‘INFAMY, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me!” Kenneth Williams as Julius Caesar surrounded by rubber swords in Carry On Cleo might not be the most obvious opener to an article about contemporary conspiracy theory. But it seems to me that’s the plaintive cry of Alex Jones, David Icke, Donald Trump and all other revealers of evil cabals acting against us (and them).

Their fame, and their claims, are intimately linked. Other than eye-popping assertions about being ruled by lizards, who benefits from the theorists’ position? I like what Warwick University philosopher Quassim Cassam, an expert in the field, offers us. He strongly proposes that conspiracy theories are “first and foremost a form of propaganda. They are political gambits whose real function is to promote a political agenda”.

Holocaust denial clearly serves a fascist agenda. Claiming the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 was a government hoax clearly serves the forces of gun control. Trump’s blurry invocations of “Obamagate” clearly serve to smear his Democrat rivals in the coming US election.

Cassam provides here a good instant test of any leading conspiracy theory. It’s even more relevant in our accelerated information environment. This is a time where political operators (not mysterious: look at Cambridge Analytica or Dominic Cummings) create realities that try to trigger primary emotions in voters and citizens.

Conspiracy theories are a powerful part of their armoury, especially in severely disorienting moments like the coronavirus. In a situation where the implications are almost overwhelming – what, you mean our entire way of life has set us up to be vulnerable to this biospheric disorder? – it’s understandably easy to blame secretive and conspiring forces.

Trump was largely elected by those with an appetite for conspiracy theory. Obama’s “birther” certificate; Ted Cruz’s dad as Kennedy assassinator; the “fake news” media conglomerates scheming against him. So it’s no surprise he calls Covid-19 the “China virus”, imputing to the Chinese state some strategic act of bio-warfare.

But it’s getting even weirder in America. Last Tuesday, Jo Rae Perkins, an insurance agent, won the Republican nomination for the Senate in Oregon, as a fully-paid up believer in the QAnon conspiracy theory. The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer, who tracks the alt-right in the US, succinctly summarises the QAnon theory (so you don’t have to read the details): “They believe Trump is secretly at war with paedophile-cannibals in the Democratic Party … They are also convinced Trump will soon imprison or execute top Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.”

Indeed, Perkins was captured in a YouTube cast asserting that the corona lockdown was a cover under which: “President Trump was going to flip the switch and say ‘go and do those arrests that we’ve all been waiting for’.”

“QAnon” refers to the status on a Reddit discussion board when you post anonymously. Believers in the theory try to spin out scenarios from cryptic messages placed in these forums. The conjectures are so flimsy and wild-eyed that some observers say QAnon might be a near-accidental beneficiary of an end-of-days religious impulse – a millenarial tendency that has often marked American history. Some even suggest it might be a left-liberal cultural prank gone wrong (or right, depending on the strategy).

As you might predict, and indeed as Sommer reports, Trump has retweeted QAnon supporters scores of times, even inviting some of their advocates to White House events. Under the Caligularity, the more confusion and appalled outrage there is, the better Trump can manage his corrupt, mendacious circus. Quassim Cassam’s test applies successfully again.

But there’s one notable conspiracy theory of the moment which doesn’t easily submit to Cassam’s law – where the “who benefits?” question isn’t so easily answered.

That’s the theory in which the new 5G phone network, its regular street antennae radiating out a new slice of the electromagnetic spectrum, actually suppresses our immune system — which either causes or makes us peculiarly susceptible to Covid-19.

EVERYTHING pours into this blender, of course.

The Huawei story, where we are gripped with security anxieties about Chinese state technology being the lead force in 5G installation. Assumptions that members of the global tech elite such as Bill Gates are co-ordinating infections to profit from their vaccines. This Morning’s Eamonn Holmes suggested a few weeks ago that “it might suit the state narrative” to ridicule these health threats.

Press the button, and watch it all blur to grey. We must never forget that social media platforms make hard, cold cash from all the avid clicking on controversial sites. The information-era versions of the snake-oil salesman will always seek to make a buck from false remedies to possible ailments. But I am struck by what could be called the folk Luddism that typifies this 5G conspiracy theory. Since it surfaced in late March, there have been well over 100 physical attacks on phone masts, communications junction boxes and even telecoms workers, in communities across the UK.

The opprobrium has fallen on their blundering nature: these protesters set equipment aflame which also supports existing 3G and 4G networks. And at the very least, these mobile spectrums will play a crucial role in the monitoring and reduction of Covid-19’s spread, by supporting smartphone apps that do this work.

So it’s easy to shake our heads, gingerly finger the crooked timber of humanity, and point sternly to the science – as expressed by august bodies like the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) – funded by a global spread of national health and environment ministries.

The non-ionising part of the radiowave spectrum is what all mobile phones use. This “lacks sufficient energy to break apart DNA and cause cellular damage”, explains one of their scientists David Robert Grimes, a physicist and cancer researcher. What doesn’t lack the energy to damage us – to heat up physical tissue to an injurious level – are medical X-rays and gamma rays, and notably the sun’s ultra-violet rays. (So maybe better to argue against global warming and its reduction of cloud cover … )

The ICNIRP guidelines for the non-injurious impact of mobile phone spectrums suggest a safe outer limit of 300GHz. The maximum for 5G will probably only be in the tens of GHz. Indeed, the more physically frequent the masts, the weaker the transmissions can afford to be.

So there’s your curative dose of facts. But does this parade of “very low probabilities of danger” really address the anxieties of locked-down, freaked-out citizens who find themselves at the end of their tether?

Let me ventriloquise another voice: Here’s another procession of establishment forces, giving us no say or stake in the imposition of a giant technical and commercial system. At the front end, it’s Kevin Bacon goofing away, and phalanxes of suits telling us this will save our busted economies. At the back end, it’s human-replacing robot cars, Computer Says No forever, and ever more internet addiction.

Who asked us? When did we get to decide the priorities here? When can I properly occupy my own future? If I’m not allowed to, what should I do?

There’s probably no better antiseptic to being motivated by conspiracy theories than a good soaking in radical democracy. But these destructive acts only indicate how far we are from that being a daily reality.

The original Luddites, from the early 19th century, smashed their human-replacing looms not from thoughtless rage, but because they objected when their usage “did not benefit the commonality”, in the mythic words of General Ludd.

Amid the miasmic and unscientific conspiracy theorising around 5G networks, might there not be a little germ of understandable resistance here? The point is to extract it, cultivate it, and connect it to a substantively rational politics. One that makes people feel like purposeful agents in their own lives.

Another corona legacy, if we could but grasp it. Rubber swords at the ready.