In March 2015 a seven-state exercise was made public that would send US Special Operations forces out into states like Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico. Jade Helm 15 would eventually put Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets through a series of urban combat and anti-terror exercises. The prospect of armed troops operating on US soil shook loose a few wild theories that ranged from gun-grabbing and martial law to a scheme that would eventually return some border states to Mexico, but it wasn’t confined to websites like InfoWars.com and OathKeepers.com; the allegations went mainstream when they subdued former Texas governor Greg Abbott and ensnared Missing in Action star Chuck Norris.
Jade Helm was not the first bit of fantastic storytelling to make it into public consciousness. Similar stories have been told about big events like Roswell, the Kennedy assassination and September 11 terror attacks. What set this Texas tale apart is how far and fast it spread — discovery did not require a journey into some dusty and long-forgotten corner of the local library. That is as old as the Warren Commission report and any speculation it unleashed about a “grassy knoll” shooter. The internet has taken old-time conspiracy phobia and replaced it with dozens of similarly dubious features. The latest to roil Washington DC goes by a fairly pedestrian name: “Pizzagate.” It started with news a child sex-trafficking ring with ties to Hillary Clinton and former campaign chief John Podesta was operating out of a Connecticut Avenue eatery.
This one should have fit in with tabloid reports that presidents have been meeting with aliens since the Eisenhower years, something worthy of a chuckle, a grin, and possibly a Facebook post. It has not. Several area businesses unaware of the phony scandal had been dealing with threatening phone calls and harassment, then an unemployed North Carolina man intent on conducting his own investigation calmly walked in to Comet Ping Pong with a rifle. After finding no evidence of a hidden room and reportedly firing two shots while inside Edgar Welch surrendered to police, but the story does not end here.
After a surprising defeat and low-key concession speech Hillary Clinton went on an abbreviated fault-finding tour where she blamed her loss on FBI Director James Comey before moving on to Russian hackers and fake news. The former First Lady spoke during a public tribute to the Senate’s ranking Democrat where she described the amazing tales that have “flooded social media over the past year” as an epidemic and called for legislation to confront so-called “foreign propaganda.” If only it were so simple. A pair of unemployed restaurant workers discovered by the Los Angeles Times, curators of LibertyWritersNews.com, are an example of fake news writers motivated by money more than ideology. Paris Wade and Ben Goldman gained 300,000 Facebook followers in October alone by providing what their audience wants: “violence and chaos and aggressive wording is what people are attracted to,” Wade says. They get $13 or $14 for every 1,000 views from advertisements for things like a Viagra alternative.
An ad service ban like the one initiated by Google and Facebook should thin the herd, but it won’t put an end to tabloid-style reporting from the digital Fourth Estate. Beyond the financial incentive lies a political one: the untold numbers of people willing, even eager, to believe stories like the one of a murder connected to the FBI investigation of Secretary Clinton’s personal email. The fake news phenomenon does not require a blunt instrument like a new law; the average consumer is as harmless as dedicated readers of the National Enquirer, even those who believe Vince Foster was murdered. Edgar Welch is another example of people like the one that threatened to kill a college professor over some dopey comments she made about Donald Trump and Mike Pence. They’re a bigger problem than crazy allegations, like the one that Hillary Clinton participated in weapons sales to ISIS.
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