Over a span of less than 24 hours, America endured two more mass shootings, both carried out by young white men armed with assault rifles, and fed by internet-driven hate. The motivations of El Paso shooter Patrick Crusius and Dayton shooter Connor Betts appear to have been different, with Betts in particular seeming to be driven more by personal animosity and hatred of women than any political cause.
The causes of the two shootings might diverge, but one thing that doesn’t is the conspiracy theories that started up in their wake. The discourse about the El Paso shooting was flooded almost from the first moment with fake news, memes, errors in early reporting, nebulous conspiracy theories, and outright lies.
The Dayton shooting didn’t generate much in the way of conspiracies, but that’s only due to it taking place late on a Saturday night. By then, it was easy enough to lump the two shootings together as part of some kind of vast plot, carried out in two different places by the same shadowy group.
Longtime watchers of the early discourse around mass shootings will recognize everything that was written and said about El Paso, because it’s the same stuff that’s written and said about every mass shooting. They all have the same conspiracy theories, the same fake allegations, the same mistaken eyewitness reports, and the same attempts to flood the news cycle with fakes in order to create chaos.
So here’s a list of things the next mass shooting will not be. Because virtually no mass shooting ends up being any of these things.
Antifa – since becoming the new anti-conservative boogeyman, the organized anti-fascist movement (usually stylized in scary capital letters as ANTIFA) is almost always offered up by far right media figures as the culprit behind mass shootings. The Las Vegas Strip massacre was labeled an antifa attack by garbage websites like YourNewsWire and Neon Nettle, and within hours, there were breathless whispers about the shooter having antifa pamphlets in his room.
The Sutherland Springs shooting a few weeks later was likewise called an antifa attack, and it took just hours before garbage conservative sites were calling the two shootings over the weekend the work of antifa. Part of this was the shocking irresponsibility of Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who began ranting about a planned antifa rally in El Paso meant to take place around the same time as the shooting. But given that alleged shooter Patrick Crusius wrote a long manifesto about his hatred of Mexicans, and told police he wanted to kill as many Mexicans as he could, the two don’t exactly seem to be linked.
To this date, there hasn’t been a single mass shooting carried out to advance the aims of any anti-fascist movement.
Carried out by Sam Hyde – There is a real Sam Hyde, an internet prankster and alt-right sketch comic. For some reason (probably just because a few idiots think it’s funny), he’s also become the face of a meme that pins every mass shooting on him. Sam Hyde is not the shooter, has never been the shooter, and proof only that click-hungry media outlets don’t vet the tips they get before going live.
Carried out by two shooters – this is an incredibly common error made in early reporting when the media is desperate to get eyewitnesses in front of the camera. Many people report seeing more than one shooter, not because they’re lying or spreading disinfo, but because human experiences of traumatic events are flawed, as is human memory.
Both Parkland and Las Vegas were flooded by reports of second shooters, usually clad in black body armor, working alongside the culprits. What witnesses saw was almost certainly armed first responders breaching the building they were in. Unfortunately, many media outlets run with these early reports, causing unnecessary confusion and worry among people living in the immediate vicinity of the shooting. It’s easier and more comforting to believe that it takes more than one person to shoot and kill dozens of people, but given the armament available to the average American, it doesn’t.
To date, the only recent high profile mass shooting carried out by more than one person was the San Bernardino attack in 2015, which was has since been classified an ISIS-inspired terror attack. There have been a few lower profile shootings with more than one attacker, including a school shooting in May, one in Trenton in 2018, and one in Wilkinsburg PA in 2016. But these are rare enough to be outliers, and far too uncommon to assume that all mass shootings are carried out by multiple shooters. The vast majority are not.
A false flag carried out by the deep state – again, this comes back to the comfort of being able to pin a random massacre on something bigger than one angry white guy with a gun. While QAnon believers and conspiracy theorists immediately make up reasons why a shooting had to be perpetrated by the deep state (and convince themselves that they’ve figured it out within minutes), this has never been the case. It’s also a misuse of the definition of “false flag,” which is a real term meaning attacking someone while pretending to be allied with that person.
The motivation for “staging” the attack is usually seen as either taking away gun rights or distracting people from something else. But since no major gun legislation has been passed at a national level in decades, and the news cycle moves so quickly that the “distraction” itself is usually forgotten quickly, neither of these motivations seem to be worth the trouble of carrying out the attack.
If either the El Paso or Dayton shootings were “distractions” cooked up to get something else off the front page, it’s not going to work. Both shootings will be folded into the fabric of our never-ending American carnage, and the news cycle will spin onward.
To date, not a single mass shooting in American history has been confirmed to have been cooked up by a powerful cabal or shadowy state within a state. It’s comfort food for conspiracy theorists, nothing more.
A total fake – This is a slightly different animal from the “carried out by the deep state” conspiracy theory, but in the same family. While one supposes that the shooting is real, but the shooter is working for a shadowy organization, this supposes that the shooting itself is staged, and the victims aren’t dead – likely because they never existed.
This one has fallen by the wayside a little, as social media has given every bystander a camera in their pocket, with the ability to record a shooting as it’s happening. But even now, some people will seize on minor discrepancies in early reporting or time stamps to declare that the whole thing is just a giant con job, and the victims never existed. Of course, it’s also harder now that non-existent people are leaving bigger and bigger social media footprints. But don’t try applying logic to this one, because you’re just going to be frustrated.
So why does this stuff take off? Why must we believe that the deep state or a kill team or antifa are the culprits, rather than the angry young white man who is revealed to be the culprit? Part of it is our need to find explanations for thins that defy explanation. Another part is the need for internet trolls to flood the early hours after a tragedy with garbage that will make them laugh. And part of it is just our cognitive biases gone wild – believing what we want to believe, rather than things that are inconvenient to our worldview.
Whatever the reason, these are the fakes and conspiracies that crop up every time there’s a mass shooting. Save this list and come back to it next time there’s a mass shooting. Chances are, a good chunk of the discourse is going to be covered here – and you can go ahead and ignore it.
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