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Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Sandy Hook Pseudotruthers

I never thought I would encounter a conspiracy meme more infuriating than the 9/11 controlled demolition nonsense, but Sandy Hook "trutherism" is the single most vile exercise in collective unreason ever to hit the internet. There is no truth in trutherism. This may be the first time an idea -- not a film, book, image or essay but an idea -- has made me come close to vomiting.

And yet I must take a stand against many of the "rational" responses to Sandy Hook Psuedotrutherism now being published. These responses locate this movement within the grand scheme of America's culture of mistrust. Example:
Yet for some people, conspiracy theories can serve an important purpose, says Pasley, who has taught and studied such claims off and on since 1997.

“Conspiracy theories do have a function,” he says. “They are an explanation of the inexplicable, a sort of explanation that neatly puts into a box events that are extremely disturbing or tragic.”

They may be a way of "neutralizing" tragic events in the minds of theorists, Pasley adds.
And so on. Naturally, you'll see the mandatory references to Richard Hofstadter. The bottom line: Conspiratorial beliefs arise spontaneously and are the products of aberrant mass psychology.

As Sherlock once said: "Bleat, Watson -- pure bleat!" This kind of pop-psychological blather is so familiar you can write it yourself; you don't need to consult "experts." Frankly, when it comes to the history of American conspiracy theory, one of the few experts I really trust is me. (I read Hofstadter before some of these "experts" were born, thank you very much.)

I'm going to propose a more radical possibility, one that goes beyond the utterly predictable grade-school sociology offered by the bloviators who get quoted in pieces like these. There really is a conspiracy -- and the conspiracy theorists are part of it.

If that idea sounds outlandish, consider the most infamous conspiracy document of all: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. The pop sociologists quoted in all of these recent stories would have you think that paranoid artifacts inevitably blanket the culture as part of a natural process, the way frost covers the lawn after a cold night. But the Protocols disprove that notion.

The Protocols did not write themselves. You must understand that simple point, because it is key. The Protocols did not write themselves.

They were a hoax -- the culmination of a series of anti-Semitic hoaxes which you can read about in Umberto Eco's lightly fictionalized The Prague Cemetery. Similarly, none of those other hoaxes "just happened;" they were all the work of men who had low motives to spread lies.

Identifying the originator of the Protocols hoax is one of the greatest literary puzzles of all time. Norman Cohn's highly esteemed Warrant for Genocide, which took the quest as far as it could then go, did not name a suspect. More recently, we have the theory -- which I find persuasive, although some have disputed it -- that the hoaxer was one Mathieu Golovinski, who later became the father of Soviet sports medicine. This theory first appeared in an as-yet untranslated (except by me) article in l'Espress, published on November 18, 1999. To the best of my knowledge, the first English-language work to speak of Golovinski was, oddly enough, a graphic novel by the great Will Eisner.

Now is not the place to go into the full story of Golovinski. Suffice it to say that the man belonged to a class of  literary bomb-throwers called the "publicistes." I've struggled, unsuccessfully, to come up with a translation of that term which conveys the full meaning it held at the time. In short and in sum, these guys were underground journalists, operating in both Russia and in the expatriate Russian communities throughout Europe, who worked with the secret services and with various political factions. Their intent was to stir up fear and paranoia -- to defame and to deceive.

If you've read Eco, you'll know how they operated. In certain ways, Fox News and the Alex Jonesians may be considered modern day analogs to les publicistes, although I doubt that either Roger Ailes or AJ would stoop so low as to create a fraudulent document out of whole cloth.

The Protocols were composed as part of a conspiracy. The exact relationship between Golovinski and Peter Ratchkovski (Russia's chief spook at the time) is not easy to trace, but we can definitively state that Golovinski was no "lone nut." He was paid. He worked for others. Those others had a political agenda.

Much the same could be said of the other great conspiracy hoaxes: Report From Iron Mountain, Silent Weapons, Psychopolitics, etc. In the internet age, we have the copious productions of Gregory Douglas and Henry Makow. These works did not and do not make themselves. They do not arise naturally or spontaneously. They are not the product of abstract cultural forces. They are the products of devious minds intent on deception.

The literature of Holocaust revisionism -- which posits massive Cold War collusion between the superpowers -- was created by people who were not simply mistaken, not self-deceived: They knew what happened in the camps, and chose to lie about it.

To me, Sandy Hook "trutherism" is a phenomenon of an exactly similar nature. In my opinion, the videos "exposing" the Sandy Hook massacre are simply the latest variant of the Protocols.

At this time, nobody knows the actual names of the fiends who created the Sandy Hook videos. Well, I'll tell you who they are: They're all Mathieu Golovinski.

The disingenuous rascals behind these productions know full well that they are lying. They have a political agenda, one not so terribly distinct from that which motivated the publicistes of a hundred years ago. They hope to energize the right by spreading fear and deception.

Thus, Sandy Hook Trutherism, odious as it is, should not be viewed as a reason to disparage all talk of conspiracy. Quite the contrary.

There really is a conspiracy. The right-wing conspiracy theorists are the conspirators.

You won't hear a statement like that from the pop psychologists or from the intellectually lazy gits at the Skeptical Inquirer who spew easy soundbites for reporters. But those of us who have studied the way the fringe right operates -- those of us who really have actually read Hofstadter (as opposed to merely keeping his book on the shelf and pointing to the spine from time to time) along with many similar works by other authors (Thayer, Kominsky, Trauber, Webb, Johnson, etc.) -- know the true nature of the beast.

I'll have much more to say about all of this soon.

Right now, let me offer a word of warning to Sandy Hook theorists: I suspect that some of you will make an attempt to "turn" me -- just as, not many years ago, the 9/11 "CD" jackals tried to take over this blog. You will never succeed. We are enemies forever, and that is final.

Postscript: Most of my readers have no interest in the history of the hunt for the author of the Protocols, so I'll spare you a post on that subject. (Besides, I lost much of my collection of research materials.) But perhaps I should point out that the Golovinski identification -- which was first offered by a Russian specialist named Lepekhine -- has been challenged by an Italian professor named Cesare G. De Michelis.

A few years ago, I tried to read De Michelis' book, The Non-Existent Manuscript. To be frank, the man's writing style is so convoluted as to be impenetrable. I gathered, however, that De Michelis summarily dismisses Du Chayla's seminal account of his meetings with Nilus. The professor offers no sensible reason for disparaging a work which all previous (non-Nazi) historians have considered invaluable. At the same time, the professor seems to take seriously the possibility that the Protocols might be based on something that actual Jews might have said at an actual secret gathering. Since both of these positions are redolent of the kind of crap one expects to hear from fascist propagandists -- and since I have zero toleration for academics who can't write -- I see no reason to take Professor De Michelis seriously. (However, see here; Taguieff is worth taking seriously.)
It seems there is a well developed field of psychologists devoted to studying 'conspiracy behavior'. I've seen some of the papers from their conferences and they are the most superficial crap imaginable, the cheapest of cheap psychobabble. The main claim is that 'conspiracy' believers gain a sense of social identity from their beliefs, selecting evidence to support their wild claims in order to establish themselves as independent thinkers not taken in by mainstream lies and who associate with like-minded individuals.

The studies are all abysmally superficial and unquestioning in their assumptions about what constitutes acceptable thinking in regard to historical events. For instance, one learned professor listed the following as examples of 'conspiracy beliefs': (1) fake moon landings, (2) that the CIA killed JFK, (3) the 911 twin towers claims, (4) that Israel had a hand in 911, (5) the existence of UFOs. (2), (4) and (5) may well be true -- they are all certainly open to reasoned argument.

So that's their chief underlying problem -- that they have no standard for differentiating between what is irrational 'conspiracy' nonsense and what is arguable historical fact. In fact, looking at the list I just cited I'm tempted to view the whole area of study like some early biologist's attempt to classify animal species: "Zebras, pandas, penguins and orca whales are all part of the same species because they are black and white." Sheer nonsense.

Their second problem is that the phenomenon they are seeking to isolate and examine is spread out across many other areas of established study: how people come to hold any beliefs at all, including religious and political views, cognitive development, social groupings etc.

It's a crap study area breathtaking in its superficiality and false assumptions. In the age of Homeland Security and 'domestic terrorists' its a honey pot of conference funding.
That there is this clap-trap out there, believed by Paranoid-Americans (a subset of the Moron-Americans) is a very good argument for tighter gun controls. Listening to and believing the vile spew of AM Hate radio would be reason to curtail a person's Second Amendment rights.
These traumatic historical events create Roshomon-like aftermaths, with fragmented partial and early reports that form the first impressions, only to be apparently proven false on later evidence.

So, it is true that there is a strain of paranoia in American history. It's also true that cottage industries spring up for some seeking to profit, and others to seek fame, as a first approximation of the dynamics of these aftermaths. Also, some parties use such aftermath analyses for agenda purposes beyond personal enrichment or fame. (CIA pushback talking points on JFK authors included that the authors were glory-hounds and sought personal enrichment.)

Yet a significant source of the suspicion is the Roshomon effect, where the early reports are widely heard and believed, and then contradicted only by later accounts.

The Fort Hood shooter was said to be dead, a story not from gossipy reporters but the official report from military authorities. Then he was not so dead. The identity of the sniper's nest rifle was a Mauser, until several days later it was changed to the M-C. (Even Walter Cronkite raised on eyebrow and mentioned the contradiction as he reported the new identity of the weapon changed the several days' claim of authorities).

That some things are wrongly first reported makes some sense. That the officials change their stories makes less sense, and is a key reason for public doubt.


XI, you're right. This is why I spent some time looking into the contradictory initial reports of the Sandy Hook massacre. You may recall an earlier post along those lines.

But the "truthers" aren't interested in truth; they have an angle. They start with their preferred conclusion (or propaganda point) and then arrange the evidence to suit.

That's going about it backwards.
Read the protocols and the compare them to the world , regardless of who wrote them ... well check them out .

Now the conspiracy sites are saying two long guns where taken from the trunk .

And a high capacity mag for an ar is a 100 round drum mag . A 30 round mag is regular capacity .

Same goes for pistols . A high capacity mag for those are 30 + . 17 round mags are regular capacity , despite what the advertising says .

The 2 nd Amendment is their to protect the first one .
Anon, I let your inane comment go through (even though you violated my posted rules for comments) because I wanted to give this audience a taste of the sort of nonsense I often receive but do not publish.

You are one sick, sick piece of shit.
Perhaps a distinction should be made from those who concoct frauds, such as the Protocols or the Sandy Hook Truther videos, and the credulous imbeciles that believe them.

BTW, your Captchas are really fuzzy!
I'm beginning to wonder if the bad information we get is a deliberate attempt to bring about cognitive dissonance.

The Pentagon refuses to release the 100 video tapes that should show the 9/11 airplane flying in--because they want to assert the principle that their business is none of our business, and because they want to inspitre conspiracy theories.

The government produces incompetent and unbelievable 9/11 reports for the same reason.

The alleged bin Laden assassination is without solid evidence for the same reason.

Maybe THEY (the Big "They") are trying to engender conspiracy fatigue so we'll just say "I give up, I don't care. Whatever the government says I will believe it. I'm tired of all this crap."

Who profits? Follow the money. I'd bet that gun manufacturers/ or nuts are behind some of the SH nonsense because they simply want to muddy the gun control waters.

btw, I got into an insane exchange with a few people over a pix floating around that supposedly showed the same (SH mom?) woman in three different contexts. Hell, it wasn't even the same woman.

It is infuriating. I wish we could track these idiots down and expose them.
"At this time, nobody knows the actual names of the fiends who created the Sandy Hook videos. Well, I'll tell you who they are: They're all Mathieu Golovinski."

I share your nausea here, and it's good that you've managed to have a longer look at the Sandy Hook "truthers" than I may do for a while.

Here's the big question: if they're all playing Mathieu Golovinski, who's playing Peter Ratchkovski?

Better still: whose Okhrana is it, this time?

Or is this still too dangerous a question?

You are right: this stuff doesn't emerge as if 'naturally' from cultural structures. But the conscious aim is, at the top, to direct cultural change. It's well-funded, all right.
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b, you and Bob Harrison are asking the same question. Wish I had a good answer.

Perhaps we can stipulate, for now, that the pseudotruthers may not be working on behalf of an individual or a group. They are protecting a weltanschauung. If anything threatens that world-view, these people will do combat by erecting a conspiracy theory.
One thing I like about the Gemstone File is that it's a nutty document written by an actual nut. No chance it's disinformation (in fact one possible bit of real information about the JFK assassination (allegedly a member of Roberts' family married the sister of one Antonio Iglesias, an actual CIA agent.)
Not only do you unmistakably appear to be a poor soul who was raised Roman Catholic and "lost his faith" (sic) in later years, but with your latest "I Now Believe the Government's Own Conspiracy Theories Because to Distrust Them I Would Have to Become a Damned Rightwinger" rant you have made it equally clear that when you subsequently lost your second-choice faith in independent/occult conspiracy theory, you almost lost your mind as well. The trauma must have indeed been a true "Dark Night of the Soul". And so you tenaciously cling to your third-choice faith, in the sacred Democratic Party as it "used to be," in the "Golden Nineties," and in the once-and-future reign of the Holy Clintons. I fear for your sanity (and soul) my dearest Joseph, for despite your amazing powers of reason and research, you are bound to be disillusioned yet again. The world's darkest evil is NOT (as you will discovery someday) an exclusive franchise held in partnership by likes of the Koch Brothers, Roger Ailes and Alex Jones -- all of whom are firm subscribers and promoters of some of the exact "public myths" (cf. Cass Sunstein & Co.) to which you have again pledged your allegiance today.
1. Who's the Okhrana is a good question.

2. But I also like the idea of contradictory dis- and misinformation as form of gaslighting.

3. I wish there were a set of formal properties by which CT discourse could be tested. You know it when you have to moderate it, for sure.

4. We might consider the issue of CT as a question of method. Like bullshit, the truth of CT statements is not relevant. For example, there seemed to be rather a lot of lone gunmen acting alone yet leaving diaries behind in the 60s. There's probably a CT way to approach that, and a historian's way. See above on formal properties.

Thanks for this post!
Andy, you are really irritating me. My father was a scientist. My mother was irreligious. I have never been baptized into any faith. I have never attended religious services except when compelled for social reasons (i.e., attending a friend's bar-mitzvah). Other than that, I have entered churches only to look at the art or architecture. Are we clear?
lambert, did you ever read what Gore Vidal had to say about the assassin's diary phenomenon? It was pretty damned hilarious. Vidal (who, I would say, should be considered a historian) was willing to posit that the CIA had a hand in those diaries. He changed his tune later in life, alas.

A later post will address the question of what you call "formal properties." I would say that the issue of truth -- and testability -- is paramount.
Great write-up--and thanks for mentioning Eisner's "The Plot", which was a posthumous release. He had completed it before his death.

I read it, and...well, it made me angry--angry that such a thing could come into existence and even after being shown for what it was again and again, it (the Protocols) still rises up like a zombie to infect others.

Some years ago I heard a radio host refer to the Protocols as being the truth in. I damned near smashed my radio to bits in outrage.
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