“He was in a 4Chan bubble”: Inside the Highland Park shooting suspect’s social media diet

Isobel Cockerell

 

“This is Trump’s 4th of July gift to America,” tweeted entrepreneur and influencer John Anthony Castro after 21-year-old Robert “Bobby” Crimo III was identified as the suspect in the Fourth of July shootings that left seven dead and dozens injured in Highland Park, Illinois. Commentators had immediately begun exposing Crimo’s political and social media allegiances and pointing to them as a potential motivation behind the deadly shooting. According to Castro, Crimo “was a die-hard Trump supporter who released a QAnon-inspired song called ‘I Am the Storm.’” 

Crimo, who goes by the stage name “Awake the Rapper,” posted numerous albums on Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music, including those with apparent references to the QAnon movement. The streaming giants have since raced to scrub his music from their platforms. 

QAnon influencers were quick to distance themselves from Crimo. One called TruthHammer888 claimed that the suspect had “liked tons of CDC posts and the vaccines on his Twitter account. He was not one of us.” Experts who study QAnon and conspiracy theory movements said Crimo’s social media diet, while extreme, was distinct from the realm of QAnon. “Our attempts to make it make sense aren’t landing,” tweeted Mike Rothschild, an author who has written books on QAnon and grew up just a few miles away from Highland Park. 

He told me that “the world Crimo lived in was pretty far off Q. He was in a 4chan bubble of ironic Nazi and anime memes, fascist-inspired music, and mass shooter ideation that basically consumes nothing but irony and sadness.” He explained that this nihilistic media diet exists on a different plane to QAnon which is “ultimately a hopeful movement that claims once the evildoers are done away with, we’ll live in a free and safe world.” 

A pseudoscience narrative has also emerged in the fallout of the shooting. On Tucker Carlson’s nightly Fox News show, the presenter claimed Crimo was likely “numbed by the endless psychotropic drugs that are handed out at every school in the country by crackpots posing as ‘counselors.’” Carlson was echoing the opinions of a movement aimed at denouncing psychiatry, according to David Gorski, a surgeon and scientist who has devoted his career to exposing anti-science misinformation. “It’s long been a quack anti-psychiatry trope to blame mass shootings on psych meds without evidence,” he tweeted. It happened after the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, when anti-vaccine and anti-science activists said “big pharma” was to blame for the mass shooting. The shooter Adam Lanza, they said, was “likely on meds.” “Gun control? We need medication control!” said anti-vaccine blogger and pseudoscience entrepreneur Mike Adams at the time. 

“One of the more odious byproducts of mental illness denial is a depressing eagerness among the anti-psychiatry quack crowd to leap on any mass murder that occurs as an excuse to blame the crime on psychiatric medications,” Gorski wrote in a blogpost after Sandy Hook. Now, a decade later, the same thing is happening again –– all too predictably. 

IN GLOBAL NEWS

Dandong, a Chinese city bordering North Korea, has been under intermittent –– though seemingly interminable –– lockdown since April 25. The municipal government prefers to use the euphemism “static management” to describe the state of the city, which is characterized by pandemic overreach, manipulation, and abuse, according to the China Digital Times. The lengthy lockdown has led to a number of clashes between residents and pandemic policy enforcers, as well as between different authorities themselves. The situation in Dandong underscores the central government’s strict COVID-19 policies around the country — and it may prompt a mass migration from the city when the lockdown ends.

In just 12 months, Latin America went from being a “symbol of pandemic failure” to having higher vaccination rates than many industrialized countries. This success is largely due to public trust, writes Inter-American Development Bank president Mauricio Claver-Carone in the Americas Quarterly. “Despite a torrent of misinformation on social media, highly polarized politics and surveys that indicate nine out of 10 people in the region distrust each other, Latin Americans showed relatively low levels of vaccine hesitancy,” which Claver-Carone attributes to decades-long vaccination programs in many of the region’s countries. While vaccination rates rose, so did the volume of the region’s drug trade. A recent United Nations report found that the pandemic hardly hurt Latin America’s drug trade. If anything, it thrived.

The U.S. must be held financially accountable for the millions of sick and dead from Covid-19 around the world. That’s what the speaker of Russia’s Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, announced this week on his Telegram channel. Volodin blames U.S. military biolabs for creating the virus and declared that “the United States is obliged to compensate for the losses incurred” and shut its labs down, giving more fuel to the popular conspiracy theory that coronavirus was released by the U.S. military.

WHAT WE’RE READING

What Can Menstrual Blood Teach us about Health and Disease? A biomedical researcher, Christine Metz, is investigating whether samples of menstrual blood can be used to test for conditions like endometriosis. When she started out, she was met with resistance and stigma from her colleagues. “There was definitely a ‘yuck’ factor,” she told Undark Magazine.

 Liam Scott, Erica Hellerstein and Katia Patin contributed to this week’s Infodemic.

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