It’s been less than a week into 2024 and the U.S. already has a school shooting that has resulted in conspiracy theorists calling it a false flag to protect liberals from being connected to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
On Thursday, a shooter, who has been identified as 17-year-old Dylan Butler, began firing in a school in Perry, Iowa. One sixth grade student was killed in the shooting and five people were injured—four students and one school administrator. Police say the shooter, a student of the school, shot and killed himself. He was armed with a shotgun and a small caliber handgun, law enforcement found a “rudimentary explosive device” in the school but were easily able to disarm it.
Authorities have not yet released a motive but said they are investigating several of Butler’s social media posts made before the shooting. Butler posted a photo of himself on Tiktok the morning of the shooting of himself in a bathroom stall with a bag. The caption on the photo reads, “now we wait.” Fellow students of the high school told news outlets that Butler was “bullied relentlessly” and believed that may have been what pushed him to violence.
In what’s becoming a depressingly routine playbook, it took mere minutes after the news broke for internet-broken people to start describing the conspiracy as a “false flag” and raising doubt over whether it even happened. In this case, the conspiracy theorists were telling their followers that it was too much of a coincidence that a mass shooting could happen the day after court documents related to the Epstein case were released.
“Deep State just killed a bunch of children at a High School in Iowa,” one verified X.com user wrote just hours after. “We warned you a false flag was on the horizon after the Epstein documents.”
Needless to say, the Epstein documents were still the lead story for almost every news outlet this week with many still publishing stories about the newly released documents.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 656 mass shootings in 2023, meaning there were almost two a day . Since the start of the year, only 5 days ago, there have already been four mass shootings in the U.S.
The conspiracy started with a popular QAnon figure whose post was, according to research scientist Caroline Orr , copy and pasted numerous times across social media platforms and translated to other languages. This, explained Orr on X.com, “is characteristic of coordinated disinformation campaigns [because] it targets search algorithms.”
“Not even 24 hours after the Epstein court document was released we have multiple victims who were shot at Perry High School in Perry, Iowa,” wrote the QAnon poster. “Make no mistake this is a false flag to distract the media from discussing anything in relation to Jeffrey Epstein and his clients.”
From there it quickly spread through the usual suspects like X blue checks, brain-addled posters on 4chan, and people posting videos on right-wing YouTube clones.
The narrative on this subject morphed after a few hours and those who were sharing the conspiracy are now spreading the claim Butler became violent because he was part of the LGBTQ community because of some information gleaned from social media accounts. (It's unclear whether the gunman considered themselves part of the LGBTQ community.)
“Like clockwork, after the Epstein files drop and Donald Trump is exonerated, there is ANOTHER school mass shooting, this time at Perry High School in Iowa. I wish I could say this is surprising…” one poster, who has tens of thousands of followers, wrote.
“This is just another case of TRANS EXTREMISM that will be buried by the media,” they wrote just a few sentences later.