Covid‐19‐Related Conspiracy Myths, Beliefs, and Democracy‐Endangering Consequences

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

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Covid‐19‐Related Conspiracy Myths, Beliefs, and Democracy‐Endangering Consequences


  • Gert Pickel Institute for Practical Theology, University of Leipzig, Germany
  • Cemal Öztürk Institute for Political Science, University of Duisburg‐Essen, Germany
  • Verena Schneider Institute for Practical Theology, University of Leipzig, Germany
  • Susanne Pickel Institute for Political Science, University of Duisburg‐Essen, Germany
  • Oliver Decker Else‐Frenkel‐Brunswik Institute for the Study of Democracy, University of Leipzig, Germany


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Abstract:  Since late 2020, protests against government measures to contain the Covid‐19 pandemic have swept across Germany. At the forefront of these protests was the Querdenker Movement, a heterogeneous alliance of ordinary citizens, hippies, esotericists, opponents of conventional medicine, Christian fundamentalists, and right‐wing extremists bonded by their shared belief in conspiracy myths. This contribution draws upon the theoretical framework of the studies on the authoritarian personality to dissect the nature of this heterogeneous alliance and the democracy‐endangering potential of conspiracy myths. We present three key insights based on an analysis of representative public opinion surveys conducted by the Leipzig Authoritarianism Study. First, we demonstrate that susceptibility to conspiracy myths in the public mood occurs in waves that coincide with times of crisis. In this regard, the Covid‐19 pandemic is a catalyst of conspiracy myths as it has induced existential and epistemic insecurities amongst many citizens. Second, it is shown that there is an elective affinity between superstition, esotericism, and a conspiracy mentality, which can be cited as one explanation for the heterogeneous alliance during the protests. On the other hand, the nexus between religion and the conspiracy mentality depends on an individual’s interpretation of religion. It is literalist fundamentalism that fosters susceptibility to conspiracy myths. Third, we highlight the democracy‐endangering consequences of a conspiracy mentality. Its manifestations include resentment and hostility toward minorities, an alienation from democracy, an increased likelihood of voting for right‐wing authoritarian parties, and an affinity for violence.

Keywords:  affinity for violence; Alternative for Germany; anti‐Muslim attitudes; antisemitism; authoritarianism; conspiracy theories; Covid‐19; religiosity; religious fundamentalism; support for democracy

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v10i4.5798


© Gert Pickel, Cemal Öztürk, Verena Schneider, Susanne Pickel, Oliver Decker. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.