Anatomy of a Poorly Written Conspiracy Theory

Aaron Ochs
8 min readJul 31, 2019
Photo illustration of Karen Velie (left) by Aaron Ochs. Velie photo courtesy of San Luis Obispo Police Dept.

Aaron Ochs is the author of “Defamers: How Fake News Terrorized a Community and Those Who Dared to Fight It,” a nonfiction detailing the false, deceptive and criminal practices of online tabloid CalCoastNews.

CalCoastNews is back in the headlines again. This time, they’re in the spotlight for accusing San Luis Obispo police chief Deanna Cantrell of “covering up” her stolen gun. The accusations led to a sharp rebuke by the City of San Luis Obispo and San Luis Obispo Police Dept. The rebuke was published widely among local news outlets.

I have intimate knowledge of how CalCoastNews operates and how they conjure conspiracy theories for clickbait. They take a controversial news story with enough factual information to sustain a legitimate debate and supplement it with conspiracy theories that — as history shows — are not backed with evidence.

In this case, there are valid arguments that can be made about whether or not Chief Cantrell should be fired for accidentally leaving behind a lethal weapon that could’ve been picked up by someone who could misuse it. There are conversations to be had about whether or not her punishment fit the circumstances or whether those circumstances constitute a crime. Here, the problem is a “cover-up” conspiracy was alleged by a source that’s accused other public officials of “cover ups” without evidence. Additionally, the allegation is also being reported by someone with a clear bias against the SLO Police Dept.

I’ve done preliminary research into the allegations and reached out to my sources, but before I go any further with discussing the case itself, let’s deconstruct CalCoastNews co-founder Karen Velie’s article.

From Velie’s original July 25 article:

“The search for the pistol that San Luis Obispo Police Chief Deanna Cantrell lost in a bathroom stall resulted in an apparently illegal search of a home without a warrant and the arrest of a couple on charges of child neglect for having a messy house. And, new information points to Cantrell’s efforts to keep the news of her loss quiet despite her claim that she immediately reported the stolen gun.”

In the very first paragraph, Velie makes a biased determination that the search for Chief Cantrell’s missing firearm…

Aaron Ochs

Author, artist, advocate and entrepreneur from Morro Bay, California.