The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre of 2012 ranks as one of the worst in America with 20 kids and 6 staff killed by weapons that would make a SWAT team proud. This uniquely American pastime was soon matched by that other favourite American hobby – the conspiracy theory. In fact, they mainline conspiracy theories.
America seems to pander to the wacky. There are the countless UFO sightings and it has the distinction of creating two new religions. There is Mormonism, loosely based on Christianity but elevated to flaky status by the addition of the Book of Mormon inscribed on mystical golden discs. Joseph Smith translated them using Urim and Thummim and seer stones (whatever that means) which only he had access to. Hmmm. Then there is Scientology founded by a science fiction writer and solely based on science fiction that invokes an extra-terrestrial life-form, Xenu. What about all the sects and wacky evangelical churches with some services looking like a cross between a Britney Spears revival concert and a political rally. One could possibly argue that they have also created a third religion – the Lore of the Gun – with the NRA being the higher power. America, it seems, is fertile ground for the charlatan, hoaxer, conspiracy theorist and peddler of fake news. With the exception of Mormonism, they are all mercenary. But I digress.
Sandy Hook was grist to the mill for a number of people with a fertile imagination and wilful disregard for the facts. The arch villain was Alex Jones who has made it his life’s work to promote alternative realities. Sure, he is far-right but I don’t think that he truly believes in all the disinformation he peddles. What he undoubtedly does believe though, is that it sells. He’s a grifter at heart. After a minor career in community radio and cable TV in Austin, he created Infowars in the early 1990’s which proved immensely popular among the disaffected right. Although banned from most social media websites, he shoots his own video content for his website which attracts up to 10 million views per month. The business model is simple, push the hell out of fake news and then sell his own branded merchandise and products. For instance, he milked the Fukushima nuclear disaster to sell anti-radiation pills. Sandy Hook came along and it was time again to elevate his image by cynically turning a tragedy into a conspiracy. He claimed that this was a false flag operation carried out by actors. For once he miscalculated and he pushed too hard for too long – after all you have 26 grieving real families who can prove that a loved one had been murdered. He carried on pushing his disgusting false narrative irrespective of the harm he was causing them by trusting in his first amendment rights. Wrong!
The day of reckoning finally came for Alex on 5 August when the families were granted a total of $49.3million plus costs.