When X (formerly Twitter) owner Elon Musk changed his platform’s verification system, he ushered in a new reality where fringe conspiracy theorists could easily promote false claims about breaking news. That happened again shortly after the deadly mass shootings in Lewiston, Maine, as Media Matters found numerous heavily followed verified accounts claiming that the tragedy was actually a “false flag” attack that was staged or orchestrated by the government.
Our review includes accounts that have been restored under Musk. Collectively, those previously banned accounts have more than 1 million followers.
As the Guardian defined it, the concept of a false flag event “is the idea that powerful forces routinely arrange massacres or terrorist atrocities, and make it appear as if some other individual or group did them, in order to achieve their sinister political goals.” Conspiracy theorists have routinely claimed that mass shootings and other atrocities, including 9/11, were false flags.
Observers have noted that X has failed when it comes to handling breaking news, especially during tragedies. It has also increasingly become a platform for numerous false claims and conspiracy theories.
Following the deadly October 25 mass shootings in Maine, numerous verified X accounts with tens of thousands of followers claimed that they were a “false flag” or planned by the government.
Rumble host and anti-Muslim bigot Laura Loomer, who seems to have the direct attention of former President Donald Trump, raised doubts about the shooting on her formerly banned X account, which has more than 630,000 followers:
Other verified users were even more explicit. For instance:
- Ron Watkins, a QAnon conspiracy theorist and former Republican congressional candidate with over 412,000 followers on his formerly banned account, wrote: “Why is there a shooting every time they want to distract us? Do you know what a false flag is?”
- Shadow of Ezra, which has over 134,000 followers, wrote: “FBI just staged another shooting. All major shooters end up having connections to the FBI.” The account also referenced a tweet by Vice President Kamala Harris about Congress passing an assault weapons ban and wrote: “One day before the false flag shooting in Maine, Kamala Harris' X account Tweeted this out. Must be just a coincidence right?”
- Jordan Sather is an antisemitic QAnon conspiracy theorist whose previously banned account has more than 131,000 followers. He portrayed the shootings as a “false flag” and wrote: “Every time the Deep State pulls a false flag mass shooting and tries to ban guns… I just want to get another AR-15.”
- UltraMJTruth, an account that has over 97,000 followers and claims to be a “Researcher” and “Truth Seeker,” wrote: “Do you see how this works? What is the common theme when bad news is about to break (against them?) The FBI withheld over 40 Confidential Sources re: Joe & Hunter Bidens criminal activities, & the FBI swept it under the rug as ‘foreign disinfo’. Now we have a Mass Shooter in Main… Playbook known.”
- Account “Austerrewyatt1,” which has over 71,000 followers, pushed the conspiracy theory that the shooter was under government mind control, writing: “Today the FBI received 'criminal information' from over 40 confidential sources on The Biden Crime family. Today we get a new and approved Republican Speaker. Today a mass shooting happens who was ‘known to law enforcement,’ previously committed to a mental institution and was hearing voices. Sounds like an asset from the MK Ultra program but that's just me.”
- John Sabal (also known as “QAnon John”) is a QAnon influencer who has been paid by X under its content creator program. His account has more than 60,000 followers. He wrote: “I’m just going to call it now, that this was more than likely an MK Ultra type of operation, conducted by CIA/Gladio to get more ‘support’ for the cause. … So, does that mean Robert Card is just a patsy, and fall guy??? That’s how they typically conduct these black ops. THESE PEOPLE ARE SICK.”
- Michael Jaco is a Rumble host and QAnon influencer whose X account has more than 34,000 followers. He wrote that the “Maine mass shooting has markings of a false flag, gun grab and targeting of gun owners” (which is also the title of his Rumble video) and said it was a “False Flag Event.”
- The General, which has over 22,000 followers, wrote: “BREAKING: False flag shooting leaves at least 16 people dead in multiple shootings in Lewiston, Maine, Fifty to 60 people are injured in the incidents.”
- John Salisbury, an account that has over 20,000 followers, wrote: “The Maine false flag is the Cabal lashing out about the House Speakership and losing control of the Capitol Architect (key) and the Capitol Police.”
X’s unreliability has also created an environment that is toxic for advertisers and brands.
*This article has been updated with additional examples and information.