A Las Vegas tragedy became a propaganda machine

Videos from people attending a country music festival at Route 91, near Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, captured the terrifying rapidity of a fully-automatic rifle as it unleashed a barrage of bullets sometime before 10:30 p.m. CST on October 1st.  (Editor’s note: Police have indicated the weapon was a semi-automatic rifle fitted with a “bump stock” to facilitate automatic firing.) A suspect was reported "down" by police just before two o'clock, and claims of additional gunmen disputed. Two casualties and over two dozen injuries were confirmed in initial reports, but a police briefing at 5:30 a.m. CST from the Clark County sheriff put the number of casualties as high as fifty, and the number of injured over two-hundred—the deadliest mass shooting in American history, surpassing the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. 

There's no question: this was a heinous act of terror on American soil. Whatever inspired the attacker, we must demand the United States congress and local governments take the action sorely needed to reduce the number of mass shootings—an all-too-frequent occurrence in this country. An investigation will be carried out; its findings should tell us how this murderer obtained a weapon illegal for civilians to possess, indicate the motives behind the attack, and provide a good starting point for taking proactive steps to prevent future deaths.

Another heinous occurrence during this time of turmoil has been the rush to exploit the situation for biased, hateful attacks on muslims. 

The assailant was male and a local resident. At least, that's the only information police confirmed during their first briefing around 3:55 a.m. CST. Nothing about the perpetrator's race, religion, employment status, or anything else was provided. Two vehicle plate numbers were given as being registered to the suspect, as well as the name of a person of interest police believe accompanied the perpetrator to the hotel.

But nothing else was shared until much later. Why do we find this important? Because certain social media personalities feel an active crime scene is the perfect platform for baseless speculation and making the job of investigators unjustifiably harder. It's not exactly a new thing.

Who is Laura Loomer?

She's a self-proclaimed "Investigative journalist" whose previous employers are notorious for producing false reporting. Unabashedly pro-Trump, supportive of the white supremacist-enabling "alt-right" movement, and the kind of person you wouldn't be surprised to see screaming at a barista in the middle of a busy Starbucks.

What outlets has she worked for?

She's best known for her work with Project Veritas, the organization run by James O'Keefe. Her escapades include:

  • A failed sting of illegal donations to Hillary Clinton
  • Disrupting a production of Julius Caesar by yelling accusations in a theatre that the play endorsed assassinating Donald Trump, despite several presidents having been depicted through the decades
  • Claiming a university was ok with her proposal for a pro-ISIS student group, before being expelled and having criminal charges were filed against her
  • Attempting to impersonate Huma Abedin for the purpose of casting an illegal vote in the 2016 presidential election
  • Giving a speech at a small rally of racists, claiming muslims and liberals were instituting islamic law in the governments of America

She also worked for Rebel Media—a far-right media outlet from Canada—for a brief stint over the summer of 2017.

So, basically terrible?

Yeah, that's about right. 

Why is she relevant here?

Oh, buddy. 

Roughly an hour after reports of the shooting were surfacing on social media and in news reports, Laura took a break from accusing Seth Rogen of being racist against white people, donned her superbigot mask, and undertook the difficult task of trying to lower the bar even further than the president.

Her first tweet was a standard repeat of information known at the time; shots had been fired in the vicinity of Mandalay Bay, and a bunch of people were in the area. 

Harmless. But five minutes later, she decided to give her audience the meat they all came for:

Yes, it took Laura Loomer only five minutes to go from purveying general, confirmed information, to strongly speculating a muslim was responsible—despite zero evidence supporting the insinuation. And she didn't let up. Nine minutes later, she was tying the attack to two previous attacks ISIS committed at concerts in Europe.

Thirteen minutes after that, she repeated the attempted linking of attacks, and again ten minutes after that—even tagging Ariana Grande into it all.

Seven minutes later, feeling she might be losing people by not being clear enough, she named Islam outright.

And to make sure she's showing how much she loves Real America™, she decided the victims must have been targeted for being white and patriotic…because they like country music

Beyond the inherent racism, and the nonsensical implication of "what you consume under capitalism measures your level of patriotism and loyalty to the USA," there's the subtle attempt to distance white, America-loving patriots from their status as the main perpetrators of mass shootings in the United States. People like Loomer are convinced that the only mass violence in the United States is committed by leftists and muslims, regardless of historical fact proving white males outnumber any other group by an obscene lead. They also seem to forget that Las Vegas is a tourist destination for people around the world, meaning concert attendees likely included people who aren't from the United States.

But the Loomers of the world continue on. From trying to blame Seth Rogen for the atrocity committed just hours prior:

To "calling it"—with "it” being the deadliest mass shooting to ever occur on American soil—as being an act of islamic terrorism:

And, in possibly the worst act of the night:

Yes, that is Laura Loomer putting words into a terrified woman's mouth to claim she's found proof of islamic terrorism. At this point, Loomer has spotted that bar lowered by Donald Trump's attacks on Puerto Ricans, and is convinced she can move right past it. 

She almost did, too. At 1:52 a.m. CST, Loomer sent out a tweet containing a screenshot of her Direct Message conversation with someone claiming "the media" was lying about the number of casualties—which, at the time, police had only confirmed to be around twenty—and she claimed it was a fact the attack was islamic terrorism. 

But minutes later, she deleted the tweet, apparently believing the internet never remembers.

So. Who was the shooter?

By 5:00 a.m. CST, police had told CBS News that the shooter was a white male in his sixties who resided in a retirement community. Twenty minutes later, the shooter's identity was confirmed as Stephen Paddock, who was sixty-four years old. Several other firearms were found in his hotel room, which police accessed via explosives. No criminal record, nothing to put him on the radar of police prior to this tragedy.

Prior to this confirmation by police, several pro-Trump social media accounts had begun spreading pictures of a man with the last name Geary as the murderer. Afterwards, random pictures of various men holding guns were shared on social media, all with claims they depicted a the murderer and was evidence he had converted to Islam prior to the attack. These pictures contained men in their 20s and 30s, meaning agents of disinformation were scrambling to try and reclaim the Loomer narrative of Islam being responsible. 

For Loomer, the shooter's name, age, and skin color being released meant a new tactic was needed: focusing on the asian woman police had designated as a person of interest. She claimed the woman was a suspect, and had previously traveled to Dubai, which means "there's still a connection to islam." 

We won't be sharing this woman's name, nor Loomer's tweets with alleged pictures of her, because police have not declared her to be a suspect and have announced they already located the woman.

What's the difference between a suspect and a person of interest?

A suspect might be involved in a crime; a person of interest is only someone police want to speak to as part of an investigation. The difference is very, very important to get right when relaying information to the public. During the Dallas police shooting, in which a sniper opened fire on a Black Lives Matter march and killed several police, a man who had been named a person of interest due to a video obtained by police suffered a slew of death threats against himself and his family. He was only sought because the video had showed him carrying a gun during the march, but police cleared him; he had handed his gun to police during the march and was legally allowed to carry it. 

Loomer's decision to mark the woman in Las Vegas as a suspect rather than a person of interest has a clear intention to make her appear to be a participant in the attack, which is useful for her anti-muslim narrative due to the woman's darker skin color and Loomer's unconfirmed claim the woman has associations with muslim countries. 

Of course, if traveling to a muslim country makes someone a terrorist, then Loomer has some explaining to do.

More information will come out over the following days as the investigation into Stephen Paddock takes off. For all we know, Paddock could actually be a practicing, 64-year-old, white male muslim from a retirement community in Las Vegas. It's not outside of the realm of possibility, considering religion generally doesn't have genetic or age requirements. It's also possible that he's an anti-Trump leftist who decided to shoot up a country music festival because he hates white people; the man who shot up a republican baseball practice had helped campaign locally for Bernie Sanders, after all. 

But speculation lacking verifiable sources isn't helpful. Spreading agenda-based recounting of other people's information can lead to innocent people becoming the focus of amateur internet sleuths and hate groups, while law enforcement will get flooded with false tips from sometimes-well-meaning people who read false information about a suspect. The most infamous case happened during the Boston Marathon bombing when Reddit users believed they had discovered the perpetrator, and the man they found had turned out to be a missing student who had committed suicide. His family was flooded with death threats in the time between Reddit's publication of their findings, and the FBI's public statement that the man had nothing to do with the attack.

Laura Loomer—and everyone like her—doesn't have any interest in helping to disseminate confirmed, useful information that helps inform her audience about difficult situations. Her one and only goal in these events is to stoke the fires of hate, with the hope that she's correct so her "investigative journalist" profile gets raised for blaming muslims before anyone else. Exploiting tragedy for political bigotry is a lucrative business, after all. 

Everything you've seen her do in response to Mandalay Bay should tell you she's irredeemable. Hopefully, seeing her in action has been an educational experience in how to prevent enabling the future Loomers you encounter.