[W]hile [a] watery grave may help diminish bin Laden’s status as a martyr to his followers, it was already fueling conspiracy theories; as the administration resisted releasing even photographs of the slain terrorist leader on Monday, a predictable haze of myth and rumor had already, inevitably, begun to rise around him.
No political leader of any weight has doubted the American story, though some Muslim leaders have criticized the action and there will be a delicate political calculation to be made by bin Laden’s presumed successor, Ayman Al Zawahiri, as to whether he confirms or denies the death.
But in an age of mistrust for authority, and when the mainstream media has lost its ability to damp down discredited theories, bin Laden’s death is already in dispute.
An arm of a Pakistani Taliban group led the charge Monday, according to Pakistan’s GEO TV, insisting that Bin Laden is still alive. Supporters rallied around a new Facebook group called, “Osama bin Laden NOT DEAD.” Meanwhile, the Pakistani and British media Monday fell prey to a recycled and faked photograph of a dead Bin Laden.
In the United States, suspicious voices rose across the political spectrum. Radio host Alex Jones, a powerful hub of anti-government sentiment and leader of those who believe the American government was behind the September 11 attacks, instantly floated his own theory: “[Inside Sources:] Government had Osama bin Laden frozen [Nearly a Decade].”
Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan wrote her supporters [on her Facebook page] “I am sorry, but if you believe the newest death of OBL, you’re stupid. Just think to yourself—they paraded Saddam’s dead sons around to prove they were dead—why do you suppose they hastily buried this version of OBL at sea? This lying, murderous Empire can only exist with your brainwashed consent—just put your flags away and THINK!”
And on the conservative site Big Peace, J. Michael Waller demanded that Obama lay the corpse out in lower Manhattan. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” he wrote.
A fuller quotation from Waller:
The free world, particularly the United States, has a right to make sure Osama bin Laden is really dead. Every American has a right to walk right up to bin Laden’s corpse and view it. We are entitled to know for a fact that the witch is dead. No shroud for dignity’s sake, please – bin Laden’s naked, bullet-riddled corpse should be put on display in lower Manhattan for all the world to see. The entire body should be digitally scanned, inside and out – and made available for everyone to take his or her own picture.
Others speculated that perhaps bin Laden had never existed at all. And throughout a Muslim world in which bin Laden’s guilt in the 9/11 attacks remains, according to polls, widely doubted, the stealthy American incursion could only stir more conspiracy theorizing.
Since the Politico article ran, Glenn Beck has also floated the possibility bin Laden was spirited out of his Abbottabad compound:
There is something bothering me and it has to do with the helicopter crash. Getting Osama Bin Laden out, and the fact that we know that Wikleaks says that al-Qaeda has nukes. And here we have the head of al-Qaeda and we shoot him. Reports coming from the Pentagon, he was unarmed. Now why would we shoot a guy? Did we get the information? Could we have done anything with that? Were poll numbers involved, or are we seeing a show? Is it possible that Osama Bin Laden has been ghosted out of his compound, and we’re seeing a show at this point? Watch the other hand. Watch the other hand.