Friday, January 12, 2018

No, the Emails Don't Mean Paddock Was an Arms Dealer

Certain backchannels of the Internet are abuzz with rumors that the October 1 murderer was an illegal arms dealer. Awkwardly phrased emails in a recently released search warrant application are what they claim as support. There is no reasonable evidence to support this assertion. It is a fantasy of the small minded.

Ideas are often accepted because they appeal to a pre-existing cognitive bias; a person prefers a certain explanation because it either does not conflict with, or confirms, his or her world view. In this case, someone deeply suspicious of government and police rejects explanations that this was a random or near-random act of terror. To them, in this theory, Paddock was an illegal arms dealer selling weapons for the CIA (or whoever) and was assassinated because he threatened to leak the scheme or was killed when the weapons sale went bad.

These emails, phrased as sales or advertising copy, are the theorists evidence. You have to be stupid or willingly ignorant to believe that these are nefarious, covert messages to an underground customer or middleman.

The emails, from the warrant application: sent: “try an ar before u buy. we have a huge selection. located in the las vegas area.” sent back: “we have a wide variety of optics and ammunition to try.” sent back: “for a thrill try out bumpfire ar’s with a 100 round magazine.”

It’s fairly obvious that Paddock was emailing himself. The “central park” address theme is consistent. The syntax in the messages is consistent. The content of the messages are consistent. But what was the purpose of the emails?

Paddock may have been making notes for himself, disguising their origin and purpose with their odd phrasing. He may have imagined that this would throw off any NSA algorithms scanning emails for keywords.

He may have been sending semi-coded messages to Danley. Playing off the email keyword scanning concern, he may have been saying “Lots of ARs in Las Vegas, where I’m planning to attack. Lots of ammo and optics. Going to use bumpfire rifles and 100 round magazines.” This phrasing is obvious and incriminating, or at least highly suspicious, while the messages as sent just sound odd.

Danley and Paddock may have been communicating with each other, using one or more shared email accounts. You may recall that disgraced (and anti-gun) General Petraeus communicated with his lover to share classified information by using a shared Gmail account where they saved messages to each other as drafts, to avoid any surveillance software picking up sent messages.

Paddock meticulously planned his attack to be as covert as possible, leaving few, if any, traces of his motivation behind. We can only infer what his motives were. One thing is for sure; baseless conspiracy theories mislead us from focusing on the real problems of casino and event security, the abysmal performance of Metro’s SWAT team, and law enforcement’s reluctance to share accurate information.

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