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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

First the news of a massacre, then the fake news

"Infowars" host Alex Jones in Texas in April 2017. Photo Credit: AP / Tamir Kalifa

One way to explain the American insanity in which a man would be moved to shoot and kill dozens and injure hundreds of concertgoers is the way Alex Jones of Infowars does. It was a “false flag” operation, he says.

Just hours after the bullets stopped raining down from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas, Jones used his live online broadcast to suggest it was a strange coincidence that O.J. Simpson had been released from a Nevada prison this weekend. That meant the “mainstream media” were in Las Vegas before Sunday’s shooting. He also noted that the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution is this month, and that he had been expecting civil war with communists. “Everybody’s gotta start packing,” he said, meaning guns, not leaving.

Among his explanations, he asserted with no confirmable evidence that the shooter’s hotel room had “Antifa and Islamic stuff everywhere,” and cited an “FBI hostage rescue team” as his source. Sorry, he did offer concrete evidence: He held up his cellphone and said, “I don’t make sources up.”

You be the judge.

From 9/11 to the shootings at an elementary school in Connecticut, Jones has a history of claiming false flag operations in which “real” culprits obscure their identity for nefarious purposes. He also says we didn’t land on the moon.

He’s been emitting garbage like this for decades — on his radio show, websites and in a live stream online, where he alternates between newscaster imitations and advertisements for his Infowars merchandise. That includes hats, T-shirts, brain supplements and organic mouthwash.

But people listen. His YouTube channel has 2 million subscribers, more than Taylor Swift. In 2011, Rolling Stone reported that his talk show aired on 63 radio stations nationwide. He held a rally outside the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland that featured Roger Stone, former adviser to President Donald Trump. On the day of the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, then-candidate Trump appeared on Jones’ show and offered a flippant seal of approval: “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”

And we wonder why we just can’t seem to solve the shooting problem in this country. Is it the culture of violence? The breakdown of institutions? Might it have something to do with the Second Amendment? Are we too divided to live in homogenous peace like other nations? How can we even come close to a plan for action or an answer when we can’t even agree on the facts?

In a disturbing glimpse of the ease with which false information can be created and shared rapidly — remember the 2016 presidential election — Google fell prey to some fake news about Las Vegas Monday morning. One of its top search results for certain queries was an obscure post falsely identifying the shooter as a leftist and Democratic supporter. (Facebook, too, had its own issues, hosting fraudsters’ groups and posts on the subject.) Google quickly blamed the algorithms, but that didn’t stop the human-edited sites, pundits and culture warriors from taking it and running. Jones, for one, was still citing such “reports” Monday afternoon.

There was something distant about the Jones show on Monday, if you were flipping between that and regular news coverage. It felt sealed off from the real world of injuries and chaos, of repeated gunshots and first responders and concertgoers running back to drag out survivors, again and again.

While those moments of courage and tragedy were elsewhere being recounted, Jones repeatedly returned to that clip of him predicting another Bolshevik Revolution: just more conspiracy theories he could sell you, along with his containers of brain pills. With a scoff and a bark on the comforting proximity of your screen, he’d be happy to distract you from the real world looking once again too much like a horror movie or video game.

Listen to him, and all you have to do is be angry at the leftist opposition, or merely worried about the future. Forget about making it any better.

Mark Chiusano is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.

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