Accepted paper:

Rebels as 'Truth'-tellers and the Problem of Belief: On Anti-Establishment Passions from Bikers for Trump to Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs in 'Merkel's Germany'


Tereza Kuldova (Oslo Metropolitan University)

Paper short abstract:

Do people really believe in conspirations? Do they really not know better? Or can we imagine conspiracies as comforting fetishes, as 'beliefs without believers'? This paper attempts to answer these questions by exploring the outlaw biker anti-establishment narratives and those who subscribe to them.

Paper long abstract:

Outlaw motorcycle clubs (OMC) have grown rapidly in the last two decades, especially across Europe - due to a skilful marketing of their rebellious image, and to the increasing inequality and resentment felt by parts of the population. Labelled by law enforcement agencies as violent organized crime groups, OMCs have become a visible internal public enemy. Increased pressures from law enforcement contributed to outlaw bikers developing new strategies of legitimizing their informal power. Among others, the self-proclaimed apolitical rebels turned into influential conspiratory anti-establishment truth-tellers. Grounded in ethnographic fieldwork among outlaw bikers in Europe, this paper maps this strand of anti-establishment narratives familiar from movements such as Bikers for Trump, finding a parallel expression in anti-Merkel biker initiatives, while formulating a theory of the structure of belief at play here. Some ascribe belief in conspiracy theories to cognitive blunders, irrationality, or online echo chambers, or correlate it with anomia, insecurity of employment, lack of interpersonal trust, and while both relevant, I argue that we must ask a more fundamental question: do people really believe in these conspirations? My material shows that this is rarely the case; they know very well that what they peddle has little to do with 'truth'. Conspiracy beliefs thus exhibit the structure of a 'belief without believers', and hence are better understood as a form of fetish (an embodiment of this disavowal) that comforts, an embodiment of the lie that enables one to sustain the unbearable 'truth' - the truth of one's socio-economic subordination and powerlessness.

panel P121
Conspiracy theories and conspiracy practices: moving between rationalities