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False Flag Attacks: Myth and Reality

by Mike Rothschild

January 21, 2013

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Donate One of the terms most commonly used by conspiracy theorists when discussing “the real story” behind incidents like the September 11th attacks or the recent Sandy Hook shooting is “false flag,” meaning that it was caused or staged deliberately to use as an excuse to perpetrate something nefarious. A quick Google search of the phrase brings up an astonishing 42 million hits, with page after page of posts at conspiracy hotbeds like Infowars/Prison Planet, Natural News, Before It’s News, etc. If one were to work solely from this, it would be easy to get the impression that our recent history is jammed with prefabricated incidents designed to enable our government to grab more power, take away the rights of the common people and/or line their already fattened pockets.

Further complicating matters, false flags are a very real phenomenon. Unlike, say, free energy machines or alien abductions, which people claim to exist, yet don’t, false flag attacks have happened, many times for many different reasons. The United States has even been involved in some. In order to debunk the conspiracy theories, it’s important to define what a false flag actually is, and have historical examples of when they've actually happened, in order to better define when they haven't.

In military terms, a false flag is any act of deception designed to make your opponent think you’re someone else. The term “false flag” originated with naval warfare, when a ship would run up a flag other than its designated battle ensign for the purposes of drawing an enemy ship closer. When the target got close enough, the deceiving ship would run up the real battle flag and open fire. This tactic has long been recognized as an acceptable use of deception, and has been used in numerous forms, by both naval and ground forces, for centuries. Both World Wars feature numerous uses of false flag strategies, from ships disguising themselves as other ships to soldiers wearing enemy uniforms.

False flags also have political uses, usually to justify aggression. Japan kicked off its 1931 invasion of Manchuria with a false flag, a staged bombing of a railway known as the Mukden Incident. The “bombing” of the Japanese-owned South Manchuria Railway was so ineffective that a train went over the railroad minutes after the explosion, but it was all the justification Japan needed to begin its long-planned conquest of China.

The German invasion of Poland was also preceded by a series of false flags, known collectively as Operation Himmler, and designed to manufacture the appearance of Polish belligerence toward Germany. Over the course of August 31, 1939, the night before the planned German invasion, nearly two dozen incidents took place involving German troops dressed in Polish uniforms carrying out random acts of vandalism, destruction and terror against towns and installations along the Germany/Poland border. To emphasize the ruse, dead bodies in Polish uniforms (usually concentration camp prisoners) were left behind. Operation Himmler was a paper-thin propaganda ruse, but it did its job, giving Germany the pretense it needed to do what it was going to do anyway.

False flags have also been a staple of terrorism and state-sponsored actions, especially during the Cold War. But for every real false flag involving deliberate deception, there are just as many historical incidents called false flags where the evidence could go either way. The Reichstag Fire, set in 1933 and used by the Nazis to justify their seizure of power, may have been the work of a Dutch Communist, whose conviction was posthumously overturned by a German court in 2008, or might have been set by the Nazis themselves. The Russian apartment bombings of 1999 are often called a false flag staged by Russian intelligence as an excuse to invade Chechnya, despite conflicting evidence. And the explosion and sinking of the USS Maine in 1898 is long thought to have been caused by US agents planting a mine on the ship as a pretense for war with Spain, though recent evidence points to Maine being sunk by an internal coal explosion. In these cases, we don’t know enough, and likely never will, to say whether the incidents happened organically or were set up for nefarious purposes.

One false flag operation that’s long fired the imagination of conspiracy theorists never even took place. Operation Northwoods was a proposed plot by the Department of Defense to fabricate a pretext for an invasion of Cuba and overthrow of the Castro regime. Acts such as shooting down a passenger plane, sinking a US Navy ship or even attacks on Miami were suggested by the document, which was classified until 1997. The plan made it all the way to President Kennedy’s desk, who wisely vetoed it. But just the existence of such a plan is enough to convince some that the US government, no matter who is in charge, is capable of brazen deception and false flag techniques to justify anything it wants. And of course, the conspiracy theorists add, President Kennedy was assassinated less than a year after scuttling Northwoods.

Finally, we come to events that involved no deliberate deception, and therefore aren’t false flag attacks, but simply attacks. Everything from Pearl Harbor to the Liberty Incident have been called government-staged false flags, with virtually nothing to back up the accusations. The one most often cited as a false flag is 1964’s Gulf of Tonkin Incident, where a US destroyer was the victim of two attacks by North Vietnamese torpedo boats, one real and the other probably only jittery sailors firing at shadows. Despite there being ample evidence that the first attack happened, and no evidence that the second involved any deliberate deception on the part of the US, conspiracy theorists seized on the subsequent passing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as proof that the incident was staged to justify sweeping war powers for President Johnson and an escalation of hostilities in Vietnam. But even as early as a few days after the second incident, Johnson already doubted whether it had taken place, which is not the action of someone cooking up a fake attack to justify his policies.

Of course, the September 11th attacks are considered the granddaddy of all false flags, with a legion of truthers accusing the government of bombing the World Trade Center as an excuse to curtail our rights, give more power to the global elite and kick off any number of wars. But after the truther theories are debunked, we're left with one inescapable fact: unless and until definitive proof of the government’s involvement in 9/11 ever surfaces, the attacks can’t be called a false flag.

Which brings us to Sandy Hook. In the past few years, every time one of these tragedies takes place, be it in Arizona, Aurora, Milwaukee or now Newtown, conspiracy theorists instantly take to the internet, with cries of “false flag!” and accusations that the Obama administration either caused or staged the shootings as an excuse to grab our guns and curtail our rights. They offer manufactured "proof" and use the historical examples of other false flag attacks, both real and imagined, as “evidence” that “they” did it before, and will do it again.

And just like 9/11, and the other imagined false flags, these theories hold about as much water as a colander. Some directly contradict each other. Most can easily be explained away. All of them are made up. There’s no confusion about who committed these crimes and how they did it. And the supposed measures that the shootings were an excuse to enact, be they wide-ranging gun bans, repeal of the 2nd Amendment or mass arrests of gun owners, have come to little. Even the much ballyhooed executive orders signed by the President in the wake of Sandy Hook were mostly cosmetic measures, dismissed by many as window dressing.

To put it bluntly, if Sandy Hook actually was a false flag, perpetrated in secret by the government, it was easily discovered and poorly followed-up. Which leaves only the sad reality of 26 victims who died not at the hands of the New World Order, but of a psychotic killer.

Yes, false flag incidents are real. Real people have died because of them. But to see them lurking around every corner at every tragedy is paranoia at its worst.

by Mike Rothschild

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