weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Conspiracy crowd working overtime since Las Vegas shooting

The conspiracy crowd took to the internet almost as soon as the gunfire stopped.

Every mass-casualty event attracts its share of crackpots, and the Oct. 1 attack in Las Vegas would be no different.

Shaky cellphone videos of a flashing strobe light became proof of a second shooter.xxx

Sketchy accounts from traumatized tourists fueled narratives of a coordinated terrorist attack and a far-reaching cover-up.

The lack of a clear motive spawned wild claims that Stephen Paddock was a patsy or a spy — or maybe even still alive somewhere.

Already, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said, he has seen more conspiracies and misinformation about this investigation than he has in other high-profile cases. The “keyboard tough guys” are out in force, he said.

Some of the stories were created or repeated by unscrupulous websites looking to cash in on the tragedy.

Undoubtedly, the loved ones of those killed in the attack have seen the fake news, too, some of it hurtful, even dismissive of what they have lost.

“You just purposefully have to ignore it,” the sheriff said. “We’re being transparent, as far as I’m concerned. … I hope my comments are strong enough that people believe what we’re saying versus what they read on the internet.”

‘Explanation for everything’

There’s certainly no shortage of unsubstantiated or factually incorrect stuff to read.

“I would say that there is a definitely an increase,” said journalist Bethania Palma from Snopes.com, one of the largest and oldest fact-checking sites on the web. “It’s getting multiplied by the internet. It’s a lot more immediate.”

Snopes.com, which has doubled the size of its editorial staff in the past year or so, has already published fact checks on several false reports from the Las Vegas shooting.

But it’s hard to keep up, Palma said. “Fake news can be produced so quickly and cheaply.”

Many of the conspiracy theories she has heard so far follow the “false flag,” New World Order narrative popularized by Alex Jones’ Infowars website: Basically, the attack was staged as an excuse to take away people’s guns, clearing the way for the secret, totalitarian world government to take over.

Palma said she traveled to Las Vegas last weekend to get a firsthand look at the scene, talk to people who were there and get answers she just couldn’t get from her home in Southern California.

“I was surprised to talk to so many people who believed the second-shooter conspiracy theory,” she said.

Some of the conspiracies are rooted in early reports heard over police scanners. Others are pinned to discrepancies in the information released by the authorities, something that is almost guaranteed to happen after an incident of this magnitude, Palma said. “There’s an explanation for everything people are posting.”

Even some witnesses emerged from the attack with versions of events that just weren’t true. Chaos, trauma and fear play tricks on people, Palma said.

“This is a crowd of 22,000 people who went to a country music concert that turned into a massacre,” she said.

Chasing tips, not ghosts

Former Aurora, Colorado, Police Chief Dan Oates said the conspiracies got really bad after the movie theater shooting there in 2012. People took to the internet to claim the attack never happened, that no one died and that James Holmes was innocent.

“Really perverse crap,” said Oates, who is now the chief of police in Miami Beach, Florida.

One person even found a way to contact one of the victim’s mothers and told her that her son wasn’t dead. Oates said they tracked that person down in Oregon and had him arrested.

Ultimately, it’s up to the authorities to decide what’s real and what isn’t. Tips can be important — even crucial — to an investigation, so if the public has legitimate information to share, Lombardo said his department won’t ignore it.

“But there’s some things out there I’ve just got to throw the bull—— flag at. We can’t be wasting our time and resources chasing them,” he said. “We can’t spend our time chasing ghosts.”

Self-feeding fantasties

University of Massachusetts professor Kirby Farrell is a regular contributor to Psychology Today and the author of a 2015 book about America’s fascination with rampage killings.

He prefers the term “conspiracy fantasies,” not theories.

Farrell said the need to invent — or to believe — elaborate and often unprovable explanations for attacks like the one in Las Vegas is rooted in fear and avoidance. It is an attempt to “sanitize or wish away the inexplicable violence that overtakes certain individuals,” he said.

“Conspiracy fantasies are a kind of sophisticated game people play to prop up or reinforce denial,” Farrell said.

The internet merely increases their reach, while social media will guarantee delivery to a receptive audience.

“In a way, everybody has become an individual publisher,” Farrell said. “People compete to see who can attract the most attention.”

And much like the perpetrators of mass killings, those who traffic in conspiracy fantasties tend to feed off one another, he said. “There’s a kind of copycat quality in both.”

Early reports unreliable

Radio show host and freelance Review-Journal editorial page columnist Wayne Allyn Root was among those criticized for spreading misinformation on the night of the Las Vegas attack. In a Twitter post from his personal account at 11:51 p.m. Oct. 1, he wrote that shots had been fired at seven different resorts on the Strip. A minute later, he told his 110,000 Twitter followers that the shooting was a “clearly coordinated Muslim terror attack.”

Root stands by what he did.

“I do NOT deal in conspiracy theories,” he said in an email.

Root insists everything he posted that night was based on information he was getting directly from law enforcement sources.

“It looked exactly like an ISIS terror attack, and I made a split-second decision to warn people in Vegas and get them out of harm’s way,” Root said. “And I’d do it again if I could save lives.”

Social media and video-sharing sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube now serve as the primary conduit for false reports and outright hoaxes. Recently, though, the web has seen a proliferation of fake news sites that seek to profit by spreading lies after a tragedy.

“It’s no question that a lot of these sites are making money off the ad revenue from the clicks they’re getting,” Palma said.

Lies that linger

Transparency is one effective way to combat the conspiracy crowd, she said.

But even the most baseless stories can be stubborn. No amount of evidence to the contrary will make them go away. No amount of public shaming will silence the people spreading them.

Palma said she recently spoke to the parent of a child murdered during the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The families of the victims are still being harassed by people who believe the shooting and the deaths of their children were faked.

“People in Las Vegas should be ready for that sort of thing,” she said.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter. Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @coltonlochhead on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Crime Videos
CCSD police on the arrest of Deamonte Warren - VIDEO
CCSD police arrested Chaparral High School custodian Deamonte Warren on Friday on three counts of a school employee having sex with a student and an additional count of providing alcohol to a minor. (Courtesy CCSD Police)
Woman charged with sex trafficking an 11-year-old girl on the Strip (Michael Quine)
Gigi Mitchell faces seven felony charges including sex trafficking and child abuse for bringing an 11-year-old girl to the Las Vegas Strip to work as a prostitute.
Bel Air Drive Officer Involved Shooting Presser - Video
LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly goes over the officer-involved shooting on Bel Air Drive.
Former Las Vegas police officer get 25 life sentences for sexually abusing child
Former Las Vegas Police officer Bret Theil was sentences to 25 consecutive life sentences at the Regional Justice Center Wednesday, May 15, 2019, for sexually abusing a child over a decade. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Man pushed off bus in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Las Vegas police arrested 25-year-old Cadesha Bishop on May 6, after she allegedly pushed Serge Fournier, 74, off of a parked bus near Fremont Street and 13th Street about 4:50 p.m. March 21.(Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
$1 million bail set for mother charged with drowning 2-year-old daughter
The 44-year-old mother who police say drowned her 2-year-old daughter in a bathtub in a northeast Las Vegas apartment on Saturday made her first court appearance on Tuesday, May 14th.
Officer arrested on suspicion of lewdness with a child appears in court
Matthew James Terry, a Las Vegas police officer arrested on suspicion of lewdness with a child, appears in court Monday morning, May 13, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police seek hit-and-run driver
A motorcycle officer pulled over a Mercedes SUV, and after the officer came to a stop, it shifted into reverse, intentionally hitting the officer.
Thedrick Andres becomes Henderson Police Department acting chief
Henderson Police Department Acting Chief Thedrick Andres speaks about his goals in his new position at the Henderson Police headquarters, Monday, April 29, 2019. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2 dead, 1 wounded after east valley neighborhood shooting
One man and one woman are dead and another man wounded after a shooting Thursday afternoon in an east valley neighborhood.
Bail denied for former police detective charged with murder
Bail was denied Tuesday for former Metropolitan Police Department detective, Pamela Rene Bordeaux who is accused of fatally shooting her daughter’s ex-husband during supervised visitation with his child.
Third suspect in death of California doctor appears in court
The third and final suspect in the killing of a California doctor, Jon Kennison, 27, appears in court Friday, April 19, 2019. Kennison, Kelsey Nichole Turner, a former model, and Diana Pena, face charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Richard Cleaves of Pahrump arrested in burglary on former Binion property
Updated press release regarding burglary on a former Binion property: Richard Cleaves, 56 of Pahrump, has been arrested on a warrant for burglary, conspiracy to commit grand larceny, and destruction of property. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Judge denies bail for suspect charged in the killing of California doctor
Diana Pena, one of three people charged in the killing of a California doctor, is being held without bail after her fingerprints were found on the car where Dr. Thomas Burchard's body was discovered.
Ex-NFL player and girlfriend held without bail in child’s death
Former professional football player Cierre Wood and his girlfriend, Amy Taylor, face charges of murder and child abuse in the death of Taylor's 5-year-old daughter. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NHP identifies man who was shot by trooper on Mount Charleston
Nevada Highway Patrol updates the media on the April 2, 2019 officer involved shooting on Mount Charleston. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas court grants '90 Day Fiancé' defendant continuance
"90 Day Fiance" stars Colt Johnson and his mother Debra left the Las Vegas Justice Center Thursday, after the court granted Larissa dos Santos Lima a continuance in her misdemeanor case, in which she is accused of domestic violence against Colt. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Details released on in-custody death
Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank addresses media about details of an in-custody death at Clark County Detention Center on March 31. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Man hurt in shooting with Nevada troopers at Mount Charleston
A man was injured in a shooting involving Nevada Highway Patrol troopers Tuesday afternoon at Mount Charleston on state Route 157 near Echo Trail. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Officer wounds inmate during escape attempt
An officer fired on an inmate who stole a vehicle and tried to flee, ramming several cars and leading officers on a chase until he ran out of gas.
Man fatally shot during a 'beer skip'
A store clerk is being questioned after a man was fatally shot during a robbery at a gas station Friday. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Las Vegas police give details on fatal shooting
Metro homicide Lt. Ray Spencer gives a briefing on a fatal shooting near downtown Las Vegas that occurred on March 27, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas community pays tribute to boy killed by car
The community joined friends and family at Wilbur & Theresa Faiss Park, Wednesday evening, to remember the boy who was struck and killed by a car crossing South Fort Apache Road from Faiss Park, near West Maule Avenue, on Monday. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Person of Interest Found For Downtown Las Vegas Bar - Video
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is seeking help to find a person of interest in a potential homicide case at a bar in downtown Las Vegas.
Metro briefs media on OIS near downtown Las Vegas
Police address media about officer-involved shooting that started on Maryland and Vegas Valley, and concluded downtown, near the Golden Nugget.
Update on OIS at Vegas Valley and Maryland
The incident began at the Steinberg Diagnostic Medical parking lot and ended downtown.
Amy And Spencer Powell Recount Hit And Run
Amy Powell and her son Spencer recount the day Spencer was hit by a truck while riding his bike. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jeremy Burch of Tonopah arrested in Amarillo, TX
Jeremy Burch of Tonopah was arrested in Amarillo, TX on a Nye County warrant for open murder, burglary, obtaining money under false pretense, use of credit card w/o owner consent, and destruction of evidence. (Nye County Sheriff's Office/Facebook)
Metro Presser For OIS 6 (Full)
Metro police address the officer involved shooting that took place on March 19, 2019.
Metro Presser For OIS 6
Metro police address the officer involved shooting that took place on March 19, 2019.
Domestic disturbance call ends in suicide
A man died by suicide after police tried negotiating with him outside of his ex-girlfriend’s home on March 13. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
20-year-old armed robbery suspect shot by Las Vegas police
A 20-year-old armed robbery suspect shot by a Las Vegas officer on Saturday night is also accused of burglarizing a Boys & Girls Club minutes before the shooting.
Commercial Robbery On 3000 Block Of North Las Vegas Blvd - VIDEO
On February 19th, 2019, at approximately 10:23 am, a robbery occurred to a business located on the 3000 block of North Las Vegas Boulevard. The pictured suspect entered the business, approached the counter and pointed a firearm at the victim demanding money. The victim complied and the suspect fled with an undisclosed amount of money. No injuries were reported.