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