No, the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs was not a false flag

PolitiFact | There’s nothing fabricated about this shooting.
Mourners stand along the makeshift memorial to the victims of a weekend mass shooting at a nearby gay nightclub on Tuesday in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Mourners stand along the makeshift memorial to the victims of a weekend mass shooting at a nearby gay nightclub on Tuesday in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Published Nov. 24, 2022

News about Saturday’s mass shooting that killed five people at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is still developing, but that hasn’t stopped baseless social media claims from describing it as a “false flag” operation.

One tweet from a well-known purveyor of misinformation, Real Raw News, was posted a day after the shooting and claimed it was staged because of a perceived connection to the QAnon conspiracy theories.

“Odd that the place was called Club ‘Q,’” the tweet said. “I smell False Flag.”

There’s nothing fabricated about this shooting. The loved ones of five who authorities say were killed — Daniel Aston, 28, Kelly Loving, 40, Ashley Paugh, 35, Derrick Rump, 38, and Raymond Green Vance, 22 — are grieving. “We’re heartbroken. We’re sad. We’re mad, angry,” Paugh’s sister, Stephanie Clark, told NBC.

Club Q opened as a gay club in Colorado Springs in the early 2000s, well before QAnon first emerged as a conspiracy theory in 2017. Coverage of the club’s opening by local newspaper The Gazette focused on the club owners’ aim to serve the queer community at a time when mainstream media was increasingly embracing LGBTQ culture amid popular shows like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Will & Grace.”

There is no evidence the club is linked to QAnon.

False flag operations historically referred to when a military force or ship flew the flag of another country to deceive an enemy. The term then became associated with governments faking violent acts to justify military action against an enemy. Today, actual false flags are outnumbered by modern-day conspiracy theories that use the term to baselessly suggest fraud whenever a tragedy or violent attack occurs.

The false accusations frequently follow mass shootings: 26 killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, in 2012; 17 killed by a gunman in a Parkland, Florida, high school in 2018; 31 dead in El Paso, Texas, and Dayon, Ohio, in 2019.

Similar false flag claims followed more recent shootings in Buffalo, New York; Highland Park, Illinois; and Uvalde County, Texas, all receiving Pants on Fire ratings from PolitiFact. Conspiracy theorists have also called the 9/11 attacks and the recent attack on Paul Pelosi false flag operations.

While the Colorado Springs shooting remains under investigation by law enforcement and a motive for it has not been disclosed, there is no evidence to support the idea it was all staged.

Multiple local and national news outlets have closely covered the shooting and interviewed law enforcement personnel and witnesses at the nightclub, as well as reviewed 911 calls from that night.

The Denver Post reported that the first call to 911 happened around 11:57 a.m. Police believe the gunman began shooting as soon as he entered the building.

Joshua Thurman, who was at the club, told the Post he initially mistook the gunfire as a part of the music before realizing something was wrong.

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“There were bodies on the ground … shattered glass, blood. It was awful,” Thurman told the paper.

At least two clubgoers confronted the suspected gunman within minutes of the first shots fired and subdued him before police arrived just after midnight, the Denver Post reported. Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, was identified by police as the suspect.

Aldrich faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and hate-crime charges, according to court records reviewed by CNN.

The Colorado Springs Police Department said multiple guns were found at the nightclub, including a “long rifle” used during the shooting.

Our ruling

A social media post made the baseless claim the mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs was a false flag operation.

The post implied the shooting was staged and pointed to a perceived connection to the QAnon conspiracy theorists because the club is named Club Q.

The club has no connection to QAnon. It was opened more than a decade before QAnon emerged as a conspiracy theory. Overwhelming evidence from continuous news coverage, police statements and witness testimonies prove the shooting happened. Five people were killed and their loved ones are mourning.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!