Within hours of the mass shooting Thursday at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, the worst factions of the internet were doing what they do best: starting the “false flag” threads, celebrating that “leftists” ― in this case, five people in a newsroom ― were dead, and worrying about how this horrible shooting would play for conservatives.
“Dead journalists can’t spread leftist propaganda,” one 8chan user wrote.
“Here we go! Right on time,” another on the subreddit r/The_Donald wrote, as another said, “So it begins.”
On Twitter, “Spectre,” a white supremacist podcast host, made fun of an intern at the Gazette begging for help during the shooting and said, “I wonder if it’s only journalists or if any real people got hurt.”
Make no mistake, some of these posts are just trolls trolling. But glancing at various anonymous forums and troll figurehead accounts as a mass shooting develops provides a window into how conspiracy theories start and how the dark corners of the internet prepare to spin the message.
“How convenient,” one 4chan user posted, echoing others who worried that “the left” would benefit from an apparent attack on them. As of this writing, there was no confirmed indication of a political motive for the shooting.
“Right on cue,” wrote a Redditor. “The left must have realized the damage Rosenstein was doing on live TV,” referring to congressional testimony Thursday by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is in charge of the special counsel investigation on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Another wrote, “Oh look another false flag.”
One user was concerned about the optics for conservatives now that journalists had been killed:
“Why do righties shoot people up? This looks so bad,” the user wrote. “Goodbye red storm, here comes the blue wave again.”
Fringe-right figurehead Milo Yiannopoulos, meanwhile, was backpedaling on Facebook ― in his own way ― as people began to point out that two days ago he’d called for “vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.”
In a statement to HuffPost, Yiannopoulos denied any involvement ― and there’s no indication this shooting was related to his message ― but on Facebook, he dug himself a deeper hole, saying, “Let’s hope it’s another transgender shooter, too, so the casualties are minimal.”
Far-right conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer predicted a “civil war.”
At least five people were reported dead Thursday as a shooter shot through a glass window at the Capital Gazette building, according to reporters who were tweeting from the scene.
“A single shooter shot multiple people at my office, some of whom are dead,” tweeted reporter Phil Davis. “There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload.”
President Donald Trump offered his thoughts and prayers.
Christopher Mathias contributed reporting.