The first, fragmentary accounts of a shooter's rampage through an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, were just starting to make headlines last week when the cyberchatter about a conspiracy began. This is not just some lone nutcase engaged in senseless killing for his own indecipherable reasons, the mutterers assured each other. This is a government plot. It is, as the 9/11 truthers like to say, an inside job.
Like the Aurora theater shooting. Like Giffords. Like Columbine.
The e-mail I received over the weekend pretty much summed it up. Under a subject line that read "Someday we Might get the Truth from the Owned & Controlled Puppets in the Press," the writer launched into a tirade against running-dog lackeys like yours truly for concealing the truth about what had just happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School:
"This sick, sick, utterly horrifying shooting was done by a mind-controlled, MKultra Manchurian programmed by the criminals at the CIA in an attempt at further gun control or even grabbing our guns, and all of you know this. In fact, he was the 'perfect' Manchurian, he committed suicide at the end of his rampage, just as he was programmed to do. And the timing of the shooting was NOT coincidental! Your never ending, patronizing, emotionally phony coverage makes us puke! Little puppets bobbing up and down on your satanic masters strings.....None of this will work though, we promise that. We'll take your gun control and shove it up your ass and if you think you can just grab our guns, think again."
There was more, but you get the gist. The tone bordered on outright hysteria. The fellow was so distraught he'd addressed this blast to a complex array of media puppets in Colorado and elsewhere, with little regard to which ones might actually still exist. (Dude, the Rocky Mountain News shut down its presses in 2009.) I did find myself agreeing on one point, though: There is a great sickness in America.
The proliferation of deranged shooters capable of slaughtering innocent people is the most tragic manifestation of that sickness, but the rise of a lunatic fringe inclined to blame those killings on elaborate government conspiracies is a symptom, too -- albeit a particularly pathetic one.
Continue reading for more on mass shootings and gun hysteria.
I realize I'm risking a savage assault on my inbox by trolls of multiple persuasions. People who think Project MKUltra, the CIA research into mind-altering drugs and psychological warfare, wasn't really abandoned in the early 1970s and continues to crank out "Manchurian Candidate" assassins for its own nefarious ends. (For a marvelous study of the weird, badly misfired Cold War drug experiments, check out this recent article in the New Yorker.) People who think LBJ ordered the hit on JFK. People who believe that the federal government isn't really a government at all but a private corporation controlled by the New World Order and in league with the Illuminati, the Luciferians and the Zionists. Such sentiments seem tailor-made for the Internet, where no one knows you're a drooling mutt, but blaming dead kindergartners on the CIA? When does this bullshit stop?
For a CIA-controlled media puppet, I've tried to keep an open mind about these grotesque shootings, God knows. A few weeks ago I even spent some time with an Arapahoe County jail inmate named Steven Unruh, who'd been trying desperately to get someone, anyone to listen to his account of having talked to suspect James Holmes for four hours shortly after the Aurora theater shootings last July. Unruh said that Holmes had told him he was subjected to "NLP" (neurolinguistic programming) and had been "programmed to kill" by an evil therapist.
As I pointed out in my post about Unruh's claims, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of his story. Jail officials say he couldn't possibly have had that kind of access to Holmes. Unruh admits he has a history of meth use and mental issues and is trying to use his information to cut a deal on a habitual criminal charge. But I couldn't rule out the possibility that Unruh might have indeed heard or seen something when Holmes was brought in; his description of Holmes banging his head on the wall, for example, fit with reports of subsequent efforts by Holmes to injure himself a few days after my interview with Unruh. Whether the wild talk about NLP and being "programmed" was Holmes's lame explanation for mass murder or Unruh's is hard to say. Unruh told me he thought Holmes was testing a possible insanity defense, "trying to run it by me."
Our account prompted some further disclaimers by Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson. But it also took off in cyberspace, fueling a lot of twitchy speculation, from conspiracy-buff sites such as Infowars to the National Enquirer to the Daily Mail. Many of these accounts were presented with few or no caveats about Unruh's credibility or access to Holmes; many people, it seems, want the idea of a government-programmed killer to be true.
Continue reading for more on mass shootings and gun hysteria.
One woman who called me about the Unruh piece said she's writing a book about Jared Loughner, the Arizona shooter who killed six people and wounded fourteen, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords. She informed me that Loughner, a schizophrenic obsessed with conspiracy theories himself, was also programmed to kill by the MKUltra boogeymen.
The truly sad thing here is that this isn't a new phenomenon. Nearly thirteen years ago, a similar wave of paranoia flowed around the edges of the Columbine investigation. There were rumors of a third shooter, of black helicopters, of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold having been subject to mind control, and so on. None of it had any basis in reality.
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That's not to say there weren't government coverups of Columbine. We reported on plenty of them, efforts to hide law enforcement's failure to investigate complaints about Harris a year prior to the attack and to conceal the breakdown in command among the responding forces. But that's not exactly the same thing as a government conspiracy to commit murder. Yet some people would rather believe in a conspiracy than, say, the terrifying commonplace of severe, untreated mental illness.
I attended one meeting of the conspiracy crowd around the time of the first anniversary of Columbine, organized by an MKUltra devotee named Doug Millar, and was told that the government is, yes, actually a private corporation. The account I wrote then, "None Dare Call It Travesty," could have been written to my recent e-mail pal, as proof of my everlasting dupedness:
...The whole loopy story comes down to this: Harris and Klebold, Millar says, were programmed by the United States government, which is really a corporation, to attack their school and kill their classmates and themselves.
You ponder this. You ask why the United States government, which is really a corporation, would want to do such a thing.
Millar seems distressed by your naiveté. He answers your question with a question. "Does the government want our guns?" he asks.
You ponder this, too. Angry parents are filing lawsuits against the sheriff's office and various elected officials, claiming that the government failed to protect their kids at Columbine. Yet here is a man saying that the government did exactly what it set out to do, with the kind of ruthless efficiency governments scarcely ever achieve.
You consider the alternatives. On one hand, a scenario of senseless death and horror, a slaughter devised and executed by two adolescents, prompted by nothing more than their own rage and madness. On the other, a government plot concocted by devious men in dark suits, designed to provoke mass hysteria and demands for gun control.
One possibility offers no clear course of action, nothing but grief and loss. The other gives you an enemy to fight against, an enemy right out of a stinkeroo Mel Gibson movie.
Given a choice between horror and absurdity, you begin to see why some people would choose the latter. You begin to see why, in a country afflicted by spectacular eruptions of terror and bloodshed, absurdity might seem attractive, even plausible.
More from our News archive: "Columbine to Newtown: A tragic list of school shootings since 1999."