I'm not quite sure when it started. There have been conspiratorialists going back probably since the beginning of time. They took prominence in U.S. culture perhaps with the Kennedy Assassination. But whenever there's some uncomfortable truth it becomes easier for some people to hide behind a convoluted theory, where the more twisted it is, the more it can't be disproved since there's no simple path out, it merely turns and feeds back on itself. And so, even with the most obvious and clear evidence to contradict it, you're still faced with, "Ah, but that's what they want you to believe. All that has been faked."
There certainly have been actual conspiracies. But the more twisted, the more likely they fall apart under the sheer weight of being unable to hold such an mess together. The more twisted, the more the Occam's Razor holds. That's the theorem that says, "When there are many explanations, the simplest is usually the one that is true."
That's why, for most of history, conspiratorialsts of the most twisted contortions have always at least been put off in the happy corner reserved for "nut jobs" and dismissed as loons. I think it may have been when Barack Obama was elected president, however, and Birthers (unable to deal with the concept of a Black man being President of the United States) leaped out that it was when conspiracy theorists became almost accepted as part of the main stream, because it fit a mainstream narrative for frightened or racist conservatives. That along with Climate Deniers -- who have been able to take something that 99% of all published science agrees on and turn it into a supposed legitimate debate that accepts the remaining 1% as a "the other side" -- because that too serves a conservative agenda (starting with acknowledging Al Gore's credibility) have given conspiratorialists a protected safe haven to say whatever they want without at the very least a sense of shame.
Which brings us to the race for Pueblo County Commissioner in Colorado.
This is a story which came to my attention thanks to inveterate reader here, Chris Dunn. It turns out, you see, that the current commissioner Sal Pace was having a debate last week with Republican Tom Ready. And it was there that Commissioner Pace brought up a posting that was on his opponent Mr. Ready's Facebook page, linking to an article that claimed the Newtown/Sandy Hook mass shooting with 26 deaths was a hoax, perpetrated by the federal government to advance a gun control agenda.
Okay, I'll hold on a moment for you to get your bearings. Yes, you read that right. And this was from a candidate for public office, asking for the voters' trust, support and votes.
And when confronted with his support of this hoax theory, did candidate Ready let good common sense kick in and get him to back off, trying instead to suggest that it was all taken out of context or some other mumbo jumbo? No, no, of course not, this is the era of today's Republican Party, after all, where you don't immediately apologize for thoughtless, but you double-down.
So, instead, Tom Ready replied. "There's still question about whether it really happened, Sal."
Let me repeat that for the faint of heart. Tom Read, the Republican candidate, said of the Sandy Hook massacre of little children -- "There's still question about whether it really happened, Sal." Happily, the audience at the debate had more decency and intelligence and memory than the candidate speaking, and the room filled with audible gasps.
This was in Colorado, after all. One wonders if Tom Ready feels the same about Columbine.
Mr. Ready then kept going on, digging his hole deeper, justifying his inexplicable, pathetic stance -- taking the first page from the Crazed Conspiratorialist Playbook. (That page is "wondering" about something that doesn't make sense to oneself and suggesting that that mere fact of your personal befuddlement is proof.) Never mind if you have your facts utterly wrong, or if there is an actual, and even simple explanation. "Why why the father smiling?", Mr. Ready asked. "And why was he then in tears?", he asked. "I have questions."
Hey, I have questions, too. Why did the father show up at the school at that very moment?? Why was he so early? Or why was he so late? Or why was he remarkably exactly, perfectly and oh-so-conveniently on time,? We don't know. I have questions. I have tons of questions.
I don't know why the father was smiling. Maybe someone had just made a sardonic quip which he overheard, and it cut through his heart. Maybe a smile is what his body forced upon him as an in-shock self-defense so that he wouldn't collapse into blubbering heap of agony. Maybe he was remembering a happy moment with his child. Maybe...maybe -- maybe he wasn't smiling at all !!! Maybe that was a grimace of torment.
And why did he then enter a room at the school and suddenly was in tears?? Seriously, Mr. Ready was wondering that?!!! Why was he in tears???! Ah, the joys of having a conspiracy theory that protects you and your needy world view against pretty much anything.
"There's a lot of stuff that floats around Facebook, Whether it's true or not," Tom Ready went on, in front of the horrified audience, trying to justify his posting on Facebook. "It's called an open discussion. Nothing wrong with an open discussion. I push a lot of things out there. Most of it's for open discussions."
The moderator then turned to Sal Pace for a comment. "I have no response," he replied.
I understand his lack of a reply, to some degree. After all, when your opponent is sinking from his own self-created stupidity, let him hang out there alone. But sometimes, human decency would understandably allow for you to simply add, "I have no response because I am too horrified and offended to comment, and prefer to let my opponent's moral depravity stand on its own and linger in the air, for everyone to hear and remember."
But while I do understand not commenting, I also think a response in some cases -- and this is one of them, the massacre of children -- would have been appropriate, even when your opponent has started to sink on his own doing.
"Whether it is true or not???," the response could have begun. "You are asking these people to trust you, to vote for you, to trust your judgment as an elected official representing them, and you are offering that you don't care what you put out to the public is true OR NOT. The public deserves more, deserves far, far better. They deserve our wisdom and best judgment. Is this your best judgment, is this what you consider good sense? What you put forth isn't "open discussion." It is fear mongering and hatred. Life is short -- we learned that at Sandy Hook -- there are only 24 hours in a day. None of us have time to waste on what you call "open discussions" but is really just endless, hollow, divisive hate speech that serves only to confuse and harm others. When we should be healing after a tragedy. After a series of so many tragedies. That's what is wrong with what you call "an open discussion." It takes the focus off what it is real, what is human, and rips apart our decency to try to change what is important and necessary, most especially at a time of need. You have confused an open discussion with a closed heart. And an empty mind."
Well...as it turns out -- it will shock you to learn -- Mr. Ready now says that his comments were (say it all together now...) "misunderstood."
According to the Denver Post, Tom Ready said "he tried, but didn't do a good job, during the debate to make a point that the country doesn't know everything about the school shooting, just like it doesn't know everything yet about the Kennedy assassination."
(I would like to note that when I began writing this piece and its reference to conspiratorialists, like those of the Kennedy assassination, it was before Mr. Ready issued his faux analogy.)
"We haven't got all the questions answered," he went on in his attempt to extricate himself from the deep sink pit he dug, adding with a shameful and sad whine, "Where's freedom of speech? I didn't know we were a communist community."
Where's freedom of speech?, he asks, with his constitutional right of freedom of speech, the traditional and obligatory question of the desperate and clueless.
And where's the person who will say to Tom Ready -- "You are running for public office, yet you don't even begin to understand the concept of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech means and says specially that the government (that "Congress") cannot make a law that abridges your right to speak. It doesn't mean that people have no right to tell you that you said something really stupid and should keep you lame, sick thoughts to yourself. A newspaper can pick and choose what it prints, their reporters can't just write whatever they want without editing. Business can fire employees for saying things that impinge on the company. Even the government can impose limitations on the freedom of speech under certain conditions. So, people in an audience hissing you and people in the street telling you off and suggesting you put a filter on your yap for being insensitive, thoughtless, stupid and divisive are absolutely, completely within their rights as Americans. And as humans. You don't have to understand Freedom of Speech to speak about it. But it helps. As Lincoln said, 'Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.' You say you didn't know we were a communist community? Given that you also said you knowingly post things on your Facebook page whether they're true or not, the concept of what you know is borderline meaningless."
(The paper noted that Mr. Ready also apologized that his comments he hurt those impacted by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Just to clarify, at its foundation this isn't about hurting anyone. It's about that Mr. Ready wants to be an elected official representing other and like many others with a political agenda ignored reality and was so stupid and thoughtless to believe in an idiotic conspiracy theory. Something, we have to assume, he still believes in, so it's unclear what he's actually apologizing about.
Mr. Ready was not misunderstood. He expressed himself with perfect clarity in saying that he didn't believe all the questions about the tragic Sandy Hook deaths of 20 children and 6 adults had been answered. And his words were spot-on understood when he said -- quote -- "There's still question about whether it really happened, "
What's also clear is that Tom Ready isn't willing to have the conviction to stand behind his words and what he believes, no matter how lunatic.
And this is what we get when conspiracy theorists believe they are in the mainstream, and that when they say things are really, really stupid, offensive and hurtful, that people aren't supposed to be allowed to say that that was really, really stupid, offensive and hurtful. Whether it's Birthers, or Climate Deniers, or Glenn Beck with a chalkboard, or Benghazi, everyone has a right to their conspiracy theories. But when they burst into the mainstream, we end up creating a vacuum-sucking vortex that pulls society from doing its best to make sense and move forward.
We can't tell the Tom Ready's of the world they're half-baked? Where's freedom of speech? I didn't know we were a communist community...
Tom Ready was perfectly clear. And we have the video to prove it.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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