Arthur Goldwag presents talk about conspiracies in American politics

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. -- Conspiracy theory and American politics will be the topic of a presentation at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 1, in the campus Conference Center. Author and scholar Arthur Goldwag will talk about “Conspiracy Theory as the Canary in the Mineshaft of the Democratic Polity.” The event is free to the public.

In addition to the evening lecture, Goldwag will meet during the day with students in an honors seminar class. The author was invited to campus by John Craig Hammond, assistant professor of history, who teaches the class.

“Arthur Goldwag knows more about conspiracy theories and the place of conspiracism in American life than perhaps any other writer,” said Hammond, who edited a book in 2010 on the politics of slavery. “After spending a semester examining conspiracy theories in American history, the students are excited to meet and work with Mr. Goldwag.”

Seating is limited in the Conference Center. Reservations are encouraged but not necessary. Guests will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, call 724-334-6032.

Goldwag’s lecture on the growth of conspiracism and conspiratorial thinking in contemporary politics and public life complements and enlarges on his latest book, “The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right” (Pantheon Books 2012). Tracing the historical roots of the conspiracy theories that have thrived on the fringes of American politics since colonial times, from the Anti-Masons and the Know Nothings in the 19th century to the revived KKK and Henry Ford's anti-Semitic writings in the 1920s, to the birthers, Birchers, and conservative talk radio show hosts today, Goldwag finds a number of common themes.

"I was writing a popular reference book called “Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies," just as the 2008 presidential campaign and the financial collapse were occurring,” said Goldwag, who has written four books. “Listening to the speeches of the politicians that would spearhead the Tea Party, I began to hear echoes of 19th century agrarian populism, 1920s-era anti-Semites, and 1950s-vintage anti-Communists. People were talking about 'sound money' and further out on the fringe, about the existential threats to white European culture. I hadn't realized how old this new hate was."

Hammond's honors history class, “Conspiracy Theories in American Life,” is currently reading “The New Hate.”

“I think this class is insightful and challenges you to think in new ways about people who believe in conspiracies in this country," said Jonathan Simmen, a senior psychology major. “The class asks you to put yourself in their shoes and see the world as they see it, without simply stereotyping these individuals as being ‘crazy.’ Mr. Goldwag delves into the minds of the conspiracists he presents in his book, classifies the wave of conspiracies that have emerged, and shows the reader this movement is much like movements that have hit this country in the past.”

“The honors seminar has been beneficial for understanding our society,” said Nathan Schartner, a freshman in the petroleum engineering program. “We are learning how to understand and analyze conspiracism in America. This class has truly opened my eyes to how conspiracism has plagued American political culture.”

For Goldwag’s visit, the honors class will read a version of a Goldwag article that is a work in progress. The students will discuss and critique the piece with the author. In Hammond’s Civil War America class, Goldwag will discuss the meanings and memories of race, slavery, and the Civil War in contemporary American life.

"What I hope to convey to the students is that the politics of resentment, whether on the left or the right, is almost always a politics of manipulation, of divide and conquer, of distract and divert,” Goldwag said. “But at the same time, they shouldn't be blindly trusting of the government and the media. Think for yourself, and be attentive to the lessons that history teaches. There is nothing new under the sun."

To read what Professor Hammond’s students are saying about the Arthur Goldwag and the book, visit

The day before his campus visit, Wednesday, April 30, Goldwag will be a guest on Pittsburgh’s NPR news station, 90.5 WESA. He will be interviewed live at noon by Paul Guggenheimer, host of Essential Pittsburgh, a daily program of the radio station. Essential Pittsburgh, which airs from noon to 1 p.m., is a locally produced program dedicated to exploring critical issues affecting Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. The show features community leaders and newsmakers in the arts, sciences, technology, business, healthcare, government and education. The interview will be repeated at 8 p.m. on WESA.

Other books Goldwag has written include “Isms & Ologies” (Vintage, 2007) and “The Beliefnet Guide to Kabbalah” (Doubleday, 2005). He also is a contributing writer for numerous websites on a variety of issues. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Kenyon (Ohio) College, Goldwag worked in book publishing for more than twenty years, including stints at Random House, and the New York Review of Books. Visit for more information about Arthur Goldwag.


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Last Updated January 09, 2015