As could be expected, it didn't take long for right-wing conspiracy theorists to claim that the recent attack of the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh was a staged hoax.
Since we've devoted a lot of time to conspiracy theories over the years, we listened to these claims with casual interest, with no intention of weighing in on the matter. However, since we are based out of Pennsylvania, and are better informed than most outsiders about state politics, we thought it might be a good idea to debunk some of these spurious allegations before they pick up steam.
The most absurd allegations come from the alt-right conspiracy site State of the Nation, whose contributors were already crying "false flag!" within hours of the fatal shooting that claimed the lives of 11 Jewish worshipers. For those who are unfamiliar with this repository of right-wing hogwash, State of the Nation describes itself thusly:
We have no political affiliation. SOTN holds both sides of the U.S. counterfeit coin, also known as the American two-party system, under a high standard of accountability and scrutiny... SOTN has no other interest except uncovering and presenting the facts... While SOTN publishes fewer articles and op-eds than most, we strive to feature content that is of the highest journalistic quality.
Of course, a cursory glance at this site's recent posts quickly disputes the self-aggrandizing claim that State of the Nation does not take political sides; of the site's most recent 30 posts, 25 are blatantly right-leaning, 5 are neutral, and exactly 0 can be described as left-leaning. If you were to glance at the headlines, you'd see all the usual alt-right targets: Don Lemon is racist toward whites, Robert Mueller is a rapist, and the Democratic Party "has no moral compass and its members lack religious guidance". And those are just the headlines.
So, right off the bat, we can call this site's credibility into question because the content blatantly flies in the face of its self-described mission to hold all sides to a "high standard of accountability". Next, let's examine SOTN's claim of "highest journalistic quality", as it pertains to the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre.
In the Oct. 27 article, FALSE FLAG MASS SHOOTING: Pittsburgh Synagogue Targeted by Deep State-Directed Terrorist Attack, the author (who, like most serious journalists, preferred not to attach his/her name to the piece), asserts that the primary goal of this "rogue CIA psyop" was to drum up support for Pennsylvanian anti-gun candidates ahead of the November elections. The author incorrectly states:
This is the first major shooting in PA and an obvious set-up to compel that state legislature to pass draconian gun laws—immediately. There are a LOT of gun owners throughout the state as hunting is very popular and they pose an obvious threat to the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia elites.
First of all, the author is obviously forgetting about the 2006 West Nickel Mines school shooting in Lancaster County, which left 6 dead and 5 wounded. The Pittsburgh area alone has been the site of several mass shootings in recent years; George Sodoni killed 4 and wounded 9 in the 2009 Collier Township shooting, while six were killed in the Pittsburgh suburb of Wilkinsburg in the 2016 mass shooting there. Talk about journalistic integrity!
As for the claim that the synagogue shooting was designed to compel PA lawmakers to pass draconian gun laws, this is a laughable farce. While Gov. Tom Wolf is indeed a leftist wackadoodle, our state legislature is overwhelmingly Republican and strongly pro-gun. The PA House of Representatives is comprised of 121 Republicans and just 78 Democrats, while the state Senate is comprised of 33 Republicans and just 16 Democrats. And here in PA, many Democrat lawmakers are avid hunters. So, in other words, it's just not gonna happen.
As for the rest of the article, it is essentially nothing more than an alt-right screed with many words typed in all caps (a true hallmark of serious journalists everywhere) and absolutely zero factual evidence suggesting a false flag operation has taken place. The article does, however, come with the following "disclaimer":
We at SOTN really do not know if this tragic event even took place. If it did, we send our most sincere condolences to the families and friends of the dead and injured. May God bless everyone involved during this time of grieving. However: Everything points to a synagogue massacre that DID NOT take place at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life.
Really? Everything points to a false flag? Like what exactly? Seriously, give us just one thing. Maybe we'll find that elusive yet conclusive evidence of a hoax in the October 29 article, Everything points to a synagogue massacre that DID NOT take place at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life.
This piece begins with a challenge by SOTN for anyone to provide a "single piece of evidence which proves conclusively that a mass shooting took place" before proclaiming that the synagogue massacre appears to have been staged for maximum effect. The author does, however, correctly point out that an active shooter drill had been staged in January of this year at the Squirrel Hill Jewish Community Center. This was initially reported by WPXI-11 News on Jan. 25, and is indeed an intriguing coincidence.
However, it is probably just that-- a coincidence. In this day and age, active shooter drills are being held in small towns and cities all across America. It would be a serious threat to public safety if we didn't hold these types of drills.
The Oct. 29 SOTN piece also alleges that there were no bodies, injuries, ambulances or stretchers on the scene, nor were there any interviews with rabbis or survivors. These claims can also be easily debunked. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it was 911 dispatcher Michele Kabinski who took the first emergency call from one of the congregants, Barry Werber, who was hiding in a closet while the gunman sprayed bullets inside the synagogue. Within minutes, Allegheny County dispatchers Michael Steinmiller and Bruce Miller were fielding similar calls (all of which have been recorded). In fact, it was Bruce Miller who fielded a call from the Tree of Life rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who was hiding in a choir loft at the time of the shooting. SWAT teams, law enforcement, and ambulances were already on the scene before the dispatcher got off the phone with the rabbi.
As for Rabbi Myers, he gave an interview to TODAY's Savannah Guthrie on the morning of Oct. 29th... hours before SOTN claimed that he didn't. And while survivors have not spoken a great deal about their experience on camera, to the best of my knowledge no one has come forward with a statement that contradicts the official narrative, unlike in the case of the Las Vegas massacre, where several witnesses claimed to have seen a second gunman.
Yet SOTN's Oct. 29 article goes on to make bold cover-up claims, using only links to other SOTN articles as "evidence" to back up those claims, and the anonymous author concludes the article with the summary:
Should anyone acquire a single piece of hard evidence validating the reality of this alleged MCI (mass casualty incident), please forward asap so that SOTN can inform the proper authorities. Up until now, the city officials have only presented a case to the public that clearly does not even exist.
Call us crazy, but there seems to be an awful lot more evidence pointing to a real-life shooting (like 911 calls with gunshots in them) than an FBI-staged hoax, as SOTN contributor Vivian Lee insists in the Oct. 30 article, Another False Flag Shooting Hoax with Many More Questions than Answers.
In this article, Lee attempts to find evidence of a hoax by nitpicking "conflicting" details about just which victims were gunned down in which part of the building. Lee goes on to speculate that the event was nothing more than a drill, as no evidence of triage tarps could be seen near the synagogue. This assertion is based solely upon aerial photos of the scene which no not feature any sort of time stamp, therefore we cannot consider this to be tangible evidence of a hoax.
Lee also cites the January active shooter drill, which raises an interesting question: If this drill was a "dress rehearsal" for the October 27 shooting, why would it be held nine months before the actual event? It seems to us that such a timeline would make it awfully hard for the actors to remember their lines.
The SOTN author also jumps on the usage of the word "actor" to refer to the gunman:
And, in a nice touch, the shooter is called an “actor” by police chief Scott Schubert in an interview; Bowers is again called an “actor” in audio from a police scanner.
This, of course, doesn't mean that Robert Bowers was literally an actor in the theatrical sense. Media and law enforcement routinely use the word "actor" to refer to a participant in an event. Yes, words can have more than one definition.
But one of the most comical details of Vivian Lee's Oct. 30 article is a picture of an ambulance with the caption: Law enforcement officers standing around with an empty stretcher.
Umm, wait a minute. Doesn't this contradict the State of the Nation article published the previous day which claimed that there were no ambulances on the scene?
Lastly, we turn our attention to State of the Nation's most recent article on the Tree of Life shooting, Synagogue Mass Shooting: False Flag Fakery All Over The Place. This post contains only one piece of "evidence", in the form of an hour-long police audio transcript in which law enforcement refers to the gunman as an actor.
Police use this term to refer to a person who is performing an act; therefore, in this case, Robert Bowers is an "actor". This reference can be found in a variety of law enforcement materials. For instance, the textbook Identifying the Culprit: Assessing Eyewitness Identification states:
The identification of suspects by entities other than law enforcement has become increasingly common as more businesses and private citizens use security cameras to identify criminal actors.
Obviously, this is not a reference to the "crisis actors" conspiracy theorists are so fond of. Neither are the following references taken from criminal justice textbooks:
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of analyzing the abandonment/renunciation defense is the requirement that the abandonment/renunciation be voluntary. It is not voluntary if, for example, the actor abandons because the actor encounters circumstances increasing the likelihood of detection or capture by police. (Criminal Law: Model Problems and Outstanding Answers, Oxford University Press)
Even if the witness had adequate opportunity and capacity to observe the criminal actor, he may not have done so unless he was aware that a crime was being committed. (Criminal Investigation: A Method for Reconstructing the Past, Bender & Company)
As a matter of fact, a quick search through Google Books reveals hundreds of texts in which the term "actor" is used to describe the person committing a criminal act, and "stage" as the scene of the crime.
Anyone who still believes that there is a hoax afoot just needs to ponder the following rhetorical questions:
1. If Bowers was a patsy brainwashed by the CIA or FBI, why did law enforcement allow him to live? Dead men tell no tales, so it would have been in their best interest to make sure that he didn't leave the scene alive.
2. Why would the CIA, FBI or U.S military use a man like Bowers, who had no previous military or government experience?
3. Why was the active shooter "dress rehearsal" held nine months before the actual event? And if it was a dress rehearsal, why did Jewish survivors and other people from Squirrel Hill allude to it in interviews after the massacre? Wouldn't they want to keep mum about the whole thing?
4. Why would the federal government stage a hoax for the purpose of drumming up support for anti-gun political candidates in a state where the GOP already has majority control of both the House and the Senate?
The bottom line is that State of the Nation and similar peddlers of alt-right conspiracy smut have been unable to provide any tangible, credible, or irrefutable evidence to back up their outrageous claims. And, to paraphrase the late, great Carl Sagan, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."