Exene Cervenka is best known as the singer of ‘80s L.A. punk band X, whose albums “Wild Gift” and “Under the Big Black Sun” earned them a place in the punk canon. More recently, though, Cervenka has been moonlighting as a self-styled conspiracy theorist, offering her dubious ruminations on YouTube and Twitter under the pseudonym Christine Notmyrealname.
Her conspiracy-theorist leanings went largely unrecognized until this week, when she tweeted from her personal account that the Santa Barbara shootings were “a hoax.” Cervenka linked to YouTube videos with titles like “Santa Barbara Shooting Staged for Gun Control,” supposedly offering evidence that Elliot Rodger’s Saturday rampage that left seven people dead and more injured was “false flag,” an attack orchestrated by the United States, but blamed on another party in order to push a political goal. Most of the tweets have since been deleted, though Spin has an archive online.
Cervenka later tweeted that she would “shut up” about conspiracy theories and posted a quasi-apology for her statements on Facebook.
thanks people for your support. i learned my lesson. no more opinions & i am shutting the fuck up, media wins. hatred is scary.
â€” Exene Cervenka (@exenecervenka) May 30, 2014
Cervenka began uploading a series of videos under her conspiracy theorist alter-ego last year, offering updates on conspiracy theories and even dating advice for those that believe the end of the world is nigh. Most of Cervenka’s YouTube videos went private after Vice profiled them on Friday, but the Vice recaps document her conspiracy-theorist bent. Cervenka’s Twitter account also preserves her links to YouTube conspiracy videos with titles like “UFO Shoots Down Russian Rocket.”
Cervenka seems to genuinely believe that American society is on the edge of total collapse at the hands of government interests. That alone might sound like a particularly punk rock view to hold, but Cervenka isn’t shouting for anarchy. Instead, her conspiracy theories are driven by potentially dangerous far-right-wing ideologies.
Cervenka has even expressed support for looser gun laws in the past, echoing other conspiracy theorists who believe American government has staged attacks on its own populace like Sandy Hook and Santa Barbara to strip them of their firearms. “It makes me happy when I see people in Texas open-carrying. It makes me feel safe. I'm not even a gun owner, but I'd like to see a gun rack in every pickup truck,” Cervenka explained to Rolling Stone in March before adding, “An armed society is a polite society.”
Cerkena’s views are surprisingly common. Public Policy Reporting notes that more than half of Americans believe in some kind of conspiracy theory, and entire communities have formed to poke holes in the “official story” of events like 9/11, the moon landing and John F. Kennedy’s assassination. By and large, these communities evolve and propagate online, on forums and blogs where skeptics obsessively discuss the details of news stories, looking to connect the dots on abuses of power.
In the days since Rodger’s rampage, these communities have jumped to various conclusions about the massacre, the most extreme being that the entire shooting was a staged. Sites like 21st Century Wire and NoDisinfo, which frequently veers into anti-Semitic and homophobic territory, have published stories claiming that Elliot Rodger never actually murdered seven people in Santa Barbara. Both maintain that Rodger and his victims are likely still alive somewhere.
Others, like InfoWars contributor Jon Rappoport, dismiss the idea of a hoaxed shooting as ridiculous, but still believe something is being covered up in the Santa Barbara shooting: the role of prescription drugs. Rappoport believes that psychotropic drugs in some cases cause mass violence, and that pharmaceutical companies stand to profit from increased calls for mental health services following the Santa Barbara shooting.
“All the drugs are toxic; all the diagnoses are fake,” Rappoport told IBTimes. “There’s sufficient evidence that these drugs cause some people to commit suicide and kill other people. So in order to stem the tide of these mass shootings, we’re going to put hundreds of thousands of people on drugs that cause mass violence.”
Rappoport points to the work of Dr. Peter Breggin as inspiration. Dr. Breggin has published a number of controversial books including “Toxic Psychiatry” arguing against mainstream models of brain chemistry and mental illness. Extrapolating from Breggin’s claims, Rappoport alleges that psychiatric drugs are directly propelling mass violence in the cases of Columbine, Sandy Hook and Santa Barbara.
Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza was at one time erroneously linked to the controversial drug FanApt, and it is currently unclear if Rodger was or was not taking medicine at the time of the shooting. Reuters reports that his family took him to therapists off and on since age nine, but Rodger’s manifesto claims he was prescribed, but did not take, the antipsychotic Risperidone.
For Cervenka’s part, she seems to back the more extreme theory that the shootings were a cover-up, though she noted in another now-deleted tweet that she never said no one died. At the same time, she also tweeted videos claiming that Elliot Rodger shot videos behind a green screen and that the entire shooting was staged to enact stronger gun control.
Cervenka’s tweets about Santa Barbara read like the echoes of a much larger community convinced that the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre never happened. These theories once again presuppose that a well-documented mass murder was fabricated by a government desperate to justify taking away its citizens’ guns and thereby better control them.
Sandy Hook has attracted perhaps the most attention of “truthers” seeking evidence of a false flag, and the town of Newtown, Conn., is a frequent destination for visitors looking for “the truth.” Wolfgang Halbig is one such name name alleging that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged by the American government. The former Florida state trooper and security official runs SandyHookJustice.com, which he says gives information about inconsistencies in the Sandy Hook narrative.
Halig, who claims to be uninvolved in the larger conspiracy theory community, tells IBT that upon reading about the Sandy Hook shooting, he was shocked that no trauma helicopters showed up on the scene and began “asking questions” of authorities. Later, Helig alleges, a pair of Connecticut homicide detectives appeared at his Florida home to quiet him. Since then, Helig has come to believe that the entire situation was a cover-up.
“I think this is the biggest illusion that Homeland Security and FEMA have ever pulled off on the American public. This has been in planning for three or four years,” Halbig told IBTimes, stating that shooting was staged in order to confiscate Americans’ guns.
Researchers have studied the psychology of conspiracy theorists for years, seeking to understand why people are drawn to seemingly irrational beliefs.
“Paradoxically, it gives people a sense of control. People hate randomness, they dread the sort of random occurrences that can destroy their lives, so as a mechanism against that dread, it turns out that it’s much easier to believe in a conspiracy. Then you have someone to blame, it’s not just randomness,” Dr. Stephan Lewandowsky, cognitive scientist at the University of Western Australia, explained to Salon last year.
Lewandowsky also explained that people are often drawn in by conspiracy theories with a hint of truth at their center, which Cervenka inadvertently illuminated in a now-deleted tweet archived by Jezebel. Cervenka tweeted out a link to an article by Mike Adams of the pseudo-science site Natural News, claiming that the White House could be collecting Americans’ DNA under a fake vaccination program. The report is demonstrably false, but Adams builds his claim out of just a bit of truth in order to more effectively pander to anti-vaccination fears.
Adams starts his story by linking to a three-year-old New York Times report that the CIA gathered information on Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts through a phony vaccination program in Abbottabad, Pakistan. These reports are credible, but Adams distorts them by exaggerating their scope and effectiveness. From there, Adams goes on to speculate wildly the that government is using similar programs on the American public and outright states the unscientific and socially dangerous notion that vaccines do not immunize against disease.
Like so many conspiracy theories before it, a small kernel of truth is just enough to hook people, even if they are rock stars. Once that person is hooked, they start sealing off all arguments to the contrary, as Cervenka and so many others seem to have done.
“What’s happening in any conspiracy theory is that people have a need or a motivation to believe in this theory, and it’s psychologically different from evidence-based thinking,” Lewandowsky said. “A conspiracy theory is immune to evidence.”