“Every sentence delivered. The pathos of truth-seeking left me thinking of Herman Melville."
—Timothy Snyder, #1 New York Times bestselling author of On Tyranny
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING author Sarah Kendzior delves into the difference between conspiracy and conspiracy theory, "deftly separat[ing] fact from fiction in a conspiracy-addled nation" (VANITY FAIR).
Conspiracy theories are on the rise because officials refuse to enforce accountability for real conspiracies. Uncritical faith in broken institutions is as dangerous as false narratives peddled by propagandists.
The truth may hurt—but the lies will kill us.
They Knew discusses conspiracy culture in a rapidly declining United States struggling with corruption, climate change, and other crises. As the actions of the powerful remain shrouded in mystery—“From Norman Baker to Jeffrey Epstein, Iran-Contra to January 6" (VF)—it is unsurprising that people turn to conspiracy theories to fill the informational void. They Knew exposes the tactics these powerful actors use to placate an inquisitive public.
Here, for the first time, Kendzior blends her signature whip-smart prose and eviscerating arguments with lyrical and intimate examinations of the times and places that haunt American history. "America is a ghost story," writes Kendzior, as she unearths decades of buried history, providing an essential and critical look at how to rebuild our democracy by confronting the political lies and crimes that have shaped us.
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 ." 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.