Thursday, February 28, 2013

Conspiracy Theories

I've found myself coming across various conspiracy theories in the last month.  One in particular involves the Sandy Hook School shooting, but a couple others involve old crimes or injustices that have dropped out of mind and into the history books.  Reading these accounts, these claims of government's crimes against their people, I have to wonder: why do these theories exist?

My answer in short is that people don't always agree.  When trying to place blame, someone always ends up with the majority vote.  Once that majority is established, the minority opinions start to get snuffed out.  The most outspoken of this minority community ends up labelled the conspiracy theorist, because the majority doesn't believe their opinion is valid.

But I think it goes deeper than this.

Have you ever noticed that "conspiracy theories" always involve a government, political group, or some otherwise infallibly good group of people?  Conspiracy theories seem to "reveal the true colors" of these groups.  They turn the system on its head.

There's just something dramatic about the stories that we call conspiracy theories.  There's a villain and a victim, and the storyteller becomes the hero by bringing the villain to light.  We write books about this, make movies about it, support a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry by taking interest in it.

This makes me think the conspiracy theorists, or at least the ones who set up blogs and youtube channels to advertise their theories, are basking in the heroic glow of outing a villain.  They probably believe the stories, at least to an extent, but their efforts become more about getting the word out than making sure the word is correct to begin with.

I don't want to bring too much attention to the conspiracy theorists in this story, but I was drawn into the theories about the Sandy Hook shooting a few weeks ago and need set out what I experienced.

There's a 30 minute video somewhere on Youtube with few million views detailing all the suspect conditions of the shooting, eventually setting it out as a government conspiracy to (1) fake the death of 1 or more children, and (2) develop a scapegoat for the gun rights battle.  Evidence to support their claims include a FEMA training on dealing with children in crisis held some 20 miles away from the school, misinformation from the forensic pathologist, nonsensical stories from a nearby resident, and details of the scene that just didn't look right.

Honestly, for almost 30 minutes I was riveted, waiting for the final nail in the coffin that the video promised.  A lot of things didn't make good sense, although I questioned how relevant those details were.  There was some clear misinformation in the original stories that was later corrected, but this can happen with any report that is released too soon, before facts are verified.

Some of the harder obstacles to overcome appeared as accurate facts, but they are easily explained.  The biggest was that some Facebook groups and posts were timestamped before the incident. True, incidents blatantly out of order bring question to the entire sequence of events.  But the storyteller forgot that we're talking about a website.  Not just any website, but one of the biggest websites in the world that has been known to have glitches.  We're also talking about timestamps that are seen differently in different time zones, so the captured images could have easily come from a different time zone that showed the timestamp a dozen hours or more prior to the actual posting.  The group that was shown as being created the night before the shooting received so much criticism that the creator had to close and re-form the group.  While the storyteller presented this as the correction of an error, I finally saw this as an unfortunate story of a grieving family member who had to take action to stop an overwhelming number of false accusations about his painful situation.

It took watching the entire 30 minute video, stewing on it for an hour or so, and talking through some details to fully convince myself that the evidence didn't support any kind of government conspiracy.  This bugs me, because I'm so critical of facts in a story and can usually separate relevant information from propaganda pretty easily.  The fact that it took 2 hours for me to notice the gaping holes in the story tells me this conspiracy theorist is too persuasive for his own good.

But, after 2 hours of getting over this exaggerated mess, I did find the real story.  As with any good lie, this story represented a partial truth.  The media immediately swept this into the primary news spot and looked for any other story to piggy back off of it.  Soon enough, the battle for gun rights started.  The headline policies revolved around assault rifles and large-capacity clips, and always pointed back to Sandy Hook for justification.  Our storyteller (correctly) pointed out that while 4 handguns were found to be used in the shooting, the assault rifle found in the shooter's trunk never even entered the school.  The inflation of the assault rifle and large-capacity clip issue was purely the result of media misinformation and political agendas.

I'm not saying these weapons aren't used in major crimes, but the media and political propaganda about these weapons was a bastardization of the Sandy Hook shooting.  They hold these children up on pedestals for something they don't represent.  They charge the country with protecting kids "just like them" from weapons that never darkened their doorstep in the first place.

Let me be clear.  The shooting was pure tragedy.  The families deserve all the sympathy this country can muster.  The innocent blood that was spilled was unjustified and terrible.  But by using their memory to twist into your own agenda is wrong.  You're not honoring the children or their families, you're insulting them.

What I learned from this, and other, conspiracy theories is that even though a story might not hold water, every good story starts with a grain of truth.  If we look hard enough, we can find this grain of truth in everything.

Always moving forward,


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