Chemical Weapons and Fractalnoia


Last night, the Trump administration issued an announcement, saying that “the United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime.” This claim arrives fewer than two days after a report by Seymour Hersh in the German newspaper Die Welt, which claimed to debunk reports of the April 4 Syrian chemical weapons incident that inaugurated a return of open hostilities between the U.S. and Assad regime.

I can’t be the only one to notice the highly coincidental timing of these contradictory reports. Some may interpret this coincidence to mean that pro-war forces within the Trump administration rushed to issue an announcement contradicting Hersh’s assertions. But I think it is actually more likely that Hersh’s own sources were motivated to speak by foreknowledge of the White House’s upcoming accusations against the Assad regime. After all, Hersh’s report made barely a ripple in the frothy murk of the American news discourse.

That’s not to say that this White House, or the defense establishment, are incapable of overreaction. Obviously, they are. But if we’re weighing likelihoods, it’s most probable that Hersh’s sources within the American defense establishment tried to do an end run around the anti-Assad factions who currently enjoy the ear of the president.

Of course, it’s also possible this really is nothing more than a coincidence. But I doubt it.

One thing is certain. There is a propaganda war raging in the apparatus of the global media, and it’s so vast and tangled that I doubt anyone, from Sy Hersh to the Pentagon, knows exactly what’s going on. There are likely more players in this game than anyone is aware of, on myriad, ever-shifting narrative battlefields that link Syria to Russo-American relations, to the perennial questions of Iran and Israel, energy policy, Islamophobia, gun violence, Pepe the frog…you name it. Everyone loves a neologism; let’s call it “World War P.”

It’s no wonder that conspiracy theories are now an (arguably) dominant part of the mainstream media discourse. Conspiracy theories are, after all, based on misapplications of pattern recognition. Simply calling the current bedlam “intersectional” doesn’t come close to doing justice to this tangle of thorns. It’s omnisectionalhypertextual.

This may be a permanent feature of our still-emerging database society. With an ever-expanding supply of data points (true and false), apophenia is inevitable. Any claim, true or false, may be juxtaposed with its corollary or contradiction, presented to the public online, and someone will be sure to take up its narrative cause.