The online community 4chan has found itself in the spotlight ever since its users launched an amateur investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings, bringing their technological savvy and dedication together in an unauthorized and unofficial effort to identify who was behind the terror attack.
Over the past four days, the anonymous 4chan message boards have seen a seemingly endless stream of photographs of possible "suspects," news items and tips, but one post in particular refuses to go away.
The item in question was posted at 6:42 p.m. EDT Monday, within hours of the attacks, along with a well-known press photo of the one of the explosion sites, and it lays out a detailed series of predictions about how the federal investigation into the attacks will proceed, and what the anonymous poster believes will happen once it concludes.
The poster, who claims to work "on a security commission," provides specifics about whom he the thinks authorities will arrest, writing that "they're going to try to pin this event on a male late teens to early 20s and say he did it because he's unstable," and that "they won't find the suspect til later this week and the raid is supposed to occur on Friday."
The poster also makes the stereotypical "false flag" conspiracy claim that "this was a staged event. The people hurt are real but the event was planned."
The poster predicts that investigators will find guns and a National Rifle Association book in the suspect's home, and that they will say one of the ingredients he used to make the bombs was reloading powder. That revelation, the anonymous poster predicts, will lead unnamed authorities to say "reloading powder shouldn't be for sale to the public," and that "because the powder in ammunition can be used for explosions that the number of rounds you can buy should be limited and taxed to help pay for these events."
The poster then informs 4chan users that if he or she acts on the supposed knowledge, that "I'll lose my job and possibly face criminals [sic] charges" and warns them "please don't mention me. It will seriously hurt me."
The poster claims that he or she has "just received word" that a campaign he or she has been working on for two months for the "security commission" should begin, so "now it all makes sense."
"False flag" conspiracy theories are based on a naval term that indicates a ship that would fly another nation's flag -- a "false flag" -- in hopes of tricking its enemies into thinking they were from that other nation. It is now often used to describe conspiracy theories that suggest the government is orchestrating events that appear on their face to have been carried out by non-governmental actors. Other well-known "false flag" theories include the beliefs of certain factions of the "9/11 Truth" movement to people who believe the Sandy Hook mass shooting was a government-run hoax.
There is no way to verify who posted the message, and the claims' veracity or lack thereof will only be revealed via the passage of time, but the assertion is not going away. A screenshot of the original post continues to pop up periodically on 4chan's various message boards dedicated to political and news topics, and it has slowly spread via Facebook, and Twitter as well.
But the original post itself is gone forever as 4chan does not archive its content, as explained on the community's Frequently Asked Questions page:
"Threads expire and are pruned by 4chan's software at a relatively high rate. Since most boards are limited to eleven or sixteen pages, content is usually available for only a few hours or days before it is removed," one FAQ answer reads, while another adds that, "content that expires is removed from our system, and archives are not available. Please do not e-mail us requesting content that has been pruned, for it is impossible for us to assist you."
So the identity of the poster behind the "false flag" conspiracy theory that has gone semi-viral in the days since the Boston Marathon terror attack will most likely never be revealed, but Friday will be the first indication of whether his or her predictions have any truth to them.