Don’t be fooled by conspiracies

January 26, 2013

The parents, friends and families of the children, teachers and administrators who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month have had to endure the kind of grief that is almost beyond comprehension.

Their sorrow has almost certainly not been aided – and has more than likely been exacerbated – by a cadre of credulous, malevolent fools who believe that the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., was nothing less than a conspiracy, and that either no one was killed in the incident, or that several so-called “crisis actors” were shuttled onto the scene to amplify the anguish.

One parent has been on the receiving end of claims that he wasn’t sufficiently engulfed with heartbreak when he appeared before television cameras. A nearby resident who took in six students who escaped from the school has received harassing phone calls and email messages from a motley assortment of Sandy Hook “truthers” who are convinced he was an actor.

There’s a website dedicated to propagating Sandy Hook conspiracies, which trumpets that “it seems unbelievable because it is” and, last week, it featured a screaming headline that a “foreign-speaking SWAT team” was seen outside the school Dec. 14.

This circus even has a ringmaster in the form of James Tracy, a communications professor at Florida Atlantic University, who has hawked Sandy Hook conspiracies on his blog. Tracy has also peddled 9/11 conspiracies and, despite having tenure, some officials at the university are rethinking Tracy’s continued employment after his latest musings.

It is, perhaps, human nature for conspiracy theories to sprout up after monstrous or tragic events. It’s somehow easier for many to believe that the CIA, the Soviets, the Cubans or the Mafia engineered President John F. Kennedy’s assassination almost 50 years ago, rather than it being the singular handiwork of a disgruntled narcissist who worked in a building along Kennedy’s motorcade route and saw a chance to insert himself into the history books.

So it stands to reason that some people will take a measure of solace in believing that a tragedy on the scale of Sandy Hook couldn’t have been solely caused by a young man with access to a bulging arsenal and some loose circuitry between his ears. Perhaps some of them also have more mundane reasons for becoming Sandy Hook “truthers” – it relieves the mundanity of their day-to-day lives, or makes them feel like they’re “in the know.”

But there’s also a more malicious undercurrent to the Sandy Hook conspiracies – it’s the suggestion that the shooting was deliberately staged by the media and the Obama administration to gin up anti-gun sentiment in advance of a gun grab. That there is some overlap between the crowd circulating this notion and the folks who theorize that President Obama was actually born in Kenya - or is the secret illegitimate son of Malcolm X, and is a Muslim Communist to boot – there can be little doubt.

But these delusions must surely rub salt in the wounds of parents who are now confronting toys that have been untouched or a grandparent whose Christmas gifts have gone unopened. It’s also a handy way for the obsessive gun die-hards to divert attention away from a meaningful discussion on limiting the availability of the deadly weapons that were used at Newtown.

Yes, children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And believing conspiracy theories about the tragedy seems like a particularly childish reaction – like closing your eyes and thinking it will go away.



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