Conspiracy theorists on Twitter spent the weekend insisting the racist shooter in Jacksonville, Florida who killed three people on Saturday was part of a “psyop” somehow organized by the U.S. government. As evidence for the theory, many far-right accounts said the shooter’s manifesto was immediately released, while other left-wing shooters have had their manifestos withheld. The only problem? That’s simply not true.
“Anyone else notice how we got the Jacksonville shooter’s manifesto within hours of the ‘racially motivated’ incident, but we still don’t have the Nashville Trans Terrorist’s manifesto 5 months after they murdered Christian schoolchildren?” one account known as DC_Draino tweeted on Sunday.
“It’s a simple explanation: One boosts the regime’s racially divisive narrative. The other doesn’t,” the account continued, referring to President Joe Biden’s administration as a regime.
Jacksonville sheriff T.K. Waters held a news conference on Sunday explaining the case, including the fact that 21-year-old Ryan Christopher Palmeter shot three Black people at a local Dollar General store in what authorities say was a racist hate crime. Waters says the shooter wrote “several” manifestos that “detailed the shooter’s disgusting ideology of hate.” Palmeter eventually turned the gun on himself.
“Plainly put, this shooting was racially motivated, and he hated Black people,” Waters said at the Sunday news conference.
But those manifestos have not been released, contrary to widespread reports on Twitter, the social media platform now officially known as X, where people insist the manifestos have been put out by local authorities.
Right-wing commentators online have repeatedly called for the manifesto of the shooter who killed six people at a Nashville Christian school in March 2023 to be released to the public. But police have not released that manifesto or other writings by Aiden Hale, the 28-year-old who carried out the attack before being killed by police. And while many conspiracy theorists try to suggest there’s some nefarious motive behind not releasing the manifesto, the Associated Press points out there’s no national standard for releasing such writings.
Manifestos from mass shooters of any political persuasion are often withheld, though the rise of the internet over the past two decades has allowed plenty of violent perpetrators to first share their hateful ideas online before they carry out their attacks. The Jacksonville shooter did not share his manifestos online, nor did the Nashville Christian School shooter.
As one example of hate-filled writings that spread far and wide, the mass shooter who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019 shared his manifesto on the website 8chan before carrying out the attacks. Not only did the police never release that manifesto, the New Zealand government made it a crime to even share the document in the country.
Whenever mass shooters commit their heinous crimes, it’s only natural for the public to have questions about why they did it. But shootings are so common and occur for such a wide variety of reasons that it’s hard to say there’s much public interest in releasing their screeds.
The U.S. has experienced 476 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. And everyone knows by now that such a high figure is unique among rich countries. Many U.S. politicians will insist our mass shooting epidemic is simply a product of a mental health crisis or a decline in prayer. But every other country has people with mental health problems and the U.S. is the most religious of all wealthy countries. The thing that sets us apart is our number of guns.
In fact, Americans bought 60 million new guns during the pandemic, a truly daunting figure in a country of 330 million people. And with little appetite for new gun regulations from our elected leaders, that number is just going to grow in the months and years ahead. Police can choose to release or not release the manifestos of mass shooters. But there’s absolutely no evidence that releasing manifestos will help get our violence problem under control.