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. 

Boston Bombing Conspiracy Theories

This post originally appeared on Houdini's Revenge

I was initially going to discuss all of the Boston Marathon Bombing conspiracy theories in one entry. However, as I researched I found that, in less than a month after the bombings, the theories were so deep and so wide I had no hope of discussing and/or debunking them in one entry.

Though I found it easy to debunk a lot of these theories, a handful of them I cannot debunk because there is not enough information available to me.  However, I need those who read these discussions to understand that debunking these conspiracy theories is not a de facto agreement with the official stance that the Tsarnaev brothers are responsible for the bombings.  I have a lot of trouble with the way the FBI is managing the case and releasing information, and I have even more trouble with the way the mainstream media is spreading rumor as fact.  To be really specific, I have now and always will have problems with any case that involves Carmen Ortiz.  After her shameless and shameful behavior in the Aaron Swartz case, her presence in any investigation and prosecution will trip my alarm bells.  I say all of this so that no one reading here is under the impression that I am pushing a specific agenda other than one that requires legitimate evidence and actual proof offered before I believe anything.

In many ways, I think that people who are embracing Boston Bombing conspiracy theory are doing so because that is how the human brain works.  People like loose ends tied and most of us are impatient. If the mainstream media fails us, some of us turn to the fringe to find resolution.  Some think the sort of pattern recognition that goes into believing conspiracy theory is a trait that can be explained via evolutionary psychology.  There are understandable reasons why people engage in conspiracy theory and even as I find such methods of problem solving strange, those people deserve respect.

But then there are the others, those theories propagated by people with vile intentions and completely unsound world views.  The amount of anti-Semitism I have found in a couple of the theories, most notably one of the “Dzhokhar is Dead” theories, is sickening.   Watching as the young women and teens who make up the bulk of the “Free Jahar” movement actively spread these theories with little knowledge of what they were endorsing other than that it proved that their latest fandom idol was innocent was distinctly horrible.  There is no way for me to see those theories as anything but toxic and anathema to a decent society.

As I debunk, I will try to be as respectful as I can to the theories that are not utterly disgusting, and even then I will not be engaging in any sort of insult or cruelty.  I don’t have to be nasty to tell the truth about people who believe terrible things. I urge anyone who chooses to respond to my debunkings to follow my lead on this.  These days people can barely stand to read the comments on the Internet, so low has the discourse sunk.  That won’t happen here.  Please engage with an eye to discussion and civility.

Biting off more than I can chew

This post originally appeared on Houdini's Revenge

There’s no way I can address all the Boston Marathon Bombing conspiracy theories in one entry.  I must have been a fool to think I could.  So I will be splitting them up into categories and posting them as I feel I have the category or subcategory complete.  I’ll be posting the backpack theories Tuesday morning and will continue working on all the other theories until I have them covered.  No idea how long that will take, but as my husband often says, “It’ll take however long it takes.”

Some of my examinations may seem excessive or even anal, but I take conspiracy theory seriously because I take objective truth seriously.  Moreover,  for every 100 completely lunatic ideas, there is always one that makes sense and could be true if only we examine it closely enough.  To dismiss any theory without deep examination, for me, is much more condescending than just snerting and calling conspiracy theorists crazy.  So prepare for in-depth analysis from me.

See you Tuesday and wish me luck as I swim in the deep end of the Boston bomber conspiracies.  If you’ve seen something in particular you think would be good for me to look at, please, please, please let me know.

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.

This Is Not an Odd Books Discussion: Stop talking about Libor shooter conspiracies

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

I run a site devoted to bizarre books and ideas. I am about to launch a site devoted to debunking bad ideas, mostly focusing on books about conspiracy theory. While I would not consider myself an expert on conspiracy theory, I think it can be accepted that I know a thing or two about a thing or two.

Let me state very clearly: There is no link between the Libor bank scandal and the Aurora and Newtown shootings. Fabian4Liberty, one of the main sources for this theory, made a video explaining the conspiracy. Far be it from me to suggest he should crawl under a rock from the shame of manipulating the deaths of many to fuel the vainglorious arrogance that stokes conspiracy theory (he knows the real truth, dontcha know, and the rest of us are sheep if we disagree and rely on fact rather than half-baked and scurrilous speculation).

It is all nonsense. There are no Senate Banking Committee hearings scheduled on the Libor scandal and even if there were, neither Holmes nor Lanza would have been called to testify. There is no witness list because there are no hearings scheduled. I repeat: Robert Holmes and Peter Lanza are on no Libor hearings witness list because the Senate Banking Committee has no Libor hearings scheduled.  You will note that none of the proponents of this conspiracy theory have produced a list of people who were scheduled to testify at this non-existent hearing.  There is not a lick of actual evidence that proves anything Fabian4Justice asserts.

That should be the end of it, but most conspiracy theory True Believers won’t let that deter them, and they are spreading this garbage all over the Internet.  So let’s discuss it in a bit more depth.

Robert Holmes, father of the Aurora shooter, was an anti-fraud engineer for FICO. In a way, there is a certain demented logic in linking Holmes to the Libor scandal because FICO assigns credit scores in the USA . But it is a stretch to extrapolate an anti-fraud engineer for FICO into having the expertise necessary to be an expert witness on British banks falsely reporting interest rates and how that affected US derivative markets. A large stretch. There is no link between FICO and the Libor scandal and Holmes’ anti-fraud work with FICO. None.

The situation with Peter Lanza is even more tenuous and, frankly, stupid as hell. Lanza worked for GE as the vice-president of the tax division. GE has no link to the Libor scandal at all and one wonders how a man who worked in a tax division of a large corporation would have the expertise needed to help unravel interest rate misreporting in the UK and how it affected US  financial products like student loans and mortgage rates.

So there are no Libor hearings scheduled by the Senate Banking Committee. There is no witness list.  Neither Holmes nor Lanza had the expertise needed to testify in such matters.  Those simple facts slay this bizarre theory, and there is no need to discuss the fact that Suzanne Collins is from Newtown and that The Dark Knight Rises had financial shenanigans in the plot. Moreover, if the fact that the theory has descended into such minutia wherein it is important to note that an author of a Young Adult dystopian novel series hailed from a place where a disturbed young man killed children does not give you pause, then likely nothing anyone says can dissuade you from this strange and demented course of anti-logic.

But let me throw this your way, just to be another voice in the wilderness asking for sanity: Say Holmes and Lanza had been on a witness list for non-existent Libor hearings.  How on earth did “the forces that be” gain access to their sons, engage them in intense brainwashing so that they would commit horrific mass killings and do so without anyone noticing. Lanza lived with his mother – it beggars belief that a group of covert bank apologists working for some shadowy New World Order organization could have taken him from his mother and engaged him in the sort of brainwashing that would have led him to go on a rampage.

People unfamiliar with psychopharmacology may think that anyone who takes certain drugs can become a Manchurian Candidate. Possibly, but the sort of drug reaction that can make one psychotic enough to snap and engage in a mass murder will make it impossible to engage in the sort of planning both Holmes and Lanza exhibited before their rampages. The sorts of drugs that can make one susceptible to rampage training do exist but it still takes time to train such people and, if MK-ULTRA is anything to go by, mass murder assassination training is dicey at best.

But all of this asks the question: If there was indeed a list of people meant to testify before the Senate Banking Committee, what would training the unstable sons of two of the witnesses to perform mass murder ultimately do to the hearing process? Was this shadowy agency planning on manipulating mentally shaky family members of each person on the list? And if so, how does doing so manipulate those called to testify into withdrawing as witnesses? The government could compel them to testify even if they withdrew. Also, if I knew my child had been coerced into mass murder on behalf of a strange government organization to prevent me from testifying, I would redouble my efforts to make sure my voice was heard. Many would. Especially if they were already against the wall, known as parents as some of the worst mass murderers in history. What more can happen to their reputations and family?

And if this was an attempt to discredit the witnesses by painting them as untrustworthy because they raised mass murderers, it brings us back to the idea that this shadowy agency would have to engage in a lot of covert brainwashing in order to discredit all the people on that imaginary witness list.

Guys, there are unstable people in this world who do terrible things. While the motives behind those who create these theories are often unclear to me aside from the self-aggrandizement that comes from being separate from the “sheeple,” I understand all too well why people believe this crap. But it makes them defensive when I state the reasons, so I won’t.

Instead, I will just ask that any True Believer demand to see the witness lists that Holmes and Lanza supposedly appeared on.  Withhold judgement until you see those lists.  Do not take anyone at their word – not even me.  Demand solid, clear proof before buying into any of this.  Demand actual, accountable proof before you forward a single e-mail, share a Facebook status or retweet anything.

Conspiracy theory preys on the modern lack of perspicacity, as we see words on a screen and assume they have legitimacy.  The purveyors of lies rely on people believing them without question, which is the same reasoning they use against non-believers.  They accuse us of being mindless robots who refuse to see reason, but  refusing to believe without proof is a sign of mental strength. Don’t be weak. Don’t fall for this garbage.  Children were killed because an unstable young man shot them to death.  Not because the government wants to control your access to guns.  Not because an unnamed shadow organization wanted to stop testimony.  The children are dead because a mentally ill man shot them.  In this case, the truth really is harder to accept than the all the various lies.

One last thing: May those who have exploited the Aurora and Newton shootings to fit their pet paranoias eventually feel the hot blast of shame and condemnation deserved by charlatans.

This Is Not An Odd Book Discussion: Stop talking about Texas!

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

This is not a political rant. This is a common sense rant.

I have noticed online some disturbing statements from unhappy Romney-ites. Once it was revealed that Australia was not really the paradise they thought it would be to escape godless Socialism, eyes fell on Texas. Let me clear up a few problems with the idea of hoards of white, disappointed folk rushing my state in the hopes of creating a new republic when Texas engages in a bloody war against the USA to secede:

1) Texas is not about to secede. I know Perry spoke of it but Perry said a lot of things (I was of the opinion he deliberately tanked his presidential chances by saying loony things – he didn’t want to be president any more than I do), and despite being Governor, he really isn’t the boss of us. David Dewhurst is the boss of us and he has higher political aspirations and won’t risk them suggesting that Texas engage in what can only end up being a giant, bloody clusterfuck. Outside of Texe Marr enclaves of utter lunacy you will not find the mass of Texan bosoms heaving for secession. We are devoted Americans, though many of us value our state as much as we value our country.

2) I do not know where the idea that Texas as a whole hates the Democratic Party came from, but a simple Google will show you that a full 40% of the state voted for Obama. National election-wise we are a Red State but in terms of popular vote we’re more a purply-magenta color. We are not your default angry-white-dude Eden.

3) If common sense fails you and you find yourself on a modern day wagon trail coming to Texas thinking we will soon be a new country and a conservative stronghold, please understand that you may want to step lightly as you barge into my home state, a place where even the housewives are armed. It’s untrue that all liberals eschew pro-2A ideals, just like it’s untrue that Texas is about to secede. We won’t take well to Romney carpet baggers rushing down here and telling us what to do.

Yeah, I know all those people bloviating online have no intentions of moving here. But of all the reactionary things said in reference to Obama winning, this one is so dumb. At least when whiners in 2004 sniveled about going to Canada when Bush won, Canada made sense to the ideals of liberal butthurt.

Seriously, how hard is a Google. If the only places you can find sources for Texas secession as real possibility are infowars and the comment sections on a variety of AM radio stations, then don’t pack the car (or babble about packing the car). If the people who are commenting that Texas is about to secede are using Confederate Flags as their user icons, mayhaps they have a far different agenda at work than simply longing for “freedom.” If you don’t bother to look up how the actual popular vote went in my state, you will miss the better opportunity to go to Oklahoma, which is a far Redder state than Texas.

In fact, may I make a suggestion? Oklahoma: A Much Better Choice for Unhappy Romney-ites!

ETA: Yes, yes, a bunch of you are sending me a Fox News graphic showing that “thousands” want to secede from various states all over the Union. Maybe even tens of thousands? All I can say to this is that 26 million people, give or take a few, live in Texas. Even 500,000 people wanting to do anything in Texas is such a meaningless number that I cannot help but lip fart at anyone who thinks that signing online petitions means anything. If half a million people in Texas want to secede, that means about 2% of the state wants out. At any given moment 2% of the state wants all sorts of damn fool things they ain’t gonna be gettin’. I imagine 2% of Texans want to legalize meth, want to make it legal to beat postal officials on sight, want to make church attendance compulsory and similar half-baked notions that are near and dear to the lunatic fringe.

But that 500,000 I mentioned is a generous number since not even 100,000 Texans have signed the online petition. One hundred thousand butthurt souls wanting a bloody war of secession equals about .3% of the state. I imagine .3% of the state want to have sex with a tree. .3% of the state want to write snake handling into the constitution. .3% of the state want to eat your dog. And not even that many people want to secede.

So go on being butthurt while the national media eggs you on the way they egged on Alec Baldwin when Bush beat Kerry. All less than .3% of you. Tell Alex Jones I said hello.