As a reporter for the defunct Minneapolis Star, Johnson tracked down the story on America's leading political paranoids--the types who think that all the world's ills result from a giant global conspiracy. His leads took him into some really loony territory, and there he found a dubious connecting thread. Because Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, called the perpetrators of the conspiracy he detected Illuminati, and because such references can be read into (or appear in) other versions of paranoid politics, Johnson goes off on a historical exegesis of Gnosticism, the Rosicrucians, Freemasonry, and other secret societies of various degrees of occultism or revealed knowledge. In Johnson's superficial treatment they become the rationalists, and their opponents--first the Catholic Church, then Protestant sects--become the purveyors of faith. Johnson keeps the Illuminati thread going throughout, stringing every manifestation of anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, anticommunism, or belief in the special knowledge of a small group on it. In the 18th century, many people pointed to the Freemasons as the force behind the French Revolution, but such ideas never took much hold here. Rather, anti-Catholicism has run deeper. Johnson has chapters on both; then, when contemporary right-wingers like Bob Jones attack the Pope as ""Antichrist,"" or the John Birch Society reprints anti-Freemasonry classics, they wind up lumped together--though Freemasonry has long been seen as a threat to Catholicism (not least because of its alleged role in the French Revolution). Johnson, in fact, cites works by Catholic traditionalists, followers of the French prelate Marcel Lefevre, that claim Vatican II as a Masonic conspiracy. The Birchers distribute those too, which suggests a degree of confusion Johnson cannot dispel. Other familiar paranoids covered are Lyndon LaRouche of the US Labor Party, who sees a conspiracy by Zionists and the British aristocracy to depopulate the world in the interests of the rich, and the Liberty Lobby, which adheres to the Communist-Jewish conspiracy with the familiar Rothschild/Council on Foreign Relations/Trilateral Commission nexus as its heart. Some worthwhile spot-reports--but little other substance.