Before we knew the names of the victims, the motive behind the attack, or even how many shooters there were, some conspiracy theorists thought they figured out what had happened at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday morning.
Alex Jones, the antigovernment broadcaster who reaches millions every day through his syndicated radio show and Infowars Web empire, speculated the shooting may be a "false flag" operation intended to distract Americans from Syria, as well as the anniversary of the Benghazi attack and the simmering Internal Revenue Service scandal.
"You've got all the other scandals, so this is a great way to change the subject," Jones said on his radio show Monday morning, which is broadcast on more than 80 stations across the country. "It's a way to divert everyone."
For Jones, the shooting may be the latest in a long line of "false flag" operations, in which the government allegedly stages phony terror attacks to gin up popular support for disarming Americans or taking away their civil liberties. He confidently labeled the Boston Marathon bombing a hoax within hours of the explosion, but was more circumspect Monday.
"It may be real crazies, but look at the timing. Obama rolling out a national campaign against guns yesterday, and then this happens," he said.
For conspiracy theorists, the "why" for such tragedies is always the same. "We've all got to give up our rights because it's so scary. It's all about mind control," Jones explained.
And he's not alone. On conspiracy message boards and forums, users who see themselves as citizen journalists have cut together YouTube videos that they claim show possible "actors" at the scene. One video shows a near-victim laughing with a local TV reporter when the two didn't realize they were on air. "One would think at a moment such as this, a reporter and a 'near victim' wouldn't be laughing, especially when they didn't realize they'd be caught on camera," the conspiracy website Before It's News explained.
On the subReddit dedicated to conspiracy theories, one user wrote, "Thought the Navy Yard shooting was just a shooting until I saw this CNN tweet: "CNN: THE ATF HAS SENT SAME SPECIAL RESPONSE TEAM THAT HELPED TAKE DOWN BOSTON BOMBING SUSPECT IN BOAT." Others murmured in agreement.
After Sandy Hook, Boston, Aruroa, and 9/11, it's hardly surprising that conspiracy theories emerge around such tragic incidents, but the speed is always startling.