The Return of the Cattle-Mutilation Conspiracy Theory

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In the early 1970s, ranchers in the Southwest began to share strange reports of cattle mutilations—carcasses discovered with organs missing, and with no obvious physical explanation for the deaths. A variety of culprits were suggested—secret government programs, satanists, cults, or extraterrestrials—despite multiple forensic investigations that turned up nothing suspicious about the deaths.

Then this spring, a minor police report about the mutilations of six cattle in Texas went from a Facebook post to multiple national articles in a matter of days. Why did such a seemingly small incident strike such a chord, and what does the American fascination with this particular conspiracy theory say about us? On episode 68 of The Politics of Everything, hosts Laura Marsh and Alex Pareene chat with Michael J. Goleman, a historian who researched the first great wave of cattle mutilations in the 1970s, and with cultural historian Colin Dickey, who has written extensively about American conspiracy theories, about their historical cycles and why, in the twenty-first century, they seem to have taken a very dark turn.

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