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‘Spotlight’ on Alternate World : Conspiracy: The publication comes from the Washington-based Liberty Lobby. Like scores of other supermarket tabloids, it traffics in the folklore of paranoia.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Readers of The Spotlight, a fear-mongering tabloid look-alike, were treated last September to a report describing Soviet-made tanks spotted on U.S. highways and railroads.

“American Citizens Want to Know . . . IS OUR TOWN NEXT? Why Are Strange Military Maneuvers Taking Place All Over America?” the headline screamed. The Spotlight never named an enemy. It never stated the presumed purpose of tanks and other vehicles shown in photographs. It only implied a nasty surprise, which would take place with President Clinton’s consent.

“Obviously, the military has done nothing about it, which leads many to suspect that its intentions are not altogether innocent,” The Spotlight said.

The Spotlight, which claims a weekly circulation of 100,000, comes from the Washington-based Liberty Lobby, an organization the Anti-Defamation League calls an anti-Semitic “network of hate.”

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Like scores of publications, newsletters, Internet chatter, radio shows and other sources, the tabloid traffics in the folklore of the paranoid.

Here’s a sampling of beliefs offered in the popular literature of self-styled American patriots:

* The United Nations plans to take over the U.S. Army, police the United States with foreign troops, and disarm all Americans.

* Rewritten versions of the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution have been drafted in wait for a U.S. takeover by the New World Order.

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* The United States owns aircraft propelled by unconventional means, described as the flying boomerang, the flying cigar, the classical disk and teardrop.

* A U.S. military training compound in Ft. Polk, La., is really the United Nations North American training center.

* State and federal governments are conspiring to subvert and eliminate your local sheriff.

* The federal government plans to stage fake chemical spills in a few towns in Texas and Kansas, prompting evacuations that will allow “government forces” to search homes for guns and other contraband.

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* Dots on the front of road signs in Michigan signal directions for invading U.N. forces.

* Stickers on the back of road signs in Colorado, bearing codes such as CDOT95, designate routes for takeover forces. So do bar codes on the back of highway signs.

* President Clinton will hire 100,000 Hong Kong Chinese for his personal police and order them to seize every gun in America.

* Electronic devices the size of a rice grain allow the government to track people anywhere in the world, change their mood and personality and control reproduction.

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The conspiracies and imagined secrets spin out, endlessly and everywhere. Last fall, officials at Yellowstone National Park got calls from people asking if the United Nations was running the park.

“We assured them it isn’t,” said Cheryl Matthews, a park spokeswoman in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyo., “that it’s managed by the National Park Service, a federal agency, and it’s owned by the American people.”

Social psychologists and scholars of myth say these scary stories are invented and believed by people who need to explain their misfortunes and discomforts in life.

“Some level of our psyches that has not evolved at all since the caves . . . projects these demonic forces,” said Harold Schechter, an author and professor of American literature and culture at Queens College, City University of New York. “The bad things happen in your life because they do. But that’s a very, very hard concept to accept or live with.”

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Conspiracy theories are a balm and an explanation wrapped neatly in one. “You can identify the monster,” he said.

The particular American variation, Schechter suggested, is “a secularized, politicized religion. These people have demonized the government.”

Those who call themselves patriots evidently take to frontier mythology, he said: “The rugged, gun-toting all-American hero. You’re going to see yourself as the last of the true Americans.”

Anyone might be prone to believe such stories, said Philip Zimbardo, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and an expert on the social psychology of madness.

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“There’s enough conspiracy theories floating around for a reasonable person to say they can’t all be wrong,” he said.


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