National tragedies like Monday's Boston marathon bombing are fertile ground for conspiracy theorists, especially when information has been so scarce in the immediate aftermath. As such, it's probably no surprise that already, evidence and hypotheses are circulating among conspiratorial denizens of the internet, attempting to prove some sort of sinister government motive and/or irregularities regarding the bombing.
Nearly all of these theories are either based on false evidence, or appeal to general paranoia. However, for the sake of clarity, it's worth pointing them out in order to expose these problems, and to avoid unnecessary panic in the aftermath of one of the most brutal recent national tragedies. Below are the top five most ridiculous conspiracy theories put forward about the Boston marathon bombing, in order from least insane to most insane.
5. The man on the roof
Since yesterday's bombing, the following blurry photo has become something of a minor sensation, with massive amounts of Twitter users and even the Drudge Report pointing to it as an object of suspicion:
The reason for the increased suspicion surrounding this photo should be obvious: It purports to show a figure walking on one of the buildings near the explosion, and viewers are wondering whether the figure in question could have anything to do with what happened. Perhaps the photo caught the bomber himself fleeing the scene?
Adding fuel to the fire is this little nugget of information from the Christian Science Monitor:
Police have issued an alert for a rental van that may have tried to gain access to the finish line area and for a man in dark clothing and a hood seen leaving the scene shortly before the blast, reported NBC. Surveillance video shows a hooded figure carrying two backpacks at about that time.
Now, one can't know for sure if the figure shown in the above picture has anything to do with the bombing. For all anyone knows at this point, it could well be. Then again, so could almost anyone in the crowd depicted nearer to the explosion. In fact, it's not even clear what sort of building the figure is standing on. Consider: It could be a spectator returning to his/her apartment for safety, or a workman trying to get out of the open air, or even a police officer sent to observe from above. In other words, there's no reason to fixate on this figure.
As for the report from the Christian Science Monitor, while no one has expressly claimed the "hooded" figure form the CSM and the man on the roof are the same, the timeline simply doesn't match up should anyone try.
The Monitor report says that the man in the clothing and hood was leaving the scene before the blast, whereas the figure in the photo on the roof is clearly leaving just as the blast happens. So did the same person teleport to the top of a building right when the blast happened? The two stories don't match, and if people want to fixate on the figure leaving the scene at the top of the building, they should ignore the Monitor's report because it's evidence against their hypothesis, which itself has no evidence.
The desire to look for patterns and/or suspicious behavior is admirable, but fixating on a single photo doesn't appear to offer any clarity.
#4. Bomb sniffing dogs
Penascola, Florida's Local 15 TV Station caught this report:
University of Mobile’s Cross Country Coach, who was near the finish line of the Boston Marathon when a series of explosions went off, said he thought it was odd there were bomb sniffing dogs at the start and finish lines.
"They kept making announcements to the participants do not worry, it's just a training exercise," Coach Ali Stevenson told Local 15.[...]
"Evidently, I don't believe they were just having a training exercise," Stevenson said. "I think they must have had some sort of threat or suspicion called in."
Given that law enforcement said they had no leads, and no credible threats were issued, this would seem to be at odds with the official story. However, it is quite possible that the dogs were there simply as a training exercise, or that heightened security had been put in place for an unrelated reason (as it often is at major sporting events). Furthermore, even if a tip was received, it is always possible that the official story denies the existence of such information in order to avoid further panic, and to preserve public trust in the Boston police at a time when it is needed. Finally, the argument made by those pointing to this set of arguments is that it shows the Boston marathon bombing must have been some sort of act of terror. That's exactly what the Obama administration is treating it as, so it's difficult to see why they'd cover up evidence for that.
Additionally, anyone who has spent time on the East Coast and in major cities in general knows that bomb sniffing dogs at large events are quite normal.
#3. "False Flag"/Government-sponsored terror
It took almost no time at all for the usual suspects to claim that the Boston Bombing, far from being an act of terror, was in fact a "false flag" operation sponsored by the CIA. For those unfamiliar with the term, a "false flag" operation is:
The term originates with naval warfare. For centuries, ships have sailed under a flag identifying their nationality. During times of war, ships would sometimes change the national flag they flew in order to fool other vessels that they sought to attack or escape from. They would fly, in other words, a "false flag." The term then expanded to mean any scenario under which a military attack was undertaken by a person or organization pretending to be something else.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick was himself reportedly asked this very question (whether the bombing was such an operation), and flatly told the questioner "No" several times:
The Atlantic Monthly also published a lengthy explanation of why such an operation almost certainly had nothing to do with this, given that evidence for false flag operations being used by the government is shady in the first place.
Unfortunately, another conspiracy theorist has combined this idea with #4 above to suggest that the government was responsible - namely, former Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney. McKinney wrote on Twitter:
The pattern is becoming too, too familiar.So, Boston cops were having a "bomb squad drill" on the same day as... fb.me/1JHrFKCc9
— Cynthia McKinney (@cynthiamckinney) April 15, 2013
As readers can see, this combines this conspiracy theory with the above regarding the "bomb sniffing dogs." There is, naturally, no evidence for either claim, but that has never stopped McKinney and her ilk. Moreover, given the argumentative strategies of conspiracy theorists, the entire idea is likely completely unfalsifiable. Fortunately, that doesn't mean anyone has to treat it with credence, given that there likely will never be any evidence of any kind that will convince its most hard core partisans of its falsehood, and there is no evidence of any kind that substantiates it.
#2. "Donations for victims" and the fake 8-year-old victim
This one is more of a hoax than a conspiracy theory, but as the two are almost always based on similarly bad information, it counts. Shortly after the bombing, numerous fake Boston Marathon-focused Twitter accounts cropped up asking for retweets and/or money as a means to commemorate the victims. Without exception, none of them had anything to do with the Boston marathon.
Perhaps the sickest of the lot, though, was an invented story created by the fake Twitter account @HopeForBoston, which took the actual news that an 8-year-old child was killed in the blast (later identified as Martin Richard) and began tweeting a photo of the alleged "victim" that wasn't even snapped at the marathon itself.
R.I.P. to the 8 year-old boy who died in Boston's explosions, while running for the Sandy Hook kids. #prayforbostonhttp://t.co/Xmv2E81Lsb—
HOPE FOR BOSTON (@HopeForBoston) April 16, 2013
No, this is not a photo of the Boston Marathon. It was taken at a 5K held last May to raise money for families of sick children. A team of Newtown parents did run the marathon today, but all were reported safe, having finished the race before the blasts occurred. And the child killed was reported to have been a boy, not a girl. And no, it wasn’t this boy.
Nothing more to say about this one.
#1. There was no Boston marathon bombing - it's a hoax
There is no way to do the level of poor reasoning involved in this one justice. It has to be seen to be believed. Consider the following Youtube videos:
Where to begin? Whether it's the first video's assertion that the blood looks fake, or the second video's implicit argument that because of a blip on the screen, there must have been no blood, these videos simply cannot be argued against because they defy rationality. For now, suffice to say that irregularities in footage do not disprove whether an event happened, and unless one has seen real pools of blood, it is implausible, insensitive and ridiculous to argue that blood "looks fake."
And just in case you thought it couldn't get more insane...
BONUS: The TV show "Family Guy" knew about the bombing ahead of time...or something.
It is a real episode. But the idea that people would argue such a thing is evidence we can only hope is fake.
UPDATE: Apparently the Family Guy clip above is real, but edited deceptively. Family Guy's creator, Seth MacFarlane, has denounced the edit publicly:
Seth MacFarlane is furious that scenes from his popular FOX animated series, “Family Guy” were edited in such a way as to suggest the show had a plot line where its main character detonates two bombs at the Boston Marathon.
“The edited Family Guy clip currently circulating is abhorrent,” MacFarlane Tweeted, before turning his attention to those affected in Boston. “The event was a crime and a tragedy, and my thoughts are with the victims.”
In other words, the bonus theory is so stupid it doesn't even get the show it's trying to use as fodder right.