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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sandy Hook Conspiracy, Truthers, and Monological Belief

How deep can attacks against reason and truth run? To what lengths are journalists and political agents willing to invent conspiracy theories to proliferate rumors and spread falsehoods that appeal to special interests? Apparently, such "sales jobs" have no end.

Every tragedy that takes place in America today draws "truthers" to concoct conspiracy theories. A truther is "a person who does not believe the generally accepted explanation of a particular event and who believes that he or she knows the true facts about what happened."

The combination of making money by writing theories, confirming public distrust with "grain of truth" details, and appealing to raw sensationalism drive conspiracy makers to speculate and gullible consumers to accept almost anything remotely plausible.

So much distrust in government and the belief in evil political control fuel the conspiracies and make them easy sells to a disheartened public. "We are hardwired to seek order in chaos, make meaning out of data noise,” says D.J. Grothe, the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, "and it is paradoxically comforting to imagine that great tragedy is not just time and chance, but a function of some nefarious, pre-planned grand design."

Now, Sandy Hook conspiracy is making the rounds again.

The official account of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting is being disputed by a number of conspiracy theories. As you know, it is widely accepted that on December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza fatally shot his mother, then 20 students and 6 staff members at the elementary school before committing suicide.

Proponents of Sandy Hook conspiracy theories question the circumstances of the shooting with Adam Lanza as the sole perpetrator and are using early media reports that included inconsistencies about the identity of the shooter, wrong photos, incorrect location of victims,weapons used and other alleged misinformation as evidence for their claims.

(Andrew Evans. "How the Media Got Newtown Wrong." December 18, 2012)

(Simon Houpt. "Messy Media Coverage of Connecticut Shooting Leaves Trail 
of Misinformation." The Globe and Mail. December 16, 2012) 

Theorists have suggested the shooting was orchestrated by government officials for political reasons, similar to some 9/11 conspiracy theories, claiming that the shooting was deliberately set up to push stricter gun control  laws. There are also claims that Lanza was furious at the school due to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Another concoction 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.

And, of course, a theory of ideological bias comes from those who buy into the official story, yet still manage to believe that some unknown organization with bad, evil intent is attempting to establish a "one world government" encroachment.

A Study on Conspiracy Believers

New research shows that conspiracy theorists aren't put off by contradictory theories. Here is why: "They're explained by the overarching theory that there is some kind of cover-up, that authorities are withholding information from us," said Karen Douglas, a study researcher and reader in the school of psychology sciences at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. "It's not that people are gullible or silly by having those beliefs. … It all fits into the same picture."

(Wynne Parry, Senior Writer. "Contradictions Don't Deter Conspiracy Theorists." 
LiveScience. January 27, 2012) 

Conspiracy theorists struggle with understanding how an individual can commit a horrendous,  inhuman act. An unwillingness to accept the concept of individual responsibility can lead down a pretty strange path. Conspiracy theories can even form a monological belief system: A self-sustaining worldview comprised of a network of mutually supportive beliefs. The monological nature of conspiracy belief appears to be driven not by conspiracy theories directly supporting one another but by broader beliefs supporting conspiracy theories in general.

Rather than accept the possibility that a single, evil man could perform the unthinkably evil act of killing 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, some place the blame on the tools he used to commit this crime. Others turn to some bizarre conspiracy theories that spread with lightning speed over the Internet.

Here is what Karen Douglas and her colleagues reported in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science about their study:

"In the first of two experiments, Douglas and colleagues asked 137 students to rate how much they agreed with five conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Princess Diana in a car crash in 1997.

"'The more people were likely to endorse the idea Princess Diana was murdered, the more they were likely to believe that Princess Diana is alive,' explained Douglas. People who thought it was unlikely she was murdered were also unlikely to think she did not die.

"They also asked 102 students about the death of Osama bin Laden last year. The students rated how much they agreed with statements purporting that: bin Laden had died in the American raid; he is still alive; he was already dead when the raid took place; the Obama administration appears to be hiding information about the raid.

"Once again, people who believed bin Laden was already dead before the raid were more likely to believe he is still alive. Using statistical analysis, the researchers determined that the link between the two was explained by a belief that the Obama administration was hiding something.

"The central idea — that authorities are engaged in massive deceptions intended to further their malevolent goals — supports any individual theory, to the point that theorists can endorse contradictory ones, according to the team.

"'Believing that Osama bin Laden is still alive is apparently no obstacle to believing that he has been dead for years,' wrote the researchers."

(Karen M. Douglas, et al. "Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories." Social Psychological and Personality Science. October 12, 2012)

Conspiracy theories often result in our society because people look for simplistic answers to complex, tragic situations. Yet, to those who believe evil does exist, individuals are more than capable of committing horrendous deeds.

The Sandy Hook conspiracy? A Huffington Post article is worth reading. HuffPost obtained new information that shed more light on some of the confusion that surfaced in the hours after the shooting occurred. They offer a few persistent “truther” arguments and explanations as to why they don’t hold up to scrutiny. These explanations are given for the following conspiracy arguments:

* Sandy Hook school nurse Sally Cox "got her script wrong."
* Adam Lanza didn't use an assault rifle to kill his victims.
* Adam Lanza died the day before the shooting.
* Memorial Websites and Facebook pages were already set up. 
* Why did Adam Lanza have his brother's ID?
* There were multiple shooters.
* Crisis actors were used to give interviews to the media.
* Conclusion

(Hunter Stuart. "Sandy Hook Hoax Theories Explained: Why Newtown 'Truther' Arguments 
Don't Hold Up." Huffington Post. February 11, 2013)

Please click here to read the entire Huffpost article: 

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