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The Global Reach of Conservative Conspiracy Theories

Much has been written about the role of the internet and social media in the Arab Spring last year, particularly in Egypt, where protestors organized and communicated on Facebook and Twitter. But while global connectivity can help protestors overthrow dictators and tell the world their story, it also gives everyone access to the less-inspiring corners of the web. That was on display this past week during Hillary Clinton’s visit to meet with leaders in Egypt.

You may have read about the protests that greeted the Secretary of State in Alexandria. Egyptian Christians and secularists are concerned about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and they oppose the newly-elected president Mohamed Morsi. Protestors outside the U.S. consulate threw tomatoes and shoes at Clinton’s motorcade, jeered her with shouts of “Monica, Monica!” and waved signs with messages like: “Stop U.S. funding of the Muslim Brotherhood” and “Clinton is the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Why were these Egyptians so riled up about Clinton? Because they’ve been getting their news from American conservatives, including one Michele Bachmann.

TIME’s Abigail Hauslohner and the Lede blog at the New York Times have excellent run-downs of the situation. According to both, Egyptian opponents of the new president are convinced that the U.S. government is sending billions of dollars directly to the Muslim Brotherhood and that the Obama administration has a secret pro-Islamist agenda.

Those are serious charges and it’s hard to understand why Egyptian Christians could believe them … unless you’ve been listening to Bachmann and other American conservatives lately. Bachmann and four other House colleagues recently demanded an investigation into what they call the Muslim Brotherhood’s “deep penetration” into the Obama administration, claiming that five federal agencies contain Muslim Brotherhood agents.

One Egyptian-American Christian who met with Clinton during her stay even cited statements by Bachmann as the evidence behind his concerns. On Twitter, a Wall Street Journal reporter asked an Egyptian blogger about her claim that the U.S. was sending billions of dollars to the Muslim Brotherhood – she pointed him first to an article on Lucianne Goldberg’s site, and then to a radio show with noted Islamophobe Frank Gaffney and retired American general Jerry Boykin, who yesterday was announced as a new vice president at the Family Research Council. When the reporter pointed out that Gaffney and Boykin produced no evidence for their claims, the Egyptian blogger insisted that a high-ranking U.S. military officer wouldn’t just make something up. Of course not.

Follow me on Twitter at @SullivanAmy.