Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
The horrid massacre in Las Vegas, NV, in which a shooter killed at least 58 people and injured hundreds, has turned message board users and right-wing internet trolls into do-it-yourself (DIY) sleuths attempting to solve the crime themselves. Their investigations, based on leaked photos or unconfirmed gossip, have resulted in wild conspiracy theories that would be laughable if prominent right-wing media figures — ranging from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to Fox News’ newest prime-time host, Laura Ingraham — weren’t amplifying the wannabe-gumshoes’ voices in an unscrupulous effort to exploit the tragedy to their political advantage.
Previously, DIY investigative attempts of this sort have ended badly. When an attacker drove a car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters in Charlottesville, VA, “alt-right” media personalities accused the wrong person of committing the attack. And when pro-Trump trolls pushed the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C., was a front for a ring of pedophiles, a gunman from North Carolina drove to D.C. to investigate the matter and fired shots inside the restaurant.
For opportunistic pro-Trump trolls, the incentive to push wacky conspiracy theories is the same as their reason for committing other sophomoric, attention-grabbing stunts: to gain notoriety, grow their platform by amassing social media followers, and make an income by asking for donations in support of their efforts. Such is the case for Laura Loomer, formerly linked to the Canadian outlet The Rebel. Loomer has been one of the most prominent pusher of conspiracy theories regarding the shooting in Las Vegas and is asking for monetary support to continue her “investigative journalism.” Her journalistic portfolio includes disrupting a Shakespeare play in New York City, harassing journalists, and heckling former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with the asinine Seth Rich conspiracy theory.
Recently, Loomer has relentlessly tweeted wide-ranging and baseless speculation about the Las Vegas massacre. She has implied that the CEO of MGM Resorts, which owns the Mandalay Bay hotel from where the attacker opened gunfire on the crowds below, was somehow involved in the tragedy, has claimed MGM’s union gave its members 10 weeks of paid vacation during Clinton’s presidential campaign, and has doggedly attempted to link the shooter to Islamic extremism, all in efforts to cast doubts over the available facts about the tragedy and push a “deep state” conspiracy theory. Kindred spirit Alex Jones enthusiastically elevated her moronic speculation by inviting her on his Infowars show.
Conspiracy theories such as these and others about the Las Vegas tragedy are so unhinged that even alternative media troll Mike Cernovich has dismissed them, and pro-Trump media figure Scott Adamsremarked on their implausibility during a Periscope session. That hasn’t stopped prominent right-wing media figures like Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, and Laura Ingraham from unscrupulously pushing the theories — even at the risk of casting doubts on official investigative efforts and undermining the efficacy of law enforcement authorities.
The Drudge Report propelled Loomer by headlining the site with her conspiracy theories. Drudge also featured other stories seemingly lifted from message boards like Reddit. Laura Ingraham, who will soon host her own show on Fox News, retweeted Loomer and baselessly speculated on October 4 that the shooter didn’t act alone. Ingraham continued to lean into conspiracy theories during her radio show on October 5, commenting that the “selective” leaked photos from the crime scene showed it was “perfectly laid down” and looked “like a scene from Law & Order.” Ingraham claimed that “something doesn’t add up” and chided the press for its “overwhelming lack of curiosity” and for not “asking questions.”
It is becoming unfortunately common for attention-seeking trolls to push politicized conspiracy theories after events of national importance. They deliberately amplify these narratives in order to “muddy the conversation,” as Snopes’ Brooke Binkowski told The Guardian. And many stars of right-wing media are proving to be no better.
Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters