On Friday, I was laughing at a conspiratorial line in Paul Krugman’s column on a Saturday editorial page proof: “I guess arithmetic is just a hoax perpetrated by the deep state.” (Well, obviously, as is English, science, etc.)
Then financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein died in an apparent suicide Saturday while awaiting trial on federal sex-trafficking charges at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City.
Cue the conspiracy theories and trending Twitter hashtags. And lots of eye-rolling.
Kyle Smith wrote in National Review (it’s a very good piece; you should read it): “It was almost heartening. For a change, Americans on the left and right were united: Both sides rushed to hint that a dark conspiracy must have been behind the death of Jeffrey Epstein in his jail cell Saturday morning.”
Aw, so sweet. Everyone’s getting in on the lunacy! It was the Russians … or the Clintons … or Trump … or maybe that guy in front of me in the coffee line the other day.
Don’t be silly. I don’t drink coffee.
On the theories blaming the Clintons and Trump, Smith opined:
“Whatever you think of our leading political families, whatever corners they may cut in search of tax breaks or foundation donations or making emails inaccessible, they don’t have a lot to do with the kinds of people who are in the federal holding pen in downtown Manhattan. We may toss around the phrase ‘the Clinton mafia,’ but let’s not let colorful metaphors turn us into idiots. There isn’t an actual Clinton mafia, supported by a network of violent criminals behind bars in all the major jails. Hillary Clinton can’t just put the word out on the street that somebody in the Metropolitan Correctional Center needs to stop breathing and expect a loyal thug to step up brandishing a bedsheet noose. If somebody wanted Epstein out of the way, it would have been far easier to take him out before he went to jail.
“Do we need answers about Epstein’s death? Of course. But the explanation will probably turn out to be that a guard fell asleep, a rule wasn’t followed, oversight was poor, or other stupid mistakes were made. Unlike any of the Epstein conspiracy theories, my master theory—that the federal government is incompetent—is exceedingly easy to believe.”
Imagine that … it might just be incompetence. Officers reportedly hadn’t checked on Epstein in several hours, according to The Washington Post, and Epstein hadn’t been assigned a new cellmate after his old one transferred Friday. Leaving someone who had recently been on suicide watch unmonitored? Not a good idea.
But incompetence doesn’t make for a rousing conspiracy theory. A need for reorganization/reassignment, yes, and a good illustration of Occam’s Razor, but pretty damn boring.
Cameron Kasky, one of the survivors of the Parkland shooting and a co-founder of March For Our Lives, summed up the craziness Saturday, tweeting: “Imagine the dystopia that is a country divided in a hashtag battle accusing a former president and the current president of staging the suicide of a pedophile emperor to cover up their child molestation.”
It’s all icky. Can we at least agree on that?
While some conspiracy theories are relatively harmless (ahem … reptilian aliens?), others are not quite so benign.
Myths about vaccines causing autism led enough parents to not vaccinate their kids, helping cause measles outbreaks in the U.S., where the disease was declared in 2000 to have been eliminated. The Pizzagate conspiracy theory led to a shooting (that luckily hurt no one) at Comet Ping Pong in D.C., where the theory said Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of the basement (which doesn’t exist), an arson attempt, death threats, and harassment of not only that restaurant, but other businesses near it.
The FBI field office in Phoenix issued a bulletin in May describing the growing threat of “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” such as followers of QAnon and Pizzagate, saying, “these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts.”
Renaud Camus’ “great replacement” theory—which posits that lax immigration policy and the decline of white birth rates are leading to “genocide by substitution”—has apparently already played a part in the Pittsburgh synagogue attack and the El Paso shooting, as well as Charlottesville (oh, those tiki-torch-carrying white nationalists, such cards).
It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that other conspiracy theories will find their way into the news by way of someone acting lethally because of misinformation from a fringe theory that sees someone as wholly evil. Nancy L. Rosenblum and Russell Muirhead, authors of A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy, told The Economist in an interview that we’re seeing conspiracy without the theory now:
“Its proponents dispense with evidence and explanation. Their charges take the form of bare assertion: ‘The election is rigged!’ Yet the accusation does not point to any evidence of fraud. Or take Pizzagate, the claim that Hillary Clinton is running a child sex-trafficking ring in a pizzeria in Washington, DC. It doesn’t connect to a single observable thing in the world—it’s sheer fabulation. And in America, this new conspiracism now comes directly from the president, who employs his office to impose his compromised sense of reality on the nation. …
“There are plenty of conspiracy theories on the left—centered on dark money, finance, the secret machinations of capitalists, the military and so on. But the new conspiracy without the theory is coming mainly from the right. That’s in part because it takes aim at the regulatory state and at credentialed experts (economists, climate scientists), and so aligns with absolutist anti-governmentalism as well as with those who view expertise as intrinsically elitist. But we see no reason that the new conspiracism will be restricted to one party or point on the political spectrum. It is a powerful force, with the capacity to animate popular fury, to delegitimize political opposition, and to hijack government institutions. Unless it is disempowered as a political tool, we may see it on the left soon enough.”
And now Krugman’s quip doesn’t seem quite so funny anymore. Is it too much to hope that the theory that Epstein faked his death so he could work with Elvis at that gas station in Poughkeepsie is true?
I had intended until I checked Twitter Monday morning (weekend personal blackout, remember) to write this week about the false equivalence certain people have been advancing in relation to the El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, shootings.
(Yes, I realize that they’ve become stand-alones in the news since everyone knows what you’re talking about when you say El Paso or Dayton, but I choose to keep the states on the first reference, in part because there is an El Paso and a Dayton in Arkansas, the latter of which is my hometown.)
Because news ages quickly, and it seemed more important to me to hit these conspiracy theories, I’ll only speak a little about the little logical fallacy so many are committing to try to shift blame. There’s a good analysis of some of the myths about mass shootings here, and a debunking of the “all mass shooters are Democrats” canard that again has reared its ugly head here (it’s from 2017, but still applicable).
But here I’m dealing with the claims that the media is all over the political leanings of the El Paso gunman and is ignoring those of the Dayton shooter. In short, that’s bollocks.
The El Paso shooting was politically/racially motivated, as the suspect has affirmed to police, as the media have reported. In this case, his political and racial beliefs matter.
There is no known motive yet for the Dayton shooting, and the gunman is dead, but there is no indication that there is a political or racial motivation. The shooter was said to be obsessed with violence and mass shootings, but violence has no party. His social media indicated that he was an Elizabeth Warren supporter and he described himself as a “pro-Satan leftist,” but with no political motive seen at this time, his political beliefs don’t matter.
Comparing El Paso and Dayton is apples and orangutans.
If you want to find a political mass shooter who was liberal, the one who comes to mind is the Bernie Sanders supporter who opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball practice in 2017. Police reports indicated that the gunman asked two at the field if it was Democrat or Republicans practicing before he later shot and injured six people, Rep. Steve Scalise most seriously. The only death was the gunman. Considering his social media anti-Republican/anti-Trump activities and ensuring that the people he fired upon were Republicans, his political beliefs matter.
But comparing like and like doesn’t fit with partisan bickering, so …
Lord, I really need to get to the salon. These gray hairs are killing me. Still, better that than bullets.