The New World Order is not so much a single plot as a way of reading history. At its most basic level: A cabal, working in secret as well as through official-seeming, aboveground means, seeks to establish an all-powerful, possibly Luciferian, one-world government. Suspicions surrounding a shadow Establishment date back at least to the 1700s, with the birth of the Freemasons and the Illuminati. But it was the past century’s global wars, political realignments, and media innovations that gave new purchase to this age-old paranoia. In the modern version, the New World Order hides in plain sight, a Mad Libs–style metastory about how the free people of the West have begun to willingly, blindly surrender ourselves to our coming totalitarian overlords. What they want to do to us is never exactly clear—the anxiety tends to be more about the “new” part than the “order” part.
A Timeline of the New World Order Conspiracy Theory
1966: Mary M. Davison publishes The Profound Revolution, a manifesto of sorts positing that the New World Order hides in plain sight and detailing how real-life institutions like the Federal Reserve, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the U.S. government operate as fronts for the “international banker” shadow Establishment. The book amplifies themes of communist infiltration advanced in contemporary best sellers like John Stormer’s None Dare Call It Treason and William Guy Carr’s The Red Fog Over America and Pawns in the Game, one-world-government classics that warn of a very particular political trajectory: First they fluoridate the water, next it’s World War III.
1971: Fierce Christian anti-communist paranoia and an interest in organizational cultural come together in the late fifties in the John Birch Society (founded in 1958 by, among others, Fred Koch, father of Charles and David), which sees civil-rights legislation, the rise of the welfare state, and regulations around occupational safety as evidence of a coming one-world government. In 1972, the conservative commentator Gary Allen publishes None Dare Call It Conspiracy—prefaced by California congressman John Schmitz—which extends the paranoia to deficit spending and basic banking, offering tales of how organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission carry forth the economic agenda of an invisible, global power elite. It sells 5 million copies.
1978: Fear that the NWO Establishment will act first to confiscate the weapons of those who might resist it drives William Luther Pierce’s The Turner Diaries—a vivid, racist novel about the 2099 uprising of the downtrodden Organization (a white revolutionary movement) against the all-powerful System (the left-wing Jewish government and its banks). The book—which begins with the passage of gun-control legislation—will become a holy text of the paranoid, racist right.
1983: Former Air Force officer and academic Texe Marrs and his wife, Wanda, publish A Perfect Name for Your Pet, the first of many books they write to help readers in their careers and personal lives. In the late eighties and early nineties, Marrs’s authorial persona will take on a more prophetic edge as he begins exposing the nefarious ways in which the political Establishment is beholden to the anti-Christ. “Newt Gingrich is a closet Marxist and member of the occultic secret society known as the Bohemian Grove,” he tells a reporter in 1996.
March 6, 1991: President George H.W. Bush gives a speech to Congress detailing the possibilities for global cooperation and internationalism in the post–Cold War world. It includes a poor choice of words: After decades of division, Bush explains, “we can see a new world coming into view. A world in which there is the very real prospect of a new world order.” Bush’s words authorize a variety of fears, from a new era of American imperialism in the Middle East to a one-world government overseen by the United Nations. The close of the Cold War introduces a new panic: The new New World Order, announced by globalization and nafta-style borderlessness, comes into focus.
1991: Pat Robertson’s The New World Order crams a litany of villains—Freemasons, Wall Street, the Council on Foreign Relations, New Age mystics—into a New York Times best seller. And deep underground, Milton William “Bill” Cooper publishes Behold a Pale Horse.
1992: Anxiety about nafta’s effects on national sovereignty courses through Operation Vampire Killer 2000. Its author, a former Arizona police sergeant named Jack McLamb, will found an organization called Police and Military Against the New World Order. McLamb’s vampires are metaphorical; the enemy is anyone who seeks to weaken our national borders. “They, the globalists, have stated that the date of termination of the American way of life is the year 2000.”
November 30, 1993: President Bill Clinton signs the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. As everyone knows by now (especially after government sieges on Ruby Ridge and Waco), gun control is the first step toward a one-world government.
1993–2002: The X-Files gives a generation the gift of extreme skepticism. The creepiest moments aren’t the ones involving UFOs or the paranormal; they are the glimpses into the off-limits government storage facilities, the clandestine meetings and cover-ups overseen by the men working in the shadows.
February 28, 1995: The headquarters of the NWO opens (a.k.a. Denver International airport).
April 19, 1995: Two years, to the day, after the end of the Waco siege—he had actually gone and watched the standoff shortly before its violent end—Timothy McVeigh and his conspirators detonate a truck bomb outside the Alfred F. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, an innocuous bureaucratic building that McVeigh, weaned on pro-militia literature and shortwave-radio broadcasts, takes to be an expression of tyrannical government overreach. The blast kills 168 people, making it the bloodiest act of homegrown terrorism in U.S. history, but fails to inspire a larger NWO counterrevolution.
November 21, 1995: “Illuminati want my mind, soul and my body / Secret society tryin’ to keep their eye on me,” Prodigy raps on a remix of LL Cool J’s “I Shot Ya.” NWO paranoia infects hip-hop throughout the nineties, as artists like KRS-One, Poor Righteous Teachers, Wu-Tang Clan, and 2Pac reimagine the anti-Establishment themes of the late-eighties “conscious” movement for darker times.
July 7, 1996::A break in the televised feed and then an ominous warning: “The following announcement has been paid for by the New World Order.” A brotherhood of renegade wrestlers stage a hostile takeover of the ring, and World Championship Wrestling launches “New World Order,” one of the most successful story lines in the sport’s history.
July 25, 2001: Radio host Alex Jones accuses the U.S. government of plotting terrorism and points to Osama bin Laden as the “bogeyman they need in this Orwellian, phony system.”
February, 2007: The Montana House of Representatives issues a joint resolution standing against the “nafta Superhighway,” a series of roads running from Canada through the United States to Mexico that represents the first step in the erosion of our borders and the establishment of a hemispheric “North American Union.” No such superhighway exists.
October 13, 2008: British prime minister Gordon Brown calls for a “new Bretton Woods” so that the world’s dominant economies might craft a vision for the global economy. Interpreting Brown’s comments as a confession that the New World Order is real, Fox pundit Sean Hannity later proclaims that “those conspiracy people had suggested that for years.”
March, 2009: “They put a black face on the New World Order.” KRS-One, not exactly celebrating the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
January 7, 2012: Jay Z and Beyoncé welcome their first child into their lives. In an obvious nod to their overlords, they name their daughter Blue (Born Living Under Evil) Ivy (Illuminati’s Very Youngest) Carter.