Conspiracy Theorists and the Parkland Suicides

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I want to start with a big ol’ content warning, even though I’ll make it obvious in the title: I’m going to be talking about suicide, and it may be pretty rough. If you’re depressed or suicidal, please reach out to friends, family, or medical professionals for help.

Last year, a gunman murdered 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In the past month, two of the survivors died of suicide. At around the same time, the father of a child murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012, Jeremy Richman, also took his own life at the age of 49.

A brief aside: I recently saw someone object to the usage of the phrase “committing suicide,” as “committing” highlights the view of suicide as an intentional criminal act, like committing a theft or a murder. It’s not — it’s much more often something that happens to you as a result of life circumstances and brain chemistry. It may seem small but I thought they made a good point, and we as a society need to change our narrative around mental health and suicide, so I’m going to try to stop myself from using that phrase both in this video and in the future.

All three of these recent victims share an obvious connection to having been seriously impacted by a school shooting. One of the Parkland victims had been diagnosed with PTSD and survivor’s guilt, the uncontrollable feeling that you did something wrong in order to live through a dangerous situation, especially when others did not live.

We can never fully know why these people ended up taking their lives, but it is a pretty safe guess to say that going through these mass shootings exacerbated their mental health problems. I’d like to take a moment to point to one other source of stress that the mainstream media may be missing: the conspiracy theorists who stalked and harassed these victims up until their final days.

Over the years, I’ve occasionally talked about Mike Adams from Natural News — he’s “the health ranger” who preaches against vaccines and water fluoridation, and he’s occasionally taken dips into actual terrorism, creating a website called Monsanto Collaborators (thankfully no longer live) where he listed the names of scientists who he didn’t like, linking to it after telling his audience things like “it is the moral right?—?and even the obligation?—?of human beings everywhere to actively plan and carry out the killing of those engaged in heinous crimes against humanity.”

He didn’t stop with terrorizing scientists and science writers. After Parkland, he created the website, where he collects any negative thing he can find targeting the survivors of the massacre (and particularly the more outspoken kids like David Hogg, for which the site is named, and Emma Gonzalez).

That’s just one prominent guy with an audience of millions who has targeted these survivors. As I’ve talked about in the past, there’s an entire industry devoted to harassing them, telling them they’re lying about the massacre even happening (because obviously it was all a theatrical show put on by the government as a cover for taking away your guns).

Jeremy Richman, the Sandy Hook father, was one of the people who actually sued Alex Jones last year for constantly claiming that the shooting was a hoax and that the parents were crisis actors who deserved to be hunted down and harassed. Some of the families are in hiding, six years after their children were murdered, because they’re getting death threats from people on the internet who are stirred up by the likes of Jones and Adams.

Again, neither I nor anyone else can ever know why these victims are taking their own lives. But imagine having gone through something so traumatic as being a teenager and watching your best friend get shot to death in school, or being a young parent and needing to identify the body of your six-year-old child who was shot to death in school. Just imagine how horrific that situation must have been. How do you move on? How do you deal?

And then you start getting death threats. People approach you on the street and shout at you, claiming you’re a liar and a government plant. You’re scared and alone and now you know just how awful humans can be to other humans.

Oh, and no one does anything to stop any of it. No one in the government makes a move to tighten gun control, so you see what happened to you happen again and again and again in other schools, and other public places you used to think were safe. And Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit all still offer a safe space to communities of people sharing your information and photoshopping pictures of you and your dead friends.

It’s so fucked. So remember that when you hear these stories of survivors turning into victims of suicide. It’s not just about mental health, or gun control. It’s also about the merchants of misinformation who may be literally harassing these people to death.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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One Comment

  1. Maybe I can shed a little light on the subject. Driving people to die by suicide is the ‘whole point’ of bullying. That is the only endpoint at which bullies spontaneously stop on their own; when their victims die by suicide.

    As a child, I was very badly bullied by my 3 older brothers. They were 3, 4 and 5 years older then me. They would bully me one at a time, and together. I tried to get my parents to stop them, they talked to professionals, and the ‘conventional wisdom’ at the time was to tell victims to ‘ignore them’ and eventually they would stop. Being able to ignore things became my ‘superpower’.

    Then, one day, when I was 9 or 10, it just got to be too much, and I asked my mother’s permission to kill myself, and was completely serious about it. If she had said ‘yes’, I would have done it. She said, that no, I couldn’t do that, that it was ‘illegal’. I don’t remember what happened later, but the bullying did get better, so I guess my parents intervened.

    Harming people by bulling them, is the whole, and entire point of bullying. That is an ‘effective’ way to gain status in a zero-sum top-down social power hierarchy (such as Patriarchy). In a zero-sum social power hierarchy, you can make yourself ‘stronger’ by making other people ‘weaker’.

    I am a lot better now, but that family of origin trauma is why I have PTSD (and some other issues). 25 years of senior clinician psychotherapy and psychopharm have helped a lot, as have my nitric oxide bacteria.

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