Last summer, conspiracy watchers were abuzz over the shooting death of former Arkansas state senator Linda Collins-Smith. And recent updates in the case have made the case even more bizarre and noteworthy.
The 57-year-old Republican was found dead in her home of a single gunshot wound to the chest. Naturally, the death of anyone involved in Arkansas politics, no matter who they were or what they did, instantly points back to the Clintons – a couple long rumored to have a monumental list of people they’ve killed. It didn’t help the conspiracy theories that Collins-Smith had recently appeared on the QAnon YouTube channel Patriots Soapbox, and even though she wasn’t there to talk about Q, just the correlation was enough.
Pretty soon, the rumor mill was churning. Collins-Smith was said to have been spearheading an investigation into tens of millions of dollars pilfered by the Clinton Foundation from the Arkansas Department of Health, or that she was a witness in a grand jury investigation into the Whitewater scandal. Both were good reasons why the Clintons would want to mulch her.
Of course, none of this was true. There’s no indication the Clintons ever met Collins-Smith, the “missing money” that she had been investigating was linked to underpayments from the Arkansas DHS to the federal government, and there hasn’t been a Whitewater grand jury since the early 90’s. And just a few days after news of her death broke, a suspect was in custody: former Collins-Smith staffer Rebecca Lynn O’Donnell. A friend of both Collins-Smith and her estranged husband, O’Donnell was also a witness in their contested divorce.
While she pleaded not guilty to the murder, the case was hit with a gag order and prosecutors announced they’d be seeking the death penalty.
Since then, the strange saga of Rebecca O’Donnell has only gotten stranger, as the Daily Beast broke news that she’d been hit with additional charges of trying to arrange the murder of Collins-Smith’s ex-husband and his new wife. The site uncovered a truly bizarre scheme where the imprisoned O’Donnell offered $30,000 in gold to fellow inmates to murder them both and make it look like a suicide in order to get the charges against her dropped.
It didn’t work, as the inmates she “hired” immediately ratted her out. She’s facing even more charges, and seems certain to never be out of prison.
These are the kinds of operatic details that local crime reporters live for (murder-suicide! Jailhouse ratting! Payment in gold!), but that are inconvenient to conspiracy theorists. If the Clintons really had wanted Linda Collins-Smith dead, leaving her assassin around to get caught and commit more crimes is not an efficient way to do it. Isn’t she a risk to them as long as she’s around? Wouldn’t she see ratting out the Clintons as a way to avoid the needle?
This is the inherent disconnect in modern conspiracy theories: they’re carried out by people evil enough to kill and destroy to further their own agenda, but also by people dumb enough to get caught fairly easily by people with no training or skills beyond looking things up online.
Nobody who believes these things bothers to reconcile this, other than simply writing off the evil ones as also being stupid to get caught. But when you don’t believe in conspiracies, it starts to be all that you can see.
It was obvious from the start that the Clintons never had anything to do with this killing, just as it’s obvious they had nothing to do with the other murders that have made up the “Clinton Body Count” lists that have plagued the internet since the early 90’s. And sure enough, most of the mainstream conspiracy theory community has moved on. Because while they never cared about Linda Collins-Smith enough to be concerned as to who killed her, they cared enough about her to use her as a prop in their never-ending war against Bill and Hillary.
What these conspiracies need, more than anything else, is a constant churn of new material. New names, new accusations, new schemes. So the death of a state senator with no link to the Clintons becomes a murder directly linked to the Clintons, for the purposes of ending up as a bullet point or an excuse to repost a hashtag. As far as the conspiracy believers go, the case is closed and it’s just one more example of the evil and impunity of the Clintons.
But playing up the conspiracy theory means playing down the real story – and marginalizing the real victims and the people they cared about. Every single death on the Clinton Body Count list, from the original to the most recent, has left bereaved survivors, and many have left questions that will never be answered. Just don’t expect the conspiracy theory believers to care. Because the one thing you can’t “dig and meme” is the ability to feel empathy for someone else.
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