Conceived in a dream of reason, what the Internet too often reveals is mass credulousness and fathomless irrationality. According to Salon’s Alex Seitz-Wald, a video depicting the Newtown, CT elementary school massacre as a government-sponsored hoax has drawn 8.5 million views on YouTube.
No doubt many viewers were drawn by idle curiosity or sheer incredulity. What would “evidence” for so transparently preposterous an allegation consist of? Nevertheless, there appear to be thousands of True Believers.
Try googling “Emilie Parker alive,” to sample the crazy.
Adepts claim that a photograph of a young girl sitting in President Obama’s lap reveals that six-year-old Emilie Parker was not murdered along with 19 classmates at Sandy Hook elementary as reported. Supposedly, the photo reveals a telltale blunder.
In reality, the child in the photograph is Emilie’s little sister, Madeline.
But why go on? There’s plenty more in the same dogged, delusional vein. Debunk one aspect of the conspiracy, and a dozen absurdities replace it. To anybody capable of imagining that staging the Sandy Hook tragedy would even be possible—requiring, as it would, the active cooperation of half the population of Connecticut—mere evidence and logic are beside the point.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Apart from religion, more Americans appear to be nuts on the subject of guns than all other topics. The National Rifle Association has raised and spent millions in recent years peddling scare stories about President Obama’s secret plan to abolish the Second Amendment, confiscate everybody’s deer rifles and set up a gun-free dictatorship.
Newtown conspiracy theories are only incrementally madder spinoffs of the NRA’s master narrative. Yet its leaders are treated as VIPs in newsrooms and TV studios. Why?
To Believers, guns have become fetish objects in American popular culture, having magical potency. Witness Bushmaster Firearms’ advertising its .223 caliber AR-15—Newtown killer Adam Lanza’s weapon—with the slogan: “Consider your Man Card reissued.”
Viagra ads are more subtle.
Hence conversations with gun cultists tend to be conducted in the dualistic, all-or-nothing terms of fundamentalist theology. Although polls have shown that large majorities of gun owners favor, for example, improved background checks to make it harder for criminals and severely mentally ill people to acquire deadly weapons, cultists see all such legislation in apocalyptic terms. All regulation amounts to total confiscation.
Hollywood’s equally to blame. About half the emails I get on this topic invoke the Red Dawn fantasy, although it’s not foreign communists people imagine taking to the hills to fight. It’s mainly tyrannical US government SWAT teams intent upon seizing their personal arsenals and making them eat arugula that they’re determined to repel by force of arms.