Yesterday, two bombs went off in Boston.
Today, someone bought out the domain name BostonMarathonConspiracy.com, posting a simple message on the homepage: "I bought this domain to keep some conspiracy theory kook from owning it. Please keep the victims of this event and their families in your thoughts. Thank you."
It's ridiculous that anyone would have to preemptively buy out a website to ensure some sense of decorum and compassion in the wake of the Boston bombings. Yet it seems like a necessary - and compassionate - gesture; a response to fringe wingnuts like Alex Jones (and Alex Jones specifically) who seem determined to pull the tragedy of Boston inside out, designating it as a "false flag" maneuver perpetrated at some level of the U.S. government. Jones - a syndicated radio host last seen shrieking "1776 will commence again!" and aping a British accent while "debating" gun control with Piers Morgan, and roaring that American kids should idolize Ferdinand Magellan instead of Justin Bieber - tweeted the following:
- Alex Jones (@RealAlexJones) April 15, 2013
You're probably going to hear a lot of about false flags in the coming days/weeks/forever, as certain types teeming at the borders of American paleoconservativism toil moronically to recuperate the Boston Marathon bombs as ammo in their armchair struggle against an make-believe federal government hell-bent on systematically dismantling the constitutional rights of every loud, white, gun-owning American male. Yesterday, Dan Bidondi - a "reporter" for Jones' InfoWars website who once described a $100 gun registration fee, incorrectly, as "Draconian" and who performs in the Massachusetts-based Action Packed Championship Wrestling league under the name "Bionic" Dan Bidondi - flat-out asked if the Boston bombing was "another false flag staged attack to take our civil liberties and promote homeland security while sticking their hands down our pants on the streets," to which Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick flat-out responded: "No."
The Atlantic has a pretty good rundown of what exactly "false flag" means and how it's being used. Basically: the term originates in naval warfare, where it was totally OK to run a friendly flag on your ship to lure enemies toward you, then blast them away - provided you switched to your real, actual, national insignia at the last second, adding further insult to injury. A false flag was a classic ruse de guerre, back when warfare was governed by good faith and gentlemanly rules of engagement and all that romantic stuff, back when people still used French words to describe things.
"False flag" has broadened to account for more-or-less any action taken by one party or agency posing as another, in order to obscure the source of an attack or military action. In this context, maybe the most famous example is the burning of the German Reichstag in 1933, which led to the suspension of much of the German constitution and the resulting rise of the Nazi Party. The Nazis blamed the fire on a Dutch communist, Marinus van der Lubbe, who was summarily beheaded. Though few historians doubt van der Lubbe's involvement, there remains considerable debate regarding how the Nazi's piggybacked on the event for political gain - either by developing an image of van der Lubbe, believed by many to be as an unhinged pyromaniac, as part of a more ornate communist conspiracy, or by actively enlisting him to set fire to the building.
The Reichstag fire is popular example among the American right because it's a fairly straight-ahead, fairly contemporary case of a governmental false flag operation purported to drastically restrict civil rights. It allows anyone so inclined to draw a straight line between Hitler and the sitting U.S. president, a Reductio ad Hitlerum supported (kind of) by historical precedent.
Many, like Alex Jones and the InfoWars set, would have you believe that Boston - like Sandy Hook and 9/11 and Oklahoma City before it - is a proverbial Reichstag fire. It's a staged government operation designed to radically curtail the American citizens' constitutionally protected right to...what? Hide ball-bearing explosives inside of trashcans?
The whole idea of false flags - and the deference to olden high seas rules of engagement and even the Reichstag burning - illuminates much about hard-right thinking. It's simple-minded and retrograde and in that way, archly conservative. More than anything, it's easy. It's convenient.
Barking mad extremists are always keen to develop an image of themselves as radicals, spitting difficult, inconvenient truths at their high filter listeners predisposed to piece together their narrative-of-choice out of whatever snatches of information are made available. But the very core of conspiratorial thinking is its convenience.
What could be easier than believing that every act of domestic terror, every lone gunman shoot-‘em-up is really part of a governmental agenda to restrict freedom? What could be easier than believing - as some fringe thinkers of the David Icke school of counter-logic do - that the whole sphere of global affairs is being influenced at the most basic level by a race of shape-shifting, extraterrestrial reptilian humanoids? It's wildly delusional, sure. But once you make that step backwards into the safety of delusion, squaring any idea with a cabbalistic conspiracy of shadowy, maybe even inhuman, government operatives is the simplest thing in the world.
It's Occam's Razor turned in on itself: the most lavish hypothesis is also the simplest, provided its lavishness remains consistent within the broader canon of conspiracy theory. Connecting 9/11 to the Bush administration is one thing. But connect the Bush administration to the Bilderberg Group and then to the Illuminati and then to the reptoids, and that theory becomes watertight in its own suffocatingly hermetic way.
There's a certain quaintness to this kind of inversely-rational thinking. It seems to evoke an era when all things could be rationalized, where stuff made sense in a way we could make sense of. Conspiracy theories - the kind you can get sucked into listening to for hours on end on late night syndicated radio, tumbling further down the rabbit hole as the weird internal consistency of the whole culture begins to reveal itself - hold a busted mirror to reason, in a time defined more and more by its apparent absurdity.
It's comforting and convenient, but maybe most of all deeply old-fashioned to believe that 9/11 was a false flag designed by the Bush administration to justify the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in order to vindicate a relatively short-term gain like control of foreign oil. It's considerably more difficult, and demanding, to believe that those same attacks were carried out by militant Islamist extremists: by people who believe their soil was profaned by the Gulf War invasion, who advocated for jihad first against occupying foreign troops and then against the United States and its allies at large, under the direction of Allah's edict to fight the pagans, their crusade steeped in a deep, deep, deep hatred of America. Likewise, it's easy to believe that Sandy Hook and Aurora are black ops crafted to curtail Second Amendment rights. It's truly challenging, and maybe even brave, to confront the more troubling reality that Adam Lanza and James Holmes are intensely troubled individuals, the detritus of a culture that stigmatizes mental health issues.
It's fitting that in a world that seems to justify the perversion of rationality, Alex Jones and Glenn Beck and Dan Bidondi and all the other truther, false-flagger joker self-promoters who say (and probably believe) that they're the only voices of enlightenment in America emerge as its perfect avatars. Their thinking becomes improbably seductive in its own inside-out lucidity, attractive to anyone thirsting for simple answers, for any answers. For worse, ours is a world where the clowns regard themselves as tragic Yorick figures, gibing, gamboling, speaking undiluted truth out of their assholes, men of infinite jest.