Conspiracy vultures descend on Newtown
It never fails. Every time something ghastly happens, from the Wisconsin Sikh temple massacre to the Oslo terror attacks to the Fort Hood Shootings to (d'oh!) 9-11, lugubrious conspiranoids have got to descend like ravenous vultures with bogus theories about how it was a "false flag" job perpetrated by a "Manchurian Candidate." The horrific bloodletting at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., is, alas, no exception. And in this case, the theory has simply no basis in reality—it isn't even a distortion, contortion, embellishment or obfuscation—it is a simple invention, straight up. Yet animated partisans are plastering posts about it on my Facebook wall right and left—seemingly in all earnestness. Big ups to Talking Points Memo for rising to the tiresome ocassion of shooting down this jive:
A false rumor spreading rapidly on fringe sites like Infowars and assorted Ron Paul messageboards ties the school murders to an existing hoax surrounding the Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooting. After that attack, conspiracy theorists fixated on the accused shooter's father, Robert Holmes, pointing to media reports that he worked as an anti-fraud scientist for credit scoring company FICO.
Somehow, a rumor surfaced online that Holmes was scheduled to testify before the Senate on the Libor banking scandal before the theater shooting. It wasn’t true: no such hearing was ever scheduled to take place, nor is there even an obvious connection between FICO and the Libor scandal, which involved a number of high-profile banks misreporting interest rates on transactions. But imaginative commenters across dozens of sites exploited the phony connection anyway, concocting a theory in which the hearing was set to reveal a massive new fraud scheme before being deliberately derailed...
In the case of Newtown, Peter Lanza, the alleged shooter’s father, reportedly also worked in finance as vice president of taxes at GE Financial Services. Within hours, the same online forums were asserting as fact — again, 100 percent without evidence — that he too was supposed to testify before the Senate regarding Libor. Like FICO, GE has no obvious connection to the investigation, which has roped in various other financial institutions. And once again, there is no “witness list” that includes Lanza because there isn’t even a hearing on the issue.
"This rumor is 100% false," a Senate Banking Committee aide, who asked not to be named, told TPM by email. "The Senate Banking Committee does not have any LIBOR hearings currently scheduled, and has never considered either of these men as potential witnesses."
Evidence? Hey, who needs evidence in the wacky world of conspiranoia? If you question this nonsense, you're a dupe of the conspiracy! (Or perhaps a "cognitive infiltrator.") Alas, this fanciful detritus has appeared not only on blatantly wacky sites like Info Wars and Ron Paul Forums, but also Examiner.com, which actually aspires to a pretense of mainstream credibility. The apparently non-ironic website Aircrap.org adds a "chemtrails" twist, sporting photos of contrails over the school on the day of the shooting and intimating that this is somehow related to the mind-control manipulation of the shooter.
Invariably, the conspiranoia is a distraction from the vital questions that need to be raised about why our culture is manifesting such routine atrocities. Leave it to Britain's Daily Mail and The Telegraph to note the cultural context: Adam Lanza's mom was part of the "Prepper" survivalist movement, which explains why she had so many guns on hand.
"She prepared for the worst," her sister-in-law Marsha Lanza told reporters. "Last time we visited her in person, we talked about prepping – are you ready for what could happen down the line, when the economy collapses?"
"Prepared for the worst," eh? Talk about creating what you fear. Maybe she should have read Alan Watts' The Wisdom of Insecurity. This says volumes about the perverse logic of gun culture. Just before Yugoslavia imploded 20 years ago, the Croats, Serbs and Muslims each started arming in anticipaiton of the collapse. Would the collapse have happened—or would it have been so ghastly—if they hadn't done so? Unknowable, of course, but still worth considering.
The more universal (if almost equally kneejerk) response of framing the issue in terms of gun control also avoids asking the profound questions about our culture by focusing exclusively on the means rather than reasons behind this horror. And to the extent that anyone talks about the reasons, it is framed in the problematic meme of "mental illness"—which is a social construct. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, but the question of why people who are "wired" differently become psychopaths instead of saints, mystics or shamans confronts us once again with the question of cultural context. Blaming "mental illness" begs the question of why such attacks have increased dramatically over the past generation. It also paves the way for an authoritarian therapeutic state. We had to make this same point after the Sikh temple massacre.
The political logic (if we may so flatter it) behind the Newtown conspiracy theories is that the attack was intended to grease a crackdown on guns. And indeed gun sales have (paradoxically!) soared since the massacre—not only nationally but even within Newtown, Sky News notes. We acknowledge that there is a pathology at work on both sides of the gun control debate, but the Gun Lobby's silence in the wake of Newtown is perverse, as is its baseless scare-mongering. (Dig this priceless performance from the NRA's Wayne LaPierre.) The Gun Lobby also takes no responsibility for the massive arms trafficking to the Mexican cartels. Its propaganda always portrays a nation of yeoman farmers ready to protect home and family against either maruading criminals or jack-booted government thugs. The reality is considerably more complicated.