NOTE (January 24, 2013): This piece was syndicated by Salon.com under a different title, and subsequently removed from that site. The views expressed here were never Salon’s—or, for that matter, The Weeklings’—but they are, and remain, mine. While I wished I had phrased the oft-quoted-out-of-context line about the burning jet fuel in a less absolute way—something along the lines of “a number of reputable scientists argue that…” with supporting links like this one—and not used “Alex Jones believes, if I’m reading it correctly” as a stand-in for all Sandy Hook Trutherism, I stand by the piece.
My point here was not to endorse the 9/11 Truthers, but to explain them. If there were more transparency in government, if so many questions did not go unanswered, such conspiracy theories would wither and die. I wrote that I was concerned that the 9/11 Truthers would be “tarred with the same ‘crackpot’ brush” as the Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists—the idea being that the latter were crazier than the former. I was right to be concerned, because I am writing this with tar-stained fingers, having been plastered with the stuff for the last 24 hours. And I am not even a Truther.
To anyone coming to The Weeklings for the first time, you’ll find that this is primarily a current events & culture blog. This is not a “Truther” site. We write about politics, literature, music, film, sex, trends, and so forth. At times, we talk about serious subjects the mainstream media too often underplays—this excellent piece on Big Oil by Danbert Nobacon, for example, would probably not be published elsewhere. The Weeklings is not a monolith. We have differing opinions. That’s part of what makes this site vibrant.
Finally, to our readers, our contributors, and my editorial colleagues, I apologize for the deficiencies in the piece and any issues it may have caused, and I thank you, as always, for your support.
THE FIRST MODERN “truther” movement concerned the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Researchers—some credible, others not—noted the many discrepancies in the Warren Commission’s official version of the events, particularly the so-called “Magic Bullet” theory—a perfectly viable explanation for what happened, other than the pesky fact that it was physically impossible.
In the decades that followed, countless alternative theories emerged on what actually took place on that November day in Dallas. Oswald acted alone, Oswald was in cahoots with others, Oswald was a patsy. It was the Mafia, it was the CIA, it was Fidel Castro, it was the shadowy men behind the Federal Reserve Bank. There was a second shooter in the grassy knoll: a Corsican hit man, a Communist agitator, three vagrants, one of the shapeshifting reptiles from the center of the earth. However bizarre these speculations may be, they are all based on an undeniable fact: that without violating the laws of physics, a single bullet could not have both killed JFK and wounded John Connally. It is just as likely that the president was killed by a shapeshifting reptile than a magic bullet; both are palpably untrue.
“Conspiracy” theories develop, first and foremost, because the official version is obviously bogus. Most open-minded people who have spent any time researching the details of the JFK assassination conclude that there were (at least) two shooters. This group of gullible believers includes the late Bobby Kennedy, according to his son. The likeliest explanation I’ve come across is that the “second shooter” was really a Secret Service agent, whose gun went off accidentally as he drew his weapon. The ensuing “benign cover-up” was a national security decision intended to save face, to make it seem like the men charged with protecting our president were not grossly incompetent.
I bring this up now because of the recent media attention given a new conspiracy theory concerning the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The usual suspects—including InfoWars’ Alex Jones and Florida Atlantic’s James Tracy—have incurred the wrath of many detractors by claiming that the official version of that horrible tragedy is an elaborate fiction, and that Adam Lanza was really a pawn of FEMA, or the Mossad, or the aforementioned shapeshifting reptiles. Some of the statements made by certain “Hookers”, as Samuel Sattin detailed on these pages yesterday, are beyond the pale, and they deserve the opprobrium being heaped upon them.
What concerns me about the repudiation of the Hookers is that the 9/11 Truthers are being tarred with the same “crackpot” brush. Yes, many of the September Eleventh conspiracy theories are implausible, and too often veer, as conspiracy theories unfortunately tend to do, toward the anti-Semitic. But unlike with Sandy Hook, 9/11 conspiracy theories flow from a scientific fact: whatever the 9/11 Commission Report might claim, fire generated by burning jet fuel is not hot enough to melt steel. As with JFK’s “Magic Bullet,” the official version asks us to pretend that the laws of physics do not exist. This opens the door for alternative versions, however ridiculous, that must at least be considered—even if, as was probably the case in the aftermath of the JFK assassination, the cover-up was well-intended, and not the case of an evil shadow government doing evil shadow-government things.
This is simply not the case with Sandy Hook. As Sattin eloquently explains, Hooker theories are founded on things like erroneous initial news reports and false tweets. I’ve seen more compelling evidence for the existence of Santa Claus. There is no Sandy Hook equivalent of the Zapruder film.
Another criterion, when evaluating conspiracy theories, is the “Cicero test”; we must ask ourseves: Cui bono? It’s not enough to suggest that the official record is wrong; without a motive for the deceit, absent some obvious beneficiary, there can be no conspiracy. To wit: there are any number of reasons any number of people could have benefited from the removal of JFK from office. The attacks of 9/11, similarly, had countless ripple effects, sparking a massive re-investment in the U.S. military, two wars that cost trillions of dollars, and that legislated erosion of our privacy with the Orwellian name, the Patriot Act, to name but three. Many, many organizations, corporations, states, and individuals benefited, directly or indirectly, from the events of that day.
Looked at through this lens, the Sandy Hook theory implodes. Alex Jones believes, if I’m reading it correctly, that FEMA staged the school shooting as a way of demanding popular support for an Obama overthrow of the Second Amendment, which would enrich…who, exactly? Sasha and Malia? The production of firearms is good for the economy; one of the (sane) arguments against the new legislative proposals is that they will eliminate American manufacturing jobs. We’re supposed to believe, what, that gun-safety legislation is like the scene in an action movie where the good guy puts down his weapon and the bad guy proceeds to run amok? That taking away our assault rifles is the last step toward Obama installing himself as a totalitarian dictator, nationalizing the oil companies, and establishing sharia law? Even if any of this were in the realm of the possible (and personally I’d sooner believe in shapeshifting reptiles), a loose affiliation of assault-weapon enthusiasts could never hope to take down the U.S. army. Or so one hopes.
So: the Sandy Hook conspiracy theory has neither basis in fact nor motive. It is, in a word, bunk. But that does not mean that all conspiracy theories are automatically wrong, or that we should believe whatever the government tells us without question. The JFK “truthers” were eventually vindicated, and the government lies all the time. Keep an open mind! Like the proverbial broken clock, even Alex Jones is right sometimes.