News / Politics

No, Alex Jones, the NY Times did NOT say the FBI creates false flags: more sloppy research and confirmation bias from the conspiracy crowd

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Illustration by Clay Rodery/ NY Times

Here’s a perfect example of the twisted logic and confirmation biases of some conspiracy theorists. Alex Jones and Infowars has recently been trotting out a New York Times opinion piece from last year by David K. Shipler titled, “Terrorist Plots, Hatched by the F.B.I.,” as evidence that “EVEN THE NEW YORK TIMES” has admitted that the FBI engages in false flag phony terrorism operations. However, you either have to be willfully ignorant or just plain dim to read that New York Times piece and think it says anything of the sort. It says nothing even remotely close to that.

The opinion piece simply criticizes the FBI’s tactics utilized in their terrorism sting operations. Basically it works like this: The FBI will often find people prone to extremist rhetoric or interests, usually through the person’s online behavior or contacts, and then use undercover informants or agents to setup and goad the individual into thinking he is working with other extremists to commit some violent terrorist act. They make the person think he is involved in a terrorism operation, but the bomb materials turn out to be fake and, obviously, never explode to kill or injure anyone. Then they arrest the individual and consider the operation to be a foiled terrorist attack.

It’s a bit of a weasely way to fight terrorism, and, honestly, comes pretty close to entrapment at times. There are certain cases where there may even be doubt as to whether the person ever would’ve gotten involved in actually acting on his violent rhetoric had the undercover FBI agents never came knocking. The sting operations deserve scrutiny and further discussion, and the New York Times was right to print the piece. But… nowhere does it ever say these operations were false flags.

The piece explicitly states that these were simply sting operations to catch people with extremist tendencies that the FBI felt were likely to commit violent acts. And none of the sting operations involved real explosives or anyone actually getting hurt.

I would like to suggest that the Infowars crowd hasn’t read past the headline, but, more likely, this is just another instance of confirmation bias. Even though the article says absolutely nothing like what they claim, they read it and see only what they want to see. This is the kind of extraordinarily sloppy research that is so pervasive in much of the conspiracy theorists’ claims.

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2 thoughts on “No, Alex Jones, the NY Times did NOT say the FBI creates false flags: more sloppy research and confirmation bias from the conspiracy crowd

  1. Same could be said for you too, in that u only see / believe what u want to see / believe! With all the unanswered questions and lack of proof surrounding Boston, its obvious something screwy is happening, but ppl prefer to just close their eyes and go by what the authorities say, when even they change their own stories…..perhaps they all need to know the exact story before they share it out to the public then it might be more believable?

    • Well, considering I’m an agnostic who doesn’t “believe” in anything, I don’t necessarily agree with your characterization. While I’m sure even the best researchers exhibit some subtle form of confirmation bias, the trick is to let the evidence speak for itself, while also demonstrating a healthy amount of common sense and analytical thinking. I’ve yet to see anything so far in the Boston bombings to suggest something “screwy” is happening. But in the coming months after the investigations are completed and reporting digs deeper, if anything screwy pops up, I’ll be the first to admit it. But until then everything I’ve heard so far from the conspiracy crowd has been easily explained away or just pure rubbish

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