Boston Marathon Conspiracy Theories: The Shooting of Sean Collier

This post originally appeared on Houdini's Revenge

The post-bombing activities of April 18-19 were strange. Deeply weird. The actions of the Tsarnaev brothers, when verifiable, made no sense and the shooting of MIT police officer Sean Collier made so little sense that is has fueled a lot of speculation that the Tsarnaev brothers were not responsible for his murder at all.  The narrative of the murder of Sean Collier feeds a lot of “Dzhokhar Was Framed” theories and is almost a wholly separate conspiracy theory unto itself.

Increasingly, with the exception of the usual conspiracy theory suspects, I really do think the cause of all of the conspiracies created about the Boston bombings and the subsequent mayhem can be summed up in two statements:

1)  The FBI has yet again permitted an act of terrorism to occur in the USA due to another complete breakdown in intelligence gathering and sharing, and their investigative choices after the Boston bombing have raised more questions than they have answered.  I suspect the FBI has always been this much a mess but before the Internet it was harder for the average citizen to analyze their various errors.

2)  The mainstream media in the English-speaking world is mostly a disgrace.  I suspect that mainstream journalism has always been this much a mess but before the Internet it was harder for the average citizen to analyze their various errors.

Any analysis of how Sean Collier was shot to death can only come about by exploring the story with those two statements in mind.  Worse, given that this is yet another instance wherein the American public has to take the FBI’s word for it that there is proof the Tsarnaev brothers were involved in an atrocious activity, the discussion of Sean Collier has an unfortunate “second verse, same as the first” ring to it.   The FBI says they have proof, and more on that in a bit, but even if they have proof, the path to such proof is filled with detours that make it hard to put much faith in the idea that we will ever see anything about this case clearly.  As much as I urge everyone to have patience, to wait to see what the prosecution has in store for Dzhokhar, to wait to see what the FBI or the US Attorney General’s Office may eventually choose to share with us, I can see all too clearly why it is so many people are unwilling to wait.  Just the media idiocy with the Collier case alone is conspiracy fodder.

Boston Marathon Bombing Conspiracies: “Pretty Chilling”

This post originally appeared on Houdini's Revenge

I have stated many times throughout my discussions of the Boston bombings that I believe the mainstream media and the details from the official investigation itself have fueled as much conspiracy theory as the “usual suspects” have created.  Boston has been notable in the realm of conspiracy theory in how so many people who are not conspiracy theorists have begun to think something is being hidden and that we are being manipulated, or at the very least that everyone involved in the case is incompetent.

They have very good reasons for thinking this way because the media handling of the case and the investigative decisions have been a complete mess. My article on the “Alex Jones-ification of the Mainstream Media” showed dismay at the original reporting in the case and, when I wrote it, I thought we had seen the nadir of the misreporting but I was wrong. Even worse, I was completely unprepared for the official investigative statements that seem to be making everything worse. At this point, anyone paying close attention to the details of the case should be having a hard time believing much of any official narrative about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s role in the Boston bombing, his role in the various shootouts in Watertown and the confession he allegedly gave federal interrogators.

This is worth paying close attention to.  The low standards of reporting and the continually changing stories from the investigators as they engage in activities that ten years ago would have been unconstitutional and grounds for prosecution are actual, provable harms.  While people are agitating about staged scenes and casting aspersions on bomb victims, while people are making disgusting anti-semitic accusations, the press and the government are legitimately doing terrible things that are less exciting than creating fantastic theories that would be too outrageous even for movies.  Were I a conspiracy theorist, I might wonder about the motivations of those who are engaging in such insulting flights of fancy.  But mostly I think theories are created for mundane reasons that have nothing to do with being government plants or purveyors of disinformation.  But the end result is the same.  But while people are contemplating a staged attack that five minutes on Google proves couldn’t have happened, the press are merrily reporting garbage and the investigation is changing their official story whenever it suits them and the waters have been so muddied by the usual conspiracy theory suspects that people are afraid of being tarred with the same irrational brush if they speak out and say, “There are so many problems with the case against the Tsarnaev brothers that I do not know if they were even involved.”

One of the reasons I cannot throw my hat emphatically behind Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a bomber is because none of the evidence that the government claims to have proving he planted a bomb has been seen by anyone who spoke to the press and because the eyewitness identification that led the FBI to identify the Tsarnaev brothers is shaky at best.  There are some who think that the FBI doesn’t have a tape that shows Dzhokhar planting a bomb and their suspicions are very much an element of the “Dzhokhar Was Framed” theory.

Let’s begin discussing the whole mess with Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts. 

Boston Marathon Conspiracy Theories: Dzhokhar Is Dead

This post originally appeared on Houdini's Revenge

In several places online I have seen people postulate that they think that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is dead.  With one sickening exception, the Dzhokhar Is Dead rumors are benign and based on assumptions that are easy to understand.  But even as they are easy to understand, there’s not much to back the theories because they are all fueled by the fact that we haven’t seen Dzhokhar moving since he stepped out of the boat in Watertown on April 19.  An uncredited and unverified picture of him, presumably after surgery, was leaked, and in it he looks pretty bad.  Since then, the public has not seen him.  He was taken from Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, where he was rushed on April 19, and transferred to a federal prison hospital, Federal Medical Center Devens and at no time did anyone in the public witness the transfer.

Though no one in the public has seen Dzhokhar, there are pretty clear signs that he is alive.  He recently was permitted to speak to his mother on the telephone, and told her he was recovering, among other things. There is always the possibility that Zubeidat Tsarnaeva was listening to someone else on the phone, as Zubeidat reports that the call was very quiet and it was hard for them to hear each other.  However, this situation is different from Maret Tsarnaeva insisting the man in the Naked Guy video is her nephew despite not having seen him in over five years.  One presumes a mother will know her son’s voice, even if she has been away from him for a while.  Given how vocal Zubeidat has been about her suspicions about staging and false flags, and that the police killed Tamerlan after taking him into custody peacefully, had she any suspicion that the boy on the phone was not her son, she would have shouted it from the rooftops.

Some people find Zubeidat Tsarnaeva a bit odd but there are other people who have had access to  Dzhokhar.  He has a defense team that has seen him and fought for and won permission to photograph him. Evidently Dzhokhar is in such bad shape that his physical state could be used in his favor in court (and if he is so debilitated weeks after the shootout that it is remarkable enough that it needs to be introduced in court, it points to the notion that perhaps he was in no state to have been interrogated after surgery, but more on that in another entry).  That a defense team is going to photograph him should give lie to the idea he is dead.  Moreover, from a place of anecdote, the presence of Judy Clarke on Dzhokhar’s defense team should calm suspicions about Dzhokhar’s death.  An independent thinker, Clarke is one of the last people I can think of who would participate in a conspiracy wherein she would have to cover up the death of a client or defend a doppelganger.  Raised by John Birchers, she became rabidly anti-death penalty and has long been an advocate for people the government and private citizens would genuinely like to see dead, like child murderer Susan Smith. Judy Clarke’s presence on Dzhokhar’s defense team should comfort those who think him dead or fear for his long-term safety pre-trial.

I am of the opinion that much is odd about the accusations against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and I worry that he is being treated harshly or that the we have been misled about the state of his injuries after the shootout.  I am not the only one. A rumor that I have not been able to prove through any legitimate source insists that Dzhokhar also has a broken arm that he received either during prison mistreatment or as the result of the shootout at the boat.  That such a rumor didn’t immediate strike me as unlikely says something about the quality of reporting that has accompanied Tsarnaev throughout this case (it appears to have originated from a faked transcription of the phone call Zubiedat had with Dzhokhar, since removed from the VK account where I first saw it).  We were told weeks after the boat in Watertown was searched that a note had been found so it’s not unlikely Dzhokhar could have broken his arm before or in custody and the news not have filtered out. I would not be surprised if Dzhokhar’s physical state is far worse than the public has been led to believe but the call with his mother and the defense team’s presence, especially now that they can photograph him, should dispel most of the rumors.  Hardline conspiracy theorists who believe the whole world is in on the conspiracy cannot be swayed but for the rest of us, I think we can rest assured he is at least alive.

But even as most of the “he’s dead” theories about Dzhokhar are largely benign, there is a theory that verges into the malignant.  I am not sure if the video in question was created by StillSpeakingOut but his or her YouTube channel is the first place I have seen this video and every single share of it I have seen originated from that channel.  There are other channels that have uploaded this video but they don’t come close to the view numbers that StillSpeakingOut has.  Therefore I will, for rhetorical purposes, attribute the video to StillSpeakingOut and will be only too happy to edit this text if another creator is revealed.  The “Free Jahar” fandom of young women who have no idea what “Zionist” may mean in this context have been a boon to this video, sharing it without much thought as they scare each other with vapid rumor.  For them this video is like a campfire story that ends with a car door and a hook except this time the hook is anti-semitism.

Boston Marathon Bombing Conspiracies: The Jahart Throb

This post originally appeared on Houdini's Revenge

I initially wanted to discuss the fandom that has sprung up around Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the conspiracy theories about Dzhokhar, mostly scenarios that involve him having been framed.  As I wrote, it became clear to me this needed to be a section on its own.  The fandom is important to any discussion of conspiracy theory in the Boston bombings, but the girls in the fandom are not actual creators of theory. They just share what is already out there. I want to discuss them because I think that they are a subset of conspiracy theory in general – a mini moral panic, and a misrepresented one at that.  Also I initially thought these girls were a bellwether of sorts, a case study of what happens when we don’t teach our young people how to tell a good source from bad, how to research claims people make, and how to engage in independent thought without leaving the realm of reason.

While I still think we can see some failures in how we teach young people to process data, I also think this particular fandom has been blown up by the media into just another excuse to clutch pearls, declaiming These Kids Today.  A few articles about the Free Jahar fandom are even-handed but the bulk focus on the teen crush angle, insinuating that all the people online who are concerned about the “evidence” against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are just angst-filled teeny-boppers.  I also think a lot of the discussion about this topic is click bait, an easy way to draw people who want to gawk at the salaciousness of young women lusting after a suspected killer, dun dun DUN!  (Please note that Jahar is an anglicized spelling of Dzhokhar.)

However, before I talk about the girls who make up the group/fandom that so many media venues have mocked, I want to make a distinction.  There are “Free Jahar” groups that do not focus on the relative attractiveness of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and it is my belief that many articles bashing the “Free Jaharists” as silly, love-struck girls have mixed the more serious groups in to make the fandom group seem larger.  A few hundred girls on Tumblr acting like teenage girls often do isn’t newsworthy.  Fifteen thousand girls mooning over a suspected bomber and spreading wretched conspiracy theory is marginally more newsworthy.  But from all the reading I have done (and thank me later for taking that hit – I should subtitle this blog “I read this crap so you don’t have to!”), the girls who spawned the Gawker article that got this ball rolling are entirely different from the larger groups they have been lumped into.

Early articles discussing the “Jihotties” reference a large Facebook group that was later shut down.  There is a current, private Free Jahar Facebook  that has almost 15,000 members, and from what I have gathered, this is a continuation of the Facebook community that got shut down, reforming after the dust settled.  I joined this community and read a lot of the status updates there and this community is definitely not a fandom, nor is it steeped in conspiracy theory, though potential conspiracy is discussed.  There are no sighs about how cute Dzhohkar is and the bulk of the community maintain a reasonably intelligent discussion level, though there are a few odd drawings of Dzhokhar and someone posted an article about psychic predictions of the Boston bombing.  A few people post new pictures they find of Dzhokhar, but none of the sillier elements to this Facebook group are the focus of the group. Yet I think that this group is used to plump up the numbers in reports of the infinitely more interesting, media-wise, fandom.  A fandom is far easier to mock and to dismiss than collectives of mostly young people who think there are serious problems with the case against Dzhokhar.  (ETA: And an hour after I posted this entry I see a post wherein someone touts a paranoid and lunatic video wherein some gubernatorial candidate in Nevada is convinced DHS staged the Boston Marathon bombing.  I have no idea what I was thinking, assuming that any place was safe from the gut punch of bad conspiracy theory.  I’m sure within minutes someone will post a cuddly picture of Jahar, but for a brief few days, there was a place wherein people were discussing problems in the case against Dzhokhar intelligently.  I take some comfort in that very few people have responded to it, either by comments or by likes – some very small comfort.  But they aren’t behaving like a fandom so my original analysis still stands in that regard. )

From what I have read, I would be very surprised if there are more than a thousand girls in the Free Jahar fandom.  The largest open group of the sorts of “Free Jaharists” sensationalized on Gawker I can find is a Facebook group with around 600 members.  FreeJahar on Twitter has around 1,800 followers.  The other names on Twitter associated with the Justice for Dzhokhar “movement” have substantially fewer followers.  Troy Crossley, an aspiring rapper, who was once friends with Dzhokhar and who is vocal in his support for his friend, has over 15,000 followers.  Troy’s account, however, pre-dates the Boston bombing attack and I have no way of knowing how many followers he had before April 19.  None of the actual “Justice for Jahar” Twitter accounts even come close to having the number of followers Troy has.  But for the sake of argument, let’s lump all the serious groups in with the fandoms.  Even if every single Troy Crossley follower, lurid Dzhokhar Tumblr user and member of the largest Free Jahar Facebook account are unique users and are representative of the love-sick fandom mocked in the mainstream press, the Free Jahar movement is still very, very small.  All combined, they would represent .01% of Americans and it must be stated that these groups are international.  There may very well be more people in the world who think the Earth is flat and think that the Cottingley Fairies were real.

Boston Marathon Bombing Conspiracy: Craft International, False Flag – UPDATED

This post originally appeared on Houdini's Revenge

I can’t determine what site or what commentator initially brought up Craft/Blackwater but there’s a lot of information about it out on the web. Craft International started being mentioned on April 17, two days after the bombings.  Pontifications about the possible presence of Craft International at the Boston Marathon blossomed into full force false flag paranoia on April 18. Alex Jones, the ruddy huckster, was a force behind accusations against Craft International as being part of a false flag, which makes sense because he was literally the first conspiracy theorist to declare false flag as the cause behind the Boston bombings.  He waited a cool 41 minutes after the bombings before he invoked false flag, and I have to commend him for his restraint.  It had to have hurt him to wait that long.  But he had to have sighed with relief when people began to notice the men in the black caps with the black backpacks because then he had something upon which to pin his false flag allegations.

I suspect I will mention this again when I discuss all of the false flag accusations that happened before 4/18, but it is logically impossible to declare any violent event a government-inspired false flag before the government has even had a chance to declare a suspect.  How can it be a false flag before the government has even told us an official story?  It can’t, unless you are convinced that every horrible thing that ever happens is obviously planned by the government against innocent Americans in order to strip us of our rights in some sort of eventual Constitutional rights denigration in the name of… whatever it those who invoke false flag during a stiff wind fear.  At that point, all evidence is just confirmation bias.  They knew a false flag was going to happen.  They had to wait for one.  And that’s crappy logic and evidence analysis.

agentsStill, the Craft International rumors had some steam.  The discussion and accusations were provoked by the number of men on the ground at the scene of the bombing, before and after, dressed identically. The men were wearing khaki pants, khaki boots, black zip-up jackets, black caps with what appear to be skulls on them, and black backpacks.

Boston Bombing Conspiracies: The Naked Tamerlan Recording

This post originally appeared on Houdini's Revenge

Early on April 19, Boston police took into a custody a man who had been stripped naked and cuffed.  Footage was taken of this man as he was placed in the back of a squad car.  This man bore a certain resemblance to Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

It’s understandable how at first glance this film could raise all kinds of questions.  One is that if Tamerlan was naked and cuffed in the back of a squad car, then he could not have been in a shoot-out with the police that ended with him being run down by his brother as Dzhokhar fled the scene in the stolen car.  Another is that the story about Tamerlan being killed on the scene was rubbish and that he was taken into custody peacefully and then later brutally murdered.

The theories that have sprung up around the video of the supposedly naked Tamerlan are quite proof-resistant, and show how it is that evidence often cannot have any influence over the mindsets that believe in conspiracy theory.

One of the best debunks comes from Metabunk, but it’s important to note that people take the evidence in this debunk to prove that the Naked Man is Tamerlan.  Seriously, people look at this information and think it proves that the Naked Man was Tamerlan.  If nothing else, this theory shows so well the intractable nature of the conspiracy theorist mind.  All information is filtered in a manner that confirms the biases of those who create theories and believe in them.

Boston Bombing Conspiracy Theories: Dave McGowan’s Staging Theory, Part 1

This post originally appeared on Houdini's Revenge

11/28/15: Via several search strings leading people to this entry, I learned Dave McGowan died on November 22, 2015. He was diagnosed in late spring with a very aggressive form of cancer and it sounds like he spent the last six months of his life suffering physically and financially. No matter how much I disagreed with him in some areas of research, this is all quite unpleasant to find out. He was an interesting man who influenced large swaths of alternative thought and this is sad news to all who have read his work, especially his very interesting works about Laurel Canyon. God speed, Dave.

6/6/13: Let’s keep McGowan’s pet name for me over on his site, ironic usage included. I want real discussion, not strange men cursing at me with such unoriginality they can only muster someone else’s anger. Seriously.  If you must call me names, may I suggest you just stick your tongue out while yelling “Neener neener!” at your computer screen.  Undignified to be sure but it’s not like discussing conspiracy theory is a particularly noble endeavor.

5/27/13  Please note:  I appreciate the impassioned responses this entry has received and I like to reply to comments when applicable.  I do, however, have other things to accomplish, like other entries in the Boston Bombing series, as well as discussions on my other site, and cannot continue to give comments the attention they deserve as it is eating up so much of my time.  Even though I no longer have the time to engage on this topic  – and that is my fault for I had no idea this would generate much in the way of a response – comments are still open.  Follow my comment policy and I am only too happy to let commenters give their opinions.  My lack of response is just due to time.  True Believers may interpret this comment however they please.

(Note:  I noticed yesterday that Dave McGowan’s site was throwing up “bandwidth exceeded” messages.  If this is a chronic problem with his site, I may not continue on and discuss the rest of his entries because it’s hardly fair to readers not to be able to see the source I am analyzing, even as I quote liberally and use the exact pictures he uses. Upgrade, Dave!  Even as I dislike this theory, your Laurel Canyon stuff is fascinating!)

A reader here, who is a conspiracy theorist whom I respect and enjoy talking with, directed me to Dave McGowan’s “Special Report on the Boston Marathon: The Curious Case of the Man Who Could Only Sit Down.”  I read through it and immediately found a lot of problems I wanted to address.

I had spent three days writing my analysis of McGowan’s entire theory when my husband pointed out to me that McGowan had split his article up into three parts, adding large, new chunks of material at the end and adding smaller bits of new information in the parts I had already covered, specifically information about Christian Williams.  I had been working out of the same, unclosed window for days and had not noticed these changes.  Because accuracy matters, I changed my discussion to mirror McGowan’s work, and will be splitting my discussion into three parts.  If anything I quote here appears to have changed since posting this debunk, let me know and I will post the screen shot of the entire entries I responded to.  Please note that this analysis for Part One comes from the entry McGowan had posted as of 5/15/2013.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered this sort of thing before.  All bloggers I read indicate when they have edited content.  I personally prefer to leave content as it stands and include an edit with the new information.  You can see this at work in my entry on The Franklin Cover-Up.  It’s important to have this sort of information integrity because otherwise you are forcing your readers to check back with your entry literally every day lest they be accused of misquoting you, which will definitely happen when discussing conspiracy theory.  True Believers love to read ill-intent in the smallest of errors and had my husband not seen that McGowan had, in fact, added large sections to his work and split it up into three sections, I can’t imagine the attacks that would have been lobbed my way.

I have the original I initially responded to and checked to see if there was some manner in which McGowan communicated his new material.  His font sizes change often in his work and I initially had hoped smaller font was indicative of edited material, but that did not prove to be the case as unedited material was also in smaller font.  There was nothing in any of the three sections to show the reader that he had been adding to his original work, other than the obvious fact that he had broken his first entry into three smaller entries.

Very strange, but at least I noticed before I posted so no harm done.

I found myself in an odd position debunking McGowan’s theory.  Though this is only the second entry in my Boston Bombing Theories series,  I have several other entries in my drafts folder that need a bit more research or need to be edited before I post them.  None of them have inspired in me the level of anger I experienced reading McGowan’s theory, but then again, it’s early days.  Perhaps more of this is in store for me.  Still, it was, at times, nauseating to read such a virulent lack of respect for the Boston Bombing victims.  Throughout his articles, McGowan engages in a near Stalinist desire to unperson people who have suffered grave harm in order to prove a theory that involves more supposition on his part than it does actual proof.  He insults the appearance of one victim, he demeans the dead and he outright mocks serious injuries because he claims it is clear victims were not wounded.  He bases this opinion solely on his observations, which often appear strange as the pictures show gravely injured people.  Or at least they do to those not pushing an agenda.  It’s hard to maintain a tone of civility when one encounters such a shocking lack of basic human decency.  I’m sure McGowan is a great man and thinker in many respects but his Boston Bombing Theory doesn’t necessarily reflect that.

Let me also repeat here that I don’t have a theory as to what happened at Boston.  I am withholding judgement until the government makes a full case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  It would be very nice to see the video the FBI claims shows Dzhokhar Tsarnaev placing the bomb and the letter he is said to have written on the wall of the boat where he hid after the Watertown shoot out, especially the latter as it just sounds so strange.  There has been too much bad information about this case to have much faith in anything that the public cannot see with their own eyes.

Because this is the first long debunk I have posted, I need to explain why I am discussing his theory line by line.  Lest it seem like I am beating up McGowan, I will likely need to examine every line of every conspiracy theory.  Most, if not all, theorists will insist that if a debunker fails to address every single bit of minutia in their theory, then they haven’t debunked it.  And if they put as much work into their theories that McGowan has put into his, perhaps they deserve that level of scrutiny.  Having had people focus on one element of something I have to say rather than examine the whole of my argument, I understand how frustrating it is when people ignore large chunks of what I write.

I also need to tell you all that there is analysis of extremely bloody and graphic bomb scene photographs.  If you are squeamish or find such content offensive, you will want to give this section a miss. 

Boston Bombing Conspiracy Theories – The backpack analyses

This post originally appeared on Houdini's Revenge

The backpacks
 

A lot of scrutiny has been paid to the backpacks that the suspects carried and those that were found at the bombing scenes. Almost all of the backpack examinations are part of the “Dzhokhar Was Framed” conspiracy theories, but I think they deserve analyses of their own. Here are some of the backpack examinations that gathered steam.

1) The picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev fleeing the bombing scene has been doctored to remove his backpack

This video claims to show that the photograph that David Greene took on his cell phone was doctored to photoshop out the backpack Dzhokhar was carrying. I do not know enough about photoshopping to debunk this but others in the comments have pointed out that digital images often have an effect that is called “ghosting” that can be the cause for the pixelation that 2Minstral claims to see. Additionally, there is a debunker video for those who know and understand digital photography. All conspiracy theory has some element of harm in it, be it twisting or obfuscating the truth to actively destroying the lives of innocent people. This theory has led to a sort of online pillory of David Greene, the man who took the picture, as some people accuse him of altering his own photo.  Some of the theories indicate that the FBI was responsible for photoshopping this picture.  But Greene has still caught blowback from people who accuse him of wrongdoing.

This theory also feeds into the sixth backpack theory I discuss, as there is belief that there is a conspiracy to hide the fact that Dzhokhar left the bombing scene with the same backpack he was seen wearing in the surveillance video. 

The Alex Jones-ification of the Mainstream Media

This post originally appeared on Houdini's Revenge

When the Boston Marathon Bombings occurred, I immediately knew two things were going to happen.  First, people were going to mouth off and engage in passive-aggressive yet incendiary speculation about the Tea Party.  The Tea Party is anathema to my political, social and moral beliefs but even I tensed as people pointed out the links between Tax Day and Patriot Day, both happening on April 15th, and the Tea Party.  And when I say people, I mean liberal pundits, and I was not disappointed.  Michael Moore and David Axelrod were the two whose comments I found the most ridiculous (I didn’t mind Chris Matthews mentioning that most domestic terrorists in the USA are from the extreme right wing because it’s an accurate statement based on actual evidence – this just wasn’t the right time to bring it up).  We live in a world of pundits.  Everyone with a little bit of knowledge and access to a television camera offers instant opinions based on very little fact and we pay them to do it.  It used to be that pundits were experts, but perhaps we now need to rethink their value because when the truth matters the most they seem to do more harm than good. When Moore and Axelrod postulated about the Tea Party, there was zero proof of anything other than that two bombs went off and that people were gravely injured.  Their speculation about who was to blame was irresponsible.

The response to this was equally as tiresome. With no small amount of disgust, I noticed the sanctimonious and oh-so-offended tones of those on the right, so sorely aggrieved that anyone would think the right wing responsible for bombings, as if Tim McVeigh, Eric Rudolph and Ted Kaczynski did not exist. But all of that’s beside the point.  I advise all people who were not injured in the attack or who are not close to someone injured in the attack to pull up their socks and stop making this terrible tragedy all about them and their sense of continual victimization.

The second thing I knew would happen was that Alex Jones would declare it a false flag operation launched against innocent citizens by a government so craven it would kill its own in order to erode our civil rights.  His bloviating performance during the Sandy Hook shooting caused many like me to expect the worst from him and on cue, just like the barking seal he is, he began to perform for the paranoid types who make up the core of his support.  Grass is green, sky is blue, blood is on the ground, and Alex Jones is pandering to the delusions of the crowd.  It must be Monday.

But even though pundits are loosely considered journalists in this country, I was not prepared for the utter failure of not just the journalists in the USA, but journalists worldwide, to cover the bombings in a professional manner.  I expect pundits to act like fools – it’s what they are paid to do.  I expect Alex Jones to concoct improbable conspiracies and pass them off as news – it is what he is paid to do.  But I did not expect mainstream media, supposedly run by trained journalists, to go so very wrong as they adopted the instant idiocy of punditry and the Infowars tactic to treat every rumor as fact.  I know we are a society wherein we demand instant news and that CNN, the New York Post and other “legitimate” news sources were just trying to give us what we want, but the fact that legitimate news media decided to use the same metrics as Reddit to determine the factual worthiness of information they received is distressing and cannot be excused just because people want instant news.

April 19, 2013I posit the complete news failures we witnessed and are still witnessing happened because the mainstream media and pundits followed the examples set by conspiracy-mongers like Alex Jones.  The mainstream media failed to follow some of the most basic rules of journalism in their reporting of the Boston Marathon Bombings and acted as if they, hubs of world news, needed to behave like people on message boards, reporting every tiny bit of information before vetting it, giving as much credence to chatter on a police radio as they did to actual news releases from the Boston police and the FBI.  It is nothing short of knee-slappingly hilarious that after such a failure of basic reporting ethics and rules, the mainstream media tried to blame social media sites like Reddit for muddying the waters as members worked over every detail of the bombings, coming to good conclusions, bad conclusions and outright crazy conclusions.  In a world where proper journalism matters, the mutterings on message boards mean nothing.  The media blaming Reddit for their failures and the harms they caused is pathetic and sniveling.  Whether or not we like the idea that people gather on social media sites to engage in armchair sleuthing, it happens and will continue to happen.  Armchair sleuths are not the problem.  Mainstream media who give credence to armchair sleuths are the problem, but, as we will see, just reading the Find Boston Bombers subReddit was hardly the whole of the media failure. 

Welcome to Houdini’s Revenge!

This post originally appeared on Houdini's Revenge

For several years, I have run a site called I Read Odd Books. As the name implies, I write reviews or discussions of strange literature. In addition to strange fiction, I discuss books about conspiracy theory, the paranormal and alternate versions of history.  I sometimes discuss books by authors who have large bodies of work outside of the book they wrote and it is hard to keep people on topic to the book and not the numerous websites or related books on the topic. After a while I wondered if it was even fair to insist that people remain on point with the book and not discuss all the information available. It felt distinctly censorious to insist people limit themselves to the book and wondered if I should create a separate site to discuss such books so that people would be able to discuss the entirety of the topic.

I love conspiracy theory.  I love reading and hearing the theories people come up with and the ways they reach their conclusions.  I love the sheer strangeness of it all.

But my love of odd topics is salted with many grains of skepticism. I am an atheist who received a darn good college education wherein I was taught to read and think carefully. I was taught how to find facts, how to verify sources and how to separate wheat from chaff. Years spent in high school debate also gifted me with the ability to put forth a case without using formal or informal logical fallacies (though sometimes in cross examination debate, being rational was decidedly optional). There are many reasons why people believe in conspiracy theory and the paranormal but those reasons aside, their refusal to follow the most basic rules of argument when offering their cases is upsetting and tiring. Encountering the same sort of poor reasoning, refusals to hear evidence that may disprove their ideas, and an inability to synthesize information from reading sources began to fill me with something close to dread.

I gave creating this site more consideration after the Newtown shooting. I am unsure what was at play in the creation of the LIBOR/Newtown and Aurora shooters conspiracy theory, but it was vile. It was stupid. And what is worse, it was easily proven false with five minutes of research. So I wrote a quick entry on IROB asking for people to think twice before believing the theory, that there had been no Senate Finance Committee hearings on the matter, nor were any in the pipeline, and that at no point had anyone flinging the theory showed a link between the fathers of the shooters or their employers and the LIBOR scandal.

The comments I received were upsetting. With seemingly no self-awareness, people posted information they insisted proved a link between GE and the LIBOR hearings/scandal or between the Lanza and Holmes families and the LIBOR hearings and scandals, and in so doing engaged in some common debate behaviors that I, an amateur skeptic, have found to be part and parcel with those who support conspiracy theory.

tin-foil-hat-3False Equivalence
–Someone left a comment insisting that GE’s involvement in bad loans in Australia and subsequent cessation of issuing of said mortgage loans was synonymous with involvement in the LIBOR scandal. The implication was that any bad acts on GE’s part meant they just had to be a part of the LIBOR scandal in some respect but issuing subprime loans is in no way similar to illegally manipulating interest rates.

Ad hominem
–That same commenter insinuated that I only wrote my opinion in order to raise the hits on my site. That was an interesting accusation to make since at the time I had no ads on I Read Odd Books and therefore benefited in no way from site hits.  Impugning the motives of the person asking for proof is such a common tactic that ad hominem is often invoked even when it makes no sense.

Statements of fact with no evidence to back them up
–Someone commented that GE was most certainly a LIBOR defendant but offered nothing to prove that assertion. When I pointed this out, he never offered any proof.

Red herring (actually, this comment covers a lot of illogical ground, including false equivalence)
–That same commenter insisted that there had been Senate Finance Committee hearings on the LIBOR scandal because HSBC had been fined over a billion dollars for their role in the LIBOR scandal. Actually, it was a Department of Justice probe and HSBC receiving a fine had nothing to do at all with GE or FICO or any of their employees testifying before a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

Failure to understand sources
–A commenter named Trevor posted a link to an article that he said showed the links between GE and the LIBOR scandal. The article was a break down of recent financial scandals, including LIBOR, but GE was not in any manner mentioned in the section on LIBOR. GE was mentioned for rigging municipal bond deals, which had nothing to with LIBOR. But for many, GE being mentioned in an article where LIBOR was mentioned as well was proof positive that there was a connection between the two.

Deliberately misleading
–A commenter named Jenna sneered that I needed to tell Bernanke and Geithner that they had not, in fact, given testimony about LIBOR. Bernanke was asked about LIBOR as he gave the Federal Reserve’s semi-annual monetary policy report before the Senate Banking Committee. Geithner appeared before a Senate panel to discuss LIBOR. Neither were ever witnesses before a Senate Finance Committee hearing and the presence of either at any sort of Senate panel or hearing in no way proves a connection between Mr Lanza or Mr Holmes and their employers with the LIBOR scandal.

Onus probandi, argumentum ad ignoratiam
–A reasonably intelligent comment from Emma caused me existential despair when I reached the end, for she said that just because we don’t know that a witness list that includes Mr. Lanza and Mr. Holmes is out there does not mean it does not exist to prove her case. In short, she engaged in onus probandi, which means that the person who is making a claim is pushing the burden of proof onto the person arguing the claim, saying that the claim must be proven untrue, not that it must be proven true. Since there was no way to dismiss a list not offered into evidence, there was no way I could refute it, if I followed her illogical conclusion. She also engaged in argumentum ad ignoratiam wherein she pushes aside any notion that we must withhold judgment until there is actual proof to reach a conclusion.

Inability to stay on topic
–Almost all of the comments veered completely off topic, seemingly without realizing it. In a conversation about whether or not Mr. Holmes and Mr. Lanza or the companies they worked for were on a witness list to testify before the Senate Finance Committee about the LIBOR scandal and that their sons were turned into Manchurian candidates in order to scare them off, we ended up discussing all sorts of things that had nothing to do with the topic. Senate Banking Committee hearings, fines given to other companies, testimony given by people not Mr. Holmes or Mr. Lanza, testimony from companies not FICO or GE. This is what I call the greater spitwad argument, wherein people will toss out anything they think is relevant in the hopes that one of the wads sticks.

One entry about one conspiracy theory and it was like a role call of bad thought and logical fallacies. It may seem pedantic to some, but there are basic rules of engagement one should follow when making an extraordinary claim. The logical fallacies and bad arguments I invoked above are not obscure, finicky ways of dismissing claims. They are at the heart of the poor reasoning and deduction that go into making conspiracy theory and supernatural claims and they were offered without a second thought as to how they destroyed the validity of the argument those people wanted to make.

But even that wasn’t enough to make me nag my husband to create this site for me. I was pushed over the edge last Monday, when two bombs went off during the Boston marathon.

Within an hour of the bombings, online people were already speculating wildly, without an ounce of evidence, that the Tea Party was responsible. horsey41913Then Alex Jones invoked false flag and we were off to the conspiratorial races. Before long the mainstream press was dragging the names of innocent people through the mud, making accusations against them based on chatter heard on police radio. In fact, as the mainstream media descended into the sort of sewer reporting common to Infowars, or perhaps following the lead of Infowars, a missing student from Brown University was accused of being Suspect #2, even though he bears only a ballpark resemblance to the suspect (hair length, mole position, and basic facial bone structure made it clear the missing student was not Suspect #2), his face was published on the front of the New York Post, may they be sued until only lint is left in their pockets. The subsequent furor caused the missing student’s family no small amount of pain and forced them to remove social media sites they used to get the word out about their missing loved one.

Another young man who wasn’t even in Boston during the bombing was dragged into this, a young man I will call Mike. Mike was identified by several sources as being Suspect #1, who was killed early Friday morning. There were several people online with that name, but for some reason some people found a twitter feed of a 15-year-old Ethiopian national living in the UK, and insisted he was the bomber. This accusation appeared in many places online, even as saner voices begged for the name to be removed, that it was manifestly impossible that an Ethiopian teenager residing in Europe could be the bombing suspect. I was on my cellphone, reading as this happened, and lack screen shots but I will be revisiting this later in my first real entry here because this is at the heart of conspiracy theory – an inability to change one’s mind even as mountains of evidence are presented that disprove a theory. As of late Friday, Alex Jones’ Infowars was still claiming that Suspect #2 was the missing Brown student.

The International Business Times went one step further – even after they named two wrong suspects, they hilariously chided social media outlets like Reddit for trying to solve the case and for putting misinformation out there, as if people poring over pictures in cyberspace forced them to  publish any name that came along and accuse them of the Boston Marathon bombings.  IBT published the two names online around 3:30 a.m. CST on Friday. The names were still up there when I finally fell asleep around 6:00 a.m. So yeah, sure, Reddit was clearly the problem here.

How did this happen? How did the mutterings of average Joes, of regular citizens yammering online, become the basis for mainstream reporting? People who believe fringe ideas often state that they cannot trust the media but these days, if the handling of the Boston bombing reporting is anything to go on, conspiracy theorists could be right. We all watched as the worst sort of reasoning and lack of dedication to proven fact infested media reporting of one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism on American soil in almost 20 years. Did heads roll? Were people fired? Or has this laxity and lack of perspicacity just become so common that it seems unavoidable? Errors happen. People get things wrong from time to time. But this was not a simple mistake. This was media outlets publishing as fact the first rumors to come across their laptop screens.

So I got angry and unhappy and finally launched the site I had been talking about for months.

Will I change anything? Probably not. Conspiracy theory and the supernatural are remarkably impervious to fact, or even the aforementioned mountains of evidence. But at some point, even being just another voice in the e-wilderness, asking for reason, attention to evidence, and logical debate, has its appeal. I get to channel the energy I spend yelling at headlines and Twitter feeds into this site.  So that’s a net win for me, at least.

On this site, all voices are welcome as long as they follow my comment policy. I will never degrade anyone who believes in that which cannot be proven with logic and legitimate evidence. I will never mock anyone or permit anyone to be mocked here. In fact, I may not even respond much to comments left by True Believers unless their comments demand it, either by request of the commenter or by the information they bring to the table. For example, there is no way to argue with those who believe that the planes that flew into the Twin Towers on 9-11 were holograms and that no one died that day. They believe that everyone involved that day was an actor, sometimes “identifying” one actor in several different roles. They have pictures of clearly different people whom they claim are one person, they insist the Towers never came crashing to the ground, and there is nothing anyone can say to influence them. They believe 9-11 didn’t happen, in the face of overwhelming evidence, because they reject anything that does not prove their case (one of the most extreme forms of confirmation bias I have personally witnessed). There is no way they will change their minds and it is folly to try to engage them.  One of the things that keeps a person sane online is knowing how to pick one’s battles.

But even knowing that, I think it is important to do this. I think it is important to always be on the side of informed truth. This site will likely focus heavily on books, but I will be discussing media, conspiracy and paranormal sites and current events as well. So welcome to Houdini’s Revenge. All are welcome, all will be heard, and all will be dissected.