• Meet Mr. Happy Face, the first post-pandemic World's Ugliest Dog

    If you know me at all, you know I love weird looking dogs. So imagine my delight when I found out the "World's Ugliest Dog" competition was back after a 2 year hiatus! And that the winner is a hometown hero! (He's from Arizona, where I live).

    Meet the winner, a Chinese Crested named "Mr. Happy Face". In 2021 he ended up in an Arizona animal shelter after having been rescued from a dog hoarder. His owner, Janeda Banelly, adopted him in August of 2021, when he was already 17 years old. Banelly was thrilled with his win, and explained, "I believe that this humble soul is also being an example, in subtle ways, to help humans realize that even old dogs need love and a family too."

    You can read more about Mr. Happy Face and see more pictures of him in all his tuft-y and tongue-y glory!

  • Rage playlist

    If, like me, you woke up yesterday to the SCOTUS Roe decision with utter despair and white-hot rage burning in your heart, here's a playlist to help you scream it all out. Music always, always helps. When you're done, gather yourself, go to a march this weekend, then work like hell to elect pro-choice Democrats in the midterms and in all levels of government.

    Ann Powers describes the playlist she put together, which she calls, "A Woman's Rage: Songs About Being Fed Up":

    Some of the songs on this playlist use the language of failing romance to express the bigger need for personal agency and freedom. Others confront harassment or other ways women have been treated as less than human. Some are funny; others tap into anger so hot it's hard to listen to them. Many were written or recorded by young women finding their power in the moment. Others come from weathered voices, sharing wisdom. At four hours, I stopped compiling, but I could have kept going indefinitely, I think. What would you add? We need this soundtrack: a way of saying "no way" that's really inspiration to keep going on.

  • 15 women suffer heat-related illnesses after Arizona reality show hike

    Up to 15 women who are in Phoenix, AZ from all over the country have suffered from heat-related illness and were rescued Thursday from Camelback Mountain. The women are in Phoenix filming a reality television show called "Bad Girls Gone God" (I have so many questions!), and were apparently on a retreat that included this hike. Several of the hikers had to be wheeled down the mountain while several others were picked up by helicopter. Fox 10 Phoenix stated that "the hikers reportedly told fire crews that they did not do their research before starting the hike at 7 a.m." This much is exceedingly clear, as Phoenix recently has been reaching record level temperatures (today the high is supposed to be 107 degrees Fahrenheit!), and we have been inundated by excessive heat warnings. Reporter Christine Stanwood has the latest updates on her Twitter feed.

  • Conspirituality Podcast asks: "Who's afraid of Teal Swan?"

    If you can't get enough of the mesmerizing and often infuriating Teal Swan, who some folks think is a cult leader, and who is the focus of the wildly popular docuseries The Deep End, then you're in luck. Today the Conspirituality Podcast dropped a new episode all about Teal Swan, called "Who's afraid of Teal Swan?". They describe the episode like this:

    With Jon Kasbe's series, "The Deep End" airing on Hulu, Swan has entered some A-list limelight. But what do we really learn from this docutainment event, radiating out from an embedment in Swan's inner circle? According to Kasbe's own words, we don't learn the "Capital T Truth" of Swan's day-to-day, but rather the immersive feeling of what it is like to be under her spell. 

    Or do we? Swan accuses Kasbe of casting his own spell, with deceptive editing that scrambles timelines and conflates interactions, and even different people. And it appears she might not be wrong. We talk to Kasbe in this episode about his vision and blindspots, and the ironic risk of creating a film of Satanic-Panic level false memories about an influencer who says she specializes in retrieving past trauma. 

    The episode sounds great, as they will be discussing Swan's work with the director of The Deep End, Jon Kasbe, and also addressing Swan's reaction to the docuseries. (Hint: She's not happy about it, as she's made clear in multiple videos she's released on her Facebook page. She's also started a petition to force Kasbe Films to release the raw footage, because she claims Kasbe spun her story in a negative way. The petition page explains, "We want the director to acknowledge the false narrative he is creating and release the raw footage of what actually happened over the course of three years."

    The Conspirituality Podcast hosts, Matthew Rimski, Derek Beres, and Julian Walker, also announce at the end of this episode that they will soon release what they are calling The Swan Song Series, a bundle of early access bonus episodes on all things Teal Swan, on the podcast's Patreon. (I'm a member of their Patreon and for me it's totally been worth it!). I'm off to listen to the latest episode!

  • We could all use a little animal ASMR about now

    My latest obsession, my new favorite YouTube video genre, is animal ASMR. I've been so stressed out lately, what with the latest SCOTUS decisions, COVID still raging, the Jan 6 hearings, and on and on and on ad nauseam. So, to help me block out reality momentarily, I take breaks and watch animals eating things. Here are a few of my favorites:

    A tortoise and guinea pig eating kiwi, the same pair eating strawberries, an opossum eating cat food, a hamster and guinea pig eating carrots, and even a quokka eating a cracker! And perhaps my favorite, a pitbull named Mr. Bounce, eating a variety of meats (plus tofu!?). He's a hilarious snarly snort-snooter. These sweet animals can't solve any of our world's problems. But they can help us ignore them all for a few minutes. Enjoy.

  • Get to know your face mites

    I've been isolating the past week or so, to make sure I didn't catch COVID on my recent trip to Portugal. It's been fine. I work, write, eat, watch trash tv. It's getting a little boring, to be honest. But it's definitely not lonely, now that I've learned I'm never alone – I've got mites—specifically Demodex folliculorum—living on my face, and guess what? So do you! I'll never be lonely again! Hurrah! 

    Michelle Starr at ScienceAlert.com has the whole story. Here's a fascinating and sort of horrifying excerpt:

    Most people on Earth are habitats for mites that spend the majority of their brief lives burrowed, head-first, in our hair follicles, primarily of the face. In fact, humans are the only habitat for Demodex folliculorum. They are born on us, they feed on us, they mate on us, and they die on us.

    Their entire life cycle revolves around munching your dead skin cells before kicking the teeny tiny bucket.

    In other words, these mites are gradually merging with our bodies so that they now live permanently within us.

    D. folliculorum is actually a fascinating little creature. Human skin detritus is its sole food source, and it spends the majority of its two-week lifespan in pursuit thereof.

    The individuals emerge only at night, in the cover of darkness, to crawl painstakingly slowly across the skin to find a mate, and hopefully copulate before returning to the safe darkness of a follicle.

  • Pianist composes music to accompany animal yips, squeals, meows, and squacks

    Please, I beg you, stop whatever you're doing, and go watch some of these videos of Kevon Carter, a comedian who also describes himself as a "husband, father, brother, musician, intercontinental champion of international psalms and spiritual songs."

    He has been creating TikTok duets where he accompanies various animals on the piano while they "sing." He sets up the videos as if he and the animal are recording together, and his piano playing definitely elevates the natural talents of the animals.

    Here he is accompanying a tiny puppy, a border collie, a German shepherd, some kind of poodle or poodle mix, a husky, a newborn lamb, a cat, and a cockatiel. They are all hilarious. I think my very favorite is the rooster video, though—"Look at that breath control!"

  • This dog does boss-level zooms on the beach

    Check out this doggo zoom zoom zooooooooming on the beach after being taken off-leash. The utter joy! The freedom! The excitement! This is exactly how I feel when I finally step out of the airport and into fresh outdoor air after wearing my mask for hours on the plane. #WillNotStop #TotallyWorthIt

  • Boost your oxytocin by watching these adorable baby sloths munch munch munching away 

    These sweet babies enjoying all of those yummy veggies were at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica, which, according to their website:

    is the original rescue center for injured, orphaned and abandoned sloths. Founders Judy Avey-Arroyo and Luis Arroyo purchased the property to offer birding tours on the Estrella River. Originally known as Aviarios del Caribe, this 320-acre lush tropical lowland rainforest was formerly inhabited by banana plantations. The government of Costa Rica officially declared the property a privately-owned biological reserve in 1975.

    On their site, you can read about their rescue work, learn about sloths, and even virtually adopt a sloth. Also, check out their Instagram for more photos of sloth cuties!

  • What a whopper! Man catches a record-breaking 661-pound stingray

    Watch as fishermen and scientists from the USAID-supported research project Wonders of the Mekong capture and measure (and then release) the world's largest freshwater fish. The giant stingray was captured and released in northern Cambodia on June 13, 2022. The record-breaking fish weighed in at 661 pounds.

    An article in Field and Stream describes the record-breaking event:

    From the murky depths of Southeast Asia's Mekong River, a new world record has emerged. The biggest freshwater fish caught anywhere, ever, was captured and released last week near Koh Preah Island on the Mekong River in the Stung Treng area of northern Cambodia. Fisherman Moul Thun, seeking smaller quarry to sell in the local fish market, accidentally hooked the giant stingray on the night of June 13, using a simple hook and line…   FISHBIO, a partner on the Wonders of the Mekong project, officially weighed Thun's nearly 13-foot snout-to-tail catch at 661 pounds, crushing the previous record, a 646-pound Mekong giant catfish, caught on the Mekong in 2005, in Thailand. 

  • Artist Eric J. García paints satirical sci-fi images of white colonization with pink cactus juice

    I lived in Albuquerque and then Santa Fe, New Mexico in the early 1990s. I grew up in the Deep South but moved to New Mexico after college to pursue graduate studies. While there I started working at this groovy little health food store/vegan restaurant/market and began learning about all things alien. New Mexico seemed at the time to be kind of ground zero for alien/UFO culture and I soaked it all in like a true believer/skeptic. Friends from the vegan market turned me onto the Fortean Times and Art Bell; customers sipped wheatgrass juice while telling me about how they were not human but were actually from other planets and just visiting Earth for a short time; a friend from graduate school was doing their dissertation research on the conspirituality community in Taos and attended recruiting events held by the UFO cult Heaven's Gate, where he learned about how to achieve the "Kingdom Level Above Human." (It was only a few years later [1997] when the group leader, Marshall Applewhite, and 38 group members died in a mass suicide, catalyzed by their belief that the Hale-Bopp comet was coming to pick them up and carry them to their next level.)

    1997 was also the year I made my pilgrimage to Roswell, New Mexico, to see the 1947 "UFO crash site" and to visit the International UFO Museum and Research Center, which proudly displays one of the aliens supposedly found in the crash. I was lucky enough to be in Roswell for the 50th anniversary, and the small-town festival celebrating all things alien did not disappoint, from the tent where folks displayed the implants they had found inside their bodies, made of "unknown metal;" to the expert lecturing on all the different kinds of alien eyes and hands; to the 25-cent "alien beanbag toss" some high school students had set up as part of the festivities at the local high school football field. I also rode a school bus from the football field out to the crash site, where folks were selling alien-themed antennae hats, and ice-cold Coca-Cola. I honestly never truly believed in aliens or UFOs, but I also don't vehemently not believe in all of it. Mostly I was (and am) fascinated by the culture of it all, and by how fervently so many people DO believe. One thing is very true, though, New Mexico culture seems to be steeped in aliens/UFOs.

    To my delight, I recently discovered an artist who is doing brilliant things with this New Mexican love of all things alien, by turning it all on its head and pointing to white settler colonists as the true aliens. New Mexico artist Eric J. García is currently participating in the Roswell Artist-in-Resident Program, where he has been spending his time creating "satirical sci-fi images of White colonization, painted with prickly pear ink." In an article for Hyperallergic about his current work, García writes:

    When I was studying Chicano Studies at the University of New Mexico, my professor likened the Spanish conquest of México, to H.G. Well's famous sci-fi novel War of the Worlds — a highly advanced alien army invading and conquering the world. From some perspectives, this is exactly what happened to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Although these space invaders were not from outer space, they did indeed invade space and space that was already occupied. 

    With this perspective, I began to create satirical sci-fi images of colonization. For example, I placed a Spanish galleon ship not on the water but in the air like a spaceship, with a tractor beam abducting Natives. The irony of so many UFO and alien encounters that happen "out West" reflects the real-life alien invaders who "explored" and colonized the "American West." Another iconic vessel of colonization is the covered wagon, which I depict disembarking from a flying saucer driving right into the junipers of an iconic western landscape. These small humorous drawings are hopefully pointing out one of the biggest hypocrisies of the United States. Indigenous people have been conquered by aliens and are now made to feel alien in their own lands.

    You can check out his brilliant pieces and read the rest of the article here.

  • What your favorite sad dad band says about you

    A few months ago, John Moe wrote a hilarious article for McSweeney's called "What your favorite sad dad band says about you." It is 100% accurate in every way.

    Well, I'm not a dad, but my favorite sad dad band is the Mountain Goats, and this is what that says about me, according to Moe:

    The Mountain Goats: You have received sensible health care. You drive Toyota cars and your dalliance with a used domestic pickup that had character did not end well. Your tolerance for people telling you a lot about building a computer ends at the nineteen-minute mark, at which point you politely excuse yourself. Without explanation, you decline the escape room team-building event at work.

    I saw the Mountain Goats last month in Phoenix and they, as usual, were engaging and energetic and brilliant and hilarious and just all around awesome. They recently announced a new record that will drop on August 19. Pitchfork describes it this way:

    The Mountain Goats have announced their next album. It's called Bleed Out, and it was produced in full by Bully's Alicia Bognanno. The follow-up to last year's Dark in Here arrives August 19 via Merge. Today, the band has shared lead single "Training Montage" along with a goofy music video. Check it out below and scroll down for the album art, tracklist, and a string of upcoming tour dates.

    Bleed Out was inspired by action movies from the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, in which Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle found comfort toward the end of 2020. Cozied up in his North Carolina home, Darnielle watched French thrillers like 2008's Mesrine, vintage Italian Poliziotteschi, and 1974's The Freakmaker starring Donald Pleasence.

    "So, heads up. I got this idea to write a bunch of songs where they were all uptempo mini-action movies," Darnielle said of his process for the new batch of songs. "Plots, characters, heists, hostages, questionable capers, getaway cars, all that stuff. Gas pedal glued to the floor. Eventually as you might guess I wanted at least one song where the tempo relaxed a little and that's the title track but otherwise buckle up. We hid out in the woods in Chapel Hill and made this album with nobody knowing about it. Proper secret-soldier style. It has been pretty hard keeping this under our hats, we are really proud of what we got here."

    If you can't stand waiting around, in the meantime you can at least listen to the first track off the album they've released—Training Montage—and watch the video a million times, like I have. I love how it features John Darnielle's completely out of control pandemic hairdo and goatee combo. Simply divine.

  • Meet Leonid and Valentina Stoyanov, exotic and wild animal veterinarians who live in Ukraine

    Leonid and Valentina Stoyanov live in Ukraine and run a veterinary hospital where they take in and rehabilitate rescue animals, including those abandoned during the ongoing war. On their TikTok they feature all kinds of animals that come into their clinic. The highlight of their social media, however, is Tosya, a male Berber monkey they rescued during the pandemic. Valentina has posted so many adorable TikToks where she and Tosya just sit and eat together, while gazing lovingly into each other's eyes. This pair is really kind of mesmerizing to watch.

    On their Facebook page, the vets tell the story of meeting and rescuing Tosya:

    Tosya was seriously ill and had a whole bunch of problems. Gastritis, traumatic brain injury, hypocalcemia, neurological disorders and all this against the background of improper feeding and maintenance. We had to fight with all this. Sleepless nights, nerves, strength, time—and only today we can talk about it calmly. This animal is forced to be on lifelong treatment. In addition to the correct conditions of detention and a competent diet, like a primate, Tosya needs a family of congeners. Tosya's fate is not easy, and while he lives with us. It will be seen further. But he will never return to the "petting zoo"!

    Check out their website—it has links to their various social media sites as well as links where you can donate to support their animal rescue mission in Ukraine. And on their TikTok you can see Valentina and Tosya eating apples, pears, radishes, watermelon, strawberries, carrots, and green peas

  • Watch these miniature Brazilian frogs in all their awkward glory

    These miniature Brazilian frogs (aka pumpkin toadlets) don't have much balance and thus jump in reallllly awkward ways. Apparently, their inner ears are too small to provide good balance. New research published in Science explains the phenomenon:

    Miniaturization has evolved repeatedly in frogs in the moist leaf litter environments of rainforests worldwide. Miniaturized frogs are among the world's smallest vertebrates and exhibit an array of enigmatic features. One area where miniaturization has predictable consequences is the vestibular system, which acts as a gyroscope, providing sensory information about movement and orientation. We investigated the vestibular system of pumpkin toadlets, Brachycephalus (Anura: Brachycephalidae), a clade of miniaturized frogs from Brazil. The semicircular canals of miniaturized frogs are the smallest recorded for adult vertebrates, resulting in low sensitivity to angular acceleration due to insufficient displacement of endolymph. This translates into a lack of postural control during jumping in Brachycephalus and represents a physical constraint resulting from Poiseuille's law, which governs movement of fluids within tubes.

    Smithsonian magazine further explains:

    "They're not great jumpers, and they're not particularly good walkers either. They sort of stomp around in a stilted, peg-like version of walking," says Edward Stanley, study co-author and director of the Florida Museum of Natural History's Digital Discovery and Dissemination Laboratory, in a statement.

    Using CT scans of the brightly colored toadlet, researchers found that their vestibular system, the structures within the ear that guide balance in vertebrates, is so small that when the frogs spring into the air, they quickly lose their balance and simply fall gracelessly to the ground, reports Isaac Schultz for Gizmodo. The CT scans were part of a larger project called oVert, a four-year initiative across 18 institutions to create 3-D models of more than 20,000 fluid-preserved museum specimens.  

    You can watch them in all of their awkward glory in the video embedded above. These tiny frogs really are quite pathetic and silly. I've never related so hard to an amphibian in all my life.

  • A list of favorite weird-looking dogs

    I have a real thing for weird-looking dogs. To me, they are the best-looking dogs. I've gathered some of my favorite weird-looking internet dogs for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

    Gus Calhoun

    Tuna


    Sir Didymus


    Henry Rollins


    Odie


    Lapsha


    Squid


    Sharky Bobarky


    Martini (RIP sweet girl)

  • Happy Father's Day, especially to the greatest dad of all, the male giant waterbug!

    Peruse this list of awesome animal dads, then call your own dad, if you can and/or want to, and say Happy Father's Day! (Shout out to my own terrific dad — I'm excited to see you next week in Louisiana!).

    I think my favorite dad from Smithsonian Magazine's list of sweet animal papas is the giant waterbug, who is ever-so-helpful in giving mom a break from carpool duty!

    While male giant waterbugs, also known as alligator ticks and toe biters, may look a little frightening, they are a busy mom's dream because they are on perpetual carpool duty. After the aquatic bugs mate, the female sticks her fertilized eggs onto the male's back. Some male waterbugs shoulder as many as 150 eggs at once.

    As he goes about his day-to-day life, the waterbug will sporadically venture to the surface to ensure their eggs don't become waterlogged. They'll also repeatedly squat down to keep the eggs aerated and even use their legs to comb through the eggs to ensure no parasites or fungi have hitched a ride. Just before his growing eggs hatch after several weeks, the male fasts to ensure he does not consume one of his offspring by mistake. Once he drops the kids off in a pond or stream, this dependable dad is ready to mate again so he can care for the next clutch.

  • Opossum hitched a ride to follow his dreams out West

    An opossum was found in Wyoming hiding under a house. Since opossums don't typically live in Wyoming, animal control experts believe it hitched a ride from another state, possibly on a semi-truck. The opossum is safe and sound, currently at a rescue facility, and will be released in a more opossum-hospitable state soon.

    From a Sweetwater County media release:

    On Monday, June 6, 2022, at approximately 12:30 p.m., Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office animal control officer, Chris Thomas, responded to the Western Hills neighborhood on Purple Sage Road west of Rock Springs for a report of a local resident who discovered a possum hiding under his residence.

    The Virginia opossum, commonly known as the North American opossum, is the only marsupial, or pouched mammal, found north of Mexico, and today across North America, is native primarily to the southern United States in places like Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. They are not native to Wyoming, and likely would not survive our harsh winters in the wild.

    Known widely for hissing aloud or showing their mouth full of incisor teeth when threatened, and playing dead when frightened, possums are docile, non-territorial, nocturnal, solitary animals who are ground-dwelling, but also spend a significant amount of time in trees. While they do use their prehensile tails to help them climb, contrary to popular folklore and cartoons, they rarely hang by their tails nor do they sleep in this position.

    As a marsupial, much like kangaroos, the possum is a unique creature that also gives birth to relatively undeveloped young that complete development inside of the mother's marsupium, or pouch, located on the underside of her body between her hind legs. When it comes to diet, the possum is an opportunist who will eat almost anything, but their diet primarily includes fruits, nuts, plants and vegetables, eggs, and other small animals including crustaceans, reptiles, amphibians, and small birds. In urban and suburban settings, they scavenge garbage, bird seeds, and not surprisingly, they also enjoy pet food.

    Thomas said this particular possum is a male and roughly the size of a small house cat. Dubbed "George" by Thomas, she does not believe that he is domesticated, or has been living as someone's pet. Rather, possums often seek refuge in dark, tight spaces, and she believes it most likely that George hitched a ride on a semi on the interstate and probably went looking for food when the rig's driver stopped to rest or for fuel.

    Thomas has personally cared for George during his week-long stay here in Sweetwater County. While she said it took some work to find, she finally located a nearby licensed rehabilitation center who cares for small mammals that is going to take George, have him examined by a veterinarian to ensure that he is in good health and free of any diseases, and arrange for his transportation and re-homing back to an area of the U.S. in which possums live in the wild as a native species.

    Under Wyoming law, the possession of an exotic animal, which includes any animal that is not found in a wild, free or unconfined status in Wyoming, is strictly regulated, often limited to specific purposes, and generally requires a special state permit, with the possession of some species specifically and outright illegal. For more detailed information, Thomas encouraged people to visit the Wyoming Game and Fish's website.

    Thomas said, "It's really important for people to educate themselves on the law as it pertains to the possession of wild animals in Wyoming. City and county ordinances in Wyoming can also further restrict the possession of certain species. The private ownership of possums in Green River and Rock Springs is illegal, and the introduction of animals that are not native to Wyoming threatens our local ecosystem by disrupting the natural food-chain and introducing new, potentially dangerous diseases for which we as humans, our pets, and our wildlife have no natural immunity."

  • Drag-queen-hating, Kari Lake used to love drag queens so much that she did drag herself

    Trump-loving Kari Lake, who is running for Governor in Arizona, has recently joined her fellow Republicans railing against drag shows and wanting to "protect" children from drag queens. 

    Turns out, to absolutely nobody's surprise, that Kari Lake is one giant hypocrite. Famous Phoenix drag queen Barbra Seville recently shared on her Facebook page that she and Kari used to be good friends and that she performed drag for Kari's birthday in her home and in front of her children:

    Local Phoenix reporter Brahm Resnick covers the whole story here, where you can see photos of Kari with Barbra in drag, as well as photos of Kari herself in drag.

    Lake's campaign issued a statement saying Seville's post was "accusations full of lies."

  • Darrel the Dogigater — half dog and half gator — is worth the trip to Louisiana

    Abita Springs, Louisiana (which isn't too far from New Orleans), is famous for being the hometown of the Abita Brewery Company, which brews some decidedly delicious beers. If you are lucky enough to spend a little more time in Abita Springs, and explore beyond the brewery, you might stumble upon a delightful oddity called the Mystery House and UCM (You-See-Em) Museum. It's a meandering house and grounds, where every nook and cranny is filled to the brim with every kind of weirdness you can imagine.

    You really have to see it to believe it. I was lucky enough to visit last year, and I'm excited to go again next week when I'm visiting family in Louisiana. One of my favorite creatures there —rightly deemed a "marvel of science" by the Mystery House folks—is Darrel the Dogigator. He's half dog and half alligator and fully adorable. If you ever have the chance to go to Abita Springs, you should visit the Mystery House and say hello to Darrell and all of his friends.

  • One-fifth of Americans believe every school shooting is a fake event filled with "crisis actors"

    Many are still reeling from the May 24, 2022 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, TX. Since Uvalde, 57 more mass shootings have occurred (up through noon on June 18, 2022), according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting this way: "if four or more people are shot or killed in a single incident, not including the shooter, that incident is categorized as a mass shooting based purely on that numerical threshold."

    Given these very real events, it is difficult for me to understand how so many people believe the conspiracy theories positing that this gun violence doesn't exist — that events like Sandy Hook or the Uvalde massacre are "false flag" events filled with "crisis actors" and orchestrated by individuals and groups whose agenda is gun control. And yet, this is exactly what one-fifth of Americans currently believe. 

    According to research by PolitiFact, false flag conspiracies about mass shootings are not new, and some trace their appearance to 2012, as such conspiracy theories arose in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. PolitiFact explains:

    "The way we've been paying attention to it in recent years has really come about from Sandy Hook," said Joseph Uscinski, an associate professor of political science at the University of Miami who researches conspiracy theories.

    Alex Jones, owner of the site InfoWars and a known peddler of misinformation, suggested that the tragedy was "fake" and that the shooting was a "false flag" attack coordinated by the government.

    It was plainly untrue, and so incendiary that it got a lot of media attention. And so now, with each shooting, it always pops up that it's a false flag, Uscinski says.

    Google Trends data indicate that Uscinski has a point.

    Search queries for the term "false flag" over the past five years have spiked during mass shootings, including those at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs (November 2015) and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando (June 2016).

    These trends have continued since the PolitiFact article was published in 2019, as such theories are no longer peddled only by fringe pundits such as Alex Jones and non-mainstream sites like 4chan and 8chan. Instead, they are spread widely through Facebook and other social media sites by ordinary, everyday people. Micah Sifry explains just how many people believe such theories: 

    A 2013 poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University found that a quarter of all Americans thought that the facts about Sandy Hook were being hidden, and an additional 11 percent were unsure. Joe Uscinski, a University of Miami political science professor who studies conspiracy theories, tells Williamson that according to his research, as of 2020, one-fifth of all Americans believed that every school shooting was faked. And not just school shootings; Uscinski says virtually all high-profile mass shootings draw this level of doubt.

    To help make sense of why so many people believe such theories, New York Times reporter Elizabeth Williamson recently published a book with Dutton entitled Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth. The publisher's description of the book reads:

    Based on hundreds of hours of research, interviews, and access to exclusive sources and materials, Sandy Hook is Elizabeth Williamson's landmark investigation of the aftermath of a school shooting, the work of Sandy Hook parents who fought to defend themselves, and the truth of their children's fate against the frenzied distortions of online deniers and conspiracy theorists.

    Williamson also just published an article on Slate where she provides an overview of the book, and presents a fascinating look of one of the Sandy Hook deniers she interviewed for the book, a woman named Kelley Watt — one of those "ordinary, everyday people" I mentioned above who stumble upon these conspiracy theories and use their social media platforms to spread their lies. 

    Here's an excerpt from the article, which I read with a gaping mouth, as each paragraph was more shocking than the next. I can't wait to read the book, which I'm sure is equally horrifying. But it's imperative to understand these political conspiracies, especially when so many people believe them and they cause so much harm.

    When we spoke, I asked her whether she doubted Sandy Hook because first grade children being murdered in their classrooms was too hard for her to face. "No. I just had a strong sense that this didn't happen," she said. "Too many of those parents just rub me the wrong way."

    She judged the parents as "too old to have kids that age." She found their clothes dowdy, their hairstyles dated. Where were their "messy buns," "cute torn jeans," their "Tory Burch jewelry"? She mocked their broken stoicism. Their lives had fallen to pieces, but in Watt's mind they seemed "too perfect," and also not perfect enough.

    Watt had read widely about the shooting and the families, choosing from each account only the facts that suited her false narrative.

    She brought up Chris and Lynn McDonnell, parents of 7-year-old Grace, a child with striking pale blue eyes who liked to paint. Lynn McDonnell told CNN's Anderson Cooper that Grace had drawn a peace sign and the message "Grace Loves Mommy" in the fogged bathroom mirror after her shower, leaving traces her mother found after her death. She described the abyss she felt upon seeing her daughter's white casket and recalled how she, Chris, and Grace's brother, Jack, used markers to fill its stark emptiness with colorful drawings of things Grace loved.

    Watt mocked this reminiscence in a singsong tone. "'Ohhhhh, Grace. She loved loved loved loved loved Sandy Hook, and we're glad she's in heaven with her teacher, and she's with her classmates, and we feel good about that,'" she said. "'She had a white coffin, and we busted out the Sharpies and drew a skillet and a sailboat.' NOBODY CRIED," she barked.

    Watt's feral lack of empathy astonished me. Watt a few minutes earlier had boasted about her son Jordan's voracious reading habits and how well her daughter, Madison, played the piano. If Watt's children died, wouldn't she also speak highly of them and their gifts?

    "No. This was to build up the sympathy factor," she said. "I think they're people with a gun control agenda.