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Plots Against America: Psychological War and the Conspiracy Genre

Authors: Jeffrey Whyte*, University of Manchester
Topics: Political Geography, Historical Geography, United States
Keywords: Political Geography, Psychological Warfare, Conspiracy
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Since 2016, discourses of ‘psychological warfare’ have returned to American political culture in connection to the so-called ‘post-truth era’. Combining geographical imaginations of psychological- and cyber-warfare, accusations of ‘foreign interference’ in American elections have produced sensational texts offering expository accounts of conspiracies against the United States. Texts like former US-Navy officer Malcom Nance’s 'The Plot to Hack America' and whistle-blower Christopher Wylie’s 'Mindfuck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America' animate calls for national cyber-securitization, while also hailing individuals as targets of covert foreign action.

In this paper I consider how the original ‘psychological war scare’ in the United States (1940-1942) scripted German psychological warfare as a highly organized, technical and scientific enterprise tightly connected to the spectre of German geopolitics. While German psychological war ultimately had little effect in the United States, it produced popular ‘social science fictions’ in which expert knowledge enabled surreptitious and frictionless long-distance manipulation of American citizens. In this paper I detail the way in which this alarmism was constructed and circulated by a concerted network of American and British intelligence actors in the press, academy, and government. Finally, I show how these scripts animated calls not only for official ‘morale’ agencies, but also for private and individual acts of ‘spiritual defense’ of the ‘inner landscape’. I conclude with a theoretical discussion of the role of conspiracy thinking in scaling psychological war to individual and geopolitical registers.

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