Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Four Handguns Conspiracy Theory: Sandy Hooks

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The above video has been making the conspiracy rounds: it is NBC talking-head Pete Williams announced that it was four handguns and NOT an AR-15 that was used in the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school. That's block-buster news: it totally changes the narrative. Williams claims this information has been confirmed by state and federal authorities. It's totally legit.

The video is from Dec 15, one day after the shooting.

The press reportage on Sandy Hook was notably bad--there was a lot of soul-searching by the media in the wake of numerous conflicting reports (the name of the shooter, whether his mother was working at the school, etc.). After the first chaotic 24-48 hours, things have stabilized  The story is much clearer. This is normal for high-profile media scrums. However, not everyone is in line with this. Consider this piece published just seven days ago.
This, of course, may be true, and Williams’ sources may have been wrong, but my investigations into TWA Flight 800 and the Oklahoma City bombing have taught me that the early reporting is often the most reliable, especially when there is a Democrat in the White House with an agenda.
Now, the claims here have been debunked, effectively for over a month--there is no lack of consensus on what weapon was used in the shooting, who did it, or whether Lanza's mother worked at the school. There have been reports and there is, certainly, mountains of hard evidence (shell casings, employment records, the body itself, etc.) which have passed through numerous hands (every person to enter the building would've seen shell casings, for example--handgun shell casings look very different from rifle shells even at a distance).

A cover-up at this stage would require hundreds of random people (all the emergency workers, school-board records clerks, medical and mortuary personnel, and so on) to keep their mouths shut. This isn't feasible--but doubt persists.

I've written recently about the genesis of these 'truther' style conspiracy theories (their creators are protecting some emotional response--something that MUST. NOT. BE. TRUE. So they create shaky, elaborate conspiracy theories to make sure they don't have to face whatever it is they are afraid of)--but for the rest of us--the consumers of these now fully-formed theories, the interaction is different.

Why people believe these is another matter entirely.

The Media Cover-Up
Facebook reader Zachary suggests that he thinks we are being lied to by [ everyone ] and that material is being suppressed or narratives being created in the same manner as Treyvon Martin's. He kinda has a point: early on in the reportage cycle it was asserted by various media outlets that:

  1. Zimmerman was not damaged even though he claimed he was assaulted and beat up pretty badly. Examination of the video footage at the police station did, later, indeed, appear to show a substantial wound on Zimmerman's head --and--
  2. NBC played some edited 911 tape that made it sound like Zimmerman was saying the man he saw (Martin) looked like he was up to no good because he was black. It's very clear when you hear it. It's also totally not true (he said Martin appeared to be up to no good--and when the dispatcher asked the ethnicity of the subject Zimmerman said he appeared to be black).
Together it's pretty clear that at least some people in the media food chain were propagating a narrative about Zimmerman being a racist and/or a liar. Whether intentionally or accidentally, if you just had passing contact with media you could have gotten a pretty clear--but definitely wrong picture.

Could that be the case with Sandy Hook?

The Handgun Conspiracy
The short answer is no--not really. The key thing to understand about the Treyvon case is not that the media had some kind of super-narrative they tried to push but that (a) the evidence spoke for itself (the audio, the video) and (b) it came out. We can also add (c) media 'suppression' (really: media speculation) does not have much bearing on the court case (it might influence potential jurors but not if the defense does their work properly). In short, the might of the MSM lasted about a week or so and then resulted in humiliation for NBC and a court case that's still proceeding.

But that's not what's interesting about this case (speculation and bad reporting pulled out of the media feeding frenzy is not all that interesting). What's interesting is what if it had been right? What if we learned tomorrow that there was no AR-15 used in the Sandy Hook shootings? What then? What are these people driving at?

This question is what gets behind the credibility of people who watch the video and think they're on to something: They Want To Believe.

What Do They Want To Believe?
The wish to believe this video is true boils down to this: "I am being persecuted by a government I did not vote for and do not respect--their actions justify my (extreme) hatred and distrust of them." In short, if this were 'true' the adherents believe it would validate their anger. 

Seeking validation of anger is one of the "keyholes" that conspiracy theories fit into. If you have one you are more susceptible to believe a theory that comes along and seems to fit. This is true for Benghazi, it's true for Whitewater. It's true for Vince Foster. Instead of going for a more rational explanation or simply having some intellectual distance around it, if you are angry and seeking evidence to validate it, you will find things from the mass of facts to do so. If that's not enough, you may latch on to conspiracy theories that claim to help.

A key part of the reaction to conspiracy theory is that of helplessness. Other than talking about it--or maybe researching it--the believer can do nothing. That's important: the conspiracy belief takes the place of positive action. Consider this: how often does nothing come of these conspiracies vs. how often some whistle blower vindicates the suspicions of the masses? Right--that never happens.

It never happens because it isn't supposed to happen.

Now, to be sure, this isn't always 100% true. Sometimes someone believes a conspiracy AND runs a successful Get-Out-The-Vote-Drive (positive action). Sometimes belief in a conspiracy is founded on intellectual grounds (especially true if the particulars are not researched and the believer doesn't even know "it's a conspiracy"). Once in a while (Zimmerman) it turns out you really were being given misleading information.

However most of the time? With this handgun thing? The particulars have nothing to do with fact or reason. If it turns out that the killing happened as everyone says it did--but the weapon was different? What would that mean? Would it mean the Assault Weapons Ban was useless in terms of stopping more of these? Guess what? It's already useless. And it won't pass the House.

Would it "blow the lid off of the media's hate for AR-15's?" Is anyone out there not aware that depending on how you define "the media" their take on AR-15's range from horror to skepticism? I mean, is that news? No, it isn't. All this would mean was that the "media's" view was somehow 'invalid' except that, uh, that was the weapon used in Aurora--does that not count now? Is someone disputing that? (no).

In short, what it would mean was the the media was lying to us in order to try to stir up a reaction from the populace against a particular segment of guns that the populace has always been a little skeptical of. It would mean that at worst the tyrannic rules of 1994 might come back (could we get 1990's spending rates back too while we're at it?). This is nearly meaningless--and the theory postulates a large and mostly air-tight conspiracy to do this.

It's absurd, of course. Everyone who thinks about it for a few minutes knows it's absurd (and this is NBC breaking the news, not FOX--so FOX must be in on it too, no? Is NBC suddenly the guys we should be listening to? Rachel Maddow? Really?). 

But it would justify anger--and victim-hood--and so it's tasty.

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