Every year, some 18,000 people between the ages of 5 and 34 die in car accidents, the leading cause of death for that age bracket. Which makes a fiery wreck either a sadly unsurprising way for a 33-year-old to die... or the perfect cover for a CIA assassination.
It's probably inevitable that the YouTube analysts of the internet's paranoid corners would seize on the unexpected death of Michael Hastings, a BuzzFeed and Rolling Stone reporter with a reputation for nerve and fearlessness.
I am pretty sure Michael Hastings met up with the Vince Foster treatment.— Ron Joseph (@TrotlineDesigns) June 19, 2013
But it's not helped by winking, vague reports like the L.A. Weekly's that Hastings "had reported extensively on the CIA and was rumored to be continuing work on that beat at the time of his demise" (everyone who works national security is reporting on the CIA right now!), or WikiLeaks' ominous, information-light claim that Hastings had contacted it about being investigated by the FBI:
Michael Hastings death has a very serious non-public complication. We will have more details later.— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) June 19, 2013
Michael Hastings contacted WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before he died, saying that the FBI was investigating him.— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) June 19, 2013
A very serious non-public complication! WikiLeaks, at this point just one of those "Anonymous News" Twitter accounts with a verified check mark, has never met a national-security meta-story it couldn't somehow insert itself into. But like the L.A. Weekly story, it gives the conspiracy web just enough encouragement to make Hastings the latest prop in its festival of self-involvement and paranoia.
Just asking questions!
The blog The Rancid Honeytrap kicked off soon after Hastings' death with some innocent, idle speculation in a post called "Admit it, Michael Hastings’ Death is Weird and Scary":
Not much is known yet about the accident that killed journalist Michael Hastings, other than that an eyewitness saw Hastings’ car going at an extremely high speed before the crash. [...] Perhaps it’s only because I know next to nothing about car crashes that this looks fishy to me.
Perhaps! Yes, perhaps. Arguably knowing something about a subject is a prerequisite for finding an example of it "fishy." But Tarzie is just asking questions here and don't you dare act dismissive toward questions:
It's fun watching people I know were suspicious earlier suddenly getting sensible under the careful tutelage of the Gawker assholes.— The Rancid Honeytrap (@RancidTarzie) June 19, 2013
@firetomfriedman observed a convo between chen and someone else. He and Cook are belittling anyone raising questions.— The Rancid Honeytrap (@RancidTarzie) June 19, 2013
"OBVIOUSLY murdered by bomb on gas tank"
My favorite conspiracy message board Godlike Productions has seized on a Facebook post by "former Green Beret" Michael Yon: "Strange. Almost looks like a small bomb got him." (Yon on Hastings: "Hastings was best known for NOT telling the truth.")
But for those with the sand to actually come out and say they think Hastings was murdered by "state actors," the most comprehensive case comes from "Jim Stone, Freelance Journalist" ("Truth is reality, which lies and inventions fall to in the end"), who writes in a post called "Michael Hastings OBVIOUSLY murdered by bomb on gas tank":
It seems to me that Hastings may have been dead, his car parked there, and then blown up with him in it. [...] This appears to be a classic mafia hit, where you are killed and then burned in a car to hide the evidence. In this case, they obviously used a bomb to blow the gas tank as evidenced by the fact that the rear portion of the car is blown open and shredded with the rest of the car nicely intact, read the initial analysis below. And obviously, there was no high speed crash as reported by the lie factory.
Stone, who works in the classic "close analysis of low-quality YouTube frames" field of online conspiracy-mongering, has already had his case picked up by InfoWars, which links Hastings' death to the Obama administration's drone assassination policy and its "targeting of journalists."
Look. There's a nonzero chance that Hastings was being investigated by the FBI in some capacity, or at least believed and claimed to others that he was. (An FBI spokesperson, reached by phone this morning, said "We have no comment. That's in line with our policy on investigations." Ben Smith, Hasting's editor, told Daily Intel that "Michael told a number of his friends and colleagues that he was concerned that he was under investigation.") All journalists have reason to believe they are being, at the very least, monitored. And it's well documented that the president has no problem killing people—even American citizens—by remote control, if his administration judges them threats to national security. Hastings told Reddit last year that he gets death threats "every once and awhile."
But Michael Hastings wasn't an Afghan wedding guest, and in that same Reddit post he takes care to make it clear that vengeful intelligence agencies have a different m.o. when it comes to American journalists (just ask Gary Webb):
But there's a more insidious response most of the time when you piss off the powerful. They come after your career, they try to come after your credibility. They do cocktail party whisper campaigns. They try to make you "controversial." Sadly, The Powers That Be are often aided by other journalists.