It is the nature of conspiracy theories to turn tragedy into grist, to transform grief and human suffering into an abstract game. The latest horrifying example came out of news late July that Barack Obama’s chef Tafari Campbell had drowned in the waters off Martha’s Vineyard. What was a terrible accident and a tragic loss for Campbell’s family and friends was almost immediately seized upon by the paranoid corners of the internet as proof that somehow Barack and Michelle Obama had been involved in an assassination.
It was not the first time that conspiracists have seized on a senseless death as proof of a deeper plot: the 1993 suicide of Vince Foster, lawyer in the Clinton White House, and the murder of the DNC staffer Seth Rich during the 2016 presidential campaign were both used as proof of a “Clinton body count” by the right wing, a playbook that was immediately resurrected as news of Campbell’s death broke. The difference was that those earlier conspiracy theories were focused almost entirely on the Clintons, while the current iteration is far more diffuse and its targets far more wide-reaching.