As a conspiracy theory, the term New World Order or NWO refers to the emergence of a totalitarian 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 will replace sovereign nation-states—and an all-encompassing propaganda whose ideology hails the establishment of the New World Order as the culmination of history's progress. Many influential historical and present figures have been purported to be part of a cabal that operates through many front organizations to orchestrate significant political and financial occurrences as well as significant world events as steps in an ongoing plot to achieve world domination through secret political gatherings and decision-making processes.
Before the early 1990s, New World Order conspiracism was limited to two American countercultures, primarily the militantly anti-government right and secondarily that part of fundamentalist Christianity concerned with the end-time emergence of the Antichrist. Skeptics such as Michael Barkun and Chip Berlet observed that right-wing populist conspiracy theories about a New World Order had not only been embraced by many seekers of stigmatized knowledge but had seeped into popular culture, thereby inaugurating a period during the late 20th and early 21st centuries in the United States where people were actively preparing for apocalyptic millenarian scenarios. Those political scientists were concerned that mass hysteria could have what they judged to be devastating effects on American political life, ranging from widespread political alienation to escalating lone-wolf terrorism.