The New World Order: The Historical Origins of a Dangerous Modern Conspiracy Theory
| by Myles Flores
• The New World Order (NWO) conspiracy theory posits that a cabal of elites is working behind the scenes to orchestrate global events to enslave the global populace.
•The NWO theory’s anti-Semitic origins cause adherents to intentionally or unintentionally propagate harmful anti-Semitic narratives.
•Social media companies must address NWO content on their platforms for its potential to incite hate and offline violence.
The New World Order (NWO) is a conspiracy theory in which adherents believe that a cabal of powerful elites is secretly implementing a dystopian international governing structure that will grant them complete control over the global populace. Under this regime, dissidents will be arrested, and the masses enslaved. Supporters of the conspiracy theory claim that most global leaders are complicit in the establishment of this “New World Order,” aiding the NWO through the manufacturing of global events (such as the coronavirus pandemic and mass shootings) and controlling their associated narratives to sow civil unrest.
The NWO conspiracy theory can be found in the online chatter of fringe conspiracy theorists. While the associated rhetoric within these online groups can appear innocuous at first, this conspiracy theory presents a real-world danger, as it promotes a fatalistic worldview for adherents, possibly inciting them to commit violence against communities, infrastructure, and individuals deemed complicit in the NWO’s implementation. This cabal narrative is commonly associated with other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that claim Jewish culpability, alleging that they are behind the orchestration of the NWO, leading to an increased danger towards Jewish communities.
Many modern-day conspiracy theories – including the NWO theory – have anti-Semitic origins. Influential groups and movements from the 19th and early 20th centuries are largely to blame for the proliferation of anti-Semitic narratives. Within these narratives, Jewish people are frequently framed as the orchestrators of global events and accused of creating a supranational governing structure for nefarious purposes. These dangerous narratives are still widely promoted today.
British Israelism was one of the first religious movements to become a haven for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. A founder of the movement, John Wilson, espoused claims meant to empower Christians by arguing that they, rather than Jews, are the true descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Wilson demonized the Jewish faith by claiming that Jesus was not a Jew, thus implying that Judaism is grounded in falsehood and evil—a claim that persists today in NWO-adjacent conspiracy theories. Wilson played a foundational role in the normalization of religious anti-Semitism within British Israelism, yet it was not until the arrival of Wilson’s protegee, Edward Hine, that more radical anti-Semitic theories began to intertwine within the movement. Under Wilson’s influence, Hine began preaching increasingly explicit anti-Semitic theories, causing the British Israelite movement to attract more anti-Semitic recruits. These increasingly radical views within British Israelism formed a new ideology known as Christian Identity.
Established throughout Europe and the United States during the 20th century, adherents of Christian Identity purport that they are the true Israelites favored by God. Over time, Christian Identity groups grew in size and embraced more explicit anti-Semitic conspiracy theories due to the publication and popularization of anti-Semitic texts. One such text was the American version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which falsely argues Jewish elites’ alleged plan for global domination. In conjunction with the Protocols, other conspiracy theories, such as the Zionist Occupied Government (ZOG), spread and began to be widely cited. The onset of World War II only furthered the targeting of Jews during this time period, solidifying the foundation of anti-Semitism in which modern conspiracy theories arose, including the NWO.
The NWO Theory in America
While anti-Semitic conspiracy theories flourished globally, the United States in particular experienced a surge of fringe conspiratorial organizations in the mid-20th century that heavily contributed to the widespread acceptance of the NWO.
The most famous and popular of these organizations is the John Birch Society (JBS), which primarily focused on rooting out communism in the United States by making claims of global plots by communist elites. These claims ultimately laid the foundation for future conspiracy theories of elites striving for global domination. In conjunction with anti-communist conspiracy theories arose the widespread believability of an underground organization pulling societal strings. These conspiracy theories, such as the belief in the Illuminati, began to gain popularity, especially gaining traction in the counterculture era of 1960s and 1970s America. As a result, the combination of the countercultural interest in secret societies alongside the anti-elite conspiracism of the JBS created the infrastructure for broad belief in the existence that secret global organizations seek control over the United States. This, compounded with the release of Pat Robertson’s book, The New World Order (published in 1991), cemented the NWO theory as a cornerstone within America’s conspiratorial culture.
The NWO’s application within American discourse can be seen through the reaction to major events, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As millions mourned, questions naturally arose as to culpable parties and their potential motives. Whereas most Americans correctly believed al-Qaeda to be the perpetrator in this circumstance, conspiracy theorists took advantage of the emotional turmoil to further sow their conspiratorial beliefs. NWO adherents were no exception and stood as major players in this conspiratorial competition. Even more recently, we can see NWO presence in response to violent events. With mass shootings an unfortunate commonality in present-day America, many turn to social media to broadcast their reactions. Without fail, NWO commentary is noticeably peppered within the responses, with claims that the NWO orchestrates these mass shootings as false flag events to enact the widespread disarmament of citizens to better conquer them.
Extremism academic Michael Barkun has analyzed conspiratorial frameworks to explain why conspiracy theories like the NWO can spread effectively in these circumstances. Barkun identifies three main principles that are embraced by conspiracists: 1) nothing happens by accident, 2) nothing is as it seems, and 3) everything is connected. Barkun’s principles are evident in the NWO theory, reflecting all three criteria. Over time, these principles have contributed to the NWO theory’s global influence.
The NWO and Ties to Violence
The FBI has indicated that political conspiracy theories can motivate domestic extremists to participate in criminal and sometimes violent acts. In the last decade, the NWO and other conspiracy theories have been cited as an explanation for violence. An example of attempted violence was in October 2016, when two men — 30-year-old Michael Mancil and 21-year-old James Kenneth Dryden — were arrested for stockpiling weapons in preparation to attack the High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) facility. The two men believed that the government-funded HAARP facility controlled the weather, preventing Americans from talking to God, and was complicit in making sacrifices for the New World Order cabal. Another incident was in December 2018 when a man was arrested for planning to blow up what he believed to be a satanic temple monument in order to make America aware of an impending NWO. In both of these examples, the perpetrators were influenced by multiple conspiracy theories, demonstrating that the NWO theory overlaps and feeds into other conspiracy theories. The amalgamation of conspiratorial beliefs found online often incites violence offline.
The NWO Theory and Social Media
Today, the NWO theory’s success in reaching mainstream audiences is mainly due to its proliferation across social media platforms. These platforms’ recommendation algorithms – the automated system they use to ensure their users are matched with material they would find interesting – are essential in the ease and bounds that these conspiracy theories are spread online. In many cases, online users who engage with NWO material online are then recommended other, sometimes more extreme, conspiratorial content, thus demonstrating that the NWO theory works as a soft radicalization point.
In the last several years, social media companies have struggled to police adherents’ online chatter, as their messaging is often inconsistent and thus not always applicable to existing social media policies. For instance, not all NWO conspiracists directly post racist or hateful content in conjunction with their narrative; instead, they emphasize misinformative claims. However, because the NWO theory is deeply rooted in anti-Semitism, posts involving allegations of an impending NWO may intentionally or unintentionally propagate hateful and anti-Semitic narratives. Such narratives provide a pipeline for radicalization into more virulent anti-Semitic language, theories, and associated violence.
Social media companies must address the proliferation of the NWO theory because of the potential the conspiracy theory has to incite adherents to carry out violence. Adherents of the NWO theory can use the conspiracy theory’s malleability to push hateful narratives against any group or individual they deem complicit in the perceived NWO agenda. NWO adherents genuinely believe that they are victims of a nefarious cabal and are pushed to act in what they believe is self-defense.
While social media platforms remove explicitly malicious NWO content, most material remains because of the limitations of their current policies. These policies set a very high threshold for a group or post to be removed from platforms. However, social media sites have recently pushed to eliminate content that is considered complex, multifaceted, and implicitly hateful. This adjustment was largely set in motion by the proliferation and the offline manifestation of the QAnon conspiracy theory. In response to this dangerous and harmful conspiracy theory, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter purged thousands of QAnon adherents’ pages and posts. Some sites like YouTube have even gone as far as to add a sect of their policy directly addressing QAnon. Like QAnon, the NWO theory has radicalized individuals towards violent action.
The NWO conspiracy theory has a complex history with a high degree of believability and a broad support base. Its malicious elements give its adherents the agency to threaten violence against any individual or group deemed complicit in the NWO agenda. Not only that, the conspiracy theory acts as a gateway to further hate and violence and has provided the foundation for more radical movements. If NWO-adjacent rhetoric is left unchecked on social media platforms, it can lead to further dehumanization, radicalization, and violence.
For More Information
This piece was sponsored by The Michael Donnelly Fellowship, named in honor of our late friend and colleague. For more information on the fellowship, click here.