Late afternoon on Sunday, news broke that America did that thing America does so well: walked into a peaceful crowd of celebrating people and started shooting them.
From the details we have, about 16+ hours after the shooting, 19-year-old Santino William Legan decided he wanted to be a martyr for a cause existing entirely in his head, and cut the fence of the Gilroy Garlic Festival carrying a semi-automatic rifle. He opened fire, shooting approximately 12 people, killing three – including a six-year-old boy. Legan was then shot and killed by Gilroy police, ending the rampage.
As used to these horrible shootings as we’ve become, so too have we become used to the fusillade of conspiracy theories that follows each one. The one you’ll hear the most is the one you always hear the most, and the one that pisses you off to the greatest degree: that it was a “false flag” staged by (INSERT PRESIDENT HERE) to serve as a distraction from (INSERT NEGATIVE NEWS STORY HERE).
Trump’s government pulls them all the time, and before that it was Obama’s government, George W. Bush’s government, Clinton’s government, and on and on. Or, if you’re a follower of the QAnon conspiracy theory, the false flag was actually staged by the ruling cabal that Trump is at war with, trying to distract us from whatever bad news the citizen researchers of 8chan have dug up.
Whatever helps you sleep. By now, there’s simply nothing newsworthy or interesting about the cries of false flag that will come from social media droogs who don’t understand the term, don’t have any evidence, and think they’re on the cutting edge of blowing the whole terrible puzzle wide open.
Nor should we be moved to don our tinfoil hats by the breathless whispers of a second shooter helping Legan’s horror along. There’s still an active hunt going on for an accomplice, but these reports are based almost entirely on eyewitness testimony, and aren’t indicative of anything much other than the police doing their due diligence.
It’s still possible Legan was working with someone else, but far more likely that he wasn’t, and witnesses were tricked by the intensity of the situation and the inherent unreliability of memory. These second shooter investigations are necessary, but almost never fruitful.
The fact is that reports of a second shooter or accomplice are common in the frenzied first few minutes and hours after a shooting, as the flawed recollections of witnesses run headlong into the desperate need to be the first to publish accounts of the shootings. There were multiple reports of a second shooter on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, for example, including a girl who gave an interview talking about a second man in body armor who never existed. She wasn’t lying, she was simply mistaken.
And sure, there have been a few QAnon theories that believers in that mythology will pick over endlessly, such as it having been 666 days from the Douglas High School shooting to the Gilroy shooting (so what?) or the Congressional rep of that district being the son of former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon Panetta (again, so what?). But most of these are too esoteric to be anything other than entries in the endless list of “anon notable!!” events that QAnon sucks up and spits back out.
If fact, the first day after the Gilroy shooting has been marked by a lull in conspiracy theories other than the standard issue ones. Part of this can be attributed to when it took place, a Sunday afternoon in late July when breaking news teams and social media are usually taking a breather. But more than that, the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting simply didn’t have the novelty or body count needed to move the needle in a time and place where we scarcely go a few days without some maniac shooting some people who did nothing wrong.
The Las Vegas massacre of 2017 generated copious conspiracy theories about the shooter’s motive, occult rituals, a failed assassination attempt on Donald Trump, and other bizarre notions – because it was the bloodiest mass shooting in American history. Likewise, the Douglas High School shooting did the same because of the scale of the horror, the age of the victims, and let’s not forget the outspoken anti-gun stances of the survivors.
But this? Three people shot and killed is just another day in America. No conspiracy is required. It’s a sign of how far we’ve fallen in terms of empathy and compassion when something like this is knocked off the front pages of our news apparatus by the latest foray into racist tweeting by our president.
Which it will be.
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