Please explain “That was another false flag event”.
That was a covert operation, in other words, false being false. A false flag isn’t the real flag. It’s fake.
Hence, a false flag event is a deceptive event, something that isn’t what it says it is.
Covert operation? Yeah, like, a covert operation performed by secret agents in an attempt to rescue hostages from their kidnapers.
Originally, “false flag” refers to a ship in the ocean flying, literally, a false flag.
Ships fly a flag to identify themselves. Needless to say, each ship has its own flag which distinguishes it from all other ships.
Sometimes, however, especially in times of war, a ship feels necessary to fly other flags than their own, in order to deceive or escape from an enemy.
Anyway, metaphorically speaking, “false flag” means that what looks to the eye isn’t the real thing because its true identity is hidden behind the flag or façade.
In our example, a false flag event simply means the event isn’t what it purports to be.
All right, here are media examples of “false flag”:
1. Conspiracy theorists are convinced that a false flag attack is imminent after Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden used the term “dark winter” during Thursday evening’s presidential debate.
The term was used after Biden and President Donald Trump were asked what actions their administrations would take to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The former vice president argued that Trump had “no clear plan” and that America was headed for a “dark winter” as a result.
Although most Americans heard a perfectly normal term describing our uncertain future, conspiracy theorists heard evidence of a sinister and impending government plot.
Conspiratorial corners of the internet believe Biden was actually referencing Operation Dark Winter, the code name for a U.S. bio-terrorist attack simulation carried out in 2001. The operation, designed by health professionals from the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies—now known as the Center for Health Security—and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), intended to gauge the government’s response to a mock smallpox outbreak linked to an unknown terrorist entity.
“In the debate, Biden said ‘It’s going to be a dark winter,’” said Suzanne Humphries, a conspiratorial author. “Have you looked up dark winter??? I think that slipped out unintentionally.”
Such simulations are commonplace across the public and private sector and often involve multiple government agencies. Countless simulations aimed at testing the country’s defenses against biological and chemical attacks have been carried out for decades.
But in the world of conspiracy theorists, such coincidences don’t exist. Prominent right-wing Twitter users were referencing Operation Dark Winter not long after.
Ian Miles Cheong, a Malaysian commentator popular among U.S. conservatives, alluded that Biden's use of the term was out of the ordinary.
“I found it curious that Joe Biden referred to ‘Dark Winter,’” Cheong said. “Operation Dark Winter is the code name for a senior-level bioterrorist attack simulation conducted in 2001. It was designed to carry out a mock version of a covert and widespread smallpox attack on the US.”
Cheong also said it was the basis for Tom Clancy’s The Division, a popular video game series. Unfortunately for Cheong, it seems unlikely Biden is a gamer.
Discussion around the phrase only became darker from there. Dozens of Twitter accounts have since suggested that Biden’s remark is proof that the government is preparing to purposely unleash a biological agent in order to use the ensuing chaos to assert more control, a tactic known as a false flag attack.
The story quickly made its way across social media as well as numerous conspiratorial blogging sites.
- Conspiracy theorists think Biden saying ‘dark winter’ proves a false-flag is imminent, DailyDot.com, October 23, 2020.
2. While much of America watched a mob of Trump supporters overrun police and break into the halls of Congress Wednesday afternoon, members of the far right chatted up an imaginary narrative of what was really going on.
After weeks of planting the idea, dozens of extremists used social media to promote an idea with no basis in reality – that the people besieging the Capitol were actually far-left agitators disguised as Trump supporters.
The trickle of claims became a flood in a matter of hours. It started in secretive corners of the web such as 4chan, but tweets and articles from more and more mainstream conservative news sites followed. It began spiking around 1 p.m., just after rioters started breaching barriers outside the Capitol. Soon, Fox News personalities were sharing the same speculation that circulated among believers in the discredited QAnon conspiracy theory.
By 10:15 p.m., the “false flag” story reached the House floor that rioters had invaded earlier in the day. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida told his shaken colleagues in a speech: “They were masquerading as Trump supporters and, in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group antifa.”
USA TODAY worked with experts in disinformation and examined a variety of social and news media to trace how one false claim went from the fringe to Washington’s seat of power. The review found predictions of a Jan. 6 disruption by antifa, a loose collection of far-left-leaning “anti-fascists” who battle the far right, going back as far as December.
The messages came more frequently as the event drew closer. Then, when the mob attacked the Capitol – inviting instant condemnation from virtually all corners – the idea of an antifa “false flag” operation exploded exponentially.
In fact, the analysis shows, members of Congress were using language parroting extremist groups and platforms just minutes before the siege began. In that case, the false claims alleged massive vote rigging.
Extensive reporting by USA TODAY and other media organizations has identified dozens of people who forced their way into the Capitol, all of whom showed in their social media accounts or said in interviews that they were avid Trump supporters. These included Ashli Babbitt, the woman fatally shot by police.
The speed with which the antifa conspiracy theory crystalized Jan. 6 underscores the close alignment in messaging between extremists and some members of the institution that was under attack.
“It’s kind of shocking how quickly it got to the Congress floor,” said Kayla Gogarty, a senior researcher at Media Matters for America who studies misinformation. “Pretty much immediately after the insurrection happened, we were seeing claims and images purportedly showing that it was antifa.”
- How the antifa conspiracy theory traveled from the fringe to the floor of Congress, USAToday.com, January 13, 2021.
3. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is facing fresh criticism Thursday for her belief in yet another wild conspiracy theory—this time in an old Facebook post of Greene’s where she casts blame for a 2018 California wildfire on a laser beam from outer space—and highlighting anew Greene's public support for these far-fetched conspiracy theories in her years before entering Congress.
The latest was unearthed Thursday by the left-leaning group Media Matters for America, which detailed a 2018 Facebook post where Greene blamed California's Camp Fire—the deadliest in state history—on a laser beam fired from space, perhaps as part of a plan involving the state’s former governor, Democrat Jerry Brown.
Greene faced outcry recently after video surfaced of her following and harassing David Hogg, the gun control activist who survived a massacre at his high school in Parkland, Florida.
Greene has repeatedly claimed that mass school shootings, like Parkland and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, were “false flag” events.
She’s also suggested the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, which was the deadliest in U.S. history, targeted a mostly conservative audience of country music fans since it was part of a plot from gun control activists.
Greene has also said in blog posts that the debunked “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which claimed there was a Satanic, child sex-trafficking ring at a Washington pizza restaurant—which convinced a man to fire three shots into the business in 2016—might be real.
Like many on the conspiracy-driven right, one of Greene’s favorite targets is the Clintons, including one of the more outlandish claims she’s signaled support for—that Hillary Clinton took part in a Satanic ceremony where a girl was murdered and had her face chopped off, with participants wearing the severed face and drinking the blood of the murdered child.
- Clinton Conspiracies, False Flags And Laser Beams That Cause Wildfires—Marjorie Taylor Greene Has Endorsed Them All, Forbes.com, January 28, 2021.
About the author:
Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: email@example.com, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.