The horrific shooting at Orlando's Pulse Nightclub on June 12 provoked outcries of anguish, as well as hard questions about gun control and terrorism. It also created a rash of conspiracy theories. Accusations that the Orlando attack was a false flag, employed crisis actors, or that the shooter didn't act alone exploded on message boards and YouTube—even as the attack was still going on.
Everyone from usual suspects like Alex Jones and prominent conspiracy sites to random bloggers and Redditors had an opinion about things that "didn't add up" about the Orlando shooting. The killer's gun, the number of guns, the timeline, the motivation, and even whether the victims were real in the first place were all fair game for conspiracy theories—almost all of which are based on nothing substantial.Here are some of the most prominent conspiracy theories related to the Orlando shooting.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is no stranger to conspiracy theories, having advocated for dozens over the last year. So in the wake of the Orlando shooting, it wasn't a surprise to see him tie his already-extant Birther beliefs (i.e., the president wasn't born in the US) to his incendiary comments about banning Muslims from entering the country.
In his usual call-in with Fox News morning show Fox and Friends, Trump pontificated about President Obama's involvement with the shooting, which entails...something.
"He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands. It's one or the other," Trump opined. "We're led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind. And the something else in mind, you know, people can't believe it. People cannot—they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the ways he acts and can't even mention the words radical Islamic terrorism. There's something going on. It's inconceivable."What the "something" is that might be "going on" was left unsaid. But the implication was clear—the President is either ignoring the problem, or complicit in it. Or both.
By now, the cry of "false flag" is a familiar refrain for any act of terrorism, be it domestic or international. The Orlando shooting was no exception, with Infowars head Alex Jones almost immediately releasing a video claiming that the Obama administration allowed the attack to take place as a means to "pass laws and hate laws banning your speech" and to confiscate firearms.
"Our government and the governments of Europe allowed these huge hordes of radical jihadis in," Jones bellowed, "and have even allowed them in without vetting them on record, landing at airports across the country and not even checking their passports, IDs or visas."It should be noted that the shooter in the Orlando incident was not a "radical jihadi from Europe" but an American citizen born in New York.
The Orlando killer's use of an AR-15-type rifle has provoked a huge amount of backlash on conspiracy boards. Many have pointed out that this is the same type of weapon used in other mass shootings—a clear attempt by the government to get them banned. Beyond that, it's been pointed out that witnesses heard automatic gunfire—but the AR-15 available to civilians isn't an automatic weapon, but a semi-automatic. This proves that the shooter was given a military weapon and was on the payroll of the government.Except it doesn't, for two reasons: the first is that modifying an AR-15 to fire fully automatic can be done easily. You can even order a book about it on Amazon. The second is that eyewitnesses hearing automatic weapon fire doesn't necessarily mean automatic weapons were fired, it only means that's what witnesses thought they heard. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable, and most untrained civilians have no idea what the difference is between the sound of automatic weapon fire and the sound of a semi-automatic weapon simply fired quickly.
The frenzied and conflicting nature of early reporting during a crisis often leads to false leads, often about a second shooter or accomplice—a report that usually turns out to be mistaken. But even the incorrect hint of a second shooter sends conspiracy theorists into a frenzy.
So it goes with the Orlando shooting, where prolific conspiracy blogger Dahboo777 claims to have caught audio of a witness being dropped from an interview after alluding to “someone holding the doors" of the club shut, inferring that shooter Omar Mateen had help keeping people inside.
The problem with a random, un-researched bit of commentary is that has no context behind it. There does appear to have been a person blocking an exit door to the club—but it wasn't an accomplice, only a club-goer who appears to have panicked and kept the door shut to keep the killer from getting out, and to funnel survivors through one corridor.
Luis Burbano was interviewed by Fox News, where he talked about the initial moment when shots were fired, and he admitted he kept a door leading out of the main part of the club blocked. He said he believed the shooter was getting closer, and that he saw people piling up going in every direction trying to get out. Burbano is near tears recounting the experience, and admits he might have made the situation worse.As for the interviewee who was "cut off", that person was called back right away—a fact Dahboo777 leaves out of his video.