Conservatives are already leaning on conspiracy theories to explain the Illinois parade shooting

Police don’t know why a gunman killed six and injured dozens more at a July 4 parade — but the tinfoil hat brigade has some ideas.

HIGHLAND PARK, IL - JULY 04: First responders take away victims from the scene of a mass shooting at...
Jim Vondruska/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Monday, a shooter armed with a high-powered rifle fired into a crowd of people attending the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The shooter killed six people and wounded at least 38 others, according to authorities, and was at large for several hours before police finally took a suspect into custody.

The tragedy was not the only shooting to take place during the holiday weekend, but it was perhaps the most disturbing. The person of interest in the case, a 22-year-old, has an extensive history of engaging with and posting troubling extremist content.

According to NBC News, he posted music videos under the performer name “Awake” that included imagery of a school shooting and an animation of a person wearing a shirt with his YouTube channel logo on it holding a long gun and being shot by police. The suspect also posted disturbing images in a Discord channel that he operated, as well as on several online message boards, including videos of murders, suicides, and deaths. Other information has suggested the suspect is a supporter of Donald Trump and shows that he appeared to have attended a Trump rally.

The attack took place in a town with a significant Jewish population. Given the shooter’s engagement with conspiratorial content online, some have speculated the attack was motivated by antisemitic beliefs. A troubling report Tuesday morning from Jewish news source Anash suggests that the shooter may have tried to enter a synagogue in Highland Park during Passover this year but was turned away.

Yet despite all the prevailing evidence that the shooting was carried out by an extremist influenced by online conspiracy theories and antisemitism, conservatives have worked overtime to blame the attack on pretty much anything besides guns, Trump, or the hateful rhetoric he abetted for years. Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the resident conspiracy theorist in Congress, almost immediately started tweeting about anti-depressants, asking about the role of “Big Pharma” in mass shootings and pushing a theory that mass shooters are often “under the influence of psychiatric drugs.” Greene also posted an obviously Photoshopped image of the alleged shooter in a jail cell and demanded to know what drugs he was on before barely conceding to the reality that the photo was edited.

Greene’s line of questioning about psychiatric drugs ran parallel to another conservative conspiracy that claimed the alleged shooter was somehow involved in MK Ultra, a top-secret CIA project carried out during the 1950s and ‘60s that included experiments involving using LSD and other drugs for mind control. The evidence for this theory was an Instagram post, supposedly from the alleged shooter, in which he claimed to be a “product of MK Ultra” and “a liberal.” The post was made shortly after the suspect was in police custody and so almost certainly was not posted by the suspect himself, but that didn’t stop conspiracy theorists from running with it.

The Republican nominee for governor of Illinois, meanwhile, barely bothered to engage with the shooting at all. “Let’s pray for justice to prevail, and then let’s move on and let’s celebrate the independence of this nation,” said Darren Bailey, who is running to unseat incumbent Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) this fall. After receiving swift backlash for telling people to “move on” just hours after six people were killed for no reason at a neighborhood holiday event for families, Bailey clarified his “intent was to pray for the victims.” He added in a tweet, “We need to demand law and order and prosecute criminals. We need more police on our streets,” conspicuously not mentioning guns and also not acknowledging that the shooting happened at an event where police were present and members of the Navy were literally marching in the parade.

Authorities haven’t pinpointed a motive for the shooting yet. Lake County Sheriff Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli said in a press conference Tuesday morning that at present the shooting “appears to be completely random,” adding, “We have no information to suggest at this point it was racially motivated, motivated by religion, or any other protected status.” But there are real, systemic conditions that enabled the tragedy, and there are real, systemic ways of addressing them. Unfortunately, people like Greene and others on the right are uninterested in dealing with the conditions of this reality, and are busy inventing a new one instead.