Skip to content

Conference: ‘Populism and Conspiracy Theories in the Americas’


The second international conference of the ERC-funded project PACT: Populism and Conspiracy Theory, titled ‘Populism and Conspiracy Theories in the Americas’, took place on 15-17 September 2022, hosted by the University of Tübingen, Germany. Keynote speakers were Letícia Cesarino (Federal University of Santa Catarina), Mark Fenster (University of Florida) and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser (Diego Portales University).

With the growing visibility of conspiracy theories and the emergence of populist movements and parties around the world, the exploration of possible connections between the two is drawing an increasing number of researchers in recent years. Many populist leaders employ conspiracist rhetoric and followers of populist parties and movements are often seen as more susceptible to believing in conspiracy theories than others. However, the relationship between the two has not yet been comprehensively explored. The few studies (for example, by Paul Taggart or Mark Fenster) that attempt a general theorization of the connection consider conspiracy theories a secondary feature or a non-necessary element of populism. Conspiracy theories, they suggest, occur in many but not in all populist movements. Other scholars (for example, Ruth Wodak or Karin Priester) have argued that there is a special affinity between right-wing populism and conspiracy theory.

The US has provided both one of the first and one of the most recent case studies of populism as a movement and in power respectively. Latin America has been a well-studied region with regard to populist governments across the Left-Right political spectrum. More recently, we have witnessed populist heads of State actively engaging with, or even employing, conspiracy theories in their public discourse. From QAnon to micro-chips inside the Covid-19 vaccines to the ‘gay kit’, conspiracy theories have not only left the fringe but in many cases informed government policy. Are there historical connections or ‘elective affinities’ between populism and conspiracy theories? What are the specific socio-political contexts in which populism and conspiracy theories have historically come together in the Americas, and how do these conditions differ from other parts of the world? How can we analytically approach processes of mutual influence and entanglement between North and South America or think about the role of real conspiracies (e.g., US interventionism in Latin America) in fuelling conspiratorial imagination? What has the role of social media been in the circulation of conspiracy theories in recent years? Are they more popular now than in the past? How, if at all, do conspiracy theories inform populist politics from South to North America? What political uses does populist discourse make of conspiracy theories? Can we distinguish between Left and Right populism in their use of conspiracist rhetoric?

Over three days, the conference successfully addressed these and related questions. It focussed on both theoretical considerations as well as empirical findings on the relationship between populism and conspiracy theory in the Americas.

Thursday, September 15
3:00 pmConference Opening
03:15 pmLetícia Cesarino (Federal University of Santa Catarina), “A Cybernetic Theory of Anti-Structural Publics”
Chair: Michael Butter (University of Tuebingen)
04:45 pmCoffee Break
05:15 pmCristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser (Diego Portales), “Populism and Conspiratorial Thinking: Suggesting Some Avenues of Research”
Chair: Katerina Hatzikidi (University of Tuebingen)
06:45 pmReception and Catered Dinner
Friday, September 16
9:00 amPanel 1: Historical Perspectives on Populism and Conspiracy Theory
Chair: Claus Oberhauser (Pedagogical University of Tyrol)
Rodrigo Patto Sá Motta (Federal University of Minas Gerais): “Anti- communism and Conspiracy Myths in Brazil: From the Cohen Plan (1937) to the Bolsonarist Manipulation of the ‘Red Menace’”
Adam Koper (University of York): “Populism and Anti-Semitism in Henry Ford’s The International Jew
10:00 amCoffee Break
10:30 amRoundtable Discussion: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Relationship Between Populism and Conspiracy Theory
Chair: Annika Rabo (University of Stockholm)
Discussants: Ela Drążkiewicz (Slovak Academy of Sciences), Peter Knight (University of Manchester) and Claus Oberhauser (Pedagogical University of Tyrol)
12:00 pmCatered Lunch
01:00 pmPanel 2: Conspiracy Theories in Populist Political Communication
Chair: Lili Turza (University of Tübingen)
Thomas Stelzl (University of Passau): “Anti-Americanism as a Left-Wing Conspiracy Theory in German-American Relations”
Andrew Woods (University of Western Ontario): “Marxismo Cultural/Cultural Marxism: Transnational Conspiracy Theories and the Brazilian New Right”
Christina Wurst (University of Tübingen): “Leftwing Populist Influencers Online and the Contentious Appeal of Conspiracy Theories”
2:30 pmCoffee Break
3:00 pmPanel 3: Conspiracy Theories as a Weapon in Politics
Chair: Constanze Jeitler (University of Tübingen)
Holger Mölder (Tallinn University of Technology): “War of Narratives – Trumpist Wave in the United States and Russian Federation in the Global Information Warfare”
Eiríkur Bergmann (Bifröst University): “Weaponizing Conspiracy Theories in Populist Politics”
Franciszek Czech (Jagiellonian University): “The United States of Poland and Filipino Queen of Canada. Globalization of American Conspiracy Theories and Self-declared Social Media States”
4:30 pmCoffee Break
5:00 pmMark Fenster (University of Florida),“Studying Conspiracy Theory after the (Current) Rise of Right-Wing Populism”
Chair: Michael Butter (University of Tuebingen)
6:30 pmDinner (individually organized)
Saturday, September 17
09:30 amPanel 4 “Populism, Conspiracy Theory and the COVID-19 Pandemic”
Chair: Olivia Rachwol (University of Tübingen)
Maren Schäfer (University of Heidelberg): “Blaming the ‘Others’ – Trump’s Populist Framing During the Covid-19 Pandemic”
Peter Kréko (Political Capital Institute, Budapest): “COVID Is Fake, Therefore the War is Fake, Too: COVID-related Conspiracy Theories in Hungary and Their Overlap with Belief in the Kremlin’s Conspiracy Theories on the Invasion of Ukraine”
Ela Drążkiewicz (Slovak Academy of Sciences): “Masters of Illusion: Mimesis, Mimicry, Conspiracy Theories and Civil Society in Ireland and Poland”
11:00 amCoffee Break
11:30 amPanel 5: Theoretical Perspectives
Chair: Peter Knight (University of Manchester)
Massimo Leone (University of Turin):“Global Unicorns, Ecuadorian Piglets, and Ancient Lions: Zoosemiotics of Conspiracy.”
Gustavo Lamounier (University of Brasilia): “Building a Loop of Apocalyptic World Perception: Exploring the Communicative Link between Conspiracy Theories and the Far-Right Populist Communication Style”
Sebastian M. Herrmann (University of Leipzig): “Post-Narrative Politics? Theorizing Incoherence in Contemporary Conspiracism and Right-Wing Populism”
01:00 pmCatered Lunch and End of Conference