WASHINGTON - Within minutes of President Barack Obama's announcement Sunday of Osama bin Laden's death in a U.S.-led raid, conspiracy theorists had the Internet buzzing.
Why was the terrorist mastermind killed and quickly buried as sea?
Where was the proof the body was bin Laden's?
Wasn't the announcement politically motivated?
"He's the mastermind of many terrorist attacks. I would think that they would have interrogated him," wrote "Marxam" on an instant Yahoo website questioning bin Laden's death. "I don't think they would just kill him like that. I'm a little suspicious. I'm aware that there have been times when our government has lied to us. What if this is one of those times? Is anyone else suspicious?"
The answer became obvious almost immediately.
"The biggest red flag is them getting rid of the body so fast. Why get rid of the body if they aren't trying to hide something?" wrote "Barbarian" on the same site. "I believe bin Laden has been dead for sometime and the U.S. knew it. They found someone who looks like him or will doctor the photos of the body released to the public."
The U.S. commandos who stormed bin Laden's hiding place photographed the aftermath in the isolated compound, as well as bin Laden's body to document what took place. American officials said a DNA match and facial recognition technology confirmed the body was bin Laden's. The administration is considering releasing the photographs, as well as a videotape of bin Laden's burial at sea, at least partly in an effort to rebut the conspiracy fanciers.
Since many such fringe theorists suspect the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were engineered by Republican President George W. Bush to improve his re-election chances, perhaps it's only fair that others accuse the current Democratic incumbent of playing politics with bin Laden's death.
"I think it's only a cover up, in order for Obama to boost his reputation to win the election in 2012," concluded "Skinny Imran" on another site. "Notice how close we are for 2012? At this last minute they 'capture Osama' and claim that he is 'dead.' "
Conspiracy experts said these reactions are predictable.
"It is really very frustrating because nobody believes anything anymore," said Chris Hodapp, a co-author of "Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies For Dummies."
"Honestly, 30 percent of this country will believe almost any drivel simply because they don't believe anything," said Hodapp, of Indianapolis. "For them, the radically insane idea now is to say that (Lee Harvey) Oswald acted alone" in assassinating President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
A 2006 poll by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found a third of the public harbored suspicions that federal officials assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them, prompting fresh denials of federal involvement by the State Department and the Commerce Department.
University of Florida law school professor Mark Fenster -- author of "Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture" -- suggested the White House should release gruesome photos of bin Laden in hopes of stemming some of the chatter.
"It just replays the birth certificate issue," Fenster said. "The more the White House states and then stands behind this story but refuses to release documentation that is key evidence, the more it underscores these doubts."
(Email Washington correspondent Thomas Hargrove at hargrovet(at)shns.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)
Three members of a Michigan city council have abstained from voting on a measure that would have prevented them from abstaining on future votes.
Also in the headlines
The Washington State Patrol says the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River at Mount Vernon has collapsed, dumping vehicles and people into the water.