The circumstances of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death were suspicious to say the least. By and large, however, mainstream news sources and political pundits alike have branded those who have questioned these circumstances as unhinged conspiracy theorists. But considering the high stakes involved, such questioning is only rational. Scalia was found dead at the age of 79 in his room at Cibolo Creek Ranch in West Texas on Feb. 13. No security detail had accompanied him to the hunting resort. He presumably died of a heart attack, but his body was not autopsied, even though Cibolo Creek Ranch owner John Poindexter reported that Scalia was found with a pillow over his head. More recently, it has come to light that the late justice spent his last hours in the company of members of an ancient, elite secret society of Austrian hunters called the International Order of St. Hubertus.
There is something objectively unique—if not downright fishy—about all of this. The resulting vacancy on the nine-seat court has triggered what many have referred to as a “Constitutional crisis.” The critical tiebreaking seat is at stake and Republican senators are refusing to even hear a new nominee speak as long as President Barack Obama remains in office.
It is not difficult to imagine—hypothetically—why a left-leaning, politically motivated group of individuals would have wanted Scalia or any other right-wing justice dead. Though Republican obstructionism is far from unprecedented, the Senate’s united front is surprising to many and perhaps would not have been foreseen.
The Washington Post attempted to strike down such questions with an article titled “Conspiracy theories swirl around the death of Antonin Scalia” and, days later, another: “The psychology behind why people believe conspiracy theories about Scalia’s death.” Similarly, Raw Story published “Why rational people believe stupid Scalia conspiracy theories” in their science section. For every homemade blog post or YouTube video speculating about whether Scalia may have been killed, there is a bluntly dismissive mainstream media article denouncing such tin foil hat theorizing.
The problem with these lines of attack against the would-be conspiracy theorists is that the burden of proof does not lie with the casual reader of the news. As a curious person, I am not responsible for coming up with a cogent theory of what really happened to Scalia. He very well may have died of natural causes, but—given the aftermath of his death as well as the strange events that preceded this death—I feel that someone in a position to offer more than mere conjecture should be investigating and asking the questions that many so-called conspiracy theorists have been asking.
There is certainly a truth, but that does not mean that it fits into the mainstream media narrative of this or any other given event. Whether for political reasons, money reasons or out of pure laziness, the media—most of which is owned by six major conglomerates—sometimes offers something other than fact or something less than the whole truth. When this happens, labeling anyone who would call journalistic ethics into question as a paranoid, basement-dwelling conspiracy theorist or—even lower on the moral totem pole—a contrarian Internet troll becomes more or less necessary to maintain legitimacy.
As much as I would prefer to believe that there was no foul play involved in Scalia’s death, I cannot help but wonder about other possibilities. It will always be easy for journalists and politicians to dismiss critical thinkers as conspiracy theorists. What is difficult is asking questions, considering alternate explanations, doing research and getting comfortable with a certain degree of uncertainty.