Get PolitiFact in your inbox.
If Your Time is short
There’s no evidence to support baseless claims that the mass shooting in a Brooklyn subway was a staged event. The attack was real.
Hours after a gunman opened fire on a crowded subway train during morning rush hour in Brooklyn, New York, some people logged onto social media to falsely claim that the attack was staged, or what many call a "false flag" operation.
"Biden gives a gun grabbing speech yesterday, when NO ONE was talking about guns, and voila! FALSE FLAG," someone tweeted, sharing a story about the shooting.
"The guy fired 33 rounds in a crowded subway car and hit 10 people. No deaths, and the cameras just HAPPENED to not be functioning, and the guy ‘got away’. This has EVERY marking of a False Flag," another said.
"False flags" are supposed covert operations designed to deflect blame and are frequently the subject of conspiracy theories.
Posts making these claims were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
On April 12, a man popped open a smoke canister in a subway car and started shooting, firing over 30 rounds and striking 10 people as the train pulled into the 36th Street station in Sunset Park. Five riders were critically wounded in the rush-hour attack, and many more were injured in the chaos that followed, police said. No deaths have been reported.
Wearing a gas mask and construction vest, the man — identified by law enforcement as 62-year-old Frank R. James — fled the scene, leaving behind a gun, ammo, gasoline and fireworks. He was arrested a day later in Manhattan. While a motive has not yet been established, investigators said that James will face federal terrorism charges.
There is no evidence that the attack was staged.
Multiple local and national news organizations have been closely covering the shooting in Brooklyn, obtaining live footage, speaking to law enforcement and interviewing witnesses. Claims about "fake blood" and "crisis actors" are baseless and appear to solely come from unsourced social media posts.
Cameras not working in the New York City subway system isn’t evidence of a conspiracy — it reflects long-standing issues plaguing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that include frequent breakdowns and mechanical failures.
The day before the shooting, President Joe Biden did announce new measures to crack down on so-called "ghost guns," firearms that come in parts that can be bought online and assembled without much of a trace.
But the new rule, which essentially expands the definition of a firearm to cover these kits, is unrelated to the shooting.
The firearm used in the attack wasn’t a ghost gun. Police said James purchased it from a federal firearms licensee in Ohio in 2012. While James had multiple arrests dating back to the 1990s, he has no felony convictions, law enforcement said, allowing him to make the purchase.
New York law enforcement also debunked reports that said the FBI had previously investigated James and cleared him (a narrative many use to support false flag theories) saying in an April 13 news conference following James’ arrest that there is "no record" of any FBI investigation involving James and that claims stating otherwise are inaccurate.
It’s become common after a mass shooting to hear false claims that they were staged.
This happens, partly, because these false beliefs often affirm people’s worldviews, researchers have told PolitiFact. When something tragic happens that seems to challenge one’s belief systems, it can be more comfortable to think that event was all staged for nefarious purposes. Distrust in the media and police also help push these hoaxes along and makes people more susceptible to believe in elaborate set-ups.
"It can be a lot more emotionally comfortable to believe that not only did it not happen, but that the thing that happened is actually a conspiracy to delegitimize your beliefs," said Mike Caulfield, a research scientist at the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington.
One way people can confront false flag claims during chaotic events is to first ask themselves if they or the people posting these conspiracy theories are experts in crises, Caulfield said, and instead of jumping to conclusions, seek out experts and credible sources first.
Social media posts claim that the mass shooting in the New York City subway was a false flag.
This is baseless and relies on unsourced social media posts. The attack was real.
Pants on Fire!
NBC New York, Gunman Fires 33 Times in Brooklyn Subway Attack, Shooting 10 Riders, Police Say; Person of Interest Identified, Updated April 13, 2022
Twitter post, April 12, 2022
Twitter post, April 12, 2022
Facebook post, April 12, 2022
United States District Court Eastern District of New York, Criminal Complaint UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - against - FRANK JAMES, Accessed April 13, 2022
PolitiFact, Why do some people think mass shootings are staged every time?, Aug. 8, 2019
ABC News, Biden announces rule on 'ghost guns, new ATF nominee, April 11, 2022
YouTube, NYPD Watch as Mayor Adams & NYPD Executives provide an update on yesterday’s shooting incident, April 13, 2022
Email interview, Mike Caulfield, research scientist at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, April 14, 2022
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.