Braden Matejka was at the Route 91 festival in Las Vegas when Stephen Paddock began firing rounds from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel. Before turning his gun on himself, Paddock killed 58 people and injured hundreds more — one of them being Matejka who was shot in the head.
Just as soon as the smoke cleared in Vegas, conspiracies surrounding the shooting began to pop up online. Using videos shared to social media by concert goers, conspiracists claimed to find “evidence” of more than one shooter along with other spurious claims that alleged Paddock didn’t act alone.
The theories are, true to form of conspiracists in general, mind-numbingly obtuse and childishly stupid. When I say “childish,” I’m not using a metaphor; much of the speculation shows an infantile inability to process information. But the phenomenon that causes people to shamelessly disseminate a faux reality in the wake of national tragedies has a darker side: the victims almost always become an part of the conspiracy. Now, victims are receiving death threat from people who accuse them of lying about what they saw and experienced.
“You are a lying piece of sh*t and I hope someone truly shoots you in the head,” one person wrote to Matejka according to The Guardian. “Your soul is disgusting and dark! You will pay for the consequences!” wrote another.
Matejka, who is 30-years-old and from Canada, has been the target of a torrent of online abuse since the shooting. Even his family and friends have been targeted. He has since deleted his social media accounts in an effort stop the onslaught.
“There are all these families dealing with likely the most horrific thing they’ll ever experience, and they are also met with hate and anger and are being attacked online about being a part of some conspiracy,” Braden’s brother Taylor Matejka told The Guardian. “It’s madness. I can’t imagine the thought process of these people. Do they know that we are actual people?”
Conspiracy theorists – some of whom claim that the government staged the shooting on 1 October or that the tragedy was a hoax – have targeted survivors and victims’ loved ones, spamming every social media platform with misinformation and abuse. On Facebook and YouTube in particular, users have published viral posts and videos calling people like Braden “crisis actors”, alleging they were hired to pose as victims.
The harassment of shooting victims is nothing new. In the wake of the horrific Sandy Hook massacre where Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven-years old, conspiracists immediately began targeting family members of the deceased, accusing them of being “crisis-actors” in a “false-flag” event. Now after Vegas, the phenomenon is repeating itself.
When Braden’s family posted a GoFundMe link to Facebook to help his medical costs, the messages of love and support were soon overwhelmed with people attacking him.
“Obviously a TERRIBLE CRISIS ACTOR,” wrote someone named Samantha. “HE’S SCAMMING THE PUBLIC … This was a government set up.”
“YOUR A LIAR AND THEFT PIECE OF CRAP (sic),” wrote another person named Karen.
From The Guardian:
By some measures, YouTube seems to be making the problem worse. This week, a search for “Braden Matejka” on the Google-owned video platform suggested a video titled “How To Spot Crisis Actors & Fakest News Ever” as one of the top results. That’s despite the fact that YouTube said it was immediately changing its algorithm to better promote legitimate sources after Las Vegas victims criticized the site for spreading conspiracies.
When Braden finally deleted his Facebook and Instagram, many just saw as another piece of the puzzle in the conspiracy. When his brother tried to engage those attacking his family, he soon found out that it was a lost cause.
“I’d be happy to talk to these people, but it seems there’s no reasoning,” Taylor said. “A really sad part of this is that a lot of these people think they’re fighting the good fight and exposing truth.”
Featured image via YouTube