As reported last week by Salon, relatively normal people like twentysomething New Yorker Brendan Hunt are now embracing alternative Sandy Hook theories. They’re
harassing interviewing witnesses, searching for other gunmen, and trying to tie the tragedy to secret societies and/or the military-industrial complex in any way possible.
Hunt is by no means a self-proclaimed messiah like Jay Johnson or a Fregoli delusion sufferer like Ed Chiarini. He’s smart, well-spoken, and…well…ordinary. With guys like him promoting Sandy Hook conspiranoia, Salon writer Alex Seitz-Wald argues, even more ordinary people will be persuaded to believe there’s “something not right” about the Newtown massacre.
The thing is, though, that Brendan Hunt already bought into some dodgy conspiracy theories before discovering Sandy Hook (Kurt Cobain was murdered, Illuminati stuff). He’s not exactly cut out to be a Pied Piper, leading the unsuspecting masses off to Kooklandia.
But Salon does have a valid point. Even the fringiest conspiracy theories do have a tendency to leach insidiously into the mainstream, like sludge from some ancient, poisoned well seeping into the ground water.
Here’s how weird conspiracy theories often work:
- Something notable happens.
- The media reports it, authorities investigate it, people talk about it, etc.
- Wingnuts crawl out of every hole to explain what really happened.
- Over time, the alternative theories become normalized, and relatively sane people feel comfortable embracing them, even though they still don’t make much sense.
This happened with the assassination of JFK and 9/11. It started with a handful of kooks suggesting that the dyslexic, troubled Lee Harvey Oswald was a crack CIA assassin, or that Israel’s Mossad engineered an aerial assault on America. Gradually, the theories metastasized into an ever-expanding industry of self-published books, seminars, conventions, documentaries, even Hollywood films. In the case of 9/11, entire social movements comprised of energetic young people sprouted from ideas that should, by all the laws of reason, have remained confined to the hidey-holes of a few eccentric curmudgeons. Today, most Americans believe JFK was the target of a conspiracy, and a vast number of people think there’s “something not right” about the 9/11 attacks. It can get to the point where conspiracists are considered skeptics or truth seekers, while anyone who insists on basing their conclusions on evidence are seen as naive, dishonest, or part of the conspiracy.
A few celebrity endorsements never hurt. When a daffy prosecutor decided in the late ’60s that Kennedy had been taken out by some sort of far-right lavender mafia, comedian Mort Sahl volunteered his services as a researcher, and Johny Carson welcomed him onto his show to unreel a barely-baked theory about fake railroad bums who turned out to be actual railroad bums. Yale-educated director Oliver Stone had no trouble recruiting an all-star cast for an execrable film that was supposed to expose the Warren Commission as a fraud.
A whole slew of celebs have publicly expressed support for 9/11 Truth: Rosie O’Donnell, the Sheen clan, Mos Def, David Lynch, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Willie Nelson.
Now we have Sandy Hook. While the Aurora massacre and countless other mass murders have spawned popular conspiracy theories, it’s Sandy Hook that really seems to have captured the hearts and imaginations of the conspiracy world. Let’s take a look at how the Sandy Hook conspiracy theories played out, using the model above:
- Adam Lanza allegedly entered Sandy Hook Elementary School In Newtown, Connecticut and opened fire, killing 20 children and 6 adults before shooting himself in the head.
- The story drew international media attention. Investigators concluded that Lanza likely acted on his own. There was a worldwide outpouring of sympathy and support for the families of victims , as well as a national outcry from people who wished to see assault weapons strictly controlled or banned in the U.S.
- Ed Chiarini, a Texas conspiranoid who believes everyone he sees in the media is actually someone else (the last pope was actually Robert Blake, John Stossel is actually Freddy Mercury, etc.), declared that some of the Newtown parents he saw on the news were actually actors hired by the government. A man calling himself New Age Messiah (real name Jay Johnson) set up a website called Sandy Hook Hoax to explain how the New World Order faked the entire massacre. An insanely popular video (since scrubbed from the Internet for copyright infringement) explained how a map of Gotham briefly displayed in The Dark Knight Rises “predictively programmed” the Newtown massacre. World Net Daily feebly attempted to link Lanza to devil worship, and speculated about a Satanic-cult conspiracy. Alex Jones stated on his radio show that the Sandy Hook massacre could be a government-staged event designed to usher in gun confiscation and draconian legislation (which he does after pretty much every massacre). Veteran JFK researcher and 9/11 Truther James Fetzer decided “Isreali death squads” were probably responsible. YouTube users created novelty songs and “documentaries” accusing rescuers, grieving parents, and investigators of being complicit in a massive conspiracy/cover-up.
Most disturbingly, many of these people insist the murdered children are still alive.
- Fragments of “evidence”, such as an Ed Chiarini visual aid “proving” that two Newtown parents who appeared on news broadcasts are actually paid actors from Florida, began to pop up on social networking sites, divorced from their wider (crazier) context. Seen in isolation, some of this “evidence” can seem quite intriguing and persuasive. As more and more average people are exposed to these free-floating factoids that have landed in the public square, many of them will be persuaded to believe there’s “something not right” about the Newtown massacre. And a new conspiracy industry may be born. There aren’t any celebrity endorsements so far (Dick Gregory must be otherwise engaged), but if we don’t get a Vincent Bugliosi to nip this thing in the bud, we could soon be watching a 12-part History Channel series on The Men Who Did Sandy Hook.
Correction: Spoke too soon about Dick Gregory. Here he is explaining what really happened.