Conspiracy Theories

'Now let's just pray it's done': A how-to guide for reporting on Sutherland Springs conspiracy nuts

'Now let's just pray it's done': A how-to guide for reporting on Sutherland Springs conspiracy nuts

Nutty.

And infuriating.

That would be my succinct reaction to news this week that two conspiracy theorists were arrested for harassing victims of the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church massacre.

But since we focus on journalism and media coverage here at GetReligion, let's concentrate on that.

Once again, I am impressed by the coverage of the San Antonio Express News' Silvia Foster-Frau, who repeatedly has produced exceptional journalism from Sutherland Springs. A few months ago, I praised her hopeful, sensitive and nuanced reporting on the massacre's victims. Just last month, I called attention to her exclusive piece on the guilt and grief that overwhelm the mother-in-law of the gunman. 

And after the conspiracy theorists' arrests this week, her story was the must-read account of what happened:

Robert Ussery, 54, and Jodi Mann, 56, were charged with trespassing and resisting arrest after the church’s pastor accused them of repeatedly harassing the community.

The Express-News report noted:

Ussery “continually yelled and screamed and hollered and told me he was gonna hang me from a tree, and pee on me while I’m hanging,” said Frank Pomeroy, the pastor.
Pomeroy said he was in his car by the church when the pair approached the building, and he intervened when Mann began to write in large, loopy writing on a poster left for well-wishers to sign, “The truth shall set you free.”
The pair believe the church shooting was staged by accomplices of the government, though Pomeroy, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed there, knows better.
“He said, ‘Your daughter never even existed. Show me her birth certificate. Show me anything to say she was here,’” Pomeroy said. “I just told him there was enough evidence already visible, so if he chooses not to see that, how would I know he would believe anything else?”

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Putting God on trial, 2017: What if Stephen Paddock really just snapped in Las Vegas?

Putting God on trial, 2017: What if Stephen Paddock really just snapped in Las Vegas?

All over America, and perhaps the world, people are trying to make sense out of the actions of the mysterious millionaire (we think) gunman Stephen Paddock.

That isn't news. But in a way, the only big news that we have is that there hasn't been any big news since this vision of hell unfolded on the Vegas Strip.

The waiting continues. The one thing mainstream journalists (and their sources) seem to agree on is that the massacre in Las Vegas just doesn't make sense, it doesn't fit into any of our familiar intellectual file folders that we use when tragedy strikes.

Islamic State terrorism? There are debates, but no evidence that has been made public.

Some other form of religious or political fanaticism? Lots of talk, but no evidence.

Massive gambling debts? Ditto. Some kind of mental breakdown, maybe a brain tumor? Maybe science will give us an answer? Maybe chemistry? Paddock was taking Valium, along with legions of other people. So there.

The bottom line: What happens to our minds and hearts if this act turns out to be random and senseless, now that the gunman is dead and cannot explain his actions? What mental file folder do we use then to help us move on, other than the one that says, "Where was God?"

During this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), I defended my statement -- made at the end of my very first Las Vegas massacre post -- that there was a religious element to this event, no matter what. In fact, a massacre with no answer to the "Why?" puzzle is especially troubling, in terms of "theodicy" questions. I said, at that time:

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Ssssshhh! Conservative Catholics may exist at Georgetown

When the news broke about the election of the first Jesuit pope, several on-air commentators offered variations on the following line: “You know, I bet they are popping the corks on champagne bottles right now out at Georgetown University.”

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Ghosts in Brennan's Constitution oath?

Various media reported that new CIA chief John O. Brennan swore his oath of office last week on a Constitution that didn’t contain the Bill of Rights. And, given his strenuous support of the U.S. drone program — which has killed thousands of people, including a few Americans — stories focused on the lack of the fifth amendment’s guarantee of due process. But I wonder if there wasn’t a religion angle there. I’m honestly not sure. Here’s how The Guardian wrote up the news:

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