As a conspiracy theory, the term New World Order or NWO refers to the emergence of a totalitarian one-world government.
The common theme in conspiracy theories about a New World Order is that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government—which replaces sovereign nation-states—and an all-encompassing propaganda that ideologizes its establishment as the culmination of history's progress. Significant occurrences in politics and finance are speculated to be orchestrated by an unduly influential cabal operating through many front organizations. Numerous historical and current events are seen as steps in an on-going plot to achieve world domination through secret political gatherings and decision-making processes.
Prior to the early 1990s, New World Order conspiracism was limited to two American countercultures, primarily the militantly anti-government right, and secondarily fundamentalist Christians concerned with end-time emergence of the Antichrist. Skeptics, such as Michael Barkun and Chip Berlet, have observed that right-wing populist conspiracy theories about a New World Order have now not only been embraced by many seekers of stigmatized knowledge but have seeped into popular culture, thereby inaugurating an unrivaled period of people actively preparing for apocalyptic millenarian scenarios in the United States of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. These political scientists are concerned that this mass hysteria could have what they judge to be devastating effects on American political life, ranging from widespread political alienation to escalating lone-wolf terrorism.
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