June 13, 2017
(2) “I wouldn”t have done it like that.”
A favorite tool of the conspiracy theorist is to “deconstruct” a photo or video from a (air quotes) “mass shooting” or “terrorist incident” in order to prove that the event was staged. “See how that guy’s smiling? If I”d lost a child in a shooting I wouldn”t smile like that.” The fallacy here is that there is only one standard way of dealing with grief or fear, and therefore anyone who reacts differently is to be suspected. The state loves this one! Let’s return to poor Kevin Green. When he stormed out of his home that night, he told detectives he went to get a hamburger. But even though there was a Jack in the Box right across the street from where he lived, he drove three miles to a different one. Detectives accused him of lying. “If I were hungry for Jack in the Box, I”d go to the one nearby, not one three miles away.” But people don”t always act logically, especially when they”re worked up. Tell me you”ve never done something that to an outside observer might seem illogical. In Green’s case, the poor bastard wanted a burger, and he also wanted to drive a bit to calm himself down, so he “needlessly” went out of his way.
In 1997, 4-month-old Floridian Sabrina Aisenberg was taken from her crib in the middle of the night. At least that was her parents” story. But because cameras caught Sabrina’s father smiling a few days after the incident, the state focused on the parents as the suspects, bugging the couple’s home for three months, recording over 2,600 conversations, and then lying to a judge about the content of the tapes. A grand jury bought the state’s case, but not only were all charges subsequently dropped, taxpayers had to shell out over a million bucks in damages to the Aisenbergs, all because prosecutors saw a smile and decided, “I wouldn”t smile in that situation, so therefore they”re hiding something.”
The truth is, there’s no uniform reaction to crises. Some of us deal with fear or anxiety by inappropriately smiling or laughing. Some drink or take meds and get loopy. And sometimes, it’s the person who acts with textbook propriety who turns out to be the one with something to hide. But when the state is on a fishing expedition, or a conspiracy wacko is trying to up his website hits, an inappropriate smile is a fine substitute for actual facts.
(3) “Cui bono?”
The worst thing about the “who benefits” conspiracy trope is that those who invoke it often do so as though it’s the ultimate puzzle-solver. “Find out who benefits, and you have your culprit.” Except, no. Examining who benefits from a particular act is one tool in an investigator’s belt, but it’s of limited value, because (and this is a basic rule of human activity that so many “market expert” libertarian conspiracy guys seem to miss) there’s always someone who benefits from anything that happens in the world, and lots of people benefit from events they didn”t cause. When Sheila Bryan’s 82-year-old mother died in a car accident, the state zeroed in on her simply because she was her mom’s insurance beneficiary. Using the “cui bono“ strategy, the state got a jury to slap Bryan with life imprisonment. The Georgia Supreme Court overturned the conviction on the grounds that “cui bono“ alone was not enough to convict. At her retrial, Bryan’s defense team proved that the car fire that killed her mom was due to a faulty ignition switch, which the state’s “expert” had covered up during the first trial. Bryan was acquitted. She’s lucky; she only lost two years of her life.
When proved wrong or called out on their falsehoods, the typical conspiratologist will always retreat to “Hey, all I”m doing is asking questions! Even if I”m wrong, I”m not doing any harm by challenging your perceptions.” Except yeah, you kinda are. Every prospective juror who goes around thinking “there are no coincidences,” “if I wouldn”t do something a certain way, no one else would,” and “the solution to any mystery is “cui bono“” has the potential to assist the state in putting an innocent person behind bars. The conspiracy freaks who spread those shibboleths are not fighting the state, but assisting it.
Don”t like to hear that? Hey, don”t get angry. I”m only challenging your perceptions!