How crazy are some people? This crazy

Here’s the thing: I’ve been working on my short book, How I Learned The Facts of Life, and had just gotten to stomach-churning section two in which I spell out some of The Fakes of Life.

I’d picked up a bunch of awful stories about fake news, conspiracy insanity, lies…you know — the stuff going on before and after the 2016 election. So here I was, feeling really sophisticated and thoroughly aware of all the wretched ventures in this category. Immune to shock.

Oh yeah?

I just saw this New York Times news article from a few days ago, “How A James Comey Tweet Fueled a Conspiracy Theory That Upended A California Town,” and have collapsed into the only remark possible. Which is OMG.

The single mitigating factor? Not a fact but my theory: all the crazy people who produce and buy into this nonsense are in the very small minority. Maybe, like five people. Unfortunately, as has always been true of crime and evil, it only takes a very small minority to inflict great distress upon us in the majority.

Here are the first paragraphs:

A town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada recently found itself at the center of a baseless conspiracy theory that predicted an attack on a school fund-raiser.

All because of an innocuous tweet from James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director.

Scott Maddock, the principal of the Grass Valley Charter School in Grass Valley, Calif., was unaware of the conspiracy theory when he arrived at work on a normal-seeming Monday morning late last month. But when he checked his voice mail, he heard from a man identifying himself as “a patriot,” alerting Mr. Maddock to the “threat.”

“He was warning us that something was going to happen at our Blue Marble Jubilee school fund-raiser and that we should contact the authorities,” Mr. Maddock said. “He kept saying that he is not behind it, but he has a credible source.”

Mr. Maddock wasn’t sure what to make of it. The message, left over the weekend, was nearly three minutes long, repetitive and inarticulate. But ignoring it wasn’t an option.

“It puts a pit in your stomach and a weight on your chest that you can’t just shake as something that’s just kind of crazy,” he said.

Out of an abundance of caution, he contacted the local police, who visited the school, recorded the message and began investigating.

It didn’t take long to unearth the roots of the threat, preposterous as they were.

Two days earlier, on April 27, Mr. Comey had shared a tweet listing a handful of jobs he had held in the past alongside the hashtag #FiveJobsIveHad.

Hundreds of others had done the same before and since, but a small fringe group of conspiracy theorists seized on the tweet, claiming that it contained a coded message.

By removing letters, the hashtag could be shortened to “Five Jihad,” they argued. And a search for the abbreviation formed by the first letters of the jobs he listed, G.V.C.S.F., led to the Grass Valley Charter School Foundation, whose fund-raiser was scheduled for this weekend.

Mr. Comey, they concluded, was broadcasting an attack, perhaps as a distraction from other pending news.




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