After gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire on the Las Vegas strip last Sunday, confusion reigned. With contradictory initial reports about what had happened and no publicly-declared motive for the act of terror, people were unsure what to believe. And some took advantage of the chaos.
Just hours later, people were posting false information about the shootings on social media. While some of these hoaxes were merely meant to confuse or amuse, many had an alt-right ideological bent, positioning Paddock as an antifascist leftist or a recent convert to Islam in an attempt to make those groups look bad.
Critical thinking is always important, and it’s never more important than after a massive, politicized tragedy. As you see news of the event in the weeks and months to come, remember this list of hoaxes, and think about what you’re reading!
1. Fake Victims: People have been sharing pictures of family members who were victims who later turned out to be neither family members nor victims. These “victims” include a former child Vine star, a famous soccer player, a suspect in a Mexican murder case, and an adult film star.
2. Fake Shooters: Immediately after the shooting, when little was known about Paddock, many people circulated images of random people claiming they were the shooter. The most prominent “suspect” was Sam Hyde, an online comedian with alt-right interests who has been previously jokingly reported as the shooter in several previous incidents of gun violence.
3. The Geary Danley Conspiracy: Alt-right 4-channers attempted to paint Geary Danley, the ex-husband of Paddock’s girlfriend Marilou Danley, as the shooter in light of his leftist Facebook interests. The Gateway Pundit even called him part of an “anti-Trump army.”
4. The Wayne Root Tweets: Wayne Root, Twitter personality and self-described “angry white man,” reported in the way of the shooting that it had been a “coordinated Muslim terror attack.” Even after it was revealed that Paddock was likely working on his own, Root held his line.
5. Antifa Melbourne: In another politically-motivated conspiracy theory, several alt-right communities are pushing the theory that Paddock was an anti-fascist. In perhaps the most ridiculous one, a “Melbourne Antifa page” went viral after claiming that Paddock was a “comrade” of theirs.
6. The Marilou Danley Angle: Paddock’s girlfriend wasn’t even in the country at the time of the shooting, but that hasn’t stopped people from claiming that she “told audiences they were going to die,” or somehow aided the shooting. Currently, the Las Vegas police are not pursuing her as an accomplice
7. The Question of Terrorism: According to Nevada law, terrorism is “any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population.” Although Paddock’s act was clearly terrorism under that definition, even reputable media sources repeated the idea that it was “uncertain” whether or not it was an act of terror.
8. Steven Haffley’s Rally: Haffley, a moderately-famous Youtuber, claimed that Stephen Paddock attended an anti-Trump rally in August. There is no proof of this, and no proof that Paddock had any political interests, right or left.