Metro

  • Written by Michael Rocque, Associate Professor of Sociology, Bates College

While conspiracy theories are not limited to any topic, there is one type of event that seems particularly likely to spark them: mass shootings, typically defined as attacks in which a shooter kills at least four other people[1].

When one person kills many others in a single incident, particularly when it seems random, people naturally seek out answers for why the tragedy happened. After all, if a mass shooting is random, anyone can be a target.

Pointing to some nefarious plan by a powerful group – such as the government – can be more comforting than the idea that the attack was the result of a disturbed or mentally ill individual[2] who obtained a firearm legally[3].

In the United States, where some significant portion of the public believes[4] that the government is out to take their guns, the idea that a mass shooting was orchestrated by the government in an attempt to make guns look bad may be appealing both psychologically and ideologically.

Our studies of mass shootings[5] and conspiracy theories[6] help to shed some light on why these events seem particularly prone to the development of such theories and what the media can do to limit the ideas’ spread.

Back to the 1990s

Mass shootings and conspiracy theories have a long history. As far back as the mid-1990s, amid a spate of school shootings, Cutting Edge Ministries[7], a Christian fundamentalist website, found a supposed connection between the attacks and then-President Bill Clinton.

The group’s website claimed that when lines were drawn between groups of school-shooting locations across the U.S., they crossed in Hope, Arkansas[8], Clinton’s hometown. The Cutting Edge Ministries concluded from this map that the “shootings were planned events, with the purpose of convincing enough Americans that guns are an evil that needs to be dealt with severely, thus allowing the Federal Government to achieve its Illuminist goal of seizing all weapons.”

Beliefs persist today that mass shootings are staged events, complete with “crisis actors[9],” people who are paid to pretend to be victims of a crime or disaster, all as part of a conspiracy by the government to take away people’s guns. The idea has been linked to such tragedies as the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the Sandy Hook Elementary attack that resulted in the deaths of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

These beliefs can become widespread when peddled by prominent people. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has been in the news recently because of her belief that the Parkland shooting was a “false flag[10],” an event that was disguised to look like another group was responsible. It’s not clear, though, in this instance who Rep. Greene felt was really to blame.

Conservative personality Alex Jones recently failed to persuade the Texas Supreme Court[11] to dismiss defamation and injury lawsuits against him by parents of children who were killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. Jones has, for years, claimed that the Sandy Hook massacre didn’t happen[12], saying “the whole thing was fake[13],” and alleging it happened at the behest of gun-control groups and complicit media outlets.

After the country’s deadliest mass shooting to date, with 59 dead and hundreds injured[14] in Las Vegas in 2017, the pattern continued: A conspiracy theory arose that there were multiple shooters[15], and the notion that the shooting was really done for some other purpose than mass murder.

Why do mass shootings spawn conspiracy theories? A parent is reunited with a child in Newtown, Connecticut, after the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. AP Photo/Jessica Hill[16]

Making sense of the senseless

These conspiracy theories are all attempts to make sense of incomprehensibly terrifying events. If a lone shooter, with no clear motive[17], can singlehandedly take the lives of 60 individuals, while injuring hundreds more, then is anyone really safe?

Conspiracy theories are a way of understanding information. Historian Richard Hofstadter[18] has indicated they can provide motives for events that defy explanation. Mass shootings, then, create an opportunity for people to believe there are larger forces at play, or an ultimate cause that explains the event.

For instance, an idea that a shooter was driven mad by antipsychotic[19] drugs[20], distributed by the pharmaceutical industry[21], can provide comfort as opposed to the thought that anyone can be a victim or perpetrator.

Polls have shown that people worry a lot[22] about mass shootings, and more than 30% of Americans said in 2019 that they refused to go particular places such as public events or the mall for fear of being shot[23].

If the shootings are staged, or the results of an enormous, unknowable or mysterious effort, then they at least becomes somewhat comprehensible. That thought process satisfies the search for a reason that can help people feel more comfort and security in a complex and uncertain world – especially when the reason found either removes the threat or makes it somehow less random.

Some people blame mass shootings on other factors like mental illness that make gun violence an individual issue, not a societal one, or say these events are somehow explained by outside forces. These ideas may seem implausible to most, but they do what conspiracy theories are intended to do: provide people with a sense of knowing and control.

Conspiracy theories have consequences

Conspiracy theories can spark real-world threats – including the QAnon-inspired attack on a pizza restaurant[24] in 2016 and the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection[25].

They also misdirect blame and distract from efforts to better understand tragedies such as mass shootings. High-quality scholarship could investigate how to better protect public places. But robust debates about how to reduce events such as mass shootings will be less effective if some significant portion of the public believes they are manufactured.

Some journalists and news organizations[26] have already started taking steps to identify and warn audiences against[27] conspiracy theories. Open access to reputable news sources on COVID-19, for example, has helped manage the misinformation of coronavirus[28] conspiracies.

Explicit and clear evaluation of evidence and sources[29] – in headlines and TV subtitles[30] – have helped keep news consumers alert. And pop-up prompts[31] from Twitter and Facebook encourage users to read articles before reposting.

These steps can work, as shown by the substantial drop in misinformation[32] on Twitter following former President Donald Trump’s removal from the platform.

Mass shootings may be good fodder for conspiracy theories, but that does not mean people should actually consume such ideas without necessary context or disclaimers.

References

  1. ^ shooter kills at least four other people (nij.ojp.gov)
  2. ^ disturbed or mentally ill individual (www.latimes.com)
  3. ^ obtained a firearm legally (doi.org)
  4. ^ some significant portion of the public believes (www.washingtonpost.com)
  5. ^ mass shootings (scholar.google.com)
  6. ^ conspiracy theories (scholar.google.com)
  7. ^ Cutting Edge Ministries (web.archive.org)
  8. ^ they crossed in Hope, Arkansas (web.archive.org)
  9. ^ crisis actors (www.theguardian.com)
  10. ^ false flag (www.newsweek.com)
  11. ^ failed to persuade the Texas Supreme Court (thehill.com)
  12. ^ claimed that the Sandy Hook massacre didn’t happen (theconversation.com)
  13. ^ the whole thing was fake (www.reuters.com)
  14. ^ 59 dead and hundreds injured (time.com)
  15. ^ multiple shooters (www.chicagotribune.com)
  16. ^ AP Photo/Jessica Hill (newsroom.ap.org)
  17. ^ no clear motive (www.chicagotribune.com)
  18. ^ Richard Hofstadter (harpers.org)
  19. ^ antipsychotic (www.cchrint.org)
  20. ^ drugs (www.wusa9.com)
  21. ^ pharmaceutical industry (journal.emwa.org)
  22. ^ people worry a lot (www.pewresearch.org)
  23. ^ for fear of being shot (www.apa.org)
  24. ^ QAnon-inspired attack on a pizza restaurant (www.npr.org)
  25. ^ Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection (abcnews.go.com)
  26. ^ news organizations (www.theatlantic.com)
  27. ^ identify and warn audiences against (theconversation.com)
  28. ^ misinformation of coronavirus (misinforeview.hks.harvard.edu)
  29. ^ evaluation of evidence and sources (drive.google.com)
  30. ^ TV subtitles (www.washingtonpost.com)
  31. ^ pop-up prompts (www.socialmediatoday.com)
  32. ^ substantial drop in misinformation (www.seattletimes.com)

Authors: Michael Rocque, Associate Professor of Sociology, Bates College

Read more https://theconversation.com/why-do-mass-shootings-spawn-conspiracy-theories-155017

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

SANDRA BOOKER RELEASES “UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN”

SANDRA BOOKER "Until We Meet Again" RELEASES WORLDWIDE MARCH 30TH There is something beautiful about artists whose insight into the human condition allows them to create works that meet our collective moment at a time we most need their...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

How Can Music Itself Survive Without Rock n Roll?

Just because you don’t hear much straightforward rock and roll on the Top 40 charts these days doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere. Its time in the mainstream limelight may not be as popular as it was when I was growing up in the 70s and what we now...

Michael Mesey, American Greed - avatar Michael Mesey, American Greed

Is Rock Music a Dying Breed?

“Rock ‘n’ Roll [is here to stay, it...] can […will] never die” – David Ernest White, Neil Percival Young, etc. “Rock ‘n’ Roll is dead” – Leonard Albert Kravitz, Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, etc. “And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby…” – S...

Eli Soiefer/Emodulari - avatar Eli Soiefer/Emodulari

skinsNbones

“There’s Reason” The question mark (?) logo that Brisbane, Australia husband and wife rockers skinsNbones use in all their promotional materials in lieu of band photos reflects a fascinating aesthetic designed to create mystery, provoke and en...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

RAP without the F Bomb

Some would say that’s like peanut butter without jelly.  Hey, I am no prude and I shocked my best friend from grade school when I said “great detectives caught the Mo Foes, from my new song Clean Slate.”  She said:  whoa, you dropped the F word.”...

Rebecca L Davis   aka    DawgGoneDavis - avatar Rebecca L Davis aka DawgGoneDavis

My COVID Musical Journey by Kai Alece

It has been said that maybe one in 1 million musicians will make it to stardom. If you are in the top 5%, you are probably writing songs for top artists, scoring for blockbuster films and TV, a sought after session musician or maybe even playing ...

Kai Alece - avatar Kai Alece

Metropolitan Business News

Perfecting Web Design For A Health-Based Website

These days, when it comes to understanding what we put into our bodies, we are more focused than ever. It seems that everywhere we look, there is another health benefit, product, or trend on the...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

3 Realistic Reasons Why Physical Offices Are (Almost) Dead

Nowadays, more and more businesses are trying to find alternatives to traditional offices. For many years, brick and mortar offices have been at the heart of a company’s life. But work environme...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

Advantages of no-code app development for businesses

A marketer may or may not have knowledge about coding. But even if you don't’ have knowledge in coding, it is easy to build an automation sequence between two apps by making use of a no code app bui...

News Co - avatar News Co

Do Directories Still Help SEO?

Directories were once one of the main staples of SEO and they were definitely in existence before search engines took over. Directories were once the main way that people navigated the world wide we...

News Co - avatar News Co

Shipping Container FAQs

If you are looking to rent or purchase a shipping container, you probably have a few questions. We have selected some of the most common questions and answered them here. We hope that you find this ...

News Co - avatar News Co

Is Duplicate Content an SEO Myth?

Any marketer you speak to about duplicate content is concerned about a “duplicate content penalty” but they are probably not very experienced with SEO. Google has specific guidelines on duplicate co...

News Co - avatar News Co

Writers Wanted


News Co Media

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion