Taking on the Sandy Hook Truthers: What Kind of Person Calls a Mass Shooting a Hoax?Posted: December 13, 2015 | |
This article originally appeared in The Trace.
Mike Spies writes: A year and a half after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Lenny Pozner called to set up a meeting with Wolfgang Halbig. The 68-year-old security consultant was the de facto leader of a community of conspiracy theorists, known as hoaxers, who claimed that the shooting had been staged by the government. To the hoaxers, the 26 victims — one of whom was Pozner’s six-year-old son, Noah — were fictional characters.
“Ever since his son’s death, Pozner had been dealing with the hoaxers. It was his habit to regularly post photos of Noah, a happy boy with soft blue eyes and a wide smile, on his Google Plus page. He would put up pictures of Noah hugging his twin sister, or playing on the beach…The hoaxers would see these images and offer comments: ‘Where’s Noah going to die next?'”
It was May 28, 2014, and Pozner, an IT consultant, was in Florida on business. He hoped to sit down with Halbig at a coffee shop near his home in Orlando, Florida. He wanted to talk to him face-to-face about Noah, who was his only son and never far from his mind. On December 14, 2012, the day of the shooting, Pozner had been the one to drop Noah off at school. As they drove, they listened to “Gangnam Style,” Noah’s favorite song. When they arrived, Pozner said, “Have a fun day,” and watched as his child headed inside, fiddling with his backpack and brown jacket.
“Pozner was one of the rare Sandy Hook parents who confronted those who questioned his child’s murder. In response to their comments, he posted online his son’s birth and death certificates. He shared the medical examiner’s report and one of Noah’s report cards. The hoaxers said the records were counterfeits.”
Ever since his son’s death, Pozner had been dealing with the hoaxers. It was his habit to regularly post photos of Noah, a happy boy with soft blue eyes and a wide smile,on his Google Plus page. He would put up pictures of Noah hugging his twin sister, or playing on the beach, or showing off the tooth he lost less than two weeks before he was murdered. The hoaxers would see these images and offer comments: “Where’s Noah going to die next?” read one.Another commenter, seemingly believing that Pozner had been recruited to help perpetuate the myth of the shooting, asked, “How much do you get paid?”
“Every modern atrocity or disaster has its attendant conspiracy theories. Their shared thesis is that governments, needing a way to keep the populace in fear, orchestrate mock calamities, using the tools of the state to cover their tracks.”
Pozner remained undaunted. He thought that perhaps if he could show Halbig the documents in person, he and the rest of the hoaxers might at last relent. “I wanted to be as transparent as possible,” Pozner says. “I thought keeping the documents private would only feed the conspiracy.”
“Within 24 hours of the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, videos claiming the event was “staged” surfaced on Youtube and received thousands of clicks.”
When Pozner did not receive a reply from Halbig, he contacted Kelley Watt, one of the more aggressive hoaxers who showed up on his Google Plus page. Watt wrote back on Halbig’s behalf. “Wolfgang does not wish to speak with you,” her note said, “unless you exhume Noah’s body and prove to the world you lost your son.”
Giving up on a meeting with Halbig, Pozner looked to engage in some sort of dialogue with the people who, around this time, made him their chief target. (One video montage that started making the rounds showed images of Noah set to a soundtrack of pornographic sounds.) In June 2014, Pozner accepted an invitation to join a private Facebook group called Sandy Hook Hoax. He told its members that he was willing to answer their questions. “I think I lasted all of eight minutes,” he recalls. One participant said, “Man, I’m gonna have to coach you up if you wanna go on TV and make money Lenny.” Another typical attacker proclaimed,”Fuck your fake family, you piece of shit.”
Pozner eventually realized that, for Halbig and his brethren, this was a game without end. His efforts to combat them became a mission. “I’m going to have to protect Noah’s honor for the rest of my life,” he says.
Every modern atrocity or disaster has its attendant conspiracy theories. Their shared thesis is that governments, needing a way to keep the populace in fear, orchestrate mock calamities, using the tools of the state to cover their tracks. Within 24 hours of the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, videos claiming the event was “staged” surfaced on Youtube and received thousands of clicks.
It was the same in 2007, after a senior at Virginia Tech killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The record death toll fed rumors that “black ops” must have been behind the incident. Five years later, in the wake of an attack on a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, Alex Jones, who runs the popular conspiracy site InfoWars, implied that the gunman was in cahoots with the government, pointing listeners to his graduate student work at a “government-funded neuroscience program,” not mentioning the fact, that, like most grad programs, it also receives plenty of private funding as well. In one of the darker ironies America has recently produced, the sheriff investigating the October mass shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College was found to have shared mass shooting conspiracy theories on Facebook.
Yet even amid this terrible canon, the conspiracy theories that sprang up after Sandy Hook have been exceptional….(read more)