In SANDY HOOK: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth, Elizabeth Williamson looks back at how Alex Jones kicked off the modern age of conspiracy with his claims the entire thing was a false flag and maybe those kids didn’t die or even exist — sure, there’s no hard and fast proof, but Something Just Feels Wrong To Him. Through the power of the Internet and social media, this deranged based-on-nothing bullshit spread wildly, thereby foreshadowing Pizzagate, QAnon, anti-vax paranoia and Stop the Steal.
The book is excellent, showing the growth of the False Flag legend, the impact on the families and there efforts to push back, including multiple lawsuits against Jones. Williamson also captures the variety of reasons people choose to belief this stuff: narcissism (Jones), grift (Jones again — he sells a lot of InfoWars swag), lonely people finding companionship in online conspiracist groups, 9/11 truthers hopping to a new conspiracy, people smugly convinced at their own genius in figuring it out and sociopaths who enjoy harassing the families. While one of the grieving parents has successfully talked some of the conspiracists off their ledge, the book is a depressing reminder how difficult it is to crush these ideas once they grow.
EMPIRE OF PAIN: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe shows how the infamous opioid-dealing clan first got involved in drugs in the 1950s. Dr. Arthur Sackler made the family wealthy by applying mainstream advertising techniques to drug marketing and targeting doctors, which he insisted was completely ethical — no amount of salesmanship can convince a doctor to prescribe a particular drug (this was a lie)! Sackler saw no conflict between marketing drugs and running a supposedly objective medical newspaper that promoted the same drugs (he was into advertorials before advertorials were cool).
Later in the century, Sackler’s family adopted similar approaches to promoting Oxycontin as an opiate for everyday pain (much as Arthur promoted Valium as a tranquilizer for non-mentally ill people). No risk of addiction, ever! If people suffer withdrawal, it’s really their underlying pain overcoming the opiates — what they need is more doses! Even when the family knew this was bullshit they kept saying it, just as they turned a blind eye to doctors writing impossibly large numbers of prescriptions. Well, a blind eye except when they sent salespeople to pitch the prescription mills.
This kind of immorality and corruption — some FDA officials who turned blind eyes of their own wound up with great post-government jobs working for the Sacklers — isn’t anything new to me but I still found this book horrifying. Possibly it’s the sheer, unimaginable scope of the damage the Sacklers caused to so many innocent people (while insisting the family were the real victims). Perhaps it’s their incomparable greed: when the family members learned their $700 million annual draws (that’s apiece) might not be sustainable, they demanded More Sales. Or their complete inability to even fake contrition or acknowledge their company’s drug had problems. Either way, they make Elizabeth Holmes look like a choir girl.
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