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.
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).
On Sunday, the New York Times posted an article going in depth into the motivations of Anthony Comello, the Staten Island day laborer who allegedly shot and killed Gambino family boss Frank Cali, supposedly after being brainwashed by QAnon propaganda. To show his allegiance to the mysterious conspiracy avatar, Comello got a blue ballpoint pen and scrawled a number of Trump and Q slogans on his hand, including a large, unmistakable “Q” in the center of his palm.
Why someone aligned with Q would kill a Mafia boss, when Q has never mentioned the Mafia, remains a mystery, a baffling element of a baffling murder. Times reporter Ali Watkins spoke to Comello’s lawyer, and both seemed a little baffled by the whole thing. Which is entirely appropriate, because QAnon can get pretty baffling if you’re not ensconced in the arcane mythology and jargon of the conspiracy theory.
The sex trafficking arrest of billionaire hedge fund manager and convicted/registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was not especially surprising for anyone who knows even the slightest thing about the island-owning, Trump-gladhanding perv. The accusations that Epstein has been involved in a trove of sexual misconduct, assault, rape, and trafficking have been run down by outstanding journalists and now backed up by the legal work of the Southern District of New York. It’s not a shock.
Also not surprising: the outpouring of gloating from QAnon acolytes and believers crowing that their “military intelligence” avatar was proven correct in his/her/their promises that Epstein would be revealed as a Satanic sex pervert in bed with the Clintons and some of the worst criminals in the world. After all, Q is wrong so often that it seems like something to celebrate when Q is right. And celebrate, they did:
Last week, I wrote a story for Daily Dot about the month-long absence of new QAnon posts, and what it means for the QAnon movement. I asked believers (who hate to be called that, except that it’s the only term that conveys their status with any accuracy) whether they were losing faith in Q, and if they’d walk away from the movement if Q didn’t post again.
I'm writing a story about the one month gap since QAnon's last post, and want to ask the most fervent believers some simple questions: 1. Do you still believe in Q and "the plan" despite the silence? 2. If so, why? 3. If not, why not? 4. Will you leave if Q never posts again?