When the Founding Fathers of the United States sat down to sign the Declaration of Independence, they weren’t hoping to merely inspire the next 350 years of American patriotism in the name of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Rather, their declaration was a defiant fist raised against the crown on King George III’s head. To the Founding Fathers, the main goal of the English colonialists was to fool Americans into handing over their individual rights and God-given sovereignty. The government seat in London was something to be vigilantly resisted. In the words of Cambridge historian Sir Richard Evans, “The United States was founded on conspiracy theories”. The Founding Fathers were the original false flaggers, and recent events prove their legacy lives on.
The term “false flag” is originally naval. Battleships would fly a “false flag” to infiltrate enemy lines. For conspiracy theorists though, a false flag is an event designed to deliberately shock and scare the public into submission, thus allowing the government to intensify citizen control. Viewing themselves as beacons of truth with the ability to see behind the veil of secrecy, adherents of conspiracy theories are known as “Truthers”. They are convinced that national tragedies—of which America suffers a disproportionate amount—represent something more insidious than randomly radicalised disturbed individuals with legal access to assault weapons.
While Truther movements have always been around, they didn’t really enter pop culture consciousness until the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. At the time, only 30% of Americans believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Even today, theories of CIA, Russian or Cuban involvement still gain real purchase (just ask Trump). According to JFK truthers, the assassination was nothing more than a plot to manipulate the American people into becoming Communists (obviously). Since then, these theories and beliefs in some shadowy deep state orchestrating fear and terror in citizens’ lives have spread unabated.
As American history repeats itself, the Stoneman Douglas High shootings last week has unleashed a fresh wave of Truthers. With an AR-15, a 19-year old former student of Stoneman Douglas High massacred 17 and wounded 14 more. Rather than sympathising alongside the victims and their schoolmates, families and teachers, online truthers have accused the deep state of employing another round of “crisis actors”—people paid to impersonate victims—to propagate a false narrative.
In the aftermath of the shooting, distraught survivors of the shooting took to the stage to call for stringent gun control laws and demand their senators and legislators to take action. But one student, 17-year-old David Hogg, quickly discovered that as much as the internet can be used to empower and mobilise the youth, it can just as quickly turn hostile.
Online channels targeted Hogg and accused him of being a crisis actor. In the anti-intelligence community climate of American politics, they highlighted how Hogg’s father was a retired FBI agent. This was meant to undermine Hogg’s credibility as a witness and spokesperson for the high school. The Washington Post comments that this should come as no surprise:
Such allegations are a mainstay of conspiracy reports about mass shootings, with some gun rights activists claiming that those favoring stricter gun laws hire actors to pretend to be victims of phony attacks.
The double-edged sword of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and 4Chan is that anyone can publish anything they want—even insane conspiracies about teens pretending to be mass shooting victims. YouTube in particular has drawn criticism for allowing these videos to be hosted on their website—especially since their algorithms greatly encourage their popularity. However, if you combine the free speech context with a ubiquitously online society, and throw in an army of Russian Twitter bots for extra spice, this sort of material becomes nearly impossible to police effectively.
As disturbing as targeting teenagers with vitriolic attacks can be, truther trolling can also take on a much more venomous, racist angle. In 2016, truthers turned their cynicism towards the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, which left 49 dead and 53 wounded in June 2016. They believed the killer Omar Mateen wasn’t just a desperate ISIS wannabe haunted by sexual self-loathing. Rather, he was a pawn in a government-sanctioned global conspiracy to establish a New World Order.
The Daily Sheeple website—whose irresistible motto is “wake the flock up”—lays out the incontrovertible evidence of this false flag attack:
- A false flag almost always involves exploiting fear of the “bogeyman du jour”, hence Mateen’s supposed ties to ISIS.
- The fear is most effective when combined with the idea that attacks can happen anywhere, like a nightclub (Pulse, Florida), cinema (Aurora, Colorado), outdoor concert (Las Vegas) or primary school (Sandy Hook, Connecticut).
- These events cultivate a “generalised fear” that can only be placated by government intervention, hence the call for public servants to enact stricter gun control laws.
Since the primary objective of the New World Order is to take away citizens’ capacity to protect themselves or to enact a revolution, a push to legislate gun use is a raging false flag marker.
The Daily Sheeple exposed more clear evidence in Mateen’s personal history. He had worked for global security firm G4S, which has links to both the September 11 attacks and Guantanamo Bay. Mateen was already a known subject to the FBI, having been investigated in 2013 and 2014. Yet this was still allowed to happen. Strange, no? Most tellingly, Mateen was shot dead at the scene, conveniently removing the possibility of further questioning. “Dead men tell no tales,” you see? Any fool can see Pulse must have been an inside job. Wake the flock up, folks!
It may sound like tinfoil hat territory, but these ideas are more influential than ever. Political provocateur and protein salesman Alex Jones, founder of Infowars and card-carrying Truther, has almost 2.3 million subscribers on YouTube and 800k followers on Twitter. According to Jones, the Pulse shooting was proof that the government was letting in “hordes of jihadis” with the aim of promoting home-grown terrorism—never mind the fact that Mateen was born in New York and raised in Florida. Our leaders “let it happen,” Jones spews , “so that they [can] pass hate laws to ban your speech because you’re making the Muslims angry. Or we have to pass other hate laws to guilt right wingers [...] and we need your guns of course, so you can’t protect yourself.” According to Jones, the fact that there are five mass shootings every six days in America has nothing to do with its broken social system, rampant inequality, and gun addiction. No, it’s all about the government conspiring to take away Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms.
Truthers go to great lengths to defend these rights. After the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings in 2012, for instance, in which 20 children and six staff members were killed, they aggressively campaigned against grieving families. They accused parents of the dead children of being complicit in a government conspiracy. Parents of six-year-old Noah Pozner were faced with the bizarre accusations that their son never even existed. They received messages such as “Fuck you!! Your child never died at Sandy Hook,” and “Where's Noah going to die next?” It eventually escalated to death threats and their home address being posted online in some twisted witch-hunt.
As evidenced by behaviour towards Stoneman Douglas High students like David Hogg, little has changed in the few years since. In fact, it appears to be getting worse. We all love a good plot twist and denouement. But it’s not the theories we must fear. It’s the ideology that supports them. In responding to tragedies such as the Stoneman Douglas High shooting, division and fear continues to polarise society to further extremes. Proponents of conspiracies like Alex Jones aren’t afraid to seize events like the Pulse Nightclub shooting to propagate racist, jingoistic nonsense. We might laugh at their harebrained ideas and wacky narratives, but these theories are becoming mainstream. Rather than delving into the core of why these things happen—mental health issues, poor social support, a culture of violence, social rejection—they just blame the government and cling to their guns even tighter. It’s a disconcerting trend.
The Founding Fathers were right to be suspicious of governmental power. But they didn’t live in an America that owned some 300 million guns. While truthers might believe they are heroically uncovering uncomfortable truths, the real irony is they are obscuring the actual causes of America’s gun-related mass killings. They turn these tragedies into their own false flags, stoking fears of government conspiracies to push for less gun control. And it’s working: despite the endless string of tragedies in the last few decades, every significant move towards gun regulation has failed. If truthers actually had any intention to reduce America’s runaway gun violence—it’s not clear they do—they should heed their own advice and wake the flock up.