When a crisis happens, the first question we often ask is "why?" If the answer is unclear, things can get twisted in a hurry. Here are 10 false flag conspiracy theories.
False flags are covert operations, where a government or other entity stages an attack to look like someone else committed it.
They are indeed real and an integral part of history, but accusations of false flag attacks seem particularly common in the modern era — and are especially popular among conspiracy theorists. They’ll call something a false flag when they want to convince others that an outside party — usually the government — is engineering a crisis.
The term was originally used to refer to pirate ships flying the flags of other countries to disguise an impending attack, effectively shifting blame elsewhere. In more recent years, the definition has grown to encompass any attack where a hidden organization is responsible.
Conspiracy theories usually flourish on the fringes of society, finding footing in cognitive biases. Confirmation bias, projection bias, and proportionality bias — the tendency to assume that big events have big causes — all contribute to their popularity.
Here are 10 tragedies that conspiracy theorists claim are actually false flag attacks — and some facts that make their claims unlikely:
The Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting
The students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut experienced pure terror on Dec. 14, 2012. That’s the day that Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and 6 staff members — and then himself.
But according to far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the entire shooting was a “giant hoax.” “Sandy Hook is a synthetic, completely fake, with actors, in my view, manufactured,” he said on his radio show. (He later admitted the shooting was real, saying a “form of psychosis” had led him to spout his conspiracy theories.)
Some insist that the tragedy at Sandy Hook never happened. A video put together by these rogue theorists — since removed from YouTube — aimed to prove the school shooting was faked.
The video pointed to a report that the weapon Lanza supposedly used in the shooting was later found locked in the trunk of his car. This report was based on early, erroneous journalism caused by the rush to break the news of the tragedy to the public. The confusion was later cleared up by police.
Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15 style rifle in the attack, according Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance, and he also has two handguns with him. The weapon found in Lanza’s trunk was a 12-gauge shotgun that he didn’t use that day.