The term “false flag” refers to the naval warfare tactic of a ship flying a banner other than its battle ensign in hopes of luring enemy ships within striking range. Similar tactics have been used on land, with soldiers dressing in enemy uniforms. In a more generic sense, false flag refers to a government perpetrating an atrocity, then blaming it on another entity, generally an enemy.
They have been happening for a long time. There are conflicting opinions about whether Nero set the fire that burned parts of Rome, then blamed it on Christians. The sinking of the Maine may have been a false flag, though it might have been caused by an internal coal explosion. In either case, when artist Frederic Remington told publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst that there were no hostilities in Cuba to illustrate, Hearst replied, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” The resulting art work was a false flag, albeit a rare one that was perpetrated by a powerful private person rather than the government.
There are other examples. Japan staged a railroad bombing and blamed it on the Chinese to justify its 1931 Manchurian invasion. Later that decade, Nazis dressed in Polish uniforms and set off explosives as a pretext to launch World War II. The CIA’s Operation Gladio was likely responsible for acts of terrorism that the U.S. blamed on Communists. And in the Lavon Affair, Israel staged minor terrorist attacks against Western targets and tried to pin them on Nasser.
So governments and yellow journalists have staged or supported false flag events. While it might be reasonable to think these still occur, there are some people for whom the default position is that any terrorist attack or invasion is a false flag. It is a major flaw in a theory if the conclusion is reached first, then evidence is sought to support it. Especially if contrary information is rejected solely for being contrary.
Let’s take the 9/11 Truther assertion that no plane hit the Pentagon. Believers base this on there being no clear shot of the impact, just a blurred horizontal image, followed by an explosion one frame later. They also insist that the hole is seemingly being too narrow for an airplane to have passed through it.
However, USA Today reporter Mike Walter witnessed the attack and he reported seeing a plane flying very low, then banking lower still and colliding with the building. Initially, he was a darling of the Truther movement because a couple of European journalists had printed only part of his interview with CNN and made it appear as though he said a missile had hit the Pentagon. In fact, he had made it clear he had seen an airplane, but described its movement as being “like a cruise missile.” Walter made an explanatory video about this, showing the full CNN interview and reiterating his eyewitness account. He included that he saw the wings fold back upon impact and that explained why the hole was the size it was.
The Truthers’ answer to this was that he was lying. In what passed for their evidence, they wrote, “His eyes are darting, which indicates deception,” and “You can tell he’s reading from a script.” While eyewitness accounts are unreliable, it would be supremely unlikely that multiple people would misidentify a plane slamming into the world’s largest office building. But to a Truther, the words of Walter and the others contradicted their favored narrative so the witnesses became part of the plot.
Regulars to conspiracy theory websites pride themselves on continually questioning mainstream accounts of such events, yet seldom extend this scrutiny to claims made by fellow theorists. So they will accept unsubstantiated assertions about prevaricating Pentagon witnesses, but never point out that in 16 years, theorists have yet to produce one person who saw a missile.
Nor do Truthers explain what happened to the crew or passengers listed on the manifest or to the airplane. The call from Barbara Olson to her husband is likewise unexplained. In fact, all Truther points I’ve encountered are in the form of negative evidence. Even if Walter and the rest were lying, even if there was no airplane, even if explosives brought down the three towers in New York, even if Flight 77 passengers are holed up in a bunker, where is one piece of evidence that the Bush administration is responsible?
Since 9/11, nearly every terrorist attack or mass casualty is considered by some conspiracy theorists to be fabricated. They continue to call these false flags, though they are misusing the term. The examples cited so far, from Nero to the World Trade Center, all featured persons being slaughtered and buildings or equipment being destroyed. This is a key point because conspiracy theorists today use the traditional definition of false flag to mean something quite different, specifically that no one was harmed. A false false flag, I suppose. They are not claiming that the Boston Marathon bombing or Orlando nightclub shooting were perpetrated by government agents, they are saying they never happened. In these and similar tragedies, they label as liars the witnesses, victims, reporters, emergency workers, and family members of those slain.
Another crucial difference is that the verified false flags were used as a pretext for invasion. By contrast, the string of mass shootings and bombings that theorists have labeled false flags were followed by no action. The government has not blamed these on an entity they then engage, nor have they commenced with a roundup of undesirables or a confiscation of guns.
On the more extreme sites, it goes beyond insisting that plane disappearances, mass shootings, and bombings were staged. Even train derailments, hostile police encounters, and videos of racists railing in checkout lanes are considered scripted. Anyone with contrary information is part of the plot. Anyone arguing with the conclusions is being paid by the government to do so.
Advocates of these theories are almost always vague as to the reasons this is being done and are hostile about the question even being raised. They can offer nothing more than the government is engaging in psychological warfare on its citizens. Usually no reason is given, though Billy DeMoss speculates that it is to weaken our resistance so that a mass extermination can wipe out two-thirds of humanity, with the survivors herded into FEMA camps. Projections like this always take place in what I call an Eternal Tomorrow. It is always so tantalizingly close, the signs are there and obvious to the woken people, yet it never quite arrives.
These websites feature self-congratulation and the deriding of sheeple and skeptics who can’t see the clear truth. When a photo of hospitalized Oregon shooting hero Chris Mintz was released, theorists pounced on the fact that they didn’t think he looked wounded enough. This caused one of them to fume, “Now they’re just throwing it in our faces, making it so obviously fake. They’re laughing at us.” I suppose he got that last part right.
The most extreme of the extreme sites is nodisinfo.com, in which 100 percent of media accounts are labeled staged events. After a nonfatal collision between a bus and a semitrailer, the website claimed the blood streaming down one of the victim’s faces had no cut from which it was emanating, but had rather been applied as makeup. After the Fort Hood shooting, they described soldiers who had been moved to safety as looking too calm. Later, the neighbor lady of the shooter posed with his picture for a photographer and the website said the fact that she was smiling proved the shooting never happened.
These are more examples of negative evidence. Because a skeptic cannot describe the precise thought process and actions of anyone in a given tragic situation, it means the theorist is right, no matter how ludicrous or unsubstantiated the claim.
Even possible future events are labeled false flags. There is an annual Army exercise in Indiana that simulates a nuclear dirty bomb being detonated in Indianapolis and at least one website argues this is a precursor to a false flag that will simulate the same.
Similarly, theorists will dig for any instance of a nearby emergency exercise having been held within six months of a shooting or bombing. They consider any training event proof it was rehearsal for a staged event. But military and law enforcement train for contingencies all the time. Training for a bombing’s aftermath in an urban area, followed by an actual bomb 22 days later is an explicable coincidence that requires no coordination of government henchmen, media lackeys, and crisis actors. Speaking of which, in Conspiracy Theory Land, there are 100,000 crisis actors ready to be called on, none of whom are ever identified or outed by their friends, neighbors, or relatives.
Conspiracy theorists rely heavily on anomaly hunting. This is looking for one piece that doesn’t seem to fit or seems contradictory. They scour photos, eyewitnesses’ faces, and reporters’ words, looking for anything that looks inconsistent, which they have a very loose definition of. Any photo that contradicts their claims will be labeled a PhotoShop forgery. Any inconsistency by spokespersons, witnesses, emergency workers, or reporters, no matter how minor, is considered rock solid proof the entire event never happened. Similarly, they consider consistency proof it was rehearsed.
One of the more well-known captures made by anomaly hunters is the Umbrella Man at Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963. The focus is on him, rather than the totality of the Warren Commission report, the autopsy, ballistic evidence, Oswald’s slaying of J.D. Tippit, and Gerald Posner’s book, Case Closed. The umbrella might be a signal to the shooter, heck maybe he’s even a backup assassin – a poison pellet was once delivered via an umbrella after all. But the goal is not usually to prove any of this, it’s just to invite endless speculation, ponder exciting possibilities, cast doubt on the popular idea, and offer self-praise for one’s investigative acumen.
As Steven Novella put it, “Conspiracy theorists assume agency, deliberateness, and sinister motivations in the quirky details of events. When anomalies are inevitably found, it is assumed that they are evidence for a conspiracy. Conspiracy theorists tend to ask, ‘What are the odds of a man standing with an open umbrella right next to the president when he was shot?’ They should be asking, ‘What are the odds of anything unusual occurring in any way with any aspect of the JFK assassination?’”
In events as massive as 9/11, there are many thousands of moving pieces, so finding an anomaly or two or even 10 will be easy. A BBC reporter announced Tower 7 had fell when it was still seen standing in the background. The theorist will consider this more consequential than the mounds of intelligence pointing to Osama bin Laden’s involvement, phone calls from passengers and flight attendants describing Islamic terrorists with pepper spray and box cutters, audio of an air traffic controller conversing with Mohamed Atta, terrorist names’ on manifests, images of them passing through security, and airline employees accounts of them checking in.
In one supposed anomaly, some Truthers claim the Fight 77 manifest list had an extraordinary number of senior leaders in fields such as military science, aviation, politics, software, and security. Why this collection of relative bigwigs being onboard would matter is never explained. It’s another example of asking questions for the sake of doing so and reflexively challenging what “They” say. Besides, this passenger list is what might be expected on a flight leaving from the hub of the US military and security industries. Truthers offer no comparison flight lists to bolster their contention that Flight 77’s passengers constituted an unusually successful group of flyers. Nor is any tie established between the list and Bush perpetrating the greatest mass slaughter in U.S. history.
Another issue they bring up is to ask how a passport could survive a plane crashing into a tower. Answer: The same way seat cushions did. The same way the mileage card of victim Lisa Frost did. Explosions incinerate some objects and send others hurtling. But Truthers aren’t looking for this answer, or any other. They only intend to sow doubt on what government spokespersons and reporters are telling us.
For proof of this, consider the way hardened conspiracy theorists responded to Edward Snowden. If one was convinced the government was perpetrating misdeeds against its citizens and was being aided by a compliant media, news articles exposing NSA malfeasance would have been a dream. But theorists instead considered Snowden a plant. They are only interested in anything being exposed if they or their fellow theorists are the ones claiming to do so.
One of their favorite mantras is to dismiss mainstream accounts as the “official story.” Except in infrequent instances such as reports by the 9/11 and Warren Commissions, there is no “official story.” It is a manufactured term meant to drive a wedge between our big bad overseers and brave, enterprising truth seekers. And while “official story” is used to describe what government entities are saying, independent journalists, scientists, and amateur detectives often come to the same conclusions. At least according to the Man In Black looking over my shoulder.