Michael Kelly, a Washington Post journalist and critic of anti-war movements on both the left and right, coined the term “fusion paranoia” to refer to a political convergence of left-wing and right-wing activists around anti-war issues and civil liberties, which he claimed were motivated by a shared belief in conspiracism oranti-government views.
Social critics have adopted this term to refer to the synthesis of paranoid conspiracy theories, which were once limited to American fringe audiences, has given them mass appeal and enable them to become commonplace in mass media, thereby inaugurating an unrivaled popular culture of conspiracism in the U.S. of the late 20th and early 21st century. Some warn that this development in conspiracy theory may have negative effects on American political life, such as produceristdemagogy and moral panic influencing elections as well as domestic and foreign policy.
Daniel Pipes, a Jerusalem Post journalist, wrote in the 2004 article Fusion paranoia–A new twist in conspiracy theories:
Fears of a petty conspiracy – a political rival or business competitor plotting to do you harm – are as old as the human psyche. But fears of a grand conspiracy – that the Illuminati or Jews plan to take over the world – go back only 900 years and have been operational for just two centuries, since the French Revolution. Conspiracy theories grew in importance from then until World War II, when two arch-conspiracy theorists, Hitler and Stalin, faced off against each other, causing the greatest blood-letting in human history. This hideous spectacle sobered Americans, who in subsequent decades relegated conspiracy theories to the fringe, where mainly two groups promoted such ideas. The politically disaffected: Blacks (Louis Farrakhan, Cynthia McKinney), the hard Right (John Birch Society, Pat Buchanan), and other alienated elements (Ross Perot, Lyndon LaRouche). Their theories imply a political agenda, but lack much of a following. The culturally suspicious: These include “Kennedy assassinologists,” “ufologists,” and those who believe a reptilian race runs the earth and alien installations exist under the earth’s surface. Such themes enjoy enormous popularity (a year 2000 poll found 43 percent of Americans believing in UFOs), but carry no political agenda. The major new development, reports Barkun, professor of political science in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, is not just an erosion in the divisions between these two groups, but their joining forces with occultists, persons bored by rationalism. Occultists are drawn to what Barkun calls the “cultural dumping ground of the heretical, the scandalous, the unfashionable, and the dangerous” – such as spiritualism, Theosophy, alternative medicine, alchemy, and astrology. Thus, the author who worries about the Secret Service taking orders from the Bavarian Illuminati is old school; the one who worries about a “joint Reptilian-Bavarian Illuminati” takeover is at the cutting edge of the new synthesis. These bizarre notions constitute what the late Michael Kelly termed “fusion paranoia,” a promiscuous absorption of fears from any source whatsoever.