WorldNetDaily's Diminishing Conspiracy Returns
WND's attempts to build conspiracy theories around the deaths of Antonin Scalia and Oregon standoff perpetrator LaVoy Finicum are fizzling in the face of actual facts.
By Terry Krepel
College professor Joseph Uscinski, co-author of a book about conspiracy theories in America, wrote in the Washington Post about why some have embraced conspiracy theories about the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: "First, some people are, by their nature, inclined toward conspiratorial logic. Second, partisans tend to view their side as virtuous and the opposition as ignorant, wrong-headed, corrupt and perhaps evil. Increasingly partisan times, like these, stir the pot even more."
Has Uscinski been reading WorldNetDaily? Because he has forwarded a perfect description of the WND's target audience.
WND has pushed any number of conspiracy theories throughout its nearly two-decade existence -- the chief one being its yearslong promotion of discredited claims regarding Barack Obama's birth -- and it's always on the lookout for new ones. So when Scalia's death met WND's conspiracy requirements, it was quick to pounce.
The day after Scalia's death was reported, WND was quick to push a suggestion by far-right anti-immigration activist William Gheen that President Obama might have had Scalia killed:
“Anytime a head of state, member of Congress, or the most conservative member of the U.S. Supreme Court is found dead, an extensive autopsy and toxicology examination should be both immediate and mandatory,” said Gheen. “The horrid reaction and comments about his death expressed by many liberals online illustrate that Scalia was hated by many people.”
Sorry, Mr. Gheen, if you are suggesting that Scalia was murdered and that the president may have been involved, you are indeed contending there is a conspiracy.
WND then noted a minor detail in an interview with the owner of the Texas ranch resort where Scalia died, in which he said that Scalia's body had "a pillow over his head" -- and elevated it as the focus of its own article.
On Feb. 15, WND published a rant from right-wing talker (and friend of WND) Michael Savage demanding "a Warren Commission-like federal investigation" to look into Scalia's death because he may have been "murdered." He too suggested Obama had a hand in Obama's death because Scalia was pronounced dead "by telephone from a U.S. Marshal appointed by Obama himself."
Interestingly, all three of these WND articles lack bylines -- apparently, even WND writers don't want to be associated with pushing wild conspiracy theories.
Bob Unruh, meanwhile, apparently has no such shame. His Feb. 15 article begins by stating that "A local official’s quick determination that a staunch opponent on the U.S. Supreme Court of the progressive social agenda died of 'natural causes' and there would be no autopsy even though a pillow was found over his head has prompted a multitude of conspiracy theories along with a political firestorm." Unruh then uncritically rounds up said conspiracy theories, including an "unscientific online poll" at a right-wing website where "nearly 80 percent of the more than 45,000 respondents said they suspected foul play in Scalia’s death."
Obviously, Unruh found the poll to be credible enough to highlight in his article.
Surprisingly, however, WND's efforts to keep the Scalia conspiracy alive started running out of gas fairly quickly.
In a Feb. 16 WND article, Cheryl Chumley highlighted how the conspiracy has been "stoked" by the revelation of John Poindexter, who owns the Texas guest ranch where Scalia died, being -- gasp! -- pictured with President Obama and had "received an award from Obama for his Vietnam military service." Chumley then quoted a fringe blogger of unknown credibility adding, "Coincidence? That will be for you the readers to decide."
Somehow, Chumley overlooked the fact that, as the Washington Post reported, Scalia's stay at the ranch was free, seemingly in appreciation of the Supreme Court declining last year to take up an age discrimination lawsuit involving a company Poindexter owns. But then, the idea that Scalia has an unseemly relationship with someone who had business before his court isn't as juicy a conspiracy as the one Chumley is trying to push.
WND followed that with an unbylined Feb. 17 article complaining that Scalia conspiracy theorists like itself -- er, "skeptics" -- are being mocked as conspiracy theorists. The article made sure to present the conspiracy as credible, highlighting how "Justice Scalia was found dead by millionaire Democratic Party donor and Obama ally John Poindexter near America’s unsecured, dangerous, porous, and cartel-controlled Southern Border" and lamenting that "If foul play or accidental poisoning was involved with the death of Scalia, much of that evidence has already been destroyed or corrupted when his body was washed and embalmed at a funeral home less than 24 hours after his body was discovered."
WND didn't mention the Poindexter case before the court, nor did it note that even Scalia's son rejects the conspiracy theorists: "Our family just has no doubt that he was taken from us by natural causes. ... We accept that. We’re praying for him. We ask others to accept that and pray for him."
UPDATE: WND still can't stop nudging the Scalia conspiracy theory along. Chumley wrote in a Feb. 24 article that a doctor who treats members of Congress pointed out that Scalia died from "his many medical conditions" and that "there was nothing suspicious to see and those who thought otherwise were not fully informed." But WND dog-whistles the conspiracy with the headline "Scalia death: Nothing to see here, doctor says" (which remains in the URL but has since been changed on the article itself), and Chumley herself highlighted "the failure of authorities to perform an autopsy that could confirm or deny much of the information put forth by law enforcement and medical officials," as pointed out by Donald Trump, and quoted a "close friend" of Scalia who was "stunned and shocked" at his death.
Chumley followed that up with an article credulously quoting comedian Dick Gregory effectively repeating the conspiracy theories that WND has tried to promote, with the money quote -- "You know they murdered him, right?" -- appearaing in the headline. Chumley added that "Gregory’s quips underscore the questions that still remain over Scalia’s February 13 death, despite the findings from authorities that nothing unusual or suspicious occurred, as WND reported."
WND's Oregon standoff conspiracy fizzles
This isn't even the first conspiracy theory promotion to fizzle out on WND this year.
Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall wrote that it was smart for the FBI to release video of the arrest of several people involved in the Oregon standoff, which resulted in the death of standoff spokesman LaVoy Finicum -- in which it's pretty clear that Finicum ran a roadblock, tries to make a run for it, and appears to reach for the gun on his waist before he's shot -- because it short-circuited attempts to construct conspiracy theories about what happened.
Indeed. WND, which was trying to go there before the video was released, largely abandoned the story.
On Jan. 28, WND's Chumley gave a platform once again to Michael Savage to rant that Finicum's shooting was a "murder" and that if the feds don't investigate it, the United Nations should. Savage went on to rant that “We’re going to fight this dirty, evil government" as Chumley noted that "The details of Finicum’s death are fuzzy."
Call it a conspiracy theory or not. But a curious investigative reporter, Jon Rappoport, posted an interesting angle to the Oregon standoff between protesting ranchers and feds that left one of the former dead, with this headline: “The Clintons: Is the Oregon standoff really about uranium?”
WND effectively gave up one conspiracy theory to try another. And it turns out that one's a bust too: Quartz explains that the issue at hand -- that Hillary Clinton was part of a committee that signed off on a purchased of a Canada-based uranium mining firm, an investor in which donated heavily to the Clinton Foundation, by Russia's atomic energy agency -- isn't really a controversy because that committee, which signs off on foreign investments in the U.S., had eight other members who also had to sign off on it. As FactCheck.org added, there's no evidence Clinton took any action of any kind regarding the sale, and the Washington Post noted that the Clinton Foundation donor had sold his interest in the company before its sale to the Russians.
WND, however, hasn't done much of anything on either of those conspiracies since, though WND columnist and lying preacher Bradlee Dean later screeched that the Clintons were "promising the Hammond ranch and other 'publicly owned lands' to Russians with one-fifth of our uranium ore." Except, you know, they didn't.
And it appears that WND's Scalia conspiracies will similarly fall by the wayside. As Uscinski notes: "There have been millions of conspiracy theories. Very few convince many people; most come and go with little notice. The Scalia theories will probably make headlines for a few weeks, then disappear from our discourse."
And WND will blunder its way into pushing yet another credibility-destroying conspiracy theory.