Las Vegas Conspiracy Theories Lead to Threats

From the Guardian:

Braden Matejka survived a bullet to the head in the Las Vegas massacre. Then, the death threats started coming.

…”There are all these families dealing with likely the most horrific thing they’ll ever experience, and they are also met with hate and anger and are being attacked online about being a part of some conspiracy,” said Taylor Matejka, Braden’s brother, who shared with the Guardian dozens of screenshots of the abuse. “It’s madness. I can’t imagine the thought process of these people. Do they know that we are actual people?”

…Taylor said he tried to respond to the conspiracy theorists, but nothing seemed to work: “I’d be happy to talk to these people, but it seems there’s no reasoning. A really sad part of this is that a lot of these people think they’re fighting the good fight and exposing truth.”

The article in particular draws attention to how Las Vegas conspiracy theories are “flourishing” on YouTube, as was noted on Mashable earlier this month.

It’s not surprising that there is “no reasoning” with those targeting the Las Vegas survivors –  Matejka’s tormentors are almost certainly a mix of nihilistic and cynical trolls who either know they are promoting lies or don’t give a toss either way, and idiotic followers who find in such views an easy way to feel intellectually and morally superior. For those who have genuinely invested in the conspiracy theory, backing down would require an unacceptable loss of self-image – particularly if they have to admit not just to credulity, but to behaviour that anyone can see is both malicious and cowardly.

A follow-up article at Newsweek notes Alex Jones’s Sandy Hook trutherism as some wider context – his claim that the massacre was a hoax is so ingrained now that virtually all the comments under a story about Adam Lanza that appeared on the conservative news website WND yesterday expressed contempt for the bereaved and scepticism that the dead children had ever existed (although given the strong evangelical component at WND, its likely that these readers were influenced not only by Jones, but also by Pastor Carl Gallups).

Jones and his ilk have certainly created an environment in which this kind of abuse after high-profile tragedies now seems unexceptional, although in the case of Las Vegas high-profile conspiracy-mongering has focused on the motive and identity of the perpetrator. As noted by Media Matters:

Jones has offered numerous contradictory claims about the gunman’s background, including that Paddock was a left-wing extremist who attended anti-Trump rallies, a patsy, “an Islamist,” and a spy who “got set up and double crossed.” Jones also claimed that there were multiple gunmen and in one scenario suggested that Paddock was “a patsy taken up there and killed,” allowing the real perpetrators to escape

Jones’s UK sidekick Paul Joseph Watson has also promoted the idea of a cover-up, although a short video extracted from one of their shows highlights Watson looking bored and giving a non-committal reply as Jones expounds on an “antifa literature in the hotel room” conspiracy.

More recently, those asserting a cover-up have honed in on the security guard Jesus Campos, suggesting something sinister in the fact that he travelled to Mexico a few days after the shooting and then returned to the USA. The fact that his whereabouts were unknown to journalists for a short period led to claims that he was “missing”, but the mundane explanation has simply provoked further questions. Those hyping the supposed anomaly include Tucker Carlson, prompting Salon to observe that his segment on the subject

was rank of paranoia and further demonstrated Carlson’s ability to target a person of color in a story about the evils of old white men. 

Similar noises have been made by Milo Yiannopoulos, speaking on the Australian Fox News. Yiannopoulos claimed that there was a “lack of curiosity in the media” because Paddock was white, and like Carlson he sees something sinister in Campos’s trip to Mexico. Yiannopoulos – who previously flirted with Pizzagate conspiracy-mongering – added the suggestion that Campos had been “briefed” before his media appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’s show Ellen, and that it had been arranged because DeGeneres has “a relationship with the hotel chain”.

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