As you may have heard, last month someone swiped
a sign from one of the playgrounds honoring the deceased children in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. The sign-snatcher allegedly called the child's mother and claimed her daughter never existed ' she was part of the secret government conspiracy that faked the shooting to justify taking American guns.
I don't find this behavior all that surprising. Sure, the guy's an appalling douchebag if he really told Lynn McDonnell her daughter wasn't real, but delusional conspiracy theories are as traditionally American as apple pie.
America has buzzed with political paranoia about secret subversive conspiracies since the late 1700s, when the Illuminati were supposedly trying to destroy American Christianity. In 1836, telegraph inventor Samuel Morse warned that the Jesuits were plotting to turn the United States from Protestant freedom to Catholic tyranny. America locked up Japanese-Americans during World War II in the conviction that none of them could ever be truly loyal to the USA. Anticommunist Robert Welch claimed that Eisenhower and Truman were both agents of international Communism.
In the current century we've already had the 9/11 Truthers, the Obama birthers (including
17 members of Congress and Donald Trump) and now the Sandy Hook 'truthers.' I'm sure we'll have more down the road, because people love to believe in conspiracies.
One reason they're so appealing is our own egos. C.S. Lewis once said that thinking yourself part of the inner circle, the elite few who truly understand how the world works, is an intensely seductive delusion. I've read and talked to conspiracy theorists who think their beliefs prove their own intelligence: The official story may be good enough for the sheeple who swallow what the government spoon-feeds them, but smart people like themselves, who look behind the lies, know the truth! They're not crackpots, they're the cool kids!
Then there's the fact that conspiracy theories can explain away any part of reality you have trouble accepting. Sen. McCarthy, for example, insisted there was no way Communists could have taken over China without secret support within the American government. WW II America took it as a given that Japan couldn't have pulled off the Pearl Harbor attack without Japanese Americans serving as a fifth column (WW II America was, of course, wrong). Obama not being a real American proves his all-American Republican opponent was the rightful president.
That may be part of the appeal for Sandy Hook denialists too. A killer gunning down innocent school children doesn't fit well with a 'guns don't kill people' worldview. But if the government's responsible, or if the children never existed, conflict solved! Plus, of course, you're nothing so mundane as merely a defender of the Second Amendment. No, you're a hero, standing up against a government gone mad. Not only are you smarter than the sheeple, you're a zillion times cooler. You know it, even if nobody else does.
Once you start going down that rabbit-hole, it's easy to avoid coming out again. Take the sign-stealer: If he's convinced himself the victims at Sandy Hook didn't even exist, there's probably no evidence on Earth that can convince him he's wrong. Some 9/11 Truthers have explained away the inaccuracies in the Truther documentary Loose Change
as the government secretly using the film to discredit them. Birther activist Orly Taitz has admitted there's no evidence Obama could offer that will prove he's not the evil Kenyan usurper of her fantasies.
And in the 21st century, it's not hard to find someone confirm that you're right. When I was a kid, only a few political paranoids were in a position to get their message out to Americans at large. Most of them couldn't do better than pass out mimeographed flyers on street corners. In the Internet age, no matter how bat-shit your beliefs may be, you can find someone out there online who'll assure you you're 100 percent correct.
All things considered, we're lucky the delusions of conspiracy aren't even worse.