Ever since the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, wild conspiracies have circulated claiming that the massacre was a hoax and a fraud. Twenty children and six adults were shot, and grieving families of the dead children have been accused of being paid actors in a scripted drama.
In the weeks and months following the Newtown shooting a loosely formed group of conspiracy theorists called the Sandy Hook Truther movement formed to promote evidence of what it claimed was a cover-up. The specific claims vary from person to person but typically suggest that the school shooting never happened — or if it did happen, it didn’t happen as described in the government’s “official story.”
In a “quest for truth” at a public board of education meeting earlier this week, conspiracy theorists took the opportunity to air their questions and complaints. According to an article in the Connecticut Post, “A dozen or so self-described skeptics of official accounts of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting appeared Tuesday night at the Board of Education meeting, each taking the allotted three minutes to address pointed questions to board members. Wolfgang Halbig, the most prominent member of the group, raised questions about everything from the scale of police response that day to their refusal to accept his expert help in analyzing the event. He suggested that his legitimate efforts to get answers have been thwarted, and accused board members of toeing an official line.”
The Board of Education, to their credit, refused to take the bait and completely ignored the conspiracy theorists. This is often an effective way to deal with conspiracy theories, since any response will be assumed to part of the “cover up” and thus a waste of time. Any contradictory evidence — no matter how conclusive or compelling — can be dismissed by claiming that it’s part of the cover-up. There is ultimately no evidence that would satisfy most conspiracy theorists, and responding to their claims merely gives them publicity and legitimacy.
Despite Halbig’s doubts about the “official story,” there is in fact no such thing as a single, homogenous “official story” about what happened at Sandy Hook; the narrative descriptions of what happened were composed of hundreds of local, state, and national officials, eyewitnesses, victims, members of various law enforcement agencies, hospital workers, dozens of independent journalists from various news outlets and so on. They all had different experiences, and it’s not as if they all came together to agree on one “official” undisputed version of events.
Conspiracy theorists spend weeks combing through news reports and accounts to find real or perceived inconsistencies and cite those as “evidence” of a conspiracy. Though the board wisely chose not to dignify Halbig’s questions with a response, others have assembled detailed, referenced responses answering his questions and debunking his claims.
The simple, undeniable fact is that the children killed in Newtown are gone, and they are not coming back. The Sandy Hook conspiracists would have us believe that the parents and families of the murdered children are part of some sinister scheme or “false flag” event to take away America’s gun rights, and that the “dead” children are really alive, presumably to be kept hidden away somewhere for the rest of their lives, or given false identities, or even killed by the government or abducted by aliens who crashed in Roswell and then escaped from Area 51. In the absence of evidence, one wild theory is as good as the next.
Harassment By Conspiracy Theorists
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, and conspiracy promoters take full advantage of it. They are permitted to spread their claims in blogs, books, magazines, television shows and anywhere else they like, including public meetings. However conspiracy theorists typically do not want merely to have their ideas heard; they want them widely accepted as truth. They feel that they have an inside look at what really happened, and become angry and frustrated when they are unable to provide convincing evidence of their claims.
Similar harassment occurred in the wake of the theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado in July 2012 by alleged shooter James Holmes. According to an article on MSNBC, “Prosecutors say victims and witnesses in the Colorado theater shootings have been pestered by conspiracy theorists, impersonated in court filings and had their addresses and phone numbers posted online… prosecutors say some victims are concerned for their safety.” One conspiracy theorist was even arrested for stalking and harassment after repeatedly contacting relatives of the victims and telling them that their deaths were hoaxed, and that the coffins of their dead loved ones were buried empty.
In 2002, conspiracy theorist Bart Sibrel confronted and harassed Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, demanding that he admit that he did not walk on the moon and that the moon landing was hoaxed. Finally Sibrel called him a “coward and a liar,” at which point the plucky 72-year-old promptly threw a right cross and punched Sibrel in the face. Hounding a pioneering astronaut is one thing, but it takes a particularly callous conspiracy theorist to look the parent of a murdered child in the eye and call him a liar.
Credit: SHANNON STAPLETON/Reuters/Corbis