cover image They Knew: How a Culture of Conspiracy Keeps America Complacent

They Knew: How a Culture of Conspiracy Keeps America Complacent

Sarah Kendzior. Flatiron, $29.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-25021-072-2

Right-wing propagandists, white-collar criminals, and corrupt government officials are seeking to undermine democracy in the U.S. by fostering political division and spreading conspiracy theories that mask actual conspiracies, according to this eye-opening yet overheated account. Journalist Kendzior (Hiding in Plain Sight) delves into numerous controversies, including the Iran-Contra affair, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International money-laundering scandal, and the 2007 plea deal that granted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein immunity from federal charges, to make the case that “of course people will flock to conspiracy theories when nearly every powerful actor is lying, obfuscating, or profiteering off pain.” Contending that “criminal elites” and “mega-millionaires” with deep ties to the government have set the U.S. on the path to dissolving into “multiple mafia states, which will possibly war with each other for profit,” Kendzior suggests that the key to combatting “a lack of transparency and a history of state abuse” is for citizens to protest and leverage their voting and financial power to demand accountability, including public hearings on “the broader bipartisan network of corruption and complicity surrounding [Trump].” Though Kendzior’s deep dives into recent scandals are illuminating, her relentless pessimism and overwrought prose somewhat undermine the force of her arguments. The result is a hit-or-miss diagnosis of what ails America. (Sept.)