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Why we are addicted to conspiracy theories

Outsiders and the disenfranchised have always embraced the existence of wild plots and cover-ups. But now the biggest conspiracy-mongers are in charge.

By Anna Merlan

In January 2015, I spent the longest, queasiest week of my life on a cruise ship filled with conspiracy theorists. As our boat rattled toward Mexico and back, I heard about every wild plot, secret plan and dark cover-up imaginable. It was mostly fascinating, occasionally exasperating and the cause of a headache that took months to fade. To my pleasant surprise, given that I was a reporter travelling among a group of deeply suspicious people, I was accused of working for the CIA only once.

The unshakeable certainty possessed by many of the conspiracy theorists sometimes made me want to tear my hair out, how tightly they clung to the strangest and most far-fetched ideas. I was pretty sure they had lost their hold on reality as a result of being permanently and immovably on the fringes of American life. I felt bad for them and, to be honest, a little superior.

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