Even before all the details were released about the shooting at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub, there were those claiming the attack was a conspiracy—either ordered by the government or completely fabricated.
These “truthers” emerge in the wake of every tragedy—9/11, Sandy Hook, even the AIDS epidemic. But with Orlando, the wound was so personal, and is still so fresh.
Why are they doing it? Some, presumably, have a political agenda—either to remove sympathy for the LGBT community or support for gun control laws. But for many, it’s a psychological need to find order in chaos: As scary as the prospect that nebulous forces are at work staging complicated ruses may be, it’s still preferable to accepting the carnage and death as real.
So they claim the Pulse nightclub attack was a “false flag operation”, conducted by the CIA or some other group. A search of “False Flag Orlando” on YouTube turns up 120,000 hits, some with tens of thousands of views.
And then they start coming for the victims.
“Be prepared that when you speak out you will be harassed,” says Eric Milgram, whose daughter evaded the shooter at Sandy Hook by hiding in the bathroom. “These gun nuts, these extremists, these hoaxers, these nasty people… you’ve gone through a horrible trauma, be prepared that you’re going to be harassed on social media. People are going to call your house, they’re going to get your work phone number, they’re going to threaten you, they’re going to tell you that you’re part of a conspiracy.”
He added, “You’re going to be victimized all over again.”
Lenny Pozner, who lost his young son Noah at Sandy Hook, says his family has received death threats from truthers who insist a gunman never opened fire, killing 20 schoolchildren and six adults.
They claim it was all made up to fuel tougher gun laws.
“One [theory] is that Noah is an actor and he’s never really died, and that we’re all actors,” Pozner, who founded the HONR network to urge the prosecution of those who harass, abuse and defame the victims of high-profile tragedies, told Foreign Correspondent. “[The conspiracies] don’t fade away—and the more time they spend online, the more accepted they become.”
Conspiracy theories, says Pozner “erase history, they erase our memories.”
Patience Carter knows that all to well: She was shot in the leg during the Pulse nightclub massacre and spoke to the press about it. But “truthers” harped on the fact that she was an intern for a Fox News affiliate in Philadelphia as “proof” she was part of some massive conspiracy.
“They have pulled this out too many times. There has to be change,” wrote a commenter on one video. “This is faked. This is staged. They are using actors…. This is 100% bullshit.”
“We lost track of how many hoaxes have been running in USA since September 11” wrote another. “Welcome to The Matrix.”
One conspiracy theorist even called Angel Colon’s hospital room to quiz him about the night’s events. (Colon was the young man reunited with the police officer who saved his life.)
Are these people just a harmless minority of nut jobs? Or has the uptick in senseless mass violence bred an entire demographic that refuses to believe it’s happening?
Should we we engage these “truthers,” hoping to show them the pain and suffering they’re causing? Or just ignore them, lest we spread their inane theories? And what if there’s a truther in your family or your extended circle?
Sadly, the issue isn’t going away any time soon.
Have you had an experience with an Orlando “truther”? Share it in the comments below.