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The Trenchcoat Media, April 18, 1999 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

the soapbox @ benturner.com
archived soapbox: April 18, 1999
"The Trenchcoat Media" [permalink]
    keywords: TV, crime, school, internet, media, journalism
    soapbox #: 183
    written: April 18, 1999
    words: 1368

"The Trenchcoat Media", an Essay

The page that started it all for me:
http://benturner.com/pesh/why.shtml


On April 20th, at least two suspects opened fire in a public school in Littleton, Colorado, killing as many as 25 people. The suspects were purportedly involved in a group of people called the Trenchcoat Mafia.

STORY: http://www.cnn.com/US/9904/20/school.shooting.08/

A few years ago, when I was still in high school, Plano East Senior High (yes, the city starting to be overcome by student heroin overdoses just a year after I graduated), there was a group of people who were distinguished by the facts that they played Magic: The Gathering, talked to themselves, came to school unkempt every day, and various other things. But they also wore trenchcoats, and they came to be known around the school as the Trenchcoat Gang Mafia. I don't know who came up with it, or who knew about it and who didn't, but the name just stuck. Trust me when I say these guys weren't threatening or dangerous -- they were just weird. Sure, it was name-calling, but that's high school, and that's the name that materialized from the primordial high school goo. [LATER UPDATE: I confess to being a complete loser in high school too. We were all losers in high school! Umm, er...right? I was the Internet geek loser kind.]

When I went to the University of Texas at Austin, I guess I was feeling some nostalgia towards my fellow high school graduates, so I concocted an idea to unite everyone through a web site and keep track of them that way. I developed a site that lists the information for PESH alumni, as well as offered some jokes and stories about PESH. Well, the section as a whole did not succeed, but I still add a lot of alumni who wish to be included. I made a reference to the Trenchcoat Mafia Gang on the "Why?" page, a page that explained why I created the site. This site attracted only a few visitors a week for a few years...

So you can guess what happened this afternoon when the details of the shooting broke out. Seems the Trenchcoat Mafia Gang on my site got indexed by the major search engines, so people began hitting my web site and asking me for more details about the "gang". The first e-mails came from reporters from the NY Times and Time Magazine, digging up any leads they could on the developing details. They probably won't appreciate being directly named here, but I assure you, they didn't conjure up anything or take anything out of context -- they were just seeing if anything linked. They were doing their job.

NY Times e-mail
Time Magazine e-mail

One left his number, so I called him up, just for shits and grins. He seemed very concerned, but I told him that the gang I knew about had nothing to do with the story he was looking at. He told me he was just looking for anything he could find. Short phonecall. One thing: you can't count on friends to give you the sane advice -- they were goading me to work this...sick bastards.

I began getting a lot more e-mail from concerned parents and people who had heard about the shooting. I was pretty bogged down for a bit, but I managed to put a disclaimer up on the "PESH: Why?" page, to make sure that people understood they were looking in the wrong place. I hope everyone who hit my site saw the disclaimer. I still got responses like this: "I WAS WONDERING IF YOUR TRENCHCOAT MAFIA WAS IN ANY WAY RELATED TO SKINHEADS, NAZIS OR ANY OTHER FORM OF COMMUNISM." Bizarre? Oh yes! =)

I've since been sent 40-50 e-mails concerning the mix-up, and a follow-up from someone from the San Francisco Examiner. The page in question was hit 4656 times just this evening. Many of which were from AOL. I'm not sure why. Was I linked to an internal AOL page? Any insight, folks? [LATER UPDATE: Some unscrupulous souls spread the rumors to Plano, and so a very kind, understanding man at the Plano police department called me up and wanted to just compare notes and match wavelengths. He told me that several news organizations in Plano, both radio and TV, had contacted him, partially about what was on MY site. A lot of panicking parents and concerned people have also been calling him. I understand the concern, but I do think it's sensationalist. I've talked to a couple more reporters at Plano/Dallas's FOX and KTVT. Why they want to speak to me is anybody's guess -- obviously I know nothing.]

I want to re-emphasize that there is no link between the two similarly-named gangs. Hell, I don't even think the Trenchcoat Mafia Gang knew it was called such a name. Or maybe they were tipped off after awhile. Anyway.

So if you're some reporter or amateur reporter or wannabe reporter, don't go nosying around looking for what isn't there.

Since I put the disclaimer up, the volume of e-mail has slowed down, but it's interesting to see how many people took interest in this and went to poke about on the Web for the homepages of the suspects, after hearing it on the news networks. It's interesting to see reporters using the Web to dig up information. It's interesting to see that my page got mentioned in #denver, an IRC channel for people interested (I am guessing) in Denver.

I won't say too much about the shooting, really. This has been discussed over and over with each of the school shootings in the last year. Murder is wrong, violence in schools, oh wait maybe murder isn't inherently immoral, shut up you prick, etc. etc. Come to your own conclusions.

Since everyone's been asking, here are some interesting URLs.

http://www.drudgereport.com/

Matt Drudge scores another one. The famous Internet reporter has information about the warning given by the Trenchcoat Mafia prior to the shooting.

http://members.wbs.net/homepages/r/e/b/rebthejuvey.html

A supposed homepage of one of the suspects. Your generic angstful lyrics. They'll probably be blamed.

http://members.aol.com/rebdomine/

Another homepage of one of the suspects. Contains instructions (partial?) for creating a pipe bomb. Also has sheet with a Doom-like beast with horns. Gee, could they have left this for us to see? [LATER UPDATE: AOL wisely removed the contents of the file directory. (that's all there was) There are two files, both of which are mirrored here.]

http://www.snapjudgments.com/snapjudg/week1/sjtrenchcoat.html

Someone who wrote in to me passed along this URL. Spooky, no?

http://www.dallasmorningnews.com/metro-dfw-nf/dfw31.htm

This was my little blurb in the Dallas Morning News. I don't even know why I got a whole article about it -- it's not even news! At any rate, you get to catch my dumbass answers. The last time I was in the Dallas Morning News, by the way, was when my school's tennis team got our asses kicked and I was the only one who won. My life is pathetic, isn't it? =)

So that's my little story for today. I never thought that section of my site would generate so many hits. I never thought that a personal site could top any of the keyword searches on the major search engines. I must have search engine listings that most companies would pay thousands for. All this because people are using the Web to do their own research.

Remember when we had to trust what we were told in the newspaper, on TV, and on the radio? Now each and every one of us can go look for ourselves.

Too bad the circumstances in this case couldn't have been a bit different.


 
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