Radio host Rush Limbaugh promoted a false flag conspiracy theory about the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque shootings that left 49 people while speaking on The Rush Limbaugh Show on Friday.
“There’s an ongoing theory that the shooter himself may in fact be a leftist who writes the manifesto and then goes out and performs the deed purposely to smear his political enemies, knowing he’s going to get shot in the process,” opined Limbaugh, without providing any evidence for his remarks or even a source for these claims. “You know you just can’t — you can’t immediately discount this. The left is this insane, they are this crazy. And then if that’s exactly what the guy is trying to do then he’s hit a home run, because right there on Fox News: ‘Shooter is an admitted white nationalist who hates immigrants.'”
President Donald Trump praised Limbaugh for having “one of the biggest audiences in the history of the world,” last month while speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House.
Limbaugh is among the prominent right-wing voices who frequently promote conspiracy theories in the wake of mass shootings.
InfoWars host Alex Jones is perhaps the most well-known of these conspiracy theorists. Five lawsuits have been filed against Jones for questioning whether the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 was faked.
More recently, right-wing conspiracy theorists claimed the Parkland shooting was a fake operation. Lucian Wintrich, who was then working for The Gateway Pundit, claimed that student activist David Hogg was trained by the FBI, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Similar baseless claims that the Parkland shooting was staged and that students involved were “crisis actors” spread widely.
When potential explosive devices were sent to prominent Democratic figures and Trump critics, including the Clintons and Barack Obama, in October, some right-wing media personalities claimed the reports were false flags.
Why Do People Believe In ‘False Flag’ Reports?
Jared Holt, a reporter who covers extremism for Right Wing Watch, told Newsweek that false flag claims served “two intermingled objectives.”
“The first aim is that the narratives will absolve figures on the Right that accelerate bigotry against minority groups from bearing any personal responsibility for the tragedy. The second, and perhaps most strategic, is to attempt to redirect the natural human revulsion to mass murder off of people on the Right and to wield it as another bludgeon against their ideological enemies” he said. “By writing off real violence and consequences for bigotry as a ‘false flag,’ it can provide enough cognitive dissonance for people to continue feeling justified in their bigoted beliefs.”
Can Disinformation Be Stopped?
As news of the mosque attacks broke, reporters covering disinformation and internet radicalization noted they had warned tech companies that the failure to regulate content posted online was leading to extremism.
Appearing on MSNBC, NBC News reporter Ben Collins said that tech companies should take a broader role in regulating posts that lead to online radicalization.
“This stuff isn’t monitored with the same sort of rigor, and its because it’s a political issue. It’s become a political issue for really no reason, but these people are committing terror attacks over and over again, using the same platforms, getting radicalized by the same algorithms,” he said. “Tech companies can do this. They can stop this. But they’ve made this a political issue that it really isn’t.”