Updated Thursday, 5:00 p.m.: LAPD officials told the Los Angeles Times that there appears to be no foul play in the accident that killed Michael Hastings. The Los Angeles County coroner positively identified Hastings as the driver of the vehicle, according to the Times. Nevertheless, conspiracy speculation continues over a tweet by WikiLeaks stating that, just hours before he died, Hastings told a WikiLeaks lawyer that the FBI was investigating him. A Reddit thread continues that conversation here.
The apparent death of Michael Hastings, the young investigative journalist known for ruffling feathers among the nation’s power elite, has brought with it a wave of unanswered questions and speculation. Best known for a Rolling Stone article that led to the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the 33-year-old BuzzFeed reporter died in a car accident in Los Angeles early Tuesday morning, according to a statement released by Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief.
While the journalistic community has largely reacted to the news with an outpouring of grief, online forums have been running wild with conspiracy theories, and why wouldn’t they? Some of the details surrounding the story read like a poorly written political thriller. As of Wednesday morning, the Los Angeles County coroner's office still hadn't determined that an “unrecognizable” body pulled from a fiery solo car crash was actually Hastings, according to the Los Angeles Times. (The body is identified only as “John Doe 117.”)
Meanwhile, LA Weekly reports that Hastings was reporting extensively on the CIA at the time of his death, and the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald pointed out that Hastings’ last article for BuzzFeed was on the NSA and the Democrats’ love of spying on Americans.
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In Hastings’ 2012 book, “The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan,” he writes of a McChrystal staffer who allegedly said to him, “We’ll hunt you down and kill you if we don’t like what you write.”
At the very least, there are still many dots to be connected, but as is often the case with unusual news stories, the real conspiracy-theory fireworks are on Reddit -- in particular, one RIP Hastings thread in which users have been running amok with Reddit-esque guesswork about how Hastings’ enemies might have pulled off such a deed.
“I wonder how small a remote driving device would be,” one user speculated.
“Don't need that, just mess up his brakes and fuel line,” another user replied. “Car slides, crashes and catches fire.”
Others suggested “throttle sabotage,” a manipulation that would prevent a car from decelerating and which could explain the vehicle's reported high speed at the time of the crash. Yet another user postulated that the “unrecognizable” body suggests abduction, not murder. Finally, one Redditor issued a warning to journalists investigating the case: Don’t dig too deep.
“Stick with the party line if you want a long happy life,” the user posted.
Other comments on different threads posted to the “Conspiro” subreddit contained similar sentiments:
“Full disclosure: I don't [know] what They were targeting him for, besides his reputation. Was it what he found or what he was about to find or that if he worked on the story, he would've definitely found something. I think this is the possible start of a trend of taking out investigative journos.”
Reddit wasn’t the only forum where Hastings conspiracy theorists were expressing themselves. Twitter users put forth some thoughts as well, albeit less creatively.
My wife was saying this a.m. that Michael Hastings' death stinks of some sort of government conspiracy. Straight from the movies.
â€” Rocco Pendola (@Rocco_TheStreet) June 19, 2013
Chances of a Michael Hastings conspiracy theory, 100% Chances the theories are true, 100%
â€” Max Keiser (@maxkeiser) June 19, 2013
â€” Hilina O'Brien (@SqarerootofeviL) June 19, 2013
Not big on conspiracy theories but this Michael Hastings story is skeeetchy. Lady on the news said it sounded like a bomb & her house shook.
â€” טאלישה (@tuleesha) June 19, 2013
For the most part, though, tweeters seemed to think that it was too early for speculation. Most wanted the conspiracy theorists to ease up -- at least for now.
Guardian has deleted most comments under report of Michael Hasting's [sic] death. Evidently attracted conspiracy cranks: http://t.co/CQzjqbAhuk
â€” Oliver Kamm (@OliverKamm) June 19, 2013
Early Wednesday morning, Smith wrote a thoughtful online eulogy in which he described his respect for Hastings’ talent and detailed some of their at-work conflicts. He called Hastings “one of the great reporters of his generation.”
Watch a local news report from the car accident below.