Amer­ica’s lat­est mass shoot­ing in­ci­dent was as pro­foundly mys­te­ri­ous as it was shock­ing – and fer­tile ground for con­spir­acy the­ory, notes NOEL ROONEY...

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The Las Ve­gas shoot­ings, on 1 Oc­to­ber, trig­gered the ex­pected slew of con­spir­a­cy­ori­ented re­ac­tions (some videos and posts were up and run­ning while the in­ci­dent was still in progress) and the usual range of the­o­ries: the whole thing was a hoax, per­formed by cri­sis ac­tors and com­pli­ant po­lice; it was a false flag at­tack by the Deep State de­signed to de­prive God-fear­ing Amer­i­cans of their God-given right to carry guns; it was an FBI anti-ter­ror­ist st­ing gone awry, ‘ac­ci­den­tally’ arm­ing an ISIS cell that pro­ceeded to use the weaponised bait ahead of sched­ule.

There is, it ap­pears, more to this tragedy than many of the mass shoot­ings that pre­ceded it. The main­stream nar­ra­tive car­ries its own bur­den of prob­lem­atic, if not im­plau­si­ble, el­e­ments, that both pro­vide ad­di­tional grist for the con­spir­a­to­rial mill (as if that were needed) and un­der­mine pub­lic con­fi­dence in the ap­pa­ra­tus of state. And in the al­leged per­pe­tra­tor, Stephen Pad­dock, we may have an up­dated Lee Har­vey Oswald in the mak­ing. Whether he be­comes a niche char­ac­ter, a kalei­do­scopic frag­ment in the byzan­tine li­brary of ob­ses­sive spe­cialisms that lurk in the un­der­growth of the Conspirasphere, or he is el­e­vated to the sta­tus of iconic un­cer­tainty, re­sid­ing for­ever where the ghosts of Oswald, JFK, and oth­ers, ad­um­brate the grand nar­ra­tive, re­mains to be seen.

Al­most ev­ery­thing about this tragedy is con­tested, both in the main­stream and the Conspirasphere. The reg­u­lar bat­tles for own­er­ship of the hid­den truths man­i­fest in grue­some pub­lic spec­ta­cles (and this event has se­ri­ously raised the achieve­ment bar for point­less atroc­ity) are play­ing out; the hoax the­ory, for in­stance, was quickly quashed by other con­spir­acists (who none­the­less left a lit­tle room for cri­sis ac­tors, as if these ghoul­ish ap­pur­te­nances were nec­es­sary to the fab­ric of al­ter­na­tive re­al­ity). A greater im­per­a­tive in­truded; the vic­tims of the shoot­ing were the same God­fear­ing, gun-tot­ing, Trump-vot­ing folks as the con­spir­acists, and their pain was real.

Ques­tions also haunt the main­stream nar­ra­tive, which has shifted sig­nif­i­cantly in the weeks fol­low­ing the shoot­ing. How did Pad­dock ac­cu­mu­late such a huge ar­se­nal with­out at­tract­ing of­fi­cial at­ten­tion? How did he man­age to smug­gle that ex­tra­or­di­nary amount of weapons, am­mu­ni­tion, and sur­veil­lance equip­ment into a pre­mier ho­tel in the heart of Las Ve­gas, and then set up his deadly nest and main­tain it for sev­eral days un­no­ticed by se­cu­rity staff and ho­tel work­ers? How did a man with no mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence man­age to in­flict such heavy ca­su­al­ties, from such a dis­tance, us­ing a bunch of partly mod­i­fied ri­fles? What con­nec­tion did he have to ISIS, or to the shad­owy US se­cu­rity world? What was the pur­pose of the weapons and ex­plo­sives found in his car af­ter the shoot­ing?

It is here, at the point where big events, in­con­sis­tent of­fi­cial nar­ra­tives, and pub­lic fear and un­cer­tainty meet, that the larger ed­i­fices of con­spir­acy the­ory are con­structed. Throw in a main char­ac­ter whose fam­ily back­ground (his fa­ther was re­port­edly on the FBI’s most wanted list), trav­els to coun­tries piv­otal to the ac­tiv­i­ties of Is­lamic ter­ror­ists and their back­ers, and pos­si­ble links to clan­des­tine US se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions, sug­gest an al­most shamanic po­ten­tial for shape-shift­ing, and we can see the pos­si­bil­ity that the Las Ve­gas shoot­ings may be­come a canon­i­cal chap­ter in the grand nar­ra­tive of the Conspirasphere. Small com­fort to the vic­tims, and likely only an in­cre­ment in the tra­jec­tory of the the­atre of cru­elty that is Amer­i­can gun crime; but per­haps a step change in the the­ol­ogy of con­spir­acy the­ory.

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