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Feb 22 2018

Crisis Actors

For over 3 years I passed Sandy Hook Elementary School on my way to work. Exit 11 off of I-84 has a rather sharp right hand turn where Tractor Trailers tip over on a regular basis. Then you have the choice of going left up toward where Fairfield Hills Mental Hospital used to be or turning right past the back of the School to Rt. 34 which I did because my ultimate destination was on Church Hill Rd.

At the time there was a Deli and Convenience Store at the intersection that I’d go to every day and get a Pepperoni and Provolone with Sweet Onion and Brown Mustard on a Kaiser for lunch. It was a great sandwich, had about a third of a pound of Pepperoni in it. I did it so often they named it after me- the ek. Across Church Hill Rd. there was a little pocket Park next to the Pootatuck River (more a creek actually) and if the weather was nice I’d sit on a bench and eat it there.

I know this place. You could go today and find it exactly as I describe it except the Deli has been replaced by a restaurant.

You won’t find Sandy Hook Elementary School either. They bulldozed it after Adam Lanza killed 26 people there, mostly children 6 or 7 years old. That was in 2012, just 6 years ago.

I also know people in Emergency Services, EMTs and stuff, and I know the kind of training they participate in. Heck, I’ve had a fair dose of it myself. I was a professional Life Guard for like 8 years or so and I did what we just called Drills about once a month. Someone would pretend to hit the Diving Board and break their back or neck, or slip on the deck and break their leg, or have a Heart Attack, or Drown in various gruesome ways (those were always tough because the “victim” was usually the supervisor and they’d work out their frustrations by actually trying to kill you).

Sometimes I was the “victim” which was cool because you don’t have to do much other than memorize your symptoms and moan and groan.

I was a “Crisis Actor”.

Where the ‘Crisis Actor’ Conspiracy Theory Comes From
by Jason Koebler, Motherboard
Feb 22 2018, 2:30pm

The term ‘crisis actor’ has been in the news a lot lately, because conspiracy theorists have accused survivors of the Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, of being actors—people paid to pretend they witnessed a horrible tragedy that actually never happened and was instead staged by the government in order to garner the political will necessary to ban guns.

To be clear, there is no evidence this is actually the case. Conspiracy theorists have questioned the legitimacy of people who lived through a horrific shooting—watched their friends and classmates slaughtered—in an attempt to harass and silence their political activism. “Crisis acting” is now a term that’s constantly bandied about by the Alex Joneses of the world and has been used to explain away terrorist attacks such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the Bataclan Nightclub shooting, as well as most mass shooting events in the United States. It has become just as important as “false flag” in the conspiracy theory lexicon.

It wasn’t until relatively recently that conspiracy theorists were audacious enough to suggest that terrorist attacks and mass shootings actually didn’t happen at all.

Wednesday, a video claiming that shooting survivor David Hogg was an “actor” briefly became the top trending video on YouTube before the company deleted it. The conspiracy is now so mainstream that Jimmy Kimmel addressed the stupidity of it on his show this week.

The resurgence of this conspiracy theory led me to attempt to track down the origins of the term “crisis actor.” I spoke to an emergency response trainer who has used “role players” to simulate crises for 40 years and went down the rabbit hole to find its origins as a completely unfounded conspiracy theory. It turns out that “crisis actor” is a relatively new phrase for a relatively new conspiracy.

“A new group of actors is now available nationwide for active shooter drills and mall shooting full-scale exercises,” a press release from October 31, 2012 published by a Colorado-based professional acting studio called Visionbox reads. “Visionbox Crisis Actors are trained in criminal and victim behavior, and bring intense realism to simulated mass casualty incidents in public places.”

The release, which is the first instance of the term “crisis actor” that I could find, says that the actors’ experience in performing Shakespeare and other plays allows them to “improvise scenes of extreme stress while strictly following official exercise scenarios.” For a mall shooting simulation, “the actors can play the part of the shooters, mall employees, shoppers in the mall, shoppers who continue to arrive at the mall, media reporters and others rushing to the mall, and persons in motor vehicles around the mall.”

I know actors too. Lots of them. And they all have day jobs and they’re always looking for gigs.

Though the term “crisis actor” wasn’t coined by conspiracy theorists, it was almost instantly co-opted by them. Less than two months after Visionbox’s press release was published, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 26 people, many of them children.

“After such a harrowing event why are select would-be family members and students lingering in the area and repeatedly offering themselves for interviews? A possible reason is that they are trained actors working under the direction of state and federal authorities and in coordination with cable and broadcast network talent to provide tailor-made crisis acting that realistically drives home the event’s tragic features,” he wrote.

Crucially, Tracy (James Tracy, former professor of communications at Florida Atlantic University and publisher of Memory Hole Blog) specifically cites VisionBox’s Crisis Actors press release and suggests that maybe a government agency hired the company for the job. The group—and its “Crisis Actors” have become patient zero for the larger crisis acting conspiracy. Its old website, www.crisisactors.org and the photos posted there are often used by conspiracy theorists in memes created to “prove” a theory.

While Tracy popularized the Sandy Hook crisis actors narrative, he did not invent it. On Christmas, someone calling themselves Travis J. Walker published a post called “The Newest Reality TV Hit Show: Sandy Hook” on a WordPress blog called The R.A.W.W. Scoop. The post notes that “the families seemed to be acting out of character for people who were supposed to be grieving a lost loved one. They seemed to be reciting a rehearsed script in these interviews.” The post goes on to outline the broad script that Tracy would later popularize, and also cites VisionBox’s Crisis Actors: “If an agency like this exists that almost guarantees realism, is it that far out of the realm of possibility to think that this could be staged?”

The plot was further suggested in a truly bizarre post December 29 called “Sandy Hook: AI, Sleeper Activations and Time Stream Manipulations” on a site called OffPlanetRadio (now OffPlanetMedia), which suggests both time manipulation at Aurora, Colorado massacre and Sandy Hook and a “triangulation of Sandy Hook in three separate, seemingly unrelated high profile events:” Aurora, Sandy Hook, and Hurricane Sandy. The post said that Sandy Hook was a drill alongside the suggestion that “the time stream aspect is more compelling given the interval of 7 days prior to the December 21, 2012 solstice. Ritual blood-letting is the cabal’s method of intoning power prior to key time events, especially when coordinated to lunar and solar-based events.” The post ends with the suggestion that conspiracies are mapped using artificial intelligence and “time stream manipulations … such events are holographic in their execution, compartmentalized in commission, and thematically woven into dream time neuropathy.”

A follow up post on December 31 called “Behind the Scenes (literally) at Sandy Hook: Crisis Actors,” drops the time and hologram stuff to focus on VisionBox.

What Tracy did, then, was signal boost a theory being espoused alongside those of mind control and time manipulation. Because Tracy was a university professor and not a random person on the internet, his theories were discussed by Alex Jones on InfoWars and gained traction in conspiracy circles. Fort Lauderdale’s Sun Sentinel was the first mainstream outlet to cover Tracy’s posts, forever enshrining “crisis actors” in our mainstream national lexicon; Tracy’s posts ultimately became a national controversy that was discussed by Anderson Cooper on CNN.

Ok, the link above leads to a Neo Nazi/KKK Conspiracy Theory Mashup, so- don’t bother. The link to Anderson Cooper’s AC360 Blog goes here, but I can’t get the video to embed or even see it for that matter. This video is one I dug up on YouTube myself at the last minute and great expense and also appears to be from some Neo Nazi/KKK Conspiracy Theory Gun Nut but at least has the virtue of being all CNN.

There are several others, all Neo Nazi/KKK Conspiracy Theory Gun Nuts as near as I can determine and I did watch as much as I could stomach. As always I claim no particular expertise, you can duplicate my experimental results if you want but I warn you you’ll junk up your YouTube feed with this crap for months (still trying to get rid of World of Warships videos). To continue-


Since then, anytime there is a shooting, terrorist event, or other mass casualty event, conspiracy theorists suggest that crisis actors are part of a government false flag operation, which more or less brings us to today, where YouTubers, InfoWars, and many on the far right doubting whether or not the Douglas High School shooting actually happened. A search on Google Trends aligns with this timeline; searches for “crisis actor” only register on the site after Tracy’s blog post, and regularly spike after any tragedy post-Newtown.

Like any conspiracy theory, this all started with at least a shred of truth that was stretched way too far. There are people who act out moments of crisis for training purposes, but they weren’t called “crisis actors” until VisionBox posted its press release and Tracy did his blog post. And real crisis actors—called “role players” in the emergency training industry—are an integral part of disaster response training.

“Until the last three or four days, I hadn’t heard the term ‘crisis actors,’” Michael Fagel, who has spent much of the last 40 years using actors to help simulate mass casualty events and other emergencies, told me. “We call them ‘role players.’ A well-trained role player is an integral part of a well-thought-out training system.”

There is a well-established body of research on the use of role players during emergency training exercises. A 2004 paper published in the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management found that using “citizen volunteers” during emergency exercises “enhanced perceptions of response knowledge and teamwork” for police officers, firefighters, and even the volunteers themselves.

He leads Aurora Safety, a company that designs training exercises for first responders, designs trainings for the Department of Homeland Security, and teaches homeland security at Louisiana State University. He says that the use of role players was one of the first things he was taught when he got into emergency response in the 1970s: “It wasn’t new then, either.”

According to Fagel, role players are often hired from drama troupes or are played by paramedics, med school students, or first responders.

“We’re not grabbing a person off the street and throwing them under a bus, literally,” he said. “We usually brief you the day before, and we use people who are trained.”

Fagel’s role players hold 3.5-inch index cards that list their symptoms and they are given scripts to respond to paramedics and first responders in a realistic fashion. Often, they are put in “moulage,” or makeup: “torn clothes, bone fragments … a more realistic training exercise gives you better training,” he said.

“If someone is simulating a heart attack, we can’t actually make you have one. So when the paramedic comes to you, you’ll say ‘Wow, my left arm hurts, I have a tingling feeling,” Fagel said. “Maybe you don’t make eye contact, or if you squeeze their hands, you don’t have full grip, suggesting a neurodeficit. If I’m doing a good job training you as a role player, you become more of a realistic tool for the people in the training.”

As you might expect, Fagel says that conspiracy theorists are severely misguided and put his type of work at risk.

“I had a student tell me she thought FEMA had blown up the [New Orleans] levees and that the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks were inside jobs,” he said. “I was at those missions. We were doing our best to do rescue and recovery. These are not Hollywood setups. I’m a realist, I guess.”

And so a legitimate safety training tool has been co-opted by conspiracy theorists with no evidence, and no proof. People who have suffered great tragedy are harassed and doubted because a couple conspiracy theory bloggers went off the deep end after Sandy Hook, and now here we are.

Now we didn’t have the budget for make-up or other methods to increase the realism of the training experience (though the drowning part got real enough) so it was all pretty fake and the truth of the matter is that in all my years of Life Guarding I never had to do anything more than slap on a bandage and some ointment for a scrape even though I Life Guarded in some really scary places where you could seriously injure youself quite easily.

And I’ll mention that even though the Deli is gone (I have no idea what the restaurant is like that replaced it) if you go further up Church Hill Rd. to Exit 10 (I don’t like getting off there, it’s ugly and commercial) or you’re coming down from Newtown proper you can eat at the Blue Colony which is a typical Greek Diner that boasts they have the best Pancakes and Waffles in Connecticut but really doesn’t (although they are open 24/7 and have a full Bar) or across the street at Newtown Pizza Palace which has a genuinely good Pan Crust pie.

I know this place. You could go today and find it exactly as I describe it.