Where Do Those Conspiracy Theories Come From?

How do we wind up with almost an entire political party embracing conspiracy theories that used to be ignored or simply dismissed as rantings from the lunatic fringe? Is it really possible that at least two incoming GOP Members of Congress have voiced support for Qanon? Are we really now living in a world where such nutty, anti-Semitic, and racist internet mouthings can be taken seriously by anyone at all?

Qanon may be the most extreme example of alt-right conspiracy activity, but the idea that there’s this unseen but largely government-connected group that is planning to take over the country and destroy everything we hold near and dear isn’t particularly new. In fact, such narratives have been floating around since at least the 1960’s, if not before.

Where and how did these ideas first appear? Among individuals and groups who opposed the civil rights and voting rights laws. This opposition first became a national issue when President Eisenhower deployed the National Guard to Little Rock after Governor Faubus refused to let Black students attend Central High School in 1957. The defense of segregation became even more intense in the early 1960’s, forcing President Kennedy to send federal marshals to protect Freedom Riders from violent assaults in 1961.

These events and others set a pattern in motion which continues to the present day. And the pattern is that the national government ‘imposes’ laws and regulations on local communities to enforce liberal solutions to problems that local communities should be allowed to settle without outside interference of any kind.

And what do most of these problems and solutions involve? They involve issues of race. On occasion they also involve issues of gender both for women and gays. But whatever the issue, it’s always those goddamn liberals whose agenda runs counter to what good, God-fearing people both desire and believe.

There’s only one little problem with this argument, however. And the problem involves the fact that since 1920, when the two national parties began to shape themselves around liberal versus conservative ideals, the White House has been occupied by a GOP President for slightly longer than it has been the home of a President from the Democratic side.   – 52 red, 48 blue.

So how do you explain the successful assault on our basic traditions and values if the government has so often been in the ‘right’ hands? You explain it by promoting the idea that it really doesn’t matter who wins an election; what really matters is who runs the government where it really counts – voila! – the Deep State.

This nonsense first took off, aided by social media, following the terrible killing of those young children in the elementary school at Sandy Hook. Why was the Sandy Hook massacre a totally staged and totally phony event? Because the liberals wanted to disarm America and take away all ‘our’ guns. And which Presidential candidate then gave Alex Jones –  progenitor of the Sandy Hook conspiracy theory – a pat on the back for helping his campaign? The same candidate now President who invented the idea of a ‘rigged’ election completely on his own.

So once again those goddamn liberals hidden deep inside the recesses of the Federal Government are attempting to impose their agenda on you, me and all the other decent, hard-working Americans who voted to re-elect Donald Trump.

Remember Dick Armey and Freedom Works which fought Obama’s Affordable Care Act because it would have imposed socialism from sea to shining sea? Remember the Tea Party’s appearance in 2009 in response to Federal bailouts of the auto industry which were really just another effort to impose the Socialist agenda by the Deep State? Remember Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin?

This craziness goes all the way back to when we passed a civil rights law a full century after a Constitutional Amendment gave African-Americans full civil rights. The good news is that as soon as Joe is sworn into office as Number 46, the conspiracy theory boys will no longer have access to the bully pulpit and they’ll go back to underneath their rocks – which is where they belong.

And they can take #45 along with them as well.

The Lawsuit Against Alex Jones Injects Reality Into The Gun Debate.

Every time a gun-control law is upheld, our friends in the gun-control movement (I think the idea of trying to convince Gun-nut Nation that we don’t want to ‘control’ guns is absurd) exult and rightly so. But the lawsuits filed against Alex Jones by a group of Sandy Hook parents has more significance than any particular legal statute could ever have. What the Sandies are saying is that they have suffered threats, harassment, public humiliation and invasions of their privacy because Jones keeps blaming them for what happened at the elementary school. Which is what conspiracy theory is all about: identify a vulnerable victim and then pile on.

jones   Ultimately, the argument over gun violence is going to get down to how the average person thinks about guns, and the influence of someone like Jones over the public gun debate has been an important factor in the way the argument has gone along until now. The problem in this case isn’t the issue of determining what happened at Newtown, it’s the way that folks who are shocked and dismayed by these kinds of events react by getting involved in activities which might prevent such horrendous massacres from happening again.

I guarantee you that if the Sandy Hook parents had just suffered their silent grief and decided, individually and collectively to stay out of public view, that the conspiracy theories which ramped up immediately after December 14, 2012 would have quickly gone away. But the Sandies formed an organization devoted to promoting alternatives to violence in schools; they journeyed as a group to D.C. to help Obama with his attempt to get a new gun law;  they continue to advocate for restrictions on guns; and worst of all, the sued the gunmaker who manufactured the AR-15 which was used to kill 20 little kids and 6 adults in a five-minute rampage inside the school. Oh, that AR-15 isn’t too lethal for civilian sale.  It’s just a sporting rifle, right?  Yea, right.

The reason that Jones continues driving down the conspiracy path with Newtown, he’s claimed the same thing about the Aurora massacre, by the way, is because much of his audience happens to come out of the gun-owning fringe who feel that even the NRA is too tame to represent their beliefs. Think I’m kidding?  Take a look at his interview of Ted Nugent, whose high-intensity slurs and insults against the liberal ‘menace’ often put Jones to shame.

Jones says that he first got turned onto his political world view because his father was a member of the John Birch Society – remember them?  The Birchers were the first group that created an entire political belief-system around conspiracy theories, in particular the notion that there was a worldwide conspiracy of Communists, liberals, and other enemies of freedom which unless we were all endlessly vigilant, would rear its ugly head. They group has become somewhat more respectable over the last few years, their website is simply another imitation of Breitbart which, thanks to DD Trump has determined that ‘illegal aliens’ are now the big threat.

What makes the legal actions against Jones so compelling is that it forces people to confront the fact that gun violence, which kills and injures an average of 340 people every day, is something that actually takes place.  Let’s say, for example, that a particular locality suffers from a high degree of gun violence and decides to enact a new gun-control law.  What’s to stop someone like Alex Jones from saying that the 24 gun murders which occurred in a certain city so far this year weren’t just staged?

When the NRA says that it’s not the gun that kills people, it’s people who kill people, they are promoting a false narrative which is no different than Alex Jones claiming that Sandy Hook never took place. It’s high time that such cynically-proffered delusions get challenged not just in the law courts, but in the court of public opinion as well.

 

Conspiracy Theorists Aren’t The Only Ones Who Got It Wrong At Sandy Hook.

I’m not sure that the defamation lawsuit against Alex Jones by Sandy Hook parents Pozner and Heslin is a good thing or a bad thing. Obviously, anything that would take a little wind out of Jones’ sails is a good thing; the bad thing is that Jones will promote himself as an innocent ‘victim’ and use the suit to inflame and widen his audience a little more.

jones             You should know that Jones is hardly the only conspiracy theorist to trot out the idea that the massacre at Sandy Hook never took place.  Another conspiracy theorist, James Tracy, lost a tenured position at Florida Atlantic University because he not only promoted the idea that the whole episode was a hoax, but was accused by one of the Sandy Hook families of harassing them in an attempt to dig up more details. A conspiracy video called ‘The Sandy Hook Truther – Fully Exposed,’ racked up over 5 million views within the first week after it aired on YouTube in 2013.

The problem with the conspiracy gang is that the main target of all their conspiracies, a U.S. President who was born in Kenya, is no longer around. So, it’s not clear the degree to which this kind of nonsense will maintain its audience share when the last thing that someone like Alex Jones will do is to accuse D.D.D. Trump of using the government to promote his nefarious ends. After all, it’s pretty tough to attack the guy whose entire political agenda is based on cleaning out the ‘deep state.’

But getting back to the issue of Sandy Hook, unfortunately, self-promoters like Alex Jones were aided in their efforts to push the conspiracy line by the mainstream media, whose representatives descended on Newtown like locusts in a wheat field and very quickly began screwing their news reports up, down, sideways and everywhere else.  Early that afternoon news reports began identifying the shooter by name, except the person who allegedly shot everyone wasn’t Adam Lanza, rather, it was his older brother Ryan who was on his way home from his job in lower Manhattan when he learned that he was being accused of killing a whole bunch of school kids.

How did the media blow this one so bad?  Because directly after the shooting scene was secured, the cops searched Adam Lanza’s car and found Ryan’s driver’s license which was in the car for reasons that were never made clear. During the search, a reporter grabbed one of the cops, asked him what they had found, and the cop said, “Oh, we know who it is because he left his driver’s license in the car.”  And once this news got out, every network and every media venue reported it all over the place.

Six days after the massacre, NPR ran a detailed account of the mistakes made by media in the initial reportage about Sandy Hook, and named themselves, The New York Times, CBS and the Associated Press among others who got it wrong before they got it right. The lack of early media diligence was explained by the hyper-competitive situation which now characterizes all media news, but the bottom line is that the moment that a mainstream media venue had to retract or change a story, this gave the conspiracy theorists all the ammunition (pardon the pun) they would need.

I would hope that our friends in the responsible media would learn from this episode, particularly because Sandy Hook parents like Leonard Pozner and others continue to suffer from this outrageous fusillade of lies while still trying to overcome their grief. But I am still waiting for the Las Vegas Police Department to explain how photographs from within Stephen Paddock’s hotel room appeared on the internet before the cops even confirmed the shooter’s name.

It’s easy to blame Alex Jones for pushing a false story about Sandy Hook. But are we so sure that we can trust our friends in the mainstream media to tell us what really happens when someone starts banging away with a gun?

Why Did Sandy Hook Happen? Because He Had A Gun.

We are slightly more than four sad months away from the fifth anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook. The deaths of 20 young schoolchildren, 6 adults, plus the shooter and his mother unleashed a firestorm of emotion and controversy which persists today and shapes the attitudes and strategies of the two opposing sides in the gun debate. One side, led by national gun-control organizations Brady and Everytown keeps up a steady drumbeat to strengthen laws which promote keeping guns away from high-risk individuals; the other side, led by the NRA, wants it easier for individuals to arm themselves as well as abolishing gun-free zones.

sandy             There’s only one little problem with both arguments: neither would have prevented what happened at Sandy Hook. If you don’t believe me, read the thousand-plus pages produced by the State’s Attorney, the Office of Child Advocate and the Department of Emergency Services to try and learn why a 20-year old, part-time college student who was never considered a risk or a threat to himself or anyone else put four bullets into his mother, then shot 26 adults and children, then turned  a gun on himself. I’ll save you the trouble of reading and tell you that you won’t find out why Adam Lanza did what he did.

On December 20, 2012, six days after the shooting, a family therapist who gives advice to lovesick callers on her bi-weekly radio show wrote an article for Psychology Today: “Was Adam Lanza an Undiagnosed Schizophrenic?” This expert judged the event as a ‘failure of the mental health system’ because had the shooter been diagnosed properly, perhaps all those dead adults and children would still be alive. The author, Jamie Turndorf, also knew that his behavior represented ‘extreme acting out of pent up rage.” The fact that Dr. Turndorf had never seen Adam, was writing on the basis of a few pieces of informal gossip and was helping the hucksters at Psychology Today turn an unspeakable tragedy into a quick buck is, or course, besides the point.

In 1999 following Columbine, the government convened a team of experts drawn from relevant disciplines (mental health, law enforcement, education) to study mass shootings and create a ‘treat assessment’ tool which could be used to identify youngsters who might pose a significant risk to themselves and/or others in school.  Their report, which still guides emergency planning initiatives, was based on the study of 18 school shootings and concludes that the reasons why such events occur “remain elusive.”

At the same time, the experts also identified misinformation about such events which “is not necessarily complete, accurate, or balanced. News coverage magnifies a number of widespread but wrong or unverified impressions of school shooters.” And what is stated to be a major unverified explanation for mass school shootings? Ready? “Easy access to weapons is THE most significant risk factor.” [Their bold.]

Are these so-called experts serious? Do they have any idea what they are talking about? Unless I don’t know how to read English, what this blue-ribbon panel is saying, and this report was endorsed both by the Director of the FBI and the Attorney General of the United States, is that they don’t know the exact reason why young men commit acts of mass violence in schools, but they do know that it’s not because they get their hands on guns.

I am currently writing a book about Sandy Hook and one issue I am forced to examine is the Alex Jones-type of conspiracy theories still proliferating throughout the alt-right blogosphere, theories that take advantage of initial reportage from mainstream media which contained statements that were either bungled or wrong. But nobody, not even the looniest conspiracy hucksters have ever tried to claim that a mass shooting would be possible without access to a highly-lethal, hi-capacity gun.

You can play around with all the behavioral theories you want, but Adam Lanza killed 26 people inside two classrooms, standing in each room for two minutes or less.

Obama And The Conspiracy To Disarm America: The Washington Post Weighs In And Gets It Wrong.

So for the very first time in the lifetime of everyone who is alive today, a President devoted an entire hour of prime-time media to a discussion about gun violence. And it was a discussion, I might add, that was largely shaped by a series of questions which, vetted or not, were asked by members of the audience at the Town Hall who weren’t particularly in favor of any of the President’s gun-control ideas.  Which was the whole point of this event, namely, to show the average American that Obama simply wants to have a sensible conversation about guns.

bomber              And in that regard, the President knew his stuff and spelled it out clearly and effortlessly.  He knew the difference between gun ownership and concealed-carry (the former regulated at the Federal level; the latter regulated by the states).  He knew and didn’t disagree with the notion that people wanted to own guns for self-defense.  He knew the difference between public and private sales.  In fact, I didn’t hear him make one, single statement during the entire event that couldn’t be supported by facts.

The moment that the event ended, of course, the ‘other side’ was rearing to go, with comments such as “law-abiding gun owners don’t trust Obama,” and Obama as “bully” flying through right-wing channels.  Not that any of the pro-gun, anti-Obama rhetoric was unexpected, because that’s what the digital news and political commentary environment is all about.  But what provoked the greatest amount of attention on both sides of the political spectrum was the discussion at the end of the event when the President derisively dismissed the idea of gun confiscation as a ‘conspiracy theory’ that had no basis in reality or truth.

Now here is where Obama was treading on a landscape that represents Gun Nation’s most sacred cow.  This notion that any kind of gun control is a harbinger of gun confiscation has gotten to the point that the NRA, for example, uses the phrases ‘2nd Amendment’ and ‘disarming America’ interchangeably; i.e., if you don’t believe in the former, the latter will surely occur.  And this has become the degree to which any attempt to talk about gun violence is debased insofar as any gun-control law by definition reduces protections afforded by the 2nd Amendment, which raises the possibility that you might lose your guns.

Now I don’t care and obviously Obama doesn’t care either if this nonsense about gun confiscation continues to generate an immediate backlash from the most committed members of the pro-gun crowd.  But when it’s taken seriously by liberal opinion-makers such as the Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund, it needs to be responded in kind. Ehrenfreund is a bright, young man, Yalie no less, who quickly produced a commentary on Obama’s talk about conspiracies based largely on some ersatz academic theories about conspiracies which basically argue that political powerlessness makes people prone to believing in conspiracies, which is why all those conservative-minded gun owners are susceptible to believing in conspiracies.  Right – politically powerless gun owners.  Yea, right.

When you run a daily blog you have to come up with new content every day. But I would hope that the editors of a Washington Post blog would occasionally ask themselves whether their contributors know anything at all regarding the issues about which they write.  Because the whole point about conspiracies is they usually grow from the ground up; somehow people start believing in something whether there’s any reality behind their belief or not.

Which is simply not what the gun confiscation conspiracy is all about. It’s about a concerted, organized and continuous effort to promote the sale of guns – an effort led and directed by the NRA and others for the past thirty years.  Ehrenfreud doesn’t perceive this at all, but Obama certainly does.  His dismissal of the confiscation theory as reflecting “political reasons” and “commercial reasons” demonstrates an understanding of the gun debate that even the Washington Post hasn’t figured out. Which is why Obama is President.  Thank goodness for that.