Right now a film is being cut for YouTube. Within the edit, clips from various media broadcasts of Monday's navy yard shooting in Washington DC are being selectively stitched together. The film will start by suggesting a deception has occurred, one wrought on the American people by shadowy, unseen forces. It will distance itself from other conspiracy theory videos, purporting to show "just the facts" about the events at the naval dockyard.
The film will highlight the complicity of the media that reported on the shooting, as well as the law enforcement agencies that responded to emergency calls. "Why would they lie?" the film will ask, followed by "who would have something to gain?" The film's creator will then place himself (or herself) at the heart of events; having personally investigated the shooting (by going through the wealth of online material available) they have uncovered "the truth" about what really happened in DC that day.
After highlighting several inconsistent facts disseminated by the news media in the hours directly after the story broke, the "official motive" of the shooter will be questioned. The film will highlight reports of three gunmen rather than one and question which firearms were used and by whom. Having exposed the "cover-up", the naval dockyard killings will be given a grander context, linked with the 2012 shootings in Newtown and Aurora.
As the conspiracy grows, events in DC may even be given an international flavour, tied with the killings in London on 7/7 or New York on 9/11 - the film unmasking a vast conspiracy which has provided the motive force for several recent historical events. The film will conclude by pointing to the national government as the primary source of deception, followed by a clear reason as to why - gun control. The film will ask: "Isn't the naval dockyard shooting just what the government needs to reignite the gun control debate?"
Finally, the film will call for political activism. "Share this information," it will say, "this affects you". The threat is tyranny - a dictatorship the government desires but requires an unarmed populace to install. This form of activism, in which conspiracy theory is used as a conduit through which to channel a targeted political message, requires that anyone who supports the "official version" of events are discredited by any means possible.
Conspiracism is certainly not a new trend in the US, but its popularity has been greatly exacerbated by the deep-rooted, ideological and political divisions suffered by the country since 2008, adding focus to a population that in successive surveys between 2006 and 2011 had already showed large-scale endorsement for "some kind of conspiratorial narrative about a current political event or phenomena".
These films are made because simply highlighting anomalies and questionable "facts", specifically the ones that support a political narrative, allied to a disregard for logic or coherence makes this form of online activism simple and hugely effective. What's more, this ideological intensity brings about its own psychological rewards, offering a valiant self-image that plays to the ego, all of which can be attained without doing any fact-based research, investigation, travelling to the scene, interviewing the people involved or anything beyond sitting at a computer with a broadband connection and some rudimentary editing software.
Yet the political implications are profound, not least the damage this type of expression does to genuine, fact-based dissent, while the "anything goes regardless of veracity" ethos can easily be co-opted and used against minority groups.
The conspiracy theories that arose after Sandy Hook were informed by a specific ideology and were embraced on such a wide scale not because of their truth but because adherents "selectively embraced conspiratorial narratives that delegitimized specific regimes" - the Obama administration. Expect the same in the coming days and weeks...