The rise of the post-tragedy conspiracy

People bend facts to fit their version of events

19th March 2018

The recent shooting at a high school in Parkland, in the US state of Florida, claimed 17 lives and injured many more. While passionate young survivors are fighting for change, the conspiracy theories that have followed risk ruining progress that could save lives.

Currently, the far-right media is floating the idea that this shooting — the 18th since 2018 began — was either staged, or an elaborate scheme by the Democrats and the shadowy New World Order to take away America’s 2nd amendment. These theories are grossly insensitive and downright villainous in themselves.

But why do they arise in the first place? If we put aside our own theories for a moment we can look at some factors that contribute to these destructive and unsubstantiated rumours.

In the midst of a terror attack, it’s difficult for those on the scene to comprehend clearly what is happening to them

After any tragedy, there is a rush of information. Journalists, police, rescue services, and even victims all try to gather as much info as they can to make sense of what’s happening. The problem is that what starts as one person’s lead can become another confirmed story. The likes of Twitter and Facebook mean that stories can be shared rapidly and become “fact” without being confirmed.

This is exacerbated by the fact that firsthand accounts can often be confused.

A student named Alexa Meidnik assumed that there must have been a second shooter because she had a conversation with Florida shooter, Nikolas Cruz, after the shooting occurred. Cruz himself admitted that after the shooting he disposed of his weapons and ammo to blend into the crowd. So Meidnik’s confusion is perfectly understandable.

In the midst of a terror attack, it’s difficult for those on the scene to comprehend clearly what is happening to them. In crimes, witness testimony is known to be unreliable and subject to your own fears as well as outside influences.

Rumours

The likes of Alex Jones’ InfoWars.com reported this story without Cruz’s testimony and purported that there was a second shooter, as he did with the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016. Similar rumours circulated about the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012.

Jones has also stated that the Sandy Hook massacre was a staged event; claiming the victims and their families where actors. This rumour has once again surfaced in Florida. A number of survivors, including student activist David Hogg, who have chosen to speak about gun reform in America have been accused of being stooges.

One internet video claims Hogg, the son of a former FBI employee, was coached for an anti-gun speech. Of course, Hogg isn’t an actor and has gone on record of saying as much.

If one of the survivor’s parents worked a Walmart, we’d have equal claim to assume Walmart orchestrated this disaster

Conspiracy theorists tend to buy into more than one theory. It isn’t much of a leap for someone who is convinced that Sandy Hook was staged based on no evidence, to make the same claim about Parkland, meaning that these falsehoods repeat themselves and add to a larger worldview — a worldview that is made up of imaginary and coincidental connections.

Hogg’s relationship to a former FBI agent is enough for conspiracists to claim that the FBI, and hence the government or rather the secret rulers of the world, are involved. But if one of the survivor’s parents worked a Walmart, we’d have equal claim to assume Walmart orchestrated this disaster.

Building a narrative

Jones himself has already begun to build the conspiracy around the Democratic Party and the Nunes Memo, a leaked document suggesting the FBI abused its surveillance tools during the Obama administration. On his show, he claimed that he knew a mass shooting was going to occur and it was going to be blamed on the far right. Given that most mass shootings are perpetrated by far-right terrorists and America is currently averaging three shootings a week, this doesn’t require much insight.

The conspiracy theorist will bend facts to the extreme to make that match their theory

He went further, stating: “I’m not saying this is a false flag but [Democrats have] been talking about massacres and things if people don’t leave them alone.” So, if there are massacres, “that makes them suspects”.

It’s clearly a very large leap from something he imagined the Democrats saying to a proof of a staged shooting, but what this demonstrated is the construction of a narrative. A theory about how the world really works already exists in the mind of the conspiracy theorist, and they will bend facts to the extreme to make that match their theory.

Terrified witnesses have confused stories, so therefore the events are false. Mass shootings are staged to provide socialists with the mean to take away guns. The shooter was wearing a Make America Great Again cap to make Trump look bad.

The truth

The truth is that the National Rifle Association (NRA) donates a lot to Washington and gives arms companies too much influence. Conspiracy merchants likely believe their own stories and make money on selling lies. It would be very easy to believe that there is a huge Right Wing conspiracy for global control stemming from Alex Jones through Breitbart up to Infowars.com super-fan Donald Trump. But in reality, it’s probably just greed.

All we can do is educate ourselves as best we can and be savvy about the way we consume and share news

And these conspiracies are difficult to combat. They don’t rely on truth and any factual counter claim adds to the overall conspiracy. Even addressing these shootings directly adds to the idea of a Left Wing “agenda” to politicise these disasters rather than let the families grieve.  This agenda, in turn, gives more weight and “evidence” to the conspiracies.

But again the problem is these attacks happen so frequently, that according to The Right, there may never be an appropriate time to discuss gun reform as there are always parents who have recently lost children.

All we can do is educate ourselves as best we can and be savvy about the way we consume and share news. The truth won’t be enough as it’s too easily assimilated into the narrative and what’s more it would be an endless and ultimately thankless battle. These conspiracies will continue to pop up and we’ll see the same pattern over and over again so long as these atrocities are allowed to occur over and over again.

19th March 2018