Like Sandy Hook, the Washington navy yard shooting will soon be co-opted by conspiracy theorists

Right now a film is being cut for YouTube. Within the edit, clips from various media broadcasts of Monday’s navy yard shooting in Washington DC are being selectively stitched together. The film will start by suggesting a deception has occurred, one wrought on the American people by shadowy, unseen forces. It will distance itself from other conspiracy theory videos, purporting to show “just the facts” about the events at the naval dockyard.

The film will highlight the complicity of the media that reported on the shooting, as well as the law enforcement agencies that responded to emergency calls. “Why would they lie?” the film will ask, followed by “who would have something to gain?” The film’s creator will then place himself (or herself) at the heart of events; having personally investigated the shooting (by going through the wealth of online material available) they have uncovered “the truth” about what really happened in DC that day.

After highlighting several inconsistent facts disseminated by the news media in the hours directly after the story broke, the “official motive” of the shooter will be questioned. The film will highlight reports of three gunmen rather than one and question which firearms were used and by whom. Having exposed the “cover-up”, the naval dockyard killings will by given a grander context, linked with the 2012 shootings in Newtown and Aurora.

As the conspiracy grows, events in DC may even be given an international flavour, tied with the killings in London on 7/7 or New York on 9/11 – the film unmasking a vast conspiracy which has provided the motive force for several recent historical events. The film will conclude by pointing to the national government as the primary source of deception, followed by a clear reason as to why – gun control. The film will ask: “Isn’t the naval dockyard shooting just what the government needs to reignite the gun control debate?”

Finally, the film will call for political activism. “Share this information,” it will say, “this affects you”. The threat is tyranny – a dictatorship the government desires but requires an unarmed populace to install. This form of activism, in which conspiracy theory is used as a conduit through which to channel a targeted political message, requires that anyone who supports the “official version” of events are discredited by any means possible.

Conspiracism is certainly not a new trend in the US, but its popularity has been greatly exacerbated by the deep-rooted, ideological and political divisions suffered by the country since 2008, adding focus to a population that in successive surveys between 2006 and 2011 had already showed large-scale endorsement for “some kind of conspiratorial narrative about a current political event or phenomena“.

The films are made because simply highlighting anomalies and questionable “facts”, specifically the ones that support a political narrative, allied to a disregard for logic or coherence makes this form of online activism simple and hugely effective. What’s more, this ideological intensity brings about its own psychological rewards, offering a valiant self-image that plays to the ego, all of which can be attained without doing any fact-based research, investigation, travelling to the scene, interviewing the people involved or anything beyond sitting at a computer with a broadband connection and some rudimentary editing software.

Yet the political implications are profound, not least the damage this type of expression does to genuine, fact-based dissent, while the “anything goes regardless of veracity” ethos can easily be co-opted and used against minority groups.

The conspiracy theories that arose after Sandy Hook were informed by a specific ideology and were embraced on such a wide scale not because of their truth but because adherents “selectively embraced conspiratorial narratives that delegitimized specific regimes” – the Obama administration. Expect the same in the coming days and weeks…

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

A black president, but America remains troubled

Watching President Obama’s acceptance speech in the early hours of that November morning, one had the feeling that history, for one of those seldom moments in life, was tangible, material… almost touchable.

It could have been the lateness of the hour or the cheap wine, but I was sure this was a demarcation point in American history – just as significant as the Gettysburg address or the falling of the Berlin Wall.

Its true impact is the remit of historians yet to come, though even the most dismissive of their discipline will surely note the general and widespread welcome that accompanied Obama’s victory. When else has the world rallied so universally around the story of one man?

However, lost behind the placards and crowds, overlooked by a media carouselled by the public mood were those who felt not so much the comforting hand of history, but a sharp jab to the stomach.

Racists from the wrong end of the Republic were dismayed. Those of equally bigoted bent around the globe no doubt felt the same. Yet a more subtle form of racism has since emanated from a hard-right fringe of political commentators for whom Obama’s election sticks in the craw.

We all winced at those moments during John McCain’s campaign when Republican housewives offered the microphone would use the moment to question Obama’s heritage.

“He’s a Muslim and an Arab,” was an oft repeated charge from the flag-waving throng.

These allegations have wandered even further down an intellectual cul-de-sac in recent months with a small group of conservatives actively seeking to delegitimise the election through increasingly wild claims about Obama’s birthplace.

Know as Birthers, the attackers are directly questioning Obama’s eligibility to be president by suggesting the Hawaiian-born Democrat was, in fact, born in Kenya, despite firm evidence to the contrary, including Obama’s birth certificate, issued by the Republican-held state.

The White House press office has even taken the step of placing the certificate online, making it freely available to download. However, the Birthers maintain the certificate is a forgery, thus making his presidency illegal under Article II of the U.S. constitution.

These claims have been widely vilified in the American press, yet the whispering campaign continues, some going as far as to suggest Obama is a plant, a Muslim agent, the centrepiece of an international conspiracy to take over the USA. Would the far right go down this road if Obama were anything but black? If Arnie, a non US-born white Republican, was to suggest a change in the constitution allowing him to run for the top job, it would be interesting to see what, if any, outcry would follow.

Unfortunately the Birthers – a collection of activists and conspiracy kooks – have received encouragement from some quarters with popular commentators, including radio host Rush Limbaugh and CNN’s Lou Dobbs, adding credence to their claims.

Recent weeks have seen plenty of disenchantment with the current administration, with conservatives rallying around town hall meetings to protest at healthcare reform. Is it Obama who is the source of their angst or his reforms? For the majority, it is probably the latter. Having been preached to about the evils of socialism since the end of the Second World War, is it any surprise that your average American is voicing concern over Obama’s proposed healthcare plans?

The Birthers have clearly benefited from a credulous population, many of whom will turn automatically to a conspiracy theory, comforted by the feeling that at least they know “the truth”. You hardly need to trawl the internet to find thousands of sites dedicated to ill-considered theories surrounding 9/11, the holocaust, the moon landings and now Obama’s birth.

During the election, many analysts felt uncomfortable predicting the outcome because of the Bradley Effect – a theory suggesting that some white voters wouldn’t vote for Obama simply because he is black. That Obama was elected suggests that the effect was minimal, though we’ll never truly know.

As such, the current town hall challenges facing the administration are more likely to be a result of the president’s progressive policies (warped by Republicans shouting “communism” at every opportunity) than the colour of his skin.

But the fact a conspiracy theory as bizarre as the Birthers’ can take root in the U.S. shows that, for all the optimism surrounding Obama’s win, America remains a society deeply troubled by race.

This first appeared in The Sunday Express. The original article can be found here.