Conspiracy theories surrounding the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have reached a new level with a viral "truther" video that has been viewed by millions of people in just one week. However, experts in conspiracy theory have debunked the video as a mere marketing trade on questions, not answers.
On Jan. 7, the video titled "The Sandy Hook Shooting - Fully Exposed" was posted to the YouTube channel ThinkOutsideTheTV, where it garnered more than 8.6 million views in just nine days. The 30-minute video uses news clips to point out "inconsistencies" in the Sandy Hook coverage.
The video opens with a disclaimer: "This is a simple, logical video. No aliens, holigrams [sic], rituals or anything like that, just facts."
"The video begins with something that really everybody can accept -- 'We are just raising questions,'" Benjamin Radford, author of "Media Mythmakers" and deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, told The Huffington Post. "The whole subject is framed like, 'Don't look at us, we're not saying this crazy stuff, we're just asking questions.'"
But that's all the video is -- just questions.
"All they offer are tantalizing 'could be's," Radford said.
"The classic conspiracy theorist sees the hidden hand in everything. Nothing is as it seems," he added. "There's something bigger that's going on. They dont know where it is, but they are willing to tantalize people and throw out any number of suggestions, which are oftentimes contradictory."
David Mikkelson, founder of myth-bunking site Snopes.com, agrees.
"In any kind of disaster or tragedy like this, if you go through things with a fine-toothed comb, you will find a number of contradictory statements," Mikkelson told HuffPost. "Of course, most of them are cleared up within a few days of the initial reporting, but it's not something you're going to see in these [conspiracy] videos."
Some questions posited by ThinkOutsideTheTV include:
- How Adam Lanza's AR-15 rifle got locked in his trunk (later proven to be an extra shotgun);
- If grieving Newtown citizens are really just "crisis actors" (targeted hero Gene Rosen is actually a retired psychologist);
- Why memorial websites were seemingly set up before the shooting on Dec. 14 ("Google search result entries are imprecise and do not always accurately reflect the date on which the reference material first appeared on the web," notes Mikkelson on Snopes).
In addition, truthers have claimed that the victims' parents didn't express the proper level of grief. However, by cherry-picking certain portions of certain news clips, evidence to such claims becomes "beneath worthless and is actually misleading," Robert Blaskiewicz, writer for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and co-editor of the blog Skeptical Humanities, said in an email to HuffPost. "Doing that means ignoring (or simply rejecting) vast quantities of evidence that doesn't support their conclusion."
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Some truthers went as far as saying 6-year-old Emilie Parker, a victim of the shooting, later appears in a photo with the president.
"They'll see things that have double meanings," Radford said. "What the rest of us see [in that photo] is Emilie Parker's sister, but they're looking at the exact same photograph and they are interpreting it very differently."
"You can get a lot of mileage out of vague physical similarities," Mikkelson added.
Compiled together, this "evidence" not only addresses a theory, but also a much larger issue: Most conspiracy theorists have a very specific agenda, the experts said.
ThinkOutsideTheTV, for example, points to the notion that Sandy Hook could've been a scheme to disarm the American public and destroy the Second Amendment.
"What I think we are looking at in the video is an attempt to find evidence to fit a preexisting narrative, that the government is or is quickly becoming a tyranny and that the only thing stopping the government from terrorizing the nation is that the populace is armed," Blaskiewicz said.
Blaskiewicz added that such a diseased investigative process is almost always guaranteed to fail.
"The only possible answer at the end of that process of investigation is some sort of omnipotent puppet master who controls everything. In this case, it's the government, but it's often Jews, the New World Order, the other political party, the Illuminati, Masons, or even inter-dimensional mind-controlling reptilian space aliens who impersonate political leaders."
D.J. Grothe, president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, does note that truthers shouldn't be immediately dismissed as raving lunatics, however.
"Political conspiracy theorists are completely wrong [in their conclusions], but they're not crazy," he told HuffPost. "The leading conspiracy theorists ... are right on many of their initial factual claims. Depending on what the theory is, they might even be correct in all of their claims. Where they are wrong is connecting the dots that aren't there."
"We are hardwired to seek order in chaos, make meaning out of data noise, and it is paradoxically comforting to imagine that great tragedy is not just time and chance, but a function of some nefarious, pre-planned grand design," he added.