Newtown Conspiracy Theories, Debunked

As with every tragedy that takes place in America these days, it didn't take long for "truthers," racists, and other fringe people to concoct conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook massacre — myths that would be laughable if they weren't so offensive.

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The most prominent concoction getting attention right now is the claim made by Press TV, the official state media outlet of Iran, that the massacre was actually the work of an Israeli death squad sent to America to punish President Obama for his lack of loyalty. Even worse, the implication is that the president would rather "take the punishment" and cover up this supposed deadly raid than defy his Jewish supporters or embarrass the state Israel. This story obviously plays on the worst fears of those who believe in secret Jewish cabals that run the world, but it's a pretty pathetic attempt at slander, even for Iran.

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But that country's anti-Semitic leaders are not the only ones spreading unfounded stories about "what really happened" in Newtown. TalkingPointsMemo looks at the rumor that improbably connects the shooting to the LIBOR interest rate scandal. That started with the (true) report that the shooter's father works in finance, but morphed into the (false) rumor that he was scheduled to deliver some no doubt shocking testimony about the LIBOR debacle before the Senate banking committee. (There are no Senate hearings scheduled and the father was not being called to testify about anything.) You might remember that this exact same rumor was spread about the father of the shooter after the Aurora theater murders this summer — another incident that has gotten plenty of play among the conspiracy minded.

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Yesterday, The Atlantic Wire also received a email spelling out several theories and mysteries about the case, many of them contradictory and each one more ludicrous than the next. Most revolve around the idea that the shooting was a "false flag" operation, designed to, among other things, dupe Americans into accepting a United Nations weapons treaty that will rob them of their gun rights. Who would want such a thing to pass? Depending on who you believe, it's the global banking industry, the Freemasons, and Barack Obama (who is also the anti-christ) acting on behalf of "his Illuminati Jewish handlers like Mayor Bloomberg of NY and Dianne Feinstein." Again, anti-Semitism finds a way in.

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In most of the claims being passed around on numerous conspiracy websites, the shooter is merely a "patsy" meant to take the fall for a much larger operation, one involving as many as four other shooters. They were there not to kill children, but to kill the patsy in order cover their tracks. Standard operating procedure in black ops, of course.

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Like many conspiracy theories, the myths of Newtown begin with a grain of truth and grow by way of a series of honest mistakes, unconfirmed rumors, and deliberate fantasy, then evolve into a kind of narrowly accepted allegation of some evil globe-spanning plot. Then there is the ideological bias that comes from those who may even buy into the official story, yet still manage to see nefarious intent wherever it follows. The idea of "one world government" encroachment via the small weapons treaty is a popular fear, but one that's been thoroughly debunked in the past. (The treaty is real, but hasn't been written yet, will never be ratified by the Senate, and has nothing to do with the Second Amendment.)

Much of the "second shooter" speculation was spurred by a man who was detained and released after being spotted in the woods outside the school. Numerous witnesses and TV stations reported seeing a man handcuffed and placed in a police car on Friday morning. After he was interviewed and released, police moved on to other matters, but the record was never fully cleared up and the event got lost in the larger story, leading many to believe the arrest was being actively suppressed. We admit it took a bit of digging to discover that others had figured out that the man in question was most likely Chris Manfredonia, the father of a Sandy Hook student, who attempted to sneak into the school after the shooting started. Police can be heard relaying his name over their radios, but few outlets managed to follow up with that detail.

All breaking crimes scenes are prone to confusion and rumor. This Sandy Hook shooting in particular was rife with false reports and misunderstandings—the most glaring being the early mis-identification of the shooter by police. The most sensational details spread quickly, but the corrections to those details rarely reach as far. For many of the "believers" attempts to correct the misinformation are merely proof of the larger cover up. This new strain of conspiracy mongering has its roots in the September 11 "truther" movement, but goes back much further than that, to the most ancient forms of racism and anti-Semitim and an almost mystical belief that there are forces beyond our control—that can also be conveniently blamed for all our troubles.

Oh, and there's one last stupid idea from those who think the Sandy Hook massacre was not a random act of violence. One of the most popular movies of 2012 was The Hunger Games, based on a book trilogy about a futuristic contest where 24 children are forced to fight to the death on television. The author of those books lives in Newtown, Connecticut.