It’s the kind of conspiracy theory so all-encompassing that it explains the very roots of all modern American wars, depression, economic boom, and (most importantly!) the darkest, best-kept secrets of international banking.
Typically, the Federal Reserve is a government entity that frustrated high schoolers in America are forced to learn about before entering adulthood and forgetting exactly what it is or why it exists. The Fed is our central banking system that was created at the tail end of 1913 as a response to a string of financial crises. It is responsible for implementing the United States’s monetary policy, and is routinely and aptly described as “boring.”
It’s all fairly mundane and unsexy (though hugely consequential) stuff. The Fed doesn’t bomb anything, invade anything, or even tax anything.
If you’re a diehard libertarian or conservative activist, chances are decent that you’re gung-ho for scrapping the Federal Reserve entirely, or at least giving its employees a harder time. “END THE FED” is a popular refrain at libertarian summits. The Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2015—sponsored by libertarian(-ish) senator and longshot Republican presidential contender Rand Paul—would “require a full audit of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Reserve banks.”
But for a smaller subset of anti-Fed enthusiasts, the Fed isn’t just something to be scrutinized or shuttered—it is a tool of a cabal of blood-lusting, war-mongering, totalitarian bureaucrats who have helped shape the degradation of the 20th and 21st centuries.
And if you buy into that theory, you have one book, in particular, to thank.
One of the most influential and popular documents pushing this tale is 1994’s 600-page The Creature from Jekyll Island, written by author and avid conspiracy theorist G. Edward Griffin. (You can read the full text here.) Building off decades-old theories on the Fed’s creation and its complicity in atrocity (financial or otherwise), the book soon enough took off as a best-seller. It recounts a secret meeting that took place in 1910 on Jekyll Island, a stretch of white-sand beaches and beautiful landscape off the coast of Georgia. It was an exclusive boys-club gathering of American financiers and politicians who wanted to shoot the shit on monetary policy.
The meeting spawned the draft legislation for the creation of the central bank. Griffin spins this trip to Jekyll Island as the birthplace of the nefarious, scary, all-powerful banking system that every decent American should want torn down immediately.
The whole thing reads like a thriller, as well as an amateur polemic.
“The Fed has become an accomplice in the support of totalitarian regimes throughout the world,” he writes. “As stated at the beginning of this study, that is one of the reasons it should be abolished: It is an instrument of totalitarianism.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this stuff caught on in the political world.
Ron Paul—libertarian rock star, godfather of the Tea Party movement—blurbed and praised the book. “A superb analysis deserving serious attention by all Americans,” Rand’s dad wrote. “Be prepared for one heck of a journey through time and mind.”
Back when now hipster-clothing salesman Glenn Beck had a show on Fox News, he hosted Griffin on one of his Friday episodes and highly recommended the “fascinating” book to the audience:
The book that Beck and Dr. Paul so lavishly endorse is, to put it gently, full of bold claims and jarring extrapolations that require a willing suspension of disbelief.
“There are few historians who would challenge the fact that the funding of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War was accomplished by the Mandrake Mechanism through the Federal Reserve System,” Griffin writes. “An overview of all wars since the establishment of the Bank of England in 1694 suggests that most of them would have been greatly reduced in severity, or perhaps not even fought at all, without fiat money. It is the ability of governments to acquire money without direct taxation that makes modern warfare possible, and a central bank has become the preferred method of accomplishing that.”
The Creature from Jekyll Island is marketed as “the most important book on world affairs you will ever read.” And if everything it alleges regarding the international “money cabal” were true, it truly would be.
“We theorized a strategy, dubbed the Rothschild Formula, in which the world’s money cabal deliberately encourages war as a means of stimulating the profitable production of armaments and of keeping nations perpetually in debt,” Griffin warns. “This is not profit seeking, it is genocide. It is not a trivial matter, therefore, to inquire into the possibility that our elected and non-elected leaders are, in fact, implementing the Rothschild Formula today.”
The fatal flaw in Griffin’s analysis and breathless fear-mongering is, as is the case with so many prevalent conspiracy theories, that it takes a grain of truth and turns it into a salt mine of utterly laughable bullshit.
“The meeting happened, there was a meeting at Jekyll Island, and it did play a formative role—but the problem with stories like this is that they try to reduce it to a single incident,” author and Reason magazine editor Jesse Walker told The Daily Beast. “[Griffin is] at the point where he can reduce things too much to a certain narrative, where the mustache-twirlers are behind everything.”
Walker, who is also an expert on the grand tradition of the American conspiracy theory, has observed that “if you go to a movement like Audit The Fed, or End the Fed, you’ll see people citing that book there—I think I’ve seen it cited more so than any other anti-Fed conspiracy book.”
“There are reasonable reasons to want the Fed to be more transparent,” he continued. “But as with any movement, there are people who will look for conspiracy instead.”
As for labeling his work a conspiracy theory, Griffin would most certainly and most strongly object.
“There is nothing about my work that merits being classified as a conspiracy theory,” he said, responding to critics in 2004. “In modern context, it is customary to associate the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ with those who are intellectually handicapped or ill-informed. Using emotionally loaded words and phrases to discredit the work of others is to be rejected.”
Yes, ad hominem attacks on anyone’s written work should be rejected. As should the shadowy money-junta of economy-crashers, democracy-subverters, and war profiteers.
If only such a fascinating global power actually existed just so it could be torn down.