Damian Thompson

Have you heard the one about Isis and the ‘Ebola bomb’?

Have you heard the one about Isis and the ‘Ebola bomb’?
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Isis has the Ebola bomb. So be very, very afraid.

If you’re a nutjob, that is. The conspiracy website Before It’s News reports that ‘whistleblower and former police officer’ Greg Evensen has discovered that ‘Isis now has the weaponised Ebola virus, here in America!’

Evensen also reveals who’s pulling the strings of Isis. Yup: Barack Obama. Surprisingly, the website omitted the President’s middle name, but I imagine its readers are pretty familiar with it anyway.

This is a conspiracy theory of (mostly) angry rednecks. But we shouldn’t’ be surprised if it pops up in African-American and Muslim communities – both, in their different ways, hungry markets for these fantasies.

Articles about young British Muslims volunteering to join Isis focus too much on the supposed apocalyptic logic of Islamism and too little on the circulation of what I call counterknowledge – ‘deviant’ information that’s rejected by intellectual orthodoxy but seized upon by society’s fringes.

Peddlers of counterknowledge include Holocaust deniers, homeopaths, UFO believers… you get the picture. As I asked in my book Counterknowledge, has anyone yet revealed that after Jesus married the notorious Freemason Mary Magdalene in a ceremony on top of the Great Pyramid of Giza, she spirited him off to the south of France in one of the FBI’s black helicopters? If not, it can only be a matter of time.

The leitmotif of counterknowledge is the revelation of a dastardly hidden plot: you often find strands of a single conspiracy theory woven into the belief systems of groups that ostensibly have nothing in common. Look at how that masterpiece of counterknowledge, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has been embraced by Russian aristocrats, Idaho survivalists and the Arab street.

There was a terrific op-ed piece in last weekend’s Sunday Times by Dominic Lawson arguing that the young Western morons who have joined Isis haven’t been systematically ‘radicalised’ by imams. Rather, they resemble gang members or football hooligans who have donned Islamic fancy dress. ‘It is not such much the ideology that acts as the pull, but the possibility of exercising power over others,’ wrote Lawson.

Self-deluding gang members are incredibly receptive to crazy notions – such as the idea that the world can be captured by an ‘Islamic caliphate’ through the barbaric real-life equivalent of computer games. There are plenty of jihadi versions of Call of Duty doing the rounds. Time in prison listening to the rambling fantasies of self-styled Islamists also helps. (‘Listen, brothers, do you know about the Ebola bomb?’)

None of this is meant to excuse Muslim leaders around the world who have encouraged the spread of Jew-hatred. But I suspect that even the most fanatical Salafist preacher has little control over British Isis recruits whose murderous urges owe as much to digital technology and gang culture as to extremist readings of the Koran.