Did the FBI ‘Wipe’ the Phones of Las Vegas Massacre Eyewitnesses?

A widespread story claiming the Federal Bureau of Investigation had erased Las Vegas witnesses' cell phones was drawn solely from an unsourced Facebook post.

  • Published 21 October 2017
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Claim

The FBI "wiped" phones belonging to eyewitnesses of the Las Vegas massacre.

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Origin

On 12 October 2017, conspiracy trolling network InfoWars and its YouTube-ranting editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had “wiped” the phones of eye witnesses to the 1 October Las Vegas mass shooting before returning them to their owners.

For proof of what one would imagine to be an explosive claim, Watson cited only Facebook posts he had seen:

According to a Las Vegas resident who posted a status update on Facebook, “A bunch of people that worked the Route 91 said they got their cell phones back today. They all said that all their phones are completely wiped clean! All messages and info from that weekend are completely gone. Anyone else experience this?”

“A few different people who were vendors there are all saying the same thing,” the woman later comments.

InfoWars has been busily stitching together a cover-up narrative that the FBI and local law enforcement are actively seizing evidence of a second gunman in a far-reaching conspiracy to hide yet another “false flag” operation (a false flag is conspiracy jargon for a catastrophe engineered by the government; the “false flag” is often presented as a precursor to taking Americans’ guns away, something that has demonstrably not happened over the decades of mass shootings in the United States). David Knight, host of a show on InfoWars called “The Real News” put it this way in a segment about Las Vegas:

[It] is time for us to remind each other of the long history of our government’s setting up false flag attacks. They don’t care if people die if it forwards their agenda for legislation or for government control or for surveillance. When people die it only makes it more powerful for them when that happens.

We reached out to the FBI and got no response; however, generally speaking, the Bureau does not comment on ongoing investigations. 

On 10 October 2017, the FBI began returning personal items to the crowd of 22,000 concert goers who had abruptly fled the hail of gunfire ten days earlier — everything from cell phones, to purses, wallets, jewelry, and clothing. The shooter’s electronic belongings were taken to the FBI’s laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, according to news reports. Whether any of the returned cell phones were damaged or had missing data is unclear. InfoWars blurred out the names of two people who allegedly posted about it, making it impossible to reach out to them.

But the FBI didn’t “wipe” witnesses’ phones to hide evidence of a second shooter. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD), which is leading the investigation, found no evidence anyone other than Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, shot at the Route 91 Harvest Festival crowd that night before turning the gun on himself. 

The report cobbled together by Watson — based on no evidence other than the hearsay of a Facebook conversation — was picked up by a swarm of disreputable web sites eager to prove their pet conspiracy theories, including quack health site Natural News and the rabidly anti-Muslim MadWorld News and Geller Report. It was also shared far and wide by individual Facebook users and pages like The Daily Sheeple, which has more than 60,000 fans.

Since the deadliest mass shooting in recent American history, in which 58 were killed and hundreds injured, conspiracy theorists have, as usual, cherry-picked bits of information that fit their own narratives. Many have latched on to the fact that during the course of the investigation, details like the timeline of events and Paddock’s check-in date at the Mandalay Bay hotel, from which he fired on the crowd, have changed — although Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and other high-ranking law enforcement officials have already said that should be expected due to large number of people and agencies involved in the incident, from which information had to be collected and organized.

As a case in point, apparently dissatisfied with the anticlimactic fact that no motive has yet been ascertained and that Paddock has no currently known ties to foreign terrorist organizations, conservative media personality Ann Coulter wrote for Breitbart.com:

I don’t know what happened — and, apparently, neither do the cops — but it’s kind of odd that we keep being told things that aren’t true about the Las Vegas massacre, from the basic timeline to this weird insistence that Paddock made a good living at gambling.

The most likely explanation is that the reporters and investigators are incompetent nitwits. But the changing facts from law enforcement and preposterous lies from the press aren’t doing a lot to tamp down alternative theories of the crime.

[…]

If this were a movie script, a terrorist would go to Paddock’s room on the pretense of buying guns, kill Paddock, commit the massacre, put his gunshot residue-covered gloves on Paddock’s dead hands and slip out of the room when the coast was clear.

In a previous interview about the conspiracy theories surrounding the investigation, LVMPD officer Larry Hadfield told us that no matter what they say about the facts gathered in the course of the official investigation, police can’t convince those who are determined to believe their own preferred narrative:

We tell people what we know. If they don’t believe it but they’re going to believe whatever web site, then I don’t know what else to tell you.