian Illuminism and used the power of the occult to bind their planning of a government in conformity with the plan of the "Masonic God" because of their belief that the "Great Architect of the Universe" has given the United States the task of eventually establishing the "Kingdom of God on Earth" — a Masonic world government with New Jerusalem as its capital city and the Third Temple as its holiest site — the initially utopian New World Order presided over by a Masonic Messiah.
Freemasons rebut these claims of Masonic conspiracy. Freemasonry, which promotes rationalism, places no power in occult symbols themselves, and it is not a part of its principles to view the drawing of symbols, no matter how large, as an act of consolidating or controlling power. Furthermore, there is no published information establishing the Masonic membership of the men responsible for the design of the Great Seal. The Latin phrase "novus ordo seclorum", appearing on the reverse side of the Great Seal since 1782 and on the back of the one-dollar bill since 1935, translates to "New Order of the Ages" and alludes to the beginning of an era where the United States of America is an independent nation-state; it is often mistranslated by conspiracy theorists as "New World Order".. Lastly, Freemasons argue that, despite the symbolic importance of the Temple of Solomon in their mythology, they have no interest in rebuilding it, especially since "it is obvious that any attempt to interfere with the present condition of things [on the Temple Mount] would in all probability bring about the greatest religious war the world has ever known".
Although the European continental branch of Freemasonry has organizations that allow political discussion within their Masonic Lodges and a few operate as active political lobbies for secularist causes, as exemplified by the Grand Orient of France, Masonic researcher Trevor W. McKeown argues:
The accusation that Freemasonry has a hidden agenda to establish a Masonic government ignores several facts. While agreeing on certain Masonic Landmarks, the many independent and sovereign Grand Lodges act as such, and do not agree on many other points of belief and practice. Also, as can be seen from a survey of famous Freemasons, individual Freemasons hold beliefs that span the spectrum of politics. The term "Masonic government" has no meaning since individual Freemasons hold many different opinions on what constitutes a good government.
The Order of the Illuminati was an Enlightenment-age secret society founded by university professor Adam Weishaupt on 1 May 1776, in Upper Bavaria, Germany. The movement consisted of advocates of freethought, secularism, liberalism, republicanism and gender equality, recruited in the German Masonic Lodges, who sought to teach rationalism through mystery schools. In 1785, the order was infiltrated, broken up and suppressed by the government agents of Charles Theodore, Elector of Bavaria, in his preemptive campaign to neutralize the threat of secret societies ever becoming hotbeds of conspiracies to overthrow the Bavarian monarchy and its state religion, Roman Catholicism.
In the late 18th century, reactionary conspiracy theorists, such as Scottish physicist John Robison and French Jesuit priest Augustin Barruel, began speculating that the Illuminati survived their suppression and became the masterminds behind the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. The Illuminati were accused of being subversives who were attempting to secretly orchestrate a revolutionary wave in Europe and the rest of the world in order to spread the most radical ideas and movements of the Enlightenment — anti-clericalism, anti-monarchism, and anti-patriarchalism — and create a world noocracy and cult of reason. During the 19th century, fear of an Illuminati conspiracy was a real concern of European ruling classes, and their oppressive reactions to this unfounded fear provoked in 1848 the very revolutions they sought to prevent.
During the interwar period of the 20th century, fascist propagandists, such as British revisionist historian Nesta Helen Webster and American socialite Edith Starr Miller, not only popularized the myth of an Illuminati conspiracy but claimed that it was a subversive secret society which serves the Jewish elites that supposedly propped up both finance capitalism and Soviet communism in order to divide and rule the world. American evangelist Gerald Burton Winrod and other conspiracy theorists within the fundamentalist Christian movement in the United States — which emerged in the 1910s as a backlash against the principles of Enlightenment secular humanism, modernism, and liberalism — became the main channel of dissemination of Illuminati conspiracy theories in the U.S. Right-wing populists, such as members of the John Birch Society, subsequently began speculating that some collegiate fraternities (Skull and Bones), gentlemen's clubs (Bohemian Club) and think tanks (Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateral Commission) of the American upper class are front organizations of the Illuminati, which they accuse of plotting to create a New World Order through a one-world government.
Skeptics argue that evidence would suggest that the Bavarian Illuminati was nothing more than a curious historical footnote since there is no evidence that the Illuminati survived its suppression in 1785.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an antisemitic canard, originally published in Russian in 1903, alleging a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy to achieve world domination. The text purports to be the minutes of the secret meetings of a cabal of Jewish masterminds, which has coopted Freemasonry and is plotting to rule the world on behalf of all Jews because they believe themselves to be the chosen people of God. The Protocols incorporate many of the core conspiracist themes outlined in the Robison and Barruel attacks on the Freemasons, and overlay them with antisemitic allegations about anti-Tsarist movements in Russia. The Protocols reflect themes similar to more general critiques of Enlightenment liberalism by conservative aristocrats who support monarchies and state religions. The interpretation intended by the publication of The Protocols is that if one peels away the layers of the Masonic conspiracy, past the Illuminati, one finds the rotten Jewish core.
Multiple polemicists, such as Irish journalist Philip Graves in a 1921 The Times article, and British academic Norman Cohn in his 1967 book Warrant for Genocide, have proven The Protocols to be both a hoax and a clear case of plagiarism. There is general agreement that Russian-French writer and political activist Matvei Golovinski fabricated the text for Okhrana, the secret police of the Russian Empire, as a work of counter-revolutionary propaganda prior to the 1905 Russian Revolution, by plagiarizing it, almost word for word in some passages, from The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, a 19th century satire against Napoleon III of France written by French political satirist and Legitimist militant Maurice Joly.
Responsible for feeding many antisemitic and anti-Masonic mass hysterias of the 20th century, The Protocols has been influential in the development of some conspiracy theories, including some New World Order theories, and appears repeatedly in certain contemporary conspiracy literature. For example, the authors of the 1982 controversial book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail concluded that The Protocols was the most persuasive piece of evidence for the existence and activities of the Priory of Sion. They speculated that this secret society was working behind the scenes to establish a theocratic "United States of Europe". Politically and religiously unified through the imperial cult of a Merovingian Great Monarch — supposedly descended from a Jesus bloodline — who occupies both the throne of Europe and the Holy See, this "Holy European Empire" would become the hyperpower of the 21st century. Although the Priory of Sion, itself, has been exhaustively debunked by journalists and scholars as a hoax, some apocalyptic millenarian Christian eschatologists who believe The Protocols is authentic became convinced that the Priory of Sion was a fulfillment of prophecies found in the Book of Revelation and further proof of an anti-Christian conspiracy of epic proportions signaling the imminence of a New World Order.
Skeptics argue that the current gambit of contemporary conspiracy theorists who use The Protocols is to claim that they "really" come from some group other than the Jews such as fallen angels or alien invaders. Although it is hard to determine whether the conspiracy-minded actually believe this or are simply trying to sanitize a discredited text, skeptics argue that it doesn't make much difference, since they leave the actual, antisemitic text unchanged. The result is to give The Protocols credibility and circulation when it deserves neither.
During the second half of Britain's "imperial century" between 1815 and 1914, English-born South African businessman, mining magnate, and politician Cecil Rhodes advocated the British Empire reannexing the United States of America and reforming itself into an "Imperial Federation" to bring about a hyperpower and lasting world peace. In his first will, of 1877, written at the age of 23, he expressed his wish to fund a secret society (known as the Society of the Elect) that would advance this goal:
To and for the establishment, promotion and development of a Secret Society, the true aim and object whereof shall be for the extension of British rule throughout the world, the perfecting of a system of emigration from the United Kingdom, and of colonisation by British subjects of all lands where the means of livelihood are attainable by energy, labour and enterprise, and especially the occupation by British settlers of the entire Continent of Africa, the Holy Land, the Valley of the Euphrates, the Islands of Cyprus and Candia, the whole of South America, the Islands of the Pacific not heretofore possessed by Great Britain, the whole of the Malay Archipelago, the seaboard of China and Japan, the ultimate recovery of the United States of America as an integral part of the British Empire, the inauguration of a system of Colonial representation in the Imperial Parliament which may tend to weld together the disjointed members of the Empire and, finally, the foundation of so great a Power as to render wars impossible, and promote the best interests of humanity.
In his later wills, a more mature Rhodes abandoned the idea and instead concentrated on what became the Rhodes Scholarship, which had British statesman Alfred Milner as one of its trustees. Established in 1902, the original goal of the trust fund was to foster peace among the great powers by creating a sense of fraternity and a shared world view among future British, American, and German leaders by having enabled them to study for free at the University of Oxford.
Milner and British official Lionel George Curtis were the architects of the Round Table movement, a network of organizations promoting closer union between Britain and its self-governing colonies. To this end, Curtis founded the Royal Institute of International Affairs in June 1919 and, with his 1938 book The Commonwealth of God, began advocating for the creation of an imperial federation that eventually reannexes the U.S., which would be presented to Protestant churches as being the work of the Christian God to elicit their support. The Commonwealth of Nations was created in 1949 but it would only be a free association of independent states rather than the powerful imperial federation imagined by Rhodes, Milner and Curtis.
The Council on Foreign Relations began in 1917 with a group of New York academics who were asked by President Woodrow Wilson to offer options for the foreign policy of the United States in the interwar period. Originally envisioned as a group of American and British scholars and diplomats, some of whom belonging to the Round Table movement, it was a subsequent group of 108 New York financiers, manufacturers and international lawyers organized in June 1918 by Nobel Peace Prize recipient and U.S. secretary of state, Elihu Root, that became the Council on Foreign Relations on 29 July 1921. The first of the council’s projects was a quarterly journal launched in September 1922, called Foreign Affairs. The Trilateral Commission was founded in July 1973, at the initiative of American banker David Rockefeller, who was chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations at that time. It is a private organization established to foster closer cooperation among the United States, Europe and Japan. The Trilateral Commission is widely seen as a counterpart to the Council on Foreign Relations.
In the 1960s, right-wing populist individuals and groups with a producerist worldview, such as members of the John Birch Society, were the first to combine and spread an ultraconservative business nationalist critique of corporate internationalists networked through think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations with a grand conspiracy theory casting them as front organizations for the Round Table of the "Anglo-American Establishment", which are financed by an "international banking cabal" that has supposedly been plotting from the late 19th century on to impose an oligarchic new world order through a global financial system. Anti-globalist conspiracy theorists therefore fear that international bankers are planning to eventually subvert the independence of the U.S. by subordinating national sovereignty to a strengthened Bank for International Settlements.
The research findings of historian Carroll Quigley, author of the 1966 book Tragedy and Hope, are taken by both conspiracy theorists of the American Old Right (Cleon Skousen) and New Left (Carl Oglesby) to substantiate this view, even though he argued that the Establishment is not involved in a plot to implement a one-world government but rather British and American benevolent imperialism driven by the mutual interests of economic elites in the United Kingdom and the United States. Quigley also argued that, although the Round Table still exists today, its position in influencing the policies of world leaders has been much reduced from its heyday during World War I and slowly waned after the end of World War II and the Suez Crisis. Today the Round Table is largely a ginger group, designed to consider and gradually influence the policies of the Commonwealth of Nations, but faces strong opposition. Furthermore, in American society after 1965, the problem, according to Quigley, was that no elite was in charge and acting responsibly.
Larry McDonald, the 2nd president of the John Birch Society and a conservative Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives who represented the 7th congressional district of Georgia, wrote a foreword for Allen's 1976 book The Rockefeller File, wherein he stated:
The drive of the Rockefellers and their allies is to create a one-world government, combining super-capitalism and Communism under the same tent, all under their control ... Do I mean conspiracy? Yes I do. I am convinced there is such a plot, international in scope, generations old in planning, and incredibly evil in intent.
In his 2002 autobiography Memoirs, Rockefeller wrote:
For more than a century ideological extremists at either end of the political spectrum have seized upon well-publicized incidents ... to attack the Rockefeller family for the inordinate influence they claim we wield over American political and economic institutions. Some even believe we are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as 'internationalists' and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure—one world, if you will. If that's the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of it.
Barkun argues that this statement is partly facetious (the claim of "conspiracy" and "treason") and partly serious — the desire to encourage trilateral cooperation among the U.S., Europe, and Japan, for example — an ideal that used to be a hallmark of the internationalist wing of the Republican Party — known as "Rockefeller Republicans" in honor of Nelson Rockefeller — when there was an internationalist wing. The statement, however, is taken at face value and widely cited by conspiracy theorists as proof that the Council on Foreign Relations uses its role as the brain trust of American presidents, senators and representatives to manipulate them into supporting a New World Order in the form of a one-world government.
In a 13 November 2007 interview with Canadian journalist Benjamin Fulford, Rockefeller countered:
I don't think that I really feel that we need a world government. We need governments of the world that work together and collaborate. But, I can't imagine that there would be any likelihood or even that it would be desirable to have a single government elected by the people of the world ... There have been people, ever since I've had any kind of position in the world, who have accused me of being ruler of the world. I have to say that I think for the large part, I would have to decide to describe them as crackpots. It makes no sense whatsoever, and isn't true, and won't be true, and to raise it as a serious issue seems to me to be irresponsible.
Some American social critics, such as Laurence H. Shoup, argue that the Council on Foreign Relations is an "imperial brain trust", which has, for decades, played a central behind-the-scenes role in shaping U.S. foreign policy choices for the post-WWII international order and the Cold War, by determining what options show up on the agenda and what options do not even make it to the table; while others, such as G. William Domhoff, argue that it is in fact a mere policy discussion forum, which provides the business input to U.S. foreign policy planning. The latter argue that it has nearly 3,000 members, far too many for secret plans to be kept within the group; all the council does is sponsor discussion groups, debates and speakers; and as far as being secretive, it issues annual reports and allows access to its historical archives. However, all these critics agree that historical studies of the council show that it has a very different role in the overall power structure than what is claimed by conspiracy theorists.
The Open Conspiracy
In his 1928 book The Open Conspiracy British writer and futurist H. G. Wells promoted cosmopolitanism and offered blueprints for a world revolution and world brain to establish a technocratic world state and planned economy. Wells warned, however, in his 1940 book The New World Order that:
... when the struggle seems to be drifting definitely towards a world social democracy, there may still be very great delays and disappointments before it becomes an efficient and beneficent world system. Countless people ... will hate the new world order, be rendered unhappy by the frustration of their passions and ambitions through its advent and will die protesting against it. When we attempt to evaluate its promise, we have to bear in mind the distress of a generation or so of malcontents, many of them quite gallant and graceful-looking people.
Wells' books were influential in giving a second meaning to the term "new world order", which would only be used by both state socialist supporters and anti-communist opponents for generations to come. However, despite the popularity and notoriety of his ideas, Wells failed to exert a deeper and more lasting influence because he was unable to concentrate his energies on a direct appeal to intelligentsias who would, ultimately, have to coordinate the Wellsian new world order.
British neo-Theosophical occultist Alice Bailey, one of the founders of the so-called New Age movement, prophesied in 1940 the eventual victory of the Allies of World War II over the Axis powers (which occurred in 1945) and the establishment by the Allies of a political and religious New World Order. She saw a federal world government as the culmination of Wells' Open Conspiracy but favorably argued that it would be synarchist because it was guided by the Masters of the Ancient Wisdom, intent on preparing humanity for the mystical second coming of Christ, and the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. According to Bailey, a group of ascended masters called the Great White Brotherhood works on the "inner planes" to oversee the transition to the New World Order but, for now, the members of this Spiritual Hierarchy are only known to a few occult scientists, with whom they communicate telepathically, but as the need for their personal involvement in the plan increases, there will be an "Externalization of the Hierarchy" and everyone will know of their presence on Earth.
Bailey's writings, along with American writer Marilyn Ferguson's 1980 book The Aquarian Conspiracy, contributed to conspiracy theorists of the Christian right viewing the New Age movement as the "false religion" that would supersede Christianity in a New World Order. Skeptics argue that the term "New Age movement" is a misnomer, generally used by conspiracy theorists as a catch-all rubric for any new religious movement that is not fundamentalist Christian. By their lights, anything that is not Christian is by definition actively and willfully anti-Christian.
Paradoxically, since the 2000s (decade), New World Order conspiracism is increasingly being embraced and propagandized by New Age occultists, who are people bored by rationalism and drawn to stigmatized knowledge — such as alternative medicine, astrology, quantum mysticism, spiritualism, and Theosophy. Thus, New Age conspiracy theorists, such as the makers of documentary films like Esoteric Agenda, claim that globalists who plot on behalf of the New World Order are simply misusing occultism for Machiavellian ends, such as adopting 21 December 2012 as the exact date for the establishment of the New World Order in order to take advantage of the growing 2012 phenomenon, which has its origins in the fringe Mayanist theories of New Age writers José Argüelles, Terence McKenna, and Daniel Pinchbeck.
Skeptics argue that the connection of conspiracy theorists and occultists follows from their common fallacious premises. First, any widely accepted belief must necessarily be false. Second, stigmatized knowledge — what the Establishment spurns — must be true. The result is a large, self-referential network in which, for example, some UFO religionists promote anti-Jewish phobias while some antisemites practice Peruvian shamanism.
Conspiracy theorists often use the term "Fourth Reich" simply as a pejorative synonym for the "New World Order" to imply that its state ideology and government will be similar to Germany's Third Reich. However, some conspiracy theorists use the research findings of American journalist Edwin Black, author of the 2009 book Nazi Nexus, to claim that some American corporations and philanthropic foundations — whose complicity was pivotal to the Third Reich's war effort, Nazi eugenics and the Holocaust — are now conspiring to build a Fourth Reich.
Conspiracy theorists, such as American writer Jim Marrs, claim that some ex-Nazis, who survived the fall of the Greater German Reich, along with sympathizers in the United States and elsewhere, given safe haven by organizations like ODESSA and Die Spinne, have been working behind the scenes since the end of World War II to enact at least some of the principles of Nazism (e.g., militarism, imperialism, widespread spying on citizens, corporatism, the use of propaganda to manufacture a national consensus) into culture, government, and business worldwide, but primarily in the U.S.. They cite the influence of ex-Nazi scientists brought in under Operation Paperclip to help advance aerospace manufacturing in the U.S. with technological principles from Nazi UFOs, and the acquisition and creation of conglomerates by ex-Nazis and their sympathizers after the war, in both Europe and the U.S.
This neo-Nazi conspiracy is said to be animated by an "Iron Dream" in which the American Empire, having thwarted the Judeo-Masonic conspiracy and overthrown its Zionist Occupation Government, gradually establishes a Fourth Reich formally known as the "Western Imperium" — a pan-Aryan world empire modeled after Adolf Hitler's New Order — which reverses the "decline of the West" and ushers a golden age of white supremacy.
Skeptics argue that conspiracy theorists grossly overestimate the influence of ex-Nazis and neo-Nazis on American society, and point out that political repression at home and imperialism abroad have a long history in the United States that predates the 20th century. Some political scientists, such as Sheldon Wolin, have expressed concern that the twin forces of democratic deficit and superpower status have paved the way in the U.S. for the emergence of an inverted totalitarianism which contradicts many principles of Nazism.
Since the late 1970s, extraterrestrials from other habitable planets or parallel dimensions (such as "Greys") and intraterrestrials from Hollow Earth (such as "Reptilians") have been included in the New World Order conspiracy, in more or less dominant roles, as in the theories put forward by American writers Stan Deyo and Milton William Cooper, and British writer David Icke.
The common theme in these conspiracy theories is that aliens have been among us for decades, centuries or millennia, but a government cover-up enforced by “Men in Black” has shielded the public from knowledge of a secret alien invasion. Motivated by speciesism and imperialism, these aliens have been and are secretly manipulating developments and changes in human society in order to more efficiently control and exploit human beings. In some theories, alien infiltrators have shapeshifted into human form and move freely throughout human society, even to the point of taking control of command positions in governmental, corporate, and religious institutions, and are now in the final stages of their plan to take over the world. A mythical covert government agency of the United States code-named Majestic 12 is often imagined to be the shadow government which collaborates with the alien occupation and permits alien abductions, in exchange for assistance in the development and testing of military "flying saucers" at Area 51, in order for U.S. armed forces to achieve full-spectrum dominance.
Skeptics, who adhere to the psychosocial hypothesis for unidentified flying objects, argue that the convergence of New World Order conspiracy theory and UFO conspiracy theory is a product of not only the era's widespread mistrust of governments and the popularity of the extraterrestrial hypothesis for UFOs but of the far right and ufologists actually joining forces. Barkun notes that the only positive side to this development is that, if conspirators plotting to rule the world are believed to be aliens, traditional human scapegoats (Freemasons, Illuminati, Jews, etc.) are downgraded or exonerated.
Brave New World
Antiscience and neo-Luddite conspiracy theorists emphasize technology forecasting in their New World Order conspiracy theories. They speculate that the global power elite are reactionary modernists pursuing a transhumanist agenda to develop and use human enhancement technologies in order to become a "posthuman ruling caste", while change accelerates toward a technological singularity — a theorized future point of discontinuity when events will accelerate at such a pace that normal unenhanced humans will be unable to predict or even understand the rapid changes occurring in the world around them. Conspiracy theorists fear the outcome will either be the emergence of a Brave New World-like dystopia — a "Brave New World Order" — or the extinction of the human species.
Democratic transhumanists, such as American sociologist James Hughes, counter that many influential members of the American Establishment are bioconservatives strongly opposed to human enhancement, as demonstrated by President Bush's Council on Bioethics's proposed international treaty prohibiting human cloning and germline engineering. Furthermore, he argues that conspiracy theorists underestimate how fringe the transhumanist movement really is.
Just as there are several overlapping or conflicting theories among conspiracists about the nature of the New World Order, so are there several beliefs about how its architects and planners will implement it:
Conspiracy theorists generally speculate that the New World Order is being implemented gradually, citing the formation of the U.S. Federal Reserve System in 1913; the League of Nations in 1919; the International Monetary Fund in 1944; the United Nations in 1945; the World Bank in 1945; the World Health Organization in 1948; the European Union and the euro currency in 1993; the World Trade Organization in 1998; the African Union in 2002; and the Union of South American Nations in 2008 as major milestones.
An increasingly popular conspiracy theory among American right-wing populists is that the hypothetical North American Union and the amero currency, proposed by the Council on Foreign Relations and its counterparts in Mexico and Canada, will be the next milestone in the implementation of the New World Order. The theory holds that a group of shadowy and mostly nameless international elites are planning to replace the federal government of the United States with a transnational government. Therefore, conspiracy theorists believe the borders between Mexico, Canada and the United States are in the process of being erased, covertly, by a group of globalists whose ultimate goal is to replace national governments in Washington, D.C., Ottawa and Mexico City with a European-style political union and a bloated E.U.-style bureaucracy.
Skeptics argue that the North American Union exists only as a proposal contained in one of a thousand academic and/or policy papers published each year that advocate all manner of idealistic but ultimately unrealistic approaches to social, economic and political problems. Most of these get passed around in their own circles and eventually filed away and forgotten by junior staffers in congressional offices. Some of these papers, however, become touchstones for the conspiracy-minded and form the basis of all kinds of unfounded xenophobic fears especially during times of economic anxiety.
For example, in March 2009, as a result of the late-2000s financial crisis, the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation pressed for urgent consideration of a new international reserve currency and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development proposed greatly expanding the I.M.F.'s special drawing rights. Conspiracy theorists fear these proposals are a call for the U.S. to adopt a single global currency for a New World Order.
Judging that both national governments and global institutions have proven ineffective in addressing worldwide problems that go beyond the capacity of individual nation-states to solve, some political scientists critical of New World Order conspiracism, such as Mark C. Partridge, argue that regionalism will be the major force in the coming decades, pockets of power around regional centers: Western Europe around Brussels, the Western Hemisphere around Washington, D.C., East Asia around Beijing, and Eastern Europe around Moscow. As such, the E.U., the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and the G-20 will likely become more influential as time progresses. The question then is not whether global governance is gradually emerging, but rather how will these regional powers interact with one another.
American right-wing populist conspiracy theorists, especially those who joined the militia movement in the United States, speculate that the New World Order will be implemented through a dramatic coup d'état by a "secret team", using black helicopters, in the U.S. and other nation-states to bring about a totalitarian world government controlled by the United Nations and enforced by troops of foreign U.N. peacekeepers. Following the Rex 84 and Operation Garden Plot plans, this military coup would involve the suspension of the Constitution, the imposition of martial law, and the appointment of military commanders to head state and local governments and to detain dissidents.
These conspiracy theorists, who are all strong believers in a right to keep and bear arms, are extremely fearful that the passing of any gun control legislation will be later followed by the abolishment of personal gun ownership and a campaign of gun confiscation, and that the refugee camps of emergency management agencies such as F.E.M.A. will be used for the internment of suspected subversives, making little effort to distinguish true threats to the New World Order from pacifist dissidents.
Before year 2000 some survivalists wrongly believed this process would be set in motion by the predicted Y2K problem causing societal collapse. Since many left-wing and right-wing conspiracy theorists believe that the September 11 attacks were a false flag operation carried out by the United States intelligence community, as part of a strategy of tension to justify political repression at home and preemptive war abroad, they have become convinced that a more catastrophic terrorist incident will be responsible for triggering Executive Directive 51 in order to complete the transition to a police state.
Skeptics argue that unfounded fears about an imminent or eventual gun ban, military coup, internment, or U.N. invasion and occupation are rooted in the siege mentality of the American militia movement but also an apocalyptic millenarianism which provides a basic narrative within the political right in the U.S., claiming that the idealized society (i.e., constitutional republic, Jeffersonian democracy, "Christian nation", "white nation") is thwarted by subversive conspiracies of liberal secular humanists who want "Big Government" and globalists who plot on behalf of the New World Order.
Conspiracy theorists concerned with surveillance abuse believe that the New World Order is being implemented by the cult of intelligence at the core of the surveillance-industrial complex through mass surveillance and the use of Social Security numbers, the bar-coding of retail goods with Universal Product Code markings, and, most recently, RFID tagging via microchip implants.
Claiming that corporations and government are planning to track every move of consumers and citizens with RFID as the latest step toward a 1984-like surveillance state, consumer privacy advocates, such as Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre, have become Christian conspiracy theorists who believe spychips must be resisted because they argue that modern database and communications technologies, coupled with point of sale data-capture equipment and sophisticated ID and authentication systems, now make it possible to require a biometrically associated number or mark to make purchases. They fear that the ability to implement such a system closely resembles the Number of the Beast prophesied in the Book of Revelation.
In January 2002, the Information Awareness Office (IAO) was established by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to bring together several DARPA projects focused on applying information technology to counter asymmetric threats to national security. Following public criticism that the development and deployment of these technologies could potentially lead to a mass surveillance system, the IAO was defunded by the United States Congress in 2003. The second source of controversy involved IAO’s original logo, which depicted the "all-seeing" Eye of Providence atop of a pyramid looking down over the globe, accompanied by the Latin phrase scientia est potentia (knowledge is power). Although DARPA eventually removed the logo from its website, it left a lasting impression on privacy advocates. It also inflamed conspiracy theorists, who misinterpret the "eye and pyramid" as the Masonic symbol of the Illuminati, an 18th-century secret society they speculate continues to exist and is plotting on behalf of a New World Order.
American historian Richard Landes, who specializes in the history of apocalypticism and was co-founder and director of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, argues that new and emerging technologies often trigger alarmism among millenarians and even the introduction of Gutenberg's printing press in 1436 caused waves of apocalyptic thinking. The Year 2000 problem, bar codes and Social Security numbers all triggered end-time warnings which either proved to be false or simply were no longer taken seriously once the public became accustomed to these technological changes. Civil libertarians argue that the privatization of surveillance and the rise of the surveillance-industrial complex in the United States does raise legitimate concerns about the erosion of privacy. However, skeptics of mass surveillance conspiracism caution that such concerns should be disentangled from secular paranoia about Big Brother or religious hysteria about the Antichrist.
Conspiracy theorists of the Christian right, starting with British revisionist historian Nesta Helen Webster, believe there is an ancient occult conspiracy — started by the first mystagogues of Gnosticism and perpetuated by their alleged esoteric successors, such as the Kabbalists, Cathars, Knights Templar, Hermeticists, Rosicrucians, Freemasons, and, ultimately, the Illuminati — which seeks to subvert the Judeo-Christian foundations of the Western world and implement the New World Order through a one-world religion that prepares the masses to embrace the imperial cult of the Antichrist. More broadly, they speculate that globalists who plot on behalf of a New World Order are directed by occult agencies of some sort: unknown superiors, spiritual hierarchies, demons, fallen angels and/or Lucifer. They believe that these conspirators use the power of occult sciences (numerology), symbols (Eye of Providence), rituals (Masonic degrees), monuments (National Mall landmarks), buildings (Manitoba Legislative Building) and facilities (Denver International Airport) to advance their plot to rule the world.
For example, in June 1979, an unknown benefactor under the pseudonym "R. C. Christian" had a huge granite megalith built in the U.S. state of Georgia, which acts like a compass, calendar, and clock. A message comprising ten guides is inscribed on the occult structure in many languages to serve as instructions for survivors of a doomsday event to establish a more enlightened and sustainable civilization than the one which was destroyed. The "Georgia Guidestones" have subsequently become a spiritual and political Rorschach test onto which any number of ideas can be imposed. Some New Agers and neo-pagans revere it as a ley-line power nexus while a few conspiracy theorists are convinced that they are engraved with the New World Order's anti-Christian "Ten Commandments." Should the Guidestones survive for centuries as their creators intended, many more meanings could arise, equally unrelated to the designer’s original intention.
Skeptics argue that the demonization of Western esotericism by conspiracy theorists is rooted in religious intolerance but also in the same moral panics that have fueled witch trials in the Early Modern period, and satanic ritual abuse allegations in the United States.
Conspiracy theorists believe that the New World Order will also be implemented through the use of human population control in order to more easily monitor and control the movement of individuals. The means range from stopping the growth of human societies through reproductive health and family planning programs, which promote abstinence, contraception and abortion, or intentionally reducing the bulk of the world population through genocides by mongering unnecessary wars, through plagues by engineering emergent viruses and tainting vaccines, and through environmental disasters by controlling the weather (HAARP, chemtrails), etc. Conspiracy theorists argue that globalists plotting on behalf of a New World Order are neo-Malthusians who engage in overpopulation and climate change alarmism in order to create public support for coercive population control and ultimately world government.
Skeptics argue that fears of population control can be traced back to the traumatic legacy of the eugenics movement's "war against the weak" in the United States during the first decades of the 20th century but also the Second Red Scare in the U.S. during the late 1940s and 1950s, and to a lesser extent in the 1960s, when activists on the far right of American politics routinely opposed public health programs, notably water fluoridation, mass vaccination and mental health services, by asserting they were all part of a far-reaching plot to impose a socialist or communist regime. Their views were influenced by opposition to a number of major social and political changes that had happened in recent years: the growth of internationalism, particularly the United Nations and its programs; the introduction of social welfare provisions, particularly the various programs established by the New Deal; and government efforts to reduce inequalities in the social structure of the U.S..
Social critics accuse governments, corporations, and the mass media of being involved in the manufacturing of a national consensus and, paradoxically, a culture of fear due to the potential for increased social control that a mistrustful and mutually fearing population might offer to those in power. The worst fear of some conspiracy theorists, however, is that the New World Order will be implemented through the use of mind control—a broad range of tactics able to subvert an individual's control of his or her own thinking, behavior, emotions, or decisions. These tactics are said to include everything from Manchurian candidate-style brainwashing of sleeper agents (Project MKULTRA, "Project Monarch") to engineering psychological operations (water fluoridation, subliminal advertising, "Silent Sound Spread Spectrum", MEDUSA) and parapsychological operations (Stargate Project) to influence the masses. The concept of wearing a tin foil hat for protection from such threats has become a popular stereotype and term of derision; the phrase serves as a byword for paranoia and is associated with conspiracy theorists.
Skeptics argue that the paranoia behind a conspiracy theorist's obsession with mind control, population control, occultism, surveillance abuse, Big Business, Big Government, and globalization arises from a combination of two factors, when he or she: 1) holds strong individualist values and 2) lacks power. The first attribute refers to people who care deeply about an individual's right to make their own choices and direct their own lives without interference or obligations to a larger system (like the government), but combine this with a sense of powerlessness in one's own life, and one gets what some psychologists call "agency panic," intense anxiety about an apparent loss of autonomy to outside forces or regulators. When fervent individualists feel that they cannot exercise their independence, they experience a crisis and assume that larger forces are to blame for usurping this freedom.
According to Domhoff, many people seem to believe that the United States is ruled from behind the scenes by a conspiratorial elite with secret desires, i.e., by a small secretive group that wants to change the government system or put the country under the control of a world government. In the past the conspirators were usually said to be crypto-communists who were intent upon bringing the United States under a common world government with the Soviet Union, but the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in 1991 undercut that theory. Domhoff notes that most conspiracy theorists changed their focus to the United Nations as the likely controlling force in a New World Order, an idea which is undermined by the powerlessness of the U.N. and the unwillingness of even moderates within the American Establishment to give it anything but a limited role.
Although skeptical of New World Order conspiracism, political scientist David Rothkopf argues, in the 2008 book Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making, that the world population of 6 billion people is governed by an elite of 6,000 individuals. Until the late 20th century, governments of the great powers provided most of the superclass, accompanied by a few heads of international movements (i.e., the Pope of the Catholic Church) and entrepreneurs (Rothschilds, Rockefellers). According to Rothkopf, in the early 21st century, economic clout—fueled by the explosive expansion of international trade, travel and communication—rules; the nation-state's power has diminished shrinking politicians to minority power broker status; leaders in international business, finance and the defense industry not only dominate the superclass, they move freely into high positions in their nations' governments and back to private life largely beyond the notice of elected legislatures (including the U.S. Congress), which remain abysmally ignorant of affairs beyond their borders. He asserts that the superclass' disproportionate influence over national policy is constructive but always self-interested, and that across the world, few object to corruption and oppressive governments provided they can do business in these countries.
Viewing the history of the world as the history of warfare between secret societies, conspiracy theorists go further than Rothkopf, and other scholars who have studied the global power elite, by claiming that established upper-class families with "old money" who founded and finance the Bilderberg Group, Bohemian Club, Club of Rome, Council on Foreign Relations, Rhodes Trust, Skull and Bones, Trilateral Commission, and similar think tanks and private clubs, are illuminated conspirators plotting to impose a totalitarian New World Order — the implementation of an authoritarian world government controlled by the United Nations and a global central bank, which maintains political power through the financialization of the economy, regulation and restriction of speech through the concentration of media ownership, mass surveillance, widespread use of state terrorism, and an all-encompassing propaganda that creates a cult of personality around a puppet world leader and ideologizes world government as the culmination of history's progress.
Marxists, who are skeptical of right-wing populist conspiracy theories, also accuse the global power elite of not having the best interests of all at heart, and many intergovernmental organizations of suffering from a democratic deficit, but they argue that the superclass are plutocrats only interested in brazenly imposing a neoliberal or neoconservative new world order — the implementation of global capitalism through economic and military coercion to protect the interests of transnational corporations — which systematically undermines the possibility of a socialist one-world government. Arguing that the world is in the middle of a transition from the American Empire to the rule of a global ruling class that has emerged from within the American Empire, they point out that right-wing populist conspiracy theorists, blinded by their anti-communism, fail to see is that what they demonize as the "New World Order" is, ironically, the highest stage of the very capitalist economic system they defend.
American intellectual Noam Chomsky, author of the 1994 book World Orders Old and New, often describes the new world order as a post-Cold-War era in which "the New World gives the orders". Commenting on the 1999 US-NATO bombing of Serbia, he writes:
The aim of these assaults is to establish the role of the major imperialist powers—above all, the United States—as the unchallengeable arbiters of world affairs. The "New World Order" is precisely this: an international regime of unrelenting pressure and intimidation by the most powerful capitalist states against the weakest.