It’s the fourth anniversary of the most horrific school shooting in American history – the slaughter of 20 first- and second-graders and six of their teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012.
Yet so-called “Truthers” are still actively denying that the incident ever occurred or claiming that it was a false flag event intended to be used to strip Americans of essential freedoms, such as the alleged right to own a gun.
In honor of this anniversary, I offer this follow-up article on the increasingly successful effort to fight back against the lies, deceptions and disinformation that has become common grist for the mill, particularly in the wake of the election to the presidency of an inveterate con-man whose entire campaign was a catalog of lies, deceptions and disinformation – in a toxic cultural environment in which millions of Americans are gullible enough to believe the nonsense.
Noah Pozner was the youngest of the 20 children and seven adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 in one of the deadliest and most shocking shooting rampages in American history. When the medical examiner examined Noah lying face up in his Batman sweatshirt, his jaw had been blown off. His mother, Veronique Pozner, insisted on an open-casket funeral so the world could see what was done to her little boy, just as the mother of Emmet Til had done more than a half century earlier after her son was brutally killed by Southern racists. Before the start of the service, Veronique took Connecticut Governor Malloy by the arm and led him to her son’s open casket.
Veronique, an oncology nurse, had never been an activist, but this experience drove her to join with other Sandy Hook families in a campaign to reduce access to guns in America. Noah’s father, Lenny Pozner, was driven to take a different course.
It didn’t take long after he buried his son for Lenny to find out that many people didn’t believe Noah had died or even that he had lived at all. Days after the rampage, a man walked around Newtown filming a video in which he declared that the massacre had been staged by “some sort of New World Order global elitists” intent on taking away our guns and our liberty. A week later, James Tracy, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, wrote a blog post expressing doubts about the massacre. By January, a 30-minute YouTube video titled “The Sandy Hook Shooting – Fully Exposed” had been viewed more than 10 million times.
Many of these conspiracy theorists believe the Obama administration staged the shooting with the assistance of paid “crisis actors” and the complicity of countless Newtown residents, emergency responders, government officials and media outlets, and that the slaughtered children never existed or are living in an elaborate witness-protection program.
Others, such as the one hiding behind the monikers Zephyr and Zephyranthos, are disguising their salt-on-the-wounds campaigns by pretending their only purpose is to improve future responses to active shooter events. “Zephyr”, however, believes that Newtown police executed Adam Lanza at the school and “wasted precious time dealing with the aftermath of that, when they could have been using those precious moments to provide hemorrhage control”.
Gene Rosen, the Newtown resident who was reported to have sheltered six Sandy Hook students and a bus driver in his home during the shooting, has been subject to online harassment alleging he was complicit in a government cover-up.
Robbie Parker, the father of victim Emilie Parker – after doing a CNN interview on the day after the shooting – became the target of conspiracy theorists, who claimed the interview was staged. Parker has been attacked by hoaxers who believe he is a “crisis actor” and was “getting into character” before going on CNN to grieve over the loss of his child.
Some of the most prominent propagators of these baseless theories also insist that the moon landings were faked and that other mass casualty events – such as the Boston Marathon bombing – were similarly staged for ulterior political purposes, among which is the creation of a totalitarian One World government.
Lawyer and dentist Orly Taitz – best known for her promotion of the Barack Obama citizenship (“birther”) conspiracy theories championed by Donald Trump – was quoted as asking “Was Adam Lanza drugged and hypnotized by his handlers to make him into a killing machine as an excuse as the regime is itching to take all means of self defense from the populace before the economic collapse?”
Talk show host Clyde Lewis wrote: “Don’t you find it at all interesting that Adam Lanza, the alleged shooter at Sandy Hook, woke up one day and decided to shoot up a school and kill children at about the same time that Barack Obama told the UN that he would sign the small arms treaty?”
Michael Harris, a former Republican candidate for Governor of Arizona, attributed the shooting to “Israeli death squads” as an act of revenge for the perceived cooling of US/Israel relations under President Obama.
Colorado Republican Party candidate Tom Ready posted an article on his Facebook page claiming the Sandy Hook shootings “never happened”.
Ben Swann, a Cincinnati news anchor for Fox affiliate WXIX-TV, has suggested on his personal YouTube channel that Adam Lanza was accompanied by another shooter. He has made similar claims about the Aurora shooting and the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting from earlier in 2012.
Other conspiracy theories have focused on the claim that Adam Lanza’s father, who was an executive with GE Energy Financial Services, was supposed to testify before the Senate Banking Committee with information about the Libor scandal. However, no such hearings were scheduled, and similar claims had been made about the father of James Holmes, the convicted perpetrator of the 2012 Aurora shooting.
The Pozners moved to Newtown in 2005, partly to send their kids to better schools, but after Noah’s death they saw no choice but to leave. Now the parents are divorced and live near each other so they can co-parent their daughters, who developed a fear of the dark after the shooting and asked their mother to find a home in a gated community. Since relocating, Lenny has moved apartments four times and gets his mail delivered to a PO box on the other side of the state.
Lenny Pozner, who used to listen to Alex Jones, whose InfoWars website is responsible for much of the disinformation of this kind on the internet, soon found himself a target of the on-line conspiracy buffs.
After losing Noah, seeing his family dissolve and having his mother die in the year following the massacre, Lenny shifted from numbness to action. By the spring of 2014, as he watched the Hoaxer movement bloom, Pozner decided to try fighting back. He released Noah’s death certificate and his report card. A year and a half after the shooting, he joined a Facebook group called Sandy Hook Hoax to “offer answers” to their questions. Instead, Lenny found himself being targeted by the most vile and inhuman epithets. He was soon banned from the site.
Eighteen months after his wife had found her mission, Lenny Pozner found his and started a group called Conspiracy Theorists Anonymous, dedicated to debunking the hoaxers. He also took his fight public, writing an op-ed in the Hartford Courant in which he called out hoaxers by name, including Wolfgang Halbig, a 70-year-old retired school administrator in Florida, who had become the hoaxers’ lead investigator, filing multiple Freedom of Information Act requests for documents relating to the shooting and posting his findings on a website called Sandy Hook Justice Report.
Halbig, who was abandoned by his mother early in life, never knew his father and claims to have been the victim of childhood bullying, has now become the bully. After Halbig was warned by CT state police to stop harassing Sandy Hook school nurse Sally Cox (who had hid under her desk to call 911 during the shooting), he was invited by Alex Jones to share his run-in with the police and to detail the 16 questions Halbig believed needed to be answered about Sandy Hook (which are mostly stupid or irrelevant questions that anyone following the story closely could have answered – as many have).
Halbig has since narrowed his 16 questions to five. “This is my big one”, Halbig said, “who ordered the port-a-potties?” The vast conspiracy could be cracked, Halbig believed, if he could prove that toilets brought to the scene after the shooting had been ordered in preparation for a staged event.
Pozner kept Conspiracy Theorists Anonymous going for more than a year, but because he couldn’t bring himself to read the state’s official report on his son’s death, he largely depended on a stable of volunteers to do the debunking. But he soon realized that debunking had run its course. “I realized there was no one left with questions,” he said. “The only people left were trolls.” And those trolls could be vicious, personally attacking anyone who challenged the hoax theories.
Lenny, who had worked for two decades as an IT consultant, found that an internet search of his son, Noah’s, name produced results that were “95% garbage” and he decided that if he couldn’t convince hoaxers that they were wrong, he could at least try to protect his son’s legacy.
Pozner found that his most effective tool for getting material taken down was to file copyright claims whenever anyone used a family photo of him, or Noah, in a post. By his estimate, Pozner had successfully taken down hundreds of images, scrubbed Noah’s Google results of hoaxer content, and had YouTube hoaxer sites removed.
In 2015, Pozner started an organization called the HONR Network, to help take down online hoaxer content. Its website states its mission:
We bring awareness to the cruelty and criminality of Hoaxer activity and, if necessary, criminally and civilly prosecute those who wittingly and publicly defame, harass, and emotionally abuse the victims of high profile tragedies and/or their family members. We intend to hold such abusers personally accountable for their actions, in whatever capacity the law allows.
Also in 2015, James Tracy, a Florida Atlantic University communications professor who taught a course on conspiracy theories, sent a letter to the Pozners demanding proof that they were Noah’s parents, and James Fetzer, an emeritus professor at the University of Minnesota who also believes the moon landing was faked and is a Holocaust denier, published a book called Nobody Died at Sandy Hook.
Pozner filed a complaint with the Florida attorney general against Halbig and built a website on which he posted the personal information of various hoaxers. Pozner and other families successfully lobbied Amazon to remove James Fetzer’s book and persuaded GoFundMe to shut down Halbig’s account. In December, Pozner co-wrote an op-ed in a Florida newspaper with Veronique demanding that Florida Atlantic University fire James Tracy. A few weeks later, the university dismissed Tracy for his “outside activities”. (Tracy, who had tenure, is suing to get his job back.) In 2015, Pozner filed a lawsuit against Halbig for invasion of privacy.
The Pozner’s letter to the Sun-Sentinal began:
“It’s been three years since we last embraced our precious little boy, Noah. At six-years-old, he was the youngest child murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. … The heartache of burying a child is a sorrow we would not wish upon anyone. Yet to our horror, we have found that there are some in this society who lack empathy for the suffering of others. Among them are the conspiracy theorists that deny our tragedy was real. They seek us out and accuse us of being government agents who are faking our grief and lying about our loss.”
“Tracy even sent us a certified letter demanding proof that Noah once lived, that we were his parents, and that we were the rightful owner of his photographic image. We found this so outrageous and unsettling that we filed a police report for harassment. Once Tracy realized we would not respond, he subjected us to ridicule and contempt on his blog, boasting to his readers that the ‘unfulfilled request’ was ‘noteworthy’ because we had used copyright claims to ‘thwart continued research of the Sandy Hook massacre event’.”
In late 2015, the HONR Network published The Hoax of a Lifetime, a 165-page ebook that treated Halbig’s life, much like Halbig had treated Pozner’s, as a hoax to be exposed. In response to criticism that he was just kicking a hornet’s nest, Lenny responded about the trolls that “if you don’t feed them, they don’t just go away”.
After other hoax fighters began sending emails to Halbig’s family, telling them of his harassment campaign against Sandy Hook families, Halbig gave in to the pressure and shut down his website. He could dish it out but could not stand the heat when the tables were turned, as is the case with most bullies.
Now Halbig is trying to prove that the Pulse night club shooting in Orlando, just 45 minutes from his house, was also a staged event.
Pozner had hoped to build the HONR Network into an organization capable of changing how we deal with digital harassment and equipped to file lawsuits like the one he brought against Halbig, but he was having enough trouble simply keeping up with the day-to-day task of protecting his son’s memory, and was planning to move yet again to protect his own privacy and safety.
“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
– Winston Churchill
Fortunately for all Americans who care about truth and justice, a small number of Hoaxers are facing the consequences of their behavior.
In May 2014, 28-year-old Andrew David Truelove stole a memorial sign from playgrounds dedicated to Sandy Hook victims Grace McDonnell and Chase Kowalski, and called the parents of Grace McDonnell, admitting that he stole the sign and that he believed their deaths were a “hoax”. He was eventually arrested and the signs were found in his home. Truelove was eventually convicted of the theft and sentenced to 12 months in prison.
As noted above, associate professor James Tracy, who also insists that the Boston Marathon bombing was a false flag operation perpetrated by the US government, lost his tenured position at Florida Atlantic University in January 2016.
In April 2016, Matthew Mills, a 32-year old man from Brooklyn, accepted a plea agreement with prosecutors on one count of interfering with police arising from an incident in November 2015, when Mills angrily approached the sister of murdered teacher Victoria Soto (who is regarded as a heroine for her attempt to protect her students from the shooter in the Sandy Hook attack), shoved a photograph in her face, “and began angrily charging that not only did the Sandy Hook tragedy not take place, but that Victoria Soto never existed”. Mills entered a no contest plea and was given a suspended sentence of one year in jail and two years’ probation.
After complaining about professor Tracy’s postings, Pozner started receiving death threats on his phone. One of those recorded on his phone’s voicemail said “You’re gonna die you [expletives and slurs]… And what are you going to do about it? You can do absolutely nothing. … this is coming to you real soon [expletive]. … You [expletive] look behind you, justice is coming to you real soon.”
On December 5, 2016, Lucy Richards, a 57-year old woman from Tampa, was arrested after being indicted by a grand jury on four counts of transmitting threats in interstate commerce. Each count carries a maximum of five years in prison.
Even if slow to “get its pants on”, the truth does eventually triumph if those who remain loyal to it do not give in to exhaustion and despair.
Some Anti-Hoax websites:
Refuting Wolfgang Halbig by Chris Hernandez, a 20 year police officer, an adjunct Active Shooter instructor, and a 25 year veteran of the Marine Reserve and Army National Guard who served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan
by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced only with attribution for non-commercial purposes
My primary article, which details every known fact about the Sandy Hook massacre and its context, is Sandy Hook: The Real Story.