On 24 October a number of crude but potentially lethal pipe-bombs were sent to prominent Americans known for their opposition to Donald Trump.
On 26 October one Cesar Sayoc, a Trump supporter and petty criminal, was arrested in connection with the bombs. Mr Sayoc’s van was decorated with numerous stickers backing Trump, a “CNN sucks” sign and images of prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, in crosshairs.
Prior to Sayoc’s arrest a bizarre conspiracy theory was circulating among the more fanatical of Trump’s supporters: that in the run-up to the mid-term elections, the Democrats were sending these bombs to themselves.
Pro-Trump commentators like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs promoted the idea that the bombs were a “false flag” operation organised by the Democrats and/or other enemies of Trump such as George Soros.
Trump himself picked up on the theory just before Sayoc’s arrest on Friday morning, tweeting: “Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this ‘Bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows — news not talking politics. Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!”
A moment’s consideration should have shown just how unlikely the “false flag” theory was:
1. Someone who wanted to help the Democrats and damage Trump sends a series of pipe bombs to prominent Democrats around the country.
2. Then Democrats or the anti-Trump media line up all the local police and federal authorities, so that they say the packages are functional bombs (even though, according to this theory, they weren’t).
3. Not a single person in the media or police steps forward to expose the conspiracy.
This is the same mind-set that led some to label the murders of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School a “false flag” operation aimed at promoting restrictions on gun owners.
Or that drove a man to fire an assault rifle at a Washington pizzeria where he believed there to be a pedophile ring run by Hillary Clinton.
This kind of stuff is normally associated with the right — and the far-right, at that. But on 26 October, just before news of Sayoc’s arrest came through, we had Britain’s “only socialist daily” giving credence to the right’s conspiracy theory.
That day’s Morning Star editorial, whilst noting that “Trump failed to mention that all the addresses, from Hillary Clinton and Maxine Waters to George Soros, and taking in the CNN TV channel, have at one time or another been attacked by him”, goes on to state: “The easy-to-reach verdict is that these weapons emanated from Trump supporters. Equally plausible is that this was an elaborate plot by the president’s enemies to undermine Republican Party candidates in the approaching midterm elections.”
To anyone minded to reach for their Occam’s razor, the Star sagely warns: “When it comes to dirty tricks by rich and powerful sinister forces in US politics, anything is possible.”
Sadly, this kind of conspiratorialism is becoming more frequent in the pages of the Morning Star: suggestions that the British “mainstream media” is predominantly anti-Brexit; that Theresa May and the people round her secretly want to sabotage Brexit; that allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party are simply part of an anti-Corbyn campaign; that the White Helmets in Syria are working with terrorists and/or western intelligence agencies to spread false claims of regime atrocities — all these demonstrably untrue conspiracy theories have been promoted in recent months by the Morning Star.
The Morning Star under its present editor Ben Chacko seems to be taking its lead from alt-left conspiracy sites like The Canary and Skwawkbox. The question is, why do our unions (notably Unite) continue to pour tens of thousands of pounds of members’ money into such an unreliable source of news and opinion?
Conspiratorial thinking has always been with us — the grassy knoll, the moon landing, the Freemasons. But it has been turbocharged in the Trump era, as cable news networks and social media networks allow hastily assembled theories to spread to millions in an instant. Often, by the time the evidence-based explanation has taken shape, it has already been drowned out by a megaphonic chorus of cranks and opportunists.
The left should be standing against this, not participating in it.