Humans endeavor to make sense of events by weaving narratives that match their world views. One result of this is the notion that some (or all) school shootings are false flag attacks rather than being as described by the mainstream media.
In this context, a false flag attack is when the attack is supposedly conducted by some mysterious force (such as the deep state) to advance some political goal (such as destroying the Second Amendment and taking away guns). In some cases, the false flag is alleged to be entirely false—it is claimed that there was no attack and the event is a fiction spread by the media and the force behind the false flag. In other cases, it is claimed that there was a real attack, but that the agents carrying it out were acting at the behest (wittingly or not) of this mysterious force.
From a philosophical perspective, these alleged false flags present an epistemic problem: how does one know that the attack is a false flag? As would be suspected, those that advance the false flag narrative tend to be rather short on actual evidence and long on suspicion and conspiracy theory. While a proper investigation would require considering each case, David Hume offers a general principle that can provide a guide here. When writing about miracles, Hume contends that the certainty one places on the truth of any matter of fact should be proportional to the strength of the evidence. I will apply this principle to the falsest of false flags first, the fictional attack.
Some conspiracy theorists, such as Alex Jones and James Tracy, claim that no one was killed at Sandy Hook. These conspiracy theories have been debunked by Snopes, but conspiracy theorists tend to double down in the face of efforts to disprove their claims. That said, it is worth considering the false flag claim in the light of Hume’s principle as well as using the standard inference to the best explanation.
Completely faking a school shooting would be a large undertaking that would require the involvement of many people. The fake parents, fake students, fake police, fake teachers, and so on would need to be in on the conspiracy and would need to maintain the façade in the face of years of investigation. School records, police records and so on would all need to be faked. There would need to be fake funerals with fake bodies. And so on for a massive conspiracy involve hundreds and perhaps even thousands of people. Given what we know about the ability of people to keep secrets, it is wildly implausible that such a conspiracy could occur and occur repeatedly, as the conspiracy theorists allege.
While it could be countered that the secret force behind the conspiracy has the power to engage in such massive fakery and maintain the fiction for years, this simply creates another problem: if this secret force is so powerful, so capable and so disciplined, then it should already rule the country, doing what it wants. That is the trouble with proposing such a force—it would have no need to remain a dark conspiracy when it could simply rule. The best explanation is, of course, that the shootings are not complete fictions. This, however, does leave open the possibility of a false flag that is not a fiction.
Other conspiracy theorists advance the idea that some or all school shootings are real shootings, but the shooter is acting at the behest of the secret force that makes such things happen. In this case, only the shooter needs to be involved in the conspiracy—either wittingly or by being somehow manipulated by the secret force. There is, of course, also the option that the real shooter is an agent of the secret force and then a patsy is put in their place, perhaps already dead.
Those arranging the attacks are supposed to be acting as architects of fear who hope to scare the public into backing attempts to destroy the Second Amendment and take away guns. These conspirators might be liberals who hate guns so much that they are willing to murder children, or they might be something else—there are various theories.
As before, the way to assess this claim is to consider the evidence that is available in favor of false flags. The obvious problem is that conspiracy theorists will tend to claim that any opposing evidence is the work of Them and they will carefully select their evidence to confirm their theory. A more objective assessment will indicate that the conspiracy theory is far less plausible than the alternative. After all, the conspiracy theory requires a secret force that can operate in an amazingly effective manner yet is somehow unable to achieve its alleged ends by other means. That is, it is both extremely powerful and extremely ineffective—which is an odd combination. If this secret force is alleged to have control of the state, then it should be able to achieve its goals. If it is not in control of the state, then there is the obvious question of why the state remains ignorant of its operations or choses to ignore them. Once again, the best explanation is that the alleged false flag operations are simply what they appear to be.