James Tracy fired

That off-his-rocker conspiracy theorist at Florida Atlantic University has been fired, despite being tenured. I would defend the right of a professor to argue for whatever wacky idea he wanted — that’s the whole point of tenure — except that he crossed a line, and there really are lines that even tenure won’t protect you from.

A major factor in Tracy’s firing was an op-ed in the Sun Sentinel by Lenny and Veronique Pozner, whose 6-year-old son, Noah, was shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. The couple wrote that Tracy sent them a certified letter demanding proof that Noah had lived, and that when they refused to respond, he blasted them on his blog and accused them of accepting government payoffs to feign grief. In an angry Facebook post, Tracy wrote that the Pozners’ op-ed was an attempt to intimidate his employer into firing him because of the extensive research he’d done on the Sandy Hook shooting. The Pozners, alas, are as phony as the drill itself, and profiting handsomely from the fake death of their son, he wrote.


Believing that the slaughter of innocents at Sandy Hook was staged is totally nuts — it belongs up there with believing the moon is made of cheese, the earth is flat, and that there is a god that loves you. But you don’t get to fire professors for that; you also shouldn’t use their weird little hobbies as grounds for not hiring them, if they’re competent at doing the job they’re supposed to do.

But when your obsession turns into harassment, when you start hounding people who, with good reason, disagree with you, then it’s time to stop allowing you to use your position to launch these ill-founded crusades.

Secondarily, that he calls making up bizarre conspiracy theories extensive research also calls into question his competence.


  1. says

    It’s disgusting how the Sandy Hook parents aren’t left alone to grieve. I couldn’t imagine losing a child to murder. I REALLY couldn’t imagine losing a child to murder then being harassed by assholes who refuse to believe my child ever even lived.

  2. says

    Man, that is beyond vile. I’ve buried too many friends already, and what will haunt me to the day I day is their parents grief. Accusing someone in such a state of grief of fraud is evil, pure and simple, and I honestly wouldn’t feel bad if someone killed the bastard for doing it. Simply getting fired is getting off easy.

  3. gijoel says

    It’s kind of sad that you’d rather believe that the government is staging complex hoaxes so that you don’t have to give up your guns.

  4. Sven says

    My cousin and my step-sisters attended Sandy Hook Elementary, years ago.
    I know a man who lost his only grandson there.

    The sick depravity and mind-boggling stupidity of this conspiracy theory… words fail me.

  5. says

    And the “false flag” nonsense is becoming pretty much automatic with any major event of violence in the US. I’m surprised I haven’t heard of the conspiracy crowd trying to hunt down the family members of those killed on the September 11th aircraft, so they can prove their relatives never existed, since the airliners were fake, cruise missiles hidden by holograms, and so on.

  6. raven says

    Believing that the slaughter of innocents at Sandy Hook was staged is totally nuts — it belongs up there with believing the moon is made of cheese, the earth is flat, and that there is a god that loves you.

    You left out supply side economics and the theory that George Bush has a brain.

    There are a lot of Sandy Hook-is-a-false-flaggers out there. If you look on Google, it’s all the rage on the lunatic fringes.

    Oregon Sheriff Shared Sandy Hook Conspiracy Theory on …
    www. nytimes.com/…/oregon-sheriff-shared-sandy-ho…The New York Times
    Oct 2, 2015 – 16, 2013, after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. … shot” at Sandy Hook were actors, the sheriff wrote, “This makes me wonde

    The local sheriff where the Umpqua CC shooting took place was a Sandy Hook is a hoaxer.

    I’m seeing a pattern here. Everything is a hoax and no one ever really gets shot in killed in the USA.

    Now you see where religion comes from.

  7. raven says

    Firing James Tracy was a false flag operation.
    I don’t believe he ever even existed.

  8. zathras says

    I live in CT not far from Newtown. I am friends with a couple who lost their only daughter in that shooting. I attended the funeral and saw the grief first hand. I better not say what I’d Iike to do to people like him if I met him face to face, Assholes like him should be thrown in jail.

  9. narciblog says

    This guy is obviously a weapons grade asshole, but I don’t see what he’s done to justify revoking tenure. He doesn’t seem to have abused his position in any way judging by this article. Lots of people are assholes, and I’m sure plenty of them are professors.

    Does tenure cone with a “moral turpitude” clause?

  10. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Does tenure cone with a “moral turpitude” clause?

    To a degree, yes. His calling the parents who lost children in Newtown liars would fall under that purview. Deliberately hurtful, and contrary to all evidence.

  11. robro says

    I was reading this BBC article about Stanford science historian Robert Proctor’s research in what he calls Agnotology which he defines as “the study of wilful acts to spread confusion and deceit, usually to sell a product or win favor.” He did his research on the tobacco industry’s use of the media and phony science to confuse people about the risks of smoking. This is similar to the AGW deniers campaign to raise phony controversies, which is essentially the same approach of the IDers. Is there a pattern here?

  12. redwood says

    Didn’t the early Christianity supporters do this as well? I don’t think it’s a new idea to use ignorance to promote a product.

  13. raven says

    Is there a pattern here?

    Not only is it the same strategy, it is partially the exact same people.

    Heartland Institute | PolluterWatch
    In the early 1990’s, Heartland fought government regulations on tobacco by denying … The Heartland Institute’s stance on climate change generally shifts between … professional shills, and publishing misleading psuedo-scientific materials.

    The Heartland Institute is a right wing lie mill.

  14. says


    This guy is obviously a weapons grade asshole, but I don’t see what he’s done to justify revoking tenure.

    Well, then there’s something obviously wrong with you. He’S actively harassing grieving parents. Not only is there absolutely no excuse or justification, it is also, from a very pragmatical point of view, something that badly damages your institution.

  15. Derek Vandivere says

    Narciblog / Giliel (10 / 15): While there is an argument to be had if general assholery should result in the loss of someone’s job, in this case he seems to have been using his position as a lever. In the Op/Ed, the headline talks about him as a professor…

  16. Derek Vandivere says

    And a university buddy of mine was a librarian at the school – apparently, she had to look after some of the victim’s siblings during the event, knowing what was going on. I’d be hard pressed not to throw a drink in the face of anyone who denied Sandy Hook to my face.

  17. sarah00 says


    I’ve seen some indications that he teaches conspiracy theories, with one of his courses titled “Culture of Conspiracy”. If that is the case then, given his behaviour, it seems he’s pretty incompetent at his job. I don’t know much about tenure but I’m guessing that it still has some requirements for maintaining competence.

  18. dianne says

    This guy is obviously a weapons grade asshole, but I don’t see what he’s done to justify revoking tenure.

    If moral turpitude doesn’t cover the case, how about gross incompetence. Anyone who believes after a superficial examination of the Sandy Hook events, much less “extensive research” that the children who died never existed is an incompetent researcher and should be fired for that incompetence, regardless of morality.

  19. dianne says

    When you look at it, really, it doesn’t make sense that either 9/11 or the Sandy Hook shootings would be false flag operations. What did the people who “really” did it get out of it if so? If Bush were behind 9/11 in any way other than incompetently firing the translators who might have alerted him to the chatter before the event in time to stop it, surely he would have had a better response to being told that it happened than to continue listening to “My Pet Goat” for however long it was. And, while he benefited from it, I’ve got to give Bush or maybe congress their due and say that they didn’t get as much as they could have out of it. They did the Patriot Act and got two wars of their liking out of the thing, but they didn’t go full up fascist and, honestly, they could have gotten away with doing so.

    Sandy Hook is even worse, from the conspiracy point of view. If Obama did it, what did he get out of it? IIRC, absolutely no new gun regulations came out of the event. It didn’t get him reelected. It didn’t get him any new powers or more cred with congress. As a provocative event, it was quite a failure. Again, if Obama had the ability and resources to organize a fake shooting complete with fake children and fake parents, he surely would have the ability to take advantage of having done so.

    There have been conspiracies to fool the public into supporting various policies in the past. The Gulf of Tonkin incident, for example. But when they happened, the perpetrators got something out of them. Sandy Hook does not fit that pattern. A competent university level researcher should recognize this.

  20. says

    I want to make another point about “professor” “weapon’s grade asshole” and “competent at their job”.
    Many people, especially in academia consider students kind of an afterthought or a necessary evil. “Competent” boils down to research and publication, not to teaching*. This is wrong and a serious problem. Instructors and especially professors hold tremendous power over students and their lives, students who are often not even legally adults and who are in a very important stage of development. A weapon’s grade asshole cannot be competent in emphatically teaching and guiding those young people. So yes, weapon’s grade asshole translates to incompetent at doing their job.

    *which is evidenced by the fact that many colleges and universities don’t require any actual teaching skills

  21. reddiaperbaby1942 says

    To Giliell at #15: I would agree with you, except that he apparently also talked about these conspiracy theories in class, tellng students Sandy Hook hadn’t really happened and the whole thing was a conspiracy. That. I think, does support firing him.
    In general, I don’t like the idea of teachers at any level being fired because the administration or the government doesn’t like their ideas (even when, or especially when, I myself find those ideas abhorrent). It can happen too easily the other way too, as during the HUAC witchhunts (my parents, both scientists, were blacklisted in the 50s). But in this case i think he did form a “clear and present danger” to the wellbeing of his students — not to mention the families he abused.

  22. davidnangle says

    gijoel, it’s not about a fear of giving up their guns. If it was that, they’d simplify their conspiracy, and make it much more believable: The government brainwashed a lunatic into killing the kids. Easy.

    But, no, it’s not about a fear of losing their guns. It’s a fear of the very real guilt they will have to feel if they admit that real kids got really killed because of real guns. It’s a fear that they’re on the wrong side, and they simply can’t face that.

    So, they’ll make up any crazy conspiracy at all. Up to and beyond, “The Earth doesn’t exist and never did! So therefore I don’t have blood on my hands from Sandy Hook!”

  23. eidolon says

    Academic tenure is not an absolute guarantee that anything said or done is o.k. Institutions can set limits on actions that impact the relationship of the institution with the larger community. It’s similar to Gordon Klingenschmitt getting the boot as a Navy chaplain for appearing in uniform at a political event.

  24. eidolon says

    david nangle @24…

    I had not thought about it in quite that way, but your hypothesis does have the ring of truth to it.

  25. quotetheunquote says

    Agree with eidolon, @24 does make sense; conspiracy theories are a kind of escapist fantasy for the gun nuts, whom (I hope) have a core somewhere that is just as horrified by Sandy Hook as I am, but may not be able to acknowledge it.

  26. davidnangle says

    The conservative fear of guilt powers a lot of their points of view:

    The poor are responsible for their own situation due to their own moral shortcomings;
    Global warming isn’t because of my gigantic SUV, it’s because… No, it doesn’t exist;
    Tamir Rice is dead not because I let my police department be racist and violent, but because he’s bad, somehow;
    BLM is bad because there are other problems in the world (that I’m not responsible for) that they aren’t protesting.

  27. blf says

    believing the moon is made of cheese

    According to the mildly deranged penguin, Massive Orbital Cheese Vault mark some-very-large-number is not yet full, so MOCV mark that-big-number-plus-one, which is now ready and waiting at the failsafe point, won’t be installed for a little while. So yes, the current MOON, as it has become known (transcription error on a clay tablet several thousand years ago), isn’t completely made of cheese. Yet.

  28. numerobis says

    From the actual letter (reproduced on the WaPo story), it appears that the red line that Tracy crossed is refusing to fill out a certain form.

  29. says

    @30 That’s what I read too, and that he would still have his job if he had simply filled out the form. It also (IIRC) wasn’t clear if the requirement of the form was directly related to the abhorrent harassment.

  30. numerobis says

    The timing suggests that the administration started to look for a way to oust the prof and found this form missing. If faculty were routinely fired for recalcitrance in filling out forms, there’d be a lot more faculty positions open. So on the face of it, seems like a pretty strong case for the union — if Tracy can trust the union long enough for the grievance to go through.

    This is the kind of case that grievance officers hate taking on, but an honorable one does it anyway.

  31. carlie says

    Academic freedom only means that you can’t be fired for researching any particular topic, no matter how unpopular or unsavory. So, he could write an academic published paper claiming it was all a hoax and they couldn’t fire him for that. But it doesn’t mean absolute freedom to do anything in any circumstance (similar to the “free speech” misunderstanding). If he’s posing a harassment threat to others, yeah, you can be fired for that, especially as a teacher. Even though college students are adults, there’s still an aspect of authority there that requires that students be protected from harassing treatment. Harassing anyone is an indication that you may treat a student the same way, so totally allowable reason to fire regardless of tenure.

  32. numerobis says

    carlie: harassment is a great reason to fire someone.

    That’s not the reason the university administration is giving, though. Instead, they’re firing him for not filling out a form. And that raises an issue of academic freedom: if the administration can play gotcha like this, they can (and, history shows, probably will) also play gotcha over anything else they dislike.

  33. Ichthyic says

    if the administration can play gotcha like this, they can (and, history shows, probably will) also play gotcha over anything else they dislike.


    what history shows is that if the administration abuses that “silent system”, it breaks down with disastrous results.

    this is exactly why it is so rare to hear about these kinds of cases.

    it’s also why I have relatively few fears that the vast majority of universities in the US will become bastions of fascism.

    unfortunately, they have so little power and funding any more, even compared to just 20 years ago, that it hardly matters in the end anyway.