After the worst mass shooting in modern US history came the hoaxes.
Image by Lia Kantrowitz
Welcome back to Can't Handle the Truth, our Saturday column looking at the past seven days of fake news and hoaxes that have spread thanks to the internet.
Being a writer on the fake news beat means getting to laugh at a lot of goofy bullshit that doesn't matter—like whether or not clowns resent a horror movie. I also get to pick apart hilarious hoaxes no one actually believes—including some things said by the president. But some fake news is actually distressing.
This week, in the wake of the worst gun massacre in modern US history, fake news fell into the latter category. False information started spreading in the midst of the confusion on Sunday night, when official reports of shots raining down on a crowd in Las Vegas had hit social media but reliable details remained scarce. For those first hours, my Twitter feed was overrun with retweets claiming that there were multiple shooters, that Islam was to blame, and that the Strip was a war zone.
In reality, it turned out to be one heavily-armed retiree—a white guy named Stephen Paddock who was reportedly not especially religious or political. Whatever his motive, Paddock ended the lives of 59 human beings, including himself, and wounded hundreds.
Needless to say, there are gaps in our understanding of this horror. And where there are gaps in understanding, theories, rumors, and rumors rush to fill them in.
There were multiple shooters
I've been in the media scrums in the immediate aftermaths of shootings, and there's a phrase police use when all they know is that shots have been fired: "individual or multiple individuals," as in: "At this time there are reports that an individual or multiple individuals opened fire." This vagueness comes from uncertainty, not an implication that an accomplice has been spotted. As the original WNYC Breaking News Consumer's Handbook pointed out four years ago, multiple spree shooters are rare.
Nevertheless, rumors of multiple gunmen spread during this tragedy:
But the multiple shooter stories in this case are a gateway drug to conspiracies—like ones stemming from images that purport to show muzzle flashes coming from another hotel floor during the shooting. You can read all about it on Zero Hedge.
Here's a YouTube video of an eagle-eyed conspiracy theorist cracking the case of the multiple shooters wide open:
See? flashing lights from the fourth floor!
And now, here's a a video before any shots were fired. It shows those lights on the fourth floor already flashing, because these videos were taken in Las Vegas, the global capital of flashing lights.
To reiterate: Knock it off.
The shooter was part of "the violent left" and/or ISIS
According to Your News Wire, a hoax-filled site that posts articles about aliens and the Illuminati, the One World Government is trying to hide the fact that Paddock "was an Antifa member who was also linked with ISIS." The claim of an ISIS link is sort of understandable since ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. Still, so far there's no evidence that ISIS—which has recently suffered a string of defeats—is telling anything like the truth.
But the "proof" that Paddock is a lefty is much flimsier than the "proof" that he's tied to ISIS—which is to say, it's pretty nonexistent. This YouTube video is most of it:
A female voice in the video of the anti-Trump protest above says "Hi Steve," at one point, and the shooter was named Stephen. Then we see a guy with a goatee wearing one of those pussy hats from the Women's March. He's also wearing a NASA shirt, which is important, because in the 1980s, Paddock worked for (deep breath) a company that was later affiliated with Lockheed Martin, which was later affiliated with NASA. It's unclear what all that is supposed to prove.
The attack is a ploy by the secret government to sell metal detectors
Once again, let's go to YourNewsWire: Did you hear that someone on 4chan knew these attacks would happen? That's just as well, because it's not true.
Yes, on September 10, some anonymous 4chan shitposter calling himself "John" left a post in the "Some of You Guys Are Alright" genre, implying that some heinous act of violence would happen in Las Vegas or Henderson, Nevada, the next day. In other words, they predicted a different attack. One that did not happen.
The rest of the post details the reason for the attack that never happened. It was meant to be a false flag, after which casino customers would be forced to endure TSA-style security checks. The checks, in turn, are supposedly part of a larger plot to put such security systems in high schools and federal buildings, as well as a plot to profit from the manufacture and sale of metal detectors.
That is an awfully convoluted motive (not to mention probably a joke). A simpler one: Maybe a guy had a lot of fantasies about committing mass murder, and he lived in a country where mass murder is arguably easier to commit than anywhere else on earth.
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