Conspiracy theorising in the wake of the Newtown shooting

On December 14th, 2012, 26 people, most of them young children, were killed in a shooting spree at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Unconfirmed rumours about the identity and motives of the person responsible immediately began to be passed around, and later retracted, by the news media; however, as I write this, police are still trying to piece together exactly how the tragedy came to happen. It will likely be some time before the relevant authorities are able to gather and verify all the facts, and make the details available to the public.

For some conspiracy theorists, though, no further explanation is needed. They already know what caused the shooting: It was the U.S. government – the same government which, they say, was behind other horrific shootings such as those at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, and a shopping mall in Oregon. For these conspiracy theorists, the shooting in Newtown is just the latest in a long line of false-flag operations staged by people within the government as a ruse to justify taking away the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. Within hours of the Newtown shooting articles appeared on professional conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ website insinuating that the shooter (or more likely multiple gunmen) could be a government patsy under the influence of mind control, and accusing President Obama of faking tears during a press conference. Elsewhere, theorists saw the correcting of unconfirmed rumours in the media as evidence of a cover-up, and even hinted that chem-trails seen over Connecticut may somehow have played a role in the events.

This shows the conspiracist mindset in action. People who endorse one conspiracy theory tend to buy into many others – including theories with no logical connection and, as Mike Wood and colleagues demonstrated, occasionally even theories which directly contradict each other. This suggests that at least some people come to believe conspiracy theories not through rational and impartial evaluation of the evidence supporting each claim, but rather because they have an overarching worldview in which conspiracy is the default explanation for any event or observation. This is why even in the minutes and hours immediately after an event, when few facts can be known for sure, some people will already be convinced that the answer is conspiracy.

We all have a strong and emotional reaction to shocking events like the murders in Newtown. For some people this reaction is to instantly jump to the conclusion that it was a conspiracy. The rest of us can get on with grieving the loss of innocent lives, figuring out what happened, and discussing what can be done to prevent senseless tragedies like this from happening again.

About Rob Brotherton

Rob is a Visiting Research Fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London, and assistant editor of The Skeptic []. Follow Rob on Twitter: @rob_brotherton
This entry was posted in World events and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Conspiracy theorising in the wake of the Newtown shooting

  1. Abandon TV says:

    Some questions….

    1. May I ask what your feelings are regarding all the other kinds of theorising going on right now?

    For example…
    Many people have theorised that guns (US gun laws) were to blame for this shooting.
    Many people have theorised that computer games were to blame for this shooting.
    Many people have theorised that the government education system is to blame for this shooting.
    Many people have theorised that prescription anti depressant medication given to teenagers and known to cause paranoia, suicidal tendencies and other emotional unbalances is to blame for this shooting.

    2. Would you agree / disagree that we all have a tendency to project our own experiences, biases, opinions and obsessions onto events such as these?

    For example, if we are politically active we might be more inclined to point the finger at the policies of the current administration or perhaps some previous administration …..Or if we had a friend who once attempted suicide or became psychotic while on prescription medication we might be more inclined to point the finger in that direction instead… and so on.

    3. Would you agree / disagree that we all have a tendency to project our own ignorance and confusion onto events such as these – as well as come up with *personally convenient* explanations which do not challenge our own world view or our own behaviour, and do not leave us feeling uncomfortable as a result?

    For example, maybe we have no interest in playing computer games but we heard they might influence people’s behaviour. We’ve seen no studies to show this is true though. But blaming computer games does not make us feel uncomfortable (because we do not play them) so we are happy to theorise that this is a likely factor. Or our brother is a respected doctor. The idea that prescription medication (which our brother might be prescribing every week to people) might be to blame makes us uncomfortable so we avoid exploring that possibility.

    4. Would you agree / disagree that it is to everybody’s advantage (assuming we all want to understand what causes these tragic events) that people with specialised expertise and knowledge apply their specialised skills when trying to research and make sense of these kinds of events?

    And so the psychologist looks at the event through the lens of psychology, the forensic expert looks at the event through the lens of forensics, the historian or statistician looks at the event through the lens of history and statistics and so on….

    5. If someone is well researched in the field of mind control or social engineering or psychological warfare (which I’m sure you will acknowledge are all vast and highly specialised areas of knowledge and expertise in themselves) it makes sense that they also bring this knowledge to bear on the event as well. Would you agree?

    If they do not, then who will?

    6. Would you agree/ disagree that with events as horrific and important as these, we simply cannot afford to allow ANY areas to remain un-researched? (whether those areas be computer games, psychology, mind control, prescription medication, social engineering, bullying, social media, psychological warfare, diet, TV shows and so on…)

    7. Does the following make logical sense to you?

    – I do not know how to explain this event.
    – I do not even know the details of this event yet.
    – Therefore I cannot rule out any area of research at this stage because to do so is effectively a claim that I do know what did or did not happen and why.

    8. Would you agree/ disagree with the following statements:

    a) It is a good idea for people (in both a ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ capacity) to *focus* primarily on their own specific knowledge and expertise when examining this event. It is certainly not harmful for them to look at the event with a particular slant because with millions of people trying to make sense of events like this individual slants tend to balance out in the end.

    b) To *dismiss* certain lines of enquiry FROM THE OUTSET is to limit the scope of investigation. This is not an acceptable approach, assuming getting to the truth is the objective.

    c) To dismiss certain lines of enquiry based on the idea that they are ‘conspiracy theories’ is illogical. Obviously this kind of event may well constitutes some kind of conspiracy, even if it is just a conspiracy of ‘one lone nut’ against the world. If we rule out conspiracy at this stage – we are left with ‘tragic accident’ as the only alternative.

    d) Nor can we logically rule out any section of society from being potentially involved in this potential conspiracy.

    We know from history that deranged individuals can occasionally be so evil as to murder young children. We also know that deranged governments can also be so evil as to murder young children. The US led sanctions against Iraq in the 90’s led directly to the murder of 500,000 children. These children are no more or less abstract than the children murdered in the school. Murder is murder. More recently we have the drone strikes in Pakistan with their 98% civilian death rate. And a million murdered civilians in the most recent illegal war in Iraq (for which Blair and Bush have already been charged with war crimes under the Geneva Convention).

    Therefore we know for a FACT that everyone from ‘lone nuts’ to the political rulers (and their voters and supporters) have already proved themselves perfectly willing and capable of murdering large numbers of children.

    Closing points…

    Obviously, until the truth is determined through REASON and EVIDENCE all possible scenarios can only be discussed in terms of ‘theories’.

    Overall ‘conspiracy theory’ is not a valid criteria with which to reject certain lines of enquiry. To reject certain lines of enquiry at this stage simply because they meet the criteria of ‘conspiracy theory’ is to assert YOUR CLAIM that this shooting was not in any way a conspiracy.

    This is perfectly fine. HOWEVER unless you can back up this claim with evidence it is merely a baseless assertion. In other words it is a counter theory which is no more qualified than the most evidence-free ‘conspiracy theory’ which it attempts to dismiss.

    Given the obvious bias of this blog, such ‘counter theory’ or ‘reflex theory’ can’t help but come across in terms of some deep seated need for tragic events like this shooting to conform to a specific, narrow world view and set of beliefs, biases and obsessions….. the very same flaws levelled (and often rightly) at so the so called ‘conspiracy theorists’ themselves.

    It needs pointing out that “It has to be a conspiracy”… and … “it cannot possibly be a conspiracy” are equally unfounded claims.

    • Rob says:

      I agree with your essential point that conspiracy shouldn’t be ruled out a-priori. I made no claims about what was or wasn’t the cause of this terrible event; the point I made is that given the lack of evidence right now it’s too early to be making any strong claims. It doesn’t seem to me that Alex Jones et al. are merely exploring conspiracy as one possible explanation, as you allude to. The article on Jones’ website clearly states that previous shootings, like Columbine, were carried out by mind-controlled patsies, and that this latest shooting bears all the same hallmarks. Of course, there isn’t a single shred of credible evidence that the Columbine shooters were government patsies, and right now there’s no reason to think that the Newtown shooter was either. Yet the conspiracy theorists I referred to cling to the idea that Columbine, Colorado, and similar were part of a gun-grabbing conspiracy, and have jumped on the same explanation for this event even while barely any facts are known.

      • Abandon TV says:

        “… It doesn’t seem to me that Alex Jones et al. are merely exploring conspiracy as one possible explanation, as you allude to….”

        I think it’s safe to say that everyone who goes to journalists like Alex Jones is already familiar with the mainstream media take on these kinds of events. It’s impossible to escape it given the domination of TV, radio, press (and even the internet) by the five or so mega media corporations.

        It is therefore unnecessary for people like Alex Jones to repeat the mainstream news version of events. His listeners already know it.

        The same cannot be said of the MSM audience who only ever get one version of reality with no alternatives routes explored. Even the IDEA that events like this shooting could be ‘constructs’ designed to manipulate the feelings and opinions of the masses into accepting certain policies and other changes to society is never explored, let alone researched, by the MSM. This is despite our history being absolutely full of such evil (and clever) behaviour.

        Therefore it is the MSM which is the more narrow, biased and limited form of media by a long shot. You can also regard the existence of people like Alex Jones as a natural result of the MSM’s refusal to consider and research any information which might put the establishment in a bad light.

        If registered medical practitioners refused to treat ailments of the legs we would logically expect untrained medical practitioners to start offering treatments for legs. Likewise, if the mainstream media properly researched and presented information which put the establishment and ruling classes in a bad light and occasionally (gasp!) exposed their horrific crimes against humanity then people like Alex Jones might be doing a different job.

        We know the MSM works for the ruling classes because when Blair and Bush were convicted of war crimes under the Geneva Convention for basically murdering a million people this did not make the mainstream news. Even when they *do* expose the evil behaviour of political people little fuss is made. Madeleine Albright admitted on TV that the murder of 500,000 children under the age of five was acceptable price to pay for US foreign policy. That’s 18,518 times more evil than the recent shooting. Logically we should see the media promoting ‘gun control’ to stop political people getting their hands on guns on account of them being exposed as genocidal maniacs. But we do not. Instead it is the general public who are made out to be the evil enemy which needs to be disarmed, on account of the bizarre and questionable and certainly atypical behaviour of the odd person.

        You’re perfectly welcome to criticise Alex Jones et al for bad journalism, but that has nothing specifically to do with (what people call) ‘conspiracy research’ or ‘conspiracy theorising’. They are two separate topics.

        In simple terms your logic seems to be: I don’t like AJ’s journalism therefore ‘conspiracies’ involving governments or the establishment or the ruling classes can’t exist.

        But I don’t see you applying the same criticisms or logic to the MSM though. So I wonder if you are really opposed to bad journalism at all or whether you are using it as an excuse to dismiss the idea of ‘conspiracies’ existing SPECIFICALLY in the ruling classes. IOW you are using it as an excuse to defend your belief (not fact) based world view.

        For example, on 9/11 the mainstream media named Osama Bin Laden as number one suspect exactly 45 seconds after the second plane strike. That is to say, 45 seconds after it became clear that this was a deliberate terrorist act the MSM was already solving the whole conspiracy on air and pointing fingers at the main perpetrator – and doing this in front of a global audience who were in deep shock and therefore incredibly open to suggestion (as any psychologist will tell you).

        19 bad guys with box cutters led by Osama Bin Laden is BY DEFINITION a conspiracy theory. I don’t see you criticising the MSM for promoting this conspiracy theory on air in front of the entire world without a scrap of evidence – in fact they promoted this CT before the terrorist act had even been completed!

        And as a result, before the towers were even destroyed the TV watching masses were grabbing their pitchforks ready to go get the bad guy. 77% of US troops being sent to invade Iraq in 2003 believed Saddam was in some war responsible for 9/11 and that’s why they were going to war. This is what the MSM does to people’s minds.

        Throughout the day of 9/11 itself (and in the weeks/ months/ years which followed) various government experts and other establishment talking heads were saying live on air that “this has all the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda terrorist attack”. What utter nonsense! The world had never seen anything like this before!

        The twin towers were literally turned to dust in mid air. The other five buildings in the WTC complex were also destroyed. Some of them (such as WTC 3 and 4) literally vanished in front of our eyes. Cars parked up to half a mile away were missing their engine blocks and were reduced to a rusted chassis, as if they had been melted in an inferno, yet their plastic lights and vinyl upholstery remained undamaged. They were also full of *unburned* paper and the trees in the sidewalks still had their leaves on.

        Since when did this (and much more besides) become Al Qaeda’s hallmark?

        The type of conspiracies Alex Jones talks about tend to involve a cover up of incriminating evidence by a largely controlled government/ police/ court system as well as information control via a largely controlled mass media. This is hardly a new concept we’ve seen this done over and over again throughout history (Nazi germany, China, Russia etc). It’s easy to spot when it is being done elsewhere and BY DEFINITION it is harder to spot at home. This is because of all the information control etc. Therefore we can assume there will always be an uphill battle when trying to find information regarding these types of conspiracies. After all, withholding the relevant information is big part of this type of ‘top down’ conspiracy. (I am not excusing bad journalism – I’m just saying)

        By contrast the types of conspiracy promoted by the MSM (such as AQ’s terrorism) are ‘bottom up’ conspiracies. These types of conspiracies do NOT involve control over government/ police/ courts or the media. Nobody is suggesting AQ have taken over the US government or the mass media or the court system or the police. Therefore there is no reason why the full facts about event like 9/11 can’t be easily gathered and broadcast by the media – yet they do not give us the full facts. They only tell us information which promotes one specific ‘conspiracy world view’ – a conspiracy involving a supposed rag tag bunch of Muslim terrorists who hate the west and wish to fly planes into buildings and set fire to their underpants etc.

        Why do you not bring the MSM up for this?

        This is also (at best) poor journalism which ignores hard facts in order to promote a very specific and largely manufactured ‘conspiranoid’ world view. At worst it is a deliberate attempt to promote various social and political agendas using control of information and dangerous propaganda.

        Just presenting the bare FACTS about 9/11 (the physical evidence) without ANY conspiracy theorising at all is enough to rule out every official and alternative conspiracy theory going (jet fuel, thermite, mini nukes, collapses, controlled demolitions – you name it!)

        I’m happy for you to criticise sensationalist journalists like Alex Jones, but you need to be consistent otherwise you are just promoting yet another skewed belief system or fraudulent world view. The promotion (and acceptance) of belief systems rather than hard facts is why the world is currently in such a state.

        The recent shooting is certainly *consistent* with some kind of ‘construct’, such as the use of a mind controlled patsy to commit a horrific act, which in turn creates the illusion of a PROBLEM in society which in turn generates an emotional public REACTION and therefore allows a SOLUTION to be brought in, in the form of changes in society and laws which suit certain groups.

        And if we do not explore these possibilities we will never know if there is any truth to these kinds of possibilities. Dismissing possibilities from the outset is far more dangerous to society than considering and exploring them. Or do you disagree?

        The moment society believes in can trust authority (the moment we dismiss the possibility of them doing bad things), that authority knows for a fact that it can get away with pretty much anything.

        Therefore it is in *society’s interests* to always BE SEEN to be exploring (so called) ‘conspiracy theories’, if for no other reason than to deter the ruling class from taking advantage of their huge power.

        Hitler once said something along the lines of “the bigger the lie the more easy it is for the public to fall for it”

        The idea that certain groups in the establishment ruling classes might manufacture an event involving the murder of schoolchildren in order to further their political aims is truly diabolical….. and that is precisely what makes it so tempting for them. With a mainstream media which paints the ruling class as celebrities or even demi gods, who would believe such a thing?

        I’ll tell you exactly who would believe such evil is possible…… people who understand that political people routinely order the execution of children whenever they order a drone strike or the invasion of some nation based on lies or various other ‘foreign policies’.

        This does not mean any groups are necessarily involved in the recent shooting, it just means it would be no surprise if they were. We would not need to ‘change our paradigm’. Therefore it’s well worth exploring that possibility (rather than dismissing it), if for no other reason than to try and prevent such a tragedy from happening again. I sincerely hope you agree.

        To an extent you are absolutely right to hold people like Alex Jones to account and demand they remain ‘evidence orientated’. Absolutely! I’m just saying that approach needs to be consistent. You need to also hold the MSM equally to account – otherwise you’re just promoting another superstitious, belief based, biased world view.

      • says:

        I don’t have enough time to answer everything there, but Bush and Blair were only convicted of war crimes in some dude’s pretend court. It is not a real court of law, it is just something started by Mahathir Mohamid as a protest against Bush and Blair. Some as the made up court that convicted Queen Elizabeth of murdering little kids in Canada to drink their blood for satanic rituals. All fantasy.

  2. Any uncertainty is a source of tension, anxiety and stress. You can even call this state of mind as threatening to personality as its destructive to personal belief structure. So it’s completely natural for a human mind to try to reduce uncertainty thus minimizing the threat. So one could argue that conspiracy theories are beneficial for population at large as they are alternative routes of releasing uncertainty and mistrusts. This artificial “power” of cognition misdirects attention to alternative/wrong answers from invalid questions.
    Of course this shooting was a conspiracy, even if it was conspiracy by one individual. Media reports that he planned, prepared and executed this crime in seemingly rational and cold-blooded manner. It kind of goes against his psychological profile as shy, introverted and autistic geek. So what were his motives? Do you think he had some sort of reason, no matter how crazy it sounds to us – subjectively it was probably perfectly acceptable to the shooter. So not the end result that matters in cases like this, but person of interest subjective perception of reality that might have influenced his actions leading up to tragic event. How did he arrive to conclusion that killing children and himself is the best way to solve whatever problem he was facing?
    I think blog authors should clearly define what they mean by “conspiracy theory”, as for now it seems that any questioning of authority would be deemed “conspiratorial” mindset.

    • “I think blog authors should clearly define what they mean by “conspiracy theory”, as for now it seems that any questioning of authority would be deemed “conspiratorial” mindset.”

      The blog authors have defined what they deem as conspiracy theory in the soundcloud file they put up on this very blog, the one where they were interviewed for Brain bites. I recommend you listen to it if you want to understand where this blogs interpretation lies.


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  6. go fuck a duck says:

    Are you part of the cover up team. Sure sounds like it.

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  9. hybridrogue1 says:

    I think what ‘Abandon TV’ says on December 17, 2012 at 11:36 am is one of the best critiques of ‘anti-conspiracist’ mindset I have ever read. Kudos.

    • hybridrogue1 says:

      “Just presenting the bare FACTS about 9/11 (the physical evidence) without ANY conspiracy theorising at all is enough to rule out every official and alternative conspiracy theory going (jet fuel, thermite, mini nukes, collapses, controlled demolitions – you name it!)”~Abandon TV

      This paragraph is the only one I disagree with in the commentary I praise by, ‘Abandon TV’. In my view the “bare FACTS about 9/11 (the physical evidence)” proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the WTC was destroyed by controlled demolition. And thermite arson is part of the physical evidence at hand proving such.



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