The Washington Navy Yard Shooting: No Surprises

The hours and days after the Washington Navy Yard shooting followed a pattern that is as predictable as it is tragic. News outlets struggled to find out what was going on, conspiracy theorists decided they already knew (and that said news outlets were lying) and political hacks and shills representing every interest you could think of began spinning it. And it was all rote and predictable.

None of what happened or what was said was surprising. How could it be? We’ve seen it over and over again, from Aurora to Sandy Hook to Boston. The same accusations, the same conspiracies and the same politicization. If Twitter and YouTube had been around at the time of 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, Pearl Harbor or any other terrorist attack or incident you can think of, we could have seen it there too.

It’s no surprise that conspiracy scaremonger Alex Jones declared the shooting was a false flag mere minutes after it happened. This is his job. Turning chaos into conspiracy is what pays his bills, and keeps his Infowars empire running. If Jones DIDN’T authoritatively announce that the shooting was a government plot to take away our freedom, his followers would have wondered what was wrong with him and found another crackpot to worship. It doesn’t matter what really happened or what the evidence says, Jones is going to say what he says because that’s the persona he’s created for himself, and it’s exactly the response that persona would have. Being dismayed that Alex Jones immediately called something a false flag is like being dismayed that Rush Limbaugh said something defamatory about the President. It’s what they do.

An incorrect headline from the NY Daily News the day after the shooting. Honest mistake...or false flag clue?

An incorrect headline from the NY Daily News the day after the shooting. Honest mistake…or false flag clue?

It’s no surprise that the media got things wrong in early reporting. The first few minutes of incidents like this are notorious for the mistakes that reporters make. Information is coming at them raw, unfiltered and unvetted – often at the same time shots are still being fired. In the case of the Navy Yard incident, authorities at one point were looking for three different shooters. They only determined the attack was carried out by a lone gunman after several hours – and many story headlines are still up, reflecting that fact. It took two days for the media to correctly attribute the type of gun the shooter used. Mistakes and inconsistencies abounded. Until they didn’t. But without fail, they were set on by conspiracy theorists as proof that the “operation” was a false flag.

It’s no surprise that the clip of a reporter and witness “laughing” during a moment where they didn’t know they were on live TV was jumped on by those looking for crisis actors on the scene. This is the exact same pathology that says victims of the Boston Marathon bombing were actors because they weren’t acting “like a bombing victim is supposed to act.” Of course, everyone reacts to pressure situations differently, and anyone with a basic understand of psychology understands this. But to believers, the reactions deemed to be “improper” are always made by those who are part of the false flag. In the clip, a Headline News reporter is on the scene with a witness, and when the studio cuts to them, they aren’t quite ready to go live. Someone tells a joke off camera and both men laugh. Later, when the interview has started, the witness says something to the effect of “this is what we trained for.” Presumably he means the crisis training that employees at a military facility would get. Conspiracy theorists take it to mean “this is what we crisis actors train for.” Which would make this guy the worst crisis actor in history, having immediately blown his cover. Luckily, he’s just a human being who saw something horrible and reacted the way human beings do: unpredictably.

It’s no surprise that anti-pharma advocates immediately blamed the shooter’s actions on the medication he was taking – despite the obvious logical fallacy at play here. In the aftermath of the shooting, we found out that the perpetrator had been taking the widely-prescribed and safe anti-depressant Trazodone for his insomnia. But long before the shooting, he had a history of psychological problems, including PTSD from his role as a 9/11 first responder, extreme paranoia (at one point a few weeks before the shooting he claimed microwave vibrations were being fired at him to interfere with his sleep) and an anger-fueled blackout in 2004. As with previous incidents, including the Sandy Hook shooting, crusaders against psychiatric medication blamed the meds he was taking to treat these issues, rather than the issues themselves, for the violent acts. They had no evidence other than coincidence and fallacious logic, but to them, the meds must have caused the incidents, because so many past killers had been on medication. But millions of people take anti-depressants and don’t commit acts of violence. And many people who DO commit acts of violence also have severe mental issues at work – issues treatable with medication. Blaming the medication for the violence is post hoc logic at its worst.

It’s no surprise that political and social activists of all beliefs are using this as grist for whatever mill they’re grinding. Gun rights activists have claimed the shooting happened because the Navy Yard was a “gun free zone” and that it wouldn’t have happened if there were more “good guys with guns” there – despite armed guards being on site, and the shooter actually using a pistol taken from a guard he’d murdered. Anti-gun activists initially blamed the shooting on an AR-15 assault rifle – despite this being an artifact from incorrect early reporting, and the shooter using a legally bought (though illegally sawed-off) shotgun. Islamaphobic conspiracy theorists blamed the shooting on the perp being a Muslim – despite the fact that he was a Buddhist. Evangelical pastors claimed the shooting was a sign of the “end times” – despite literally anything in the world being a possible sign of something that isn’t happening. Some conservatives blamed Bill Clinton for passing “gun free zone” laws – despite these laws being passed signed by President George H.W. Bush. Some liberals blamed the NRA itself for the shooting – despite, again, the shotgun being purchased legally and the shooter having no affiliation with the group. Find an organization or cause advocating something and they’ll likely blame the shooting on whatever organization or cause they’re opposing. All of it was obvious and nothing we hadn’t seen before.

And finally, it’s no surprise that despite the anguish and news coverage and tragedy, the incident is already starting to fade from public consciousness. While the idea of a constant string of mass shootings is overblown, they do happen far more often than they should – which is never. We’re used to them. We’re numb to them. And soon, we’ll stop pretending we’re surprised by the predictable string of responses that follow each one. We’ve seen it all before, and unfortunately, we’ll see it again.

About Mike Rothschild

Mike Rothschild is a writer and editor based in Pasadena. He writes about scams, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and pop culture fads. He's also a playwright and screenwriter. Follow him on Twitter at
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4 Responses to The Washington Navy Yard Shooting: No Surprises

  1. Mango B. Coconut says:

    Let’s not forget the anti-video game lobby who blamed it all on violent games!

  2. Pat Berry says:

    “Some conservatives blamed Bill Clinton for passing “gun free zone” laws – despite these laws being passed by President George H.W. Bush.” Actually, laws are passed by Congress. The most a president can do is to sign or veto them.

  3. @Pat – good point. Making a slight correction.

  4. Rob says:

    I often wonder about the “not acting like they have been on the scene of ……..” accusations

    I grew up in a part of the world where mass murder (both shootings and bombings) where carried out sometimes on am almost daily basis, and one thing I have learnt is that there is no prescribed way of behaving there will be those who continue as if nothing has happened, those who crawl into a fetal position and every other possible behavior too.

    Anybody who has been at the seen of a serious road accident would know that, never mind the site of a mass murder

    Only a person who hasn’t any sort of distressing event would ever come out with such an ignorant statement.

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