It was almost four years ago, December 14th, 2012, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza of Newtown, Connecticut, shot and killed his mother in the home they shared. Lanza then drove to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary school where he shot twenty children aged 6-7 and six adult staff members, before turning the gun on himself and shooting himself in the head. These are the cold, hard facts, verifiable by law enforcement investigations.
Yet too many in this country have determined to dispute the facts and replace fact with conspiracy theory. While any number of such theories exist, among the most ludicrous is that the U.S. government orchestrated the scenario to justify the push for stronger gun control. A professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), James Tracy, proposed that the event did not even happen, but rather was a FEMA drill. Try telling that to the parents of the children who died. Tracy, who taught classes on conspiracy theory at FAU, bases his theory on a book published last year titled, Nobody Died at Sandy Hook, by James H. Fetzer. The book has been controversially banned by Amazon. I have mixed feelings about that, but it is a story for another day.
Why am I writing about this now, nearly four years after the fact? Because it is in the news today and I feel this story is important. It is rather a sign of the times, one that is shameful and needs to be discussed among reasonable people. The story is in one sense reminiscent of the shooting incident at Cosmic Ping Pong in Washington, D.C. that I wrote about a few days ago.
The story gets a bit convoluted, so I will attempt to stick only to the relevant facts. There are three key players:
- James Tracy, former professor at FAU, as noted above
- Lucy Richards, arrested this week for threatening communications
- Lenny Pozner, whose son, Noah, was one of the Sandy Hook victims
Lenny Pozner, still mourning the death of his son, has made it his business to debunk the conspiracy theories such as those set forth by James Tracy, and in so doing, apparently made himself a target of at least one evil-minded person, Lucy Richards. Pozner had registered objections to James Tracy’s repeated hoax theories, and ultimately, perhaps in part due to Pozner’s campaign, FAU terminated Tracy’s employment with the university in January. Pozner and his wife, Veronique, had called for FAU to do more than ‘simply reprimand’ Tracy, writing “When do the interests of the college and its students take precedence over the tenure of a professor who has clearly proven himself in violation of the university’s own policy?”
Tracy is now suing the university, alleging that that the university violated his right to due process, free speech and academic freedom. The suit names as defendants the university’s board of trustees, several board members and university administrators, the unions Florida Education Association and United Faculty of Florida and two people affiliated with the latter union. The lawsuit also mentions the Pozner’s Sun Sentinel article and similar ones, alleging that after their publication, university officials “began strategizing how they could use the public controversy surrounding Professor Tracy” to discipline and perhaps fire him.
I am unable to find a direct connection between James Tracy and Lucy Richards, but it is no coincidence that the threats against Pozner started after news of Tracy’s termination became public. It is possible that she only read the news and decided to intimidate Mr. Pozner, much as those who read the conspiracy theories in the Pizzagate case took it upon themselves to threaten business owners who they believed were sheltering a child-napping ring led by Hillary Clinton.
Earlier this week, Ms. Richards was arrested and charged with four counts of “transmitting threats in interstate commerce”. If convicted, Ms. Richards could face up to 20 years in prison, a maximum of five years per charge. Ms. Richards repeatedly contacted Mr. Pozner and threatened his life. “You’re gonna die you [expletives and slurs deleted]. And what are you going to do about it?” And “You can do absolutely nothing. This is coming to you real soon, you [expletive deleted]. You are going to die!” And “You [expletive deleted] look behind you, justice is coming to you real soon!” Ms. Richards has convinced herself that the 26 victims murdered at Sandy Hook elementary school never really existed, that the grieving parents of the 20 dead children are “crisis actors” and frauds.
This story, in and of itself, is bad enough, but when there are multiple such incidents inside of a week, one begins to question what has become of rational behaviour in this world. Another story that ties in with this general phenomenon …
Chuck Jones, president of the United Steelworkers 1999 in Indianapolis, represents the Carrier workers whose jobs Donald Trump claims to have ‘saved’ with the deal between Carrier and the State of Indiana last week. While Trump claimed that he saved some 1,100 jobs, Mr. Jones told the Washington Post on Tuesday that the facts of the matter differ somewhat. Jones says he initially felt optimistic when Trump announced last week that he’d reached a deal with the factory’s parent company, United Technologies, to preserve 1,100 of the Indianapolis jobs.
“But he got up there and, for whatever reason, lied his a—off. Trump and Pence, they pulled a dog and pony show on the numbers.”
And he is right. The reality is that Carrier agreed to keep some 800 jobs in the U.S., however 350 of those are engineering positions that were never scheduled to leave. Additionally, approximately 550 will still lose their jobs next year, when one Carrier plant relocates to Monterrey, Mexico.
How does this story tie to the one above? Simple. On Wednesday, Donald Trump tweeted:
“Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!”
“If United Steelworkers 1999 was any good, they would have kept those jobs in Indiana. Spend more time working-less time talking. Reduce dues”
Half an hour later, Mr. Jones’ phone began ringing. One voice asked: “What kind of car do you drive?” Another said: “We’re coming for you.” Jones said that he has not, as yet, received death threats: “Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids. We know what car you drive. Things along those lines.”
Are these cases of people with mental illness? Perhaps, or perhaps not, but mental illness cannot be used as an excuse for taking a wrecking ball to society. We cannot simply shake our heads and chalk it up to the work of unstable minds. Please note that I do not disparage mental illness, but this goes beyond mental illness … this is pure evil. Who is to blame? There is plenty of blame to go around. It starts with those who would start and promote faux news, such as that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a staged event and no children actually died, or 9/11 never happened but was a government conspiracy. It starts with the “person of the year” getting his thin skin pricked and firing off a tweet reminiscent of a grade school bully. And then it progresses as first one person, then 5 or 6 more, and ultimately thousands share the faux news or the tweet on social media. And the final blame rests with those who then act upon what they see, threatening people, harassing others, or worse, performing acts of violence.
So what is the solution, or is there a solution? The solution, it seems, is quite simple, and it is that people need to start thinking with their brains. When did it become so popular to eschew facts, to avoid reading, and simply to believe every piece of garbage that passes through one’s Facebook page? When did ‘freedom of speech’ come to mean ‘freedom to inflict harm’? And one big question in my mind is, why do so many people suddenly have time to a) devise these faux news stories, b) promote the stories all over the internet, c) search for phone numbers of innocent people, d) make harassing phone calls or worse? Frankly, I barely find time to eat, let alone all of the above!
Yes, the solution is simple, but don’t look for it to be implemented anytime soon, as simple generally becomes complex in these matters. When we have government officials and their kin promoting faux news, when we have a future commander-in-chief tweeting grade school taunts, there is little hope that these incidents will stop any time soon. We as a society are better than this. Well, I once thought we were … now I’m not so sure.