America owes its existence, at least in part, to conspiracy thinking. In the colonies, a theory was born that King George III was plotting the enslavement of all Americans. Even without evidence, this theory helped tip the scales toward revolution.
Yet conspiracism here and around the world has destroyed great institutions, eradicated knowledge, endangered democracy, and ended lives. Now—fueled by the internet, partisan media, and the 45th president of the United States—paranoid thinking is more powerful, and more dangerous, than ever, threatening not just individual facts, but the idea that empirical truth exists at all.
The rise of mainstream conspiracism is the result not just of bad information or bad politics or bad thinking, but of systems built to stoke paranoia and to profit from mistrust. This project is an attempt to illuminate the forces that have created this unreality—and chart a course for how we might feel our way out.
Shadowland, a documentary series inspired by The Atlantic’s reporting on the power and danger of conspiracy, will premiere on Peacock and at The Atlantic Festival on September 21. Watch the trailer.
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