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18/12/2012 / Jo Alabaster

Exploiting Tragedy to Push Conspiracy Theories

My sadness over the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday is still incredibly raw and I don’t have a great deal to say on the topic beyond expressing my despair at the loss of life and innocence, my sorrow for those affected and my hope that President Obama will push for some long overdue reform to firearm legislation in the USA.

What galls me though, and what I would like to discuss here, is that some people see tragedies such as the events at Sandy Hook Elementary as opportunities to push their pet conspiracy theories.

Before the dust had settled at the World Trade Center, before the bodies were retrieved, while the brave folk who risked their lives searched through the rubble, conspiracy nuts were penning missives claiming 9-11 to be an inside job.

I do understand that in trying to make sense of what has occurred people can find comfort in believing that the horrors of the world are by design rather than awful circumstance. However, I find myself with little tolerance for those pushing their conspiracy theories in the wake of real grief and while others are searching for evidence-based approaches to prevent similar circumstances arising again.

One conspiracy theory I’ve witnessed getting an airing over the past few days is the belief that medications prescribed for psychiatric conditions are the cause of psychiatric illness. Certainly, no medication is without potential side effects and any person taking medication should be aware of its possible impact on their mental state, but the anti-psych-meds conspiracy theorists claim that psychiatric medication is of no benefit to individuals experiencing mental illness and is causing great harm to peoples’ mental states. In short, they want people with mental illness to cease the treatment that gives them an opportunity to improve their functionality and lessen their suffering.

As with anti-vaccination groups, the anti-psych-med believers feel that their information and views are superior to the evidence-based findings of the scientific community and the expertise of medical professionals.

Unsurprisingly, there is a crossover between anti-vaccinationists and the anti-psych-med movement. Even less surprisingly, given the subject I find myself returning to again and again on this blog (I do have other things to talk about, I promise), the Australian Vaccination Network appear to be anti-psych-med as well as anti-vaccination, as is evidenced by the CCHR* DVDs that they stock in their online shop (and their general disdain for pharmaceutical companies, mainstream medicine and evidence based health advice).

Two days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, presumably pseudonymous “Nancy Novax”, a long time friend of the AVN, posted a link on the AVN’s Facebook page purporting to provide evidence that “SSRIs” (nb: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, a family of antidepressant medications which can also be effective in treating generalised anxiety disorder) “and other psychotropic medications are the true causes of the mass murders and massacres that have been occurring in the US”.

An AVN admin (presumably Meryl Dorey herself, as the post was not initialled for identification), decided it appropriate to share this with the AVN’s followers, with the caption “Is anyone is deluded by thinking the mass shootings in the US r because of the availability of guns? Index 2 SSRI Stories”

blog20121218_03

(Link to original post)

To their credit, several of the AVN’s supporters have responded with disgust.. and some of those responses have been allowed to remain on the AVN’s Facebook page. I won’t republish them here and discuss them, but if the thread is deleted by the AVN, I will upload screenshots and link to them here.

The AVN admin also shared this anti-psychiatry diatribe with gross speculation about the shooter in the comments of the post above.

Then there’s this repugnant rant by Mike Adams “The Health Ranger” over on naturalnews.com, titled “Gun control? We need medication control! Newton elementary school shooter Adam Lanza likely on meds; labeled as having ‘personality disorder’

Here’s Sherri Tenpenny hijacking this tragedy to go on an anti-vaccination conspiracy rant:

A comment worth reposting…thanks Arlene:
“We hear how a gun kills children — which is horrible and I will not take anything away from that — but we don’t hear about how our government is killing our children…Yea, now we’re all going to hear how we must have gun control… But doctors who vaccinate kill [and maim] more than all the guns put together.”

And here, the National Vaccine Information Center shares an article from “activist-musicians” The Refusers blatantly attempting to claim that the shootings were the result of “vaccine injury”:

blog20121218_04

I’m willing to bet that there are dozens more examples of similar statements and agendas. I’ve seen quite a few more over the past couple of days. I’m not going to go looking for them though…frankly, I’m tired.

I’m tired of charlatans attempting to push people away from considering medical treatment that is in their best interest.

I’m tired of wondering why some people seem to be so very prone to believing that their theories are correct, despite the fact that the rationale to keep them afloat in the face of contradictory evidence increases in absurdity to the extent that they truly believe that mainstream medicine, the scientific community and governments are all colluding to suppress the truth that they and a small handful of their associates are privy to.

And right now, I’m incredibly tired of people trying to piggyback their nutbag lies on to the senseless deaths of innocent people.

* The CCHR are the ambiguously named Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a Scientology front group who campaign against psychiatry and psychiatric medicine. As loathe as I am to give them any traffic, I think that their site speaks for itself.

Further Reading (and Viewing)

Penn & Teller beautifully sum up my disdain for conspiracy theories in this episode of Bullshit, which I wholeheartedly recommend. Unless you’re not comfortable with some very strong language from a good humored and angry man (and emphatic gestures from another)… then steer clear.

What’s The Harm? Conspiracy Theories – In fact, I recommend the entire site. It can be terribly sad, but if you ever find yourself shrugging and thinking that woo is not worth challenging, What’s The Harm? provides strong reinforcement that it’s worth maintaining opposition.

Scientology, anti-psychiatry quackery and Mike Adams: It all becomes clear now – post by Orac over on Respectful Insolence, examining Mike Adams’ similar anti-psych-med rant in reaction to the mass shooting in Tuscon, Arizona last year.

Tenpenny blames vaccines for Newtown shooting – SkewedDistribution on Sherri Tenpenny’s further diatribe on the shootings.

I have contributed some money to assist the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre with funeral costs, via the group We Are Atheism. Here is their collection page.

[Edit] 12:00pm 19/12/2012: Added the NVIC screenshot and put a link to SkewedDistribution’s post in to Further Reading.

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5 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. reasonablehank / Dec 18 2012 10:05 PM

    The original AVN post was definitely penned by Meryl Dorey. She shared the same, many times, under her own name, on other Facebook fora.

    • Jo Alabaster / Dec 18 2012 10:08 PM

      Thanks for the confirmation, reasonablehank.

  2. applesmackintosh / Dec 19 2012 4:14 PM

    If you’re so obsessed with a particular line of belief that you can’t even respond like a normal human being to events like the Sandy Hook school massacre, or question the legitimacy of your immediate assumptions, then you need to a long hard look at yourself.

    The fact that it’s sort of expected makes it no less shocking or upsetting to see, and it was pleasing to see (on a “people don’t all suck” level) some dissent from within the AVN’s ranks.

    • Jo Alabaster / Dec 19 2012 4:39 PM

      Absolutely spot on. This is a fantastic comment, thank you.

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  1. Tenpenny blames vaccines for Newtown shooting « SkewedDistribution

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