The inexplicable obsession with treating tragedies as hoaxes

Three years ago yesterday, 20 children and six adults died in the massacre that took place at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It was a tragic event, as all such events are, with the added poignancy that always accompanies a child’s death. There are apparently people who think that the whole thing was a hoax that was perpetrated for who knows what reason, but they think that the government and president Obama are behind it

People having delusional beliefs are nothing exceptional but it turns out that some of these Sandy Hook truthers have gone further and are attacking parents of the dead children, claiming that they are part of the conspiracy. A man named Wolfgand Halbig is a leader in this effort. One parent Lenny Pozner has tried to fight back but it is of course hopeless to think that you can counter the determined spread of falsehoods on the internet.

Mike Spies writes about Pozner’s quest and says that these kinds of truthers emerge after almost every tragedy.

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?”

Halbig became known for asking a set of 16 questions that he argued proved the event was staged, carried out by “crisis actors,” whom the government pays to pose as victims during emergency preparedness drills. Halbig claimed the authorities could not provide him with answers that, in fact, were available to the public in the Connecticut State Police report on the shooting. For instance, he wanted to know why paramedics and EMTs weren’t allowed to enter the school (they were), and why helicopters weren’t used to transport victims to the hospital (with the exception of four wounded individuals, who were taken by ambulance, the rest were dead). Supplied with those facts, he and the hoaxers insisted they had to be fiction, given their source. The whole point, after all, is that the government can never be trusted.

Frustrated by their inability to rattle government officials, Hoaxers began attacking the families of victims, accusing them of being “treasonous” government operatives. To press their case, they designated themselves authorities on the physiology of grieving. The parents didn’t appear sad enough in interviews, they argued; therefore, they could not possibly have lost children. “They aren’t behaving the way human beings would act,” conspiracy theorist Jay Weidner said on his radio show. Hoaxers also latched onto time-stamping errors on certain victims’ memorial pages, which, due to a common Google bug, made it seem like they were set up the before the massacre. The hoaxers found a photo of a little girl taken after the shooting. Mistaking its subject for her dead sister, they held it up as proof that the victim was still alive.

The conspiracy movement’s personal attacks show no sign of abating. Early this November, a 32-year-old man was arrested for accosting the sisters of Vicki Soto, a slain teacher, at a Newtown charity event; he wanted to ask them whether a family photo of theirs had been photoshopped.

I honestly cannot fathom people who would do these things. People who have lost loved ones in senseless tragedies are really suffering. Even if you have a pet theory that the whole thing is a fraud, why attack them personally since the needless additional pain you are inflicting if you are wrong is so immense? Why not limit yourself to exposing the supposed conspiracy by the government, the first responders, school officials, and the media that must be necessary to carry out such a major fraud?


  1. says

    I saw people posting a picture on Twitter yesterday purporting to show some of the dead children together at some other thing sometime later. They labelled each of the children with who they were supposed to be, but none of them looked like the actual children. It takes a lot of really wanting this to be a hoax to convince yourself that those were the same kids.

  2. says

    I honestly cannot fathom people who would do these things.

    I can. It’s a new tactic -- instead of victim blaming, pretend their aren’t any.

    When a man murders or rapes one or more women, sociopath misogynists will blather how the women brought it on themselves. They can’t blame children for the murderer’s actions, so they pretend instead that it didn’t happen. The deniers of fact about Sandy Hook are the same sort of scum who believe the fiction of “dancing muslims”.

  3. moarscienceplz says

    I heard an interesting explanation for these conspiracy nuts: If you accept that a lone gunman can kill all those children, or that “ordinary” terrorists armed only with boxcutters can bring down the WTC, you are accepting that the universe is beyond the control of rational people much of the time. So, if you instead believe that Obama, or “the Jews”, or the Trilateral Commission is behind all these crazy incidents, then you can believe that your world is under human control. Even the control of murderers and oppressors is apparently far preferable to these people than a world that is just a swirling vortex of randomness.

  4. Excluded Layman says

    The anger at victims makes sense if you stop considering them victims. You’d be angry at people who staged a mass shooting, too. The other half of it is that they’re also the kind of assholes who think harassment and abuse are justified when you’re angry.

    Yes, you mentioned the harm “if they’re wrong” but that’s simply not possible for them to accept. They’re narrative-first thinkers, being wrong is epistemically impossible while they feel truthiness.

  5. lorn says

    Assume you are predisposed to think that the government is always lying to you. That the government routinely stages elaborate hoaxes to gain political and propaganda victories. You might be convinced that the moon landings were faked, 9/11 was a staged controlled demolition, and the contrails left by airliners are really aluminum nano-particles being sprayed to … well we don’t know. The central point here is that individuals can be trusted and relied upon, and government is always wrong, destructive, and seeking to manipulate the citizens to get them to act against their interests.

    Then, something happens at Sandy Hook Elementary.

    Either some individual using their own free will and their constitutionally mandated right to bear arms murdered 20 young children and 6 adults; or the government, as part of its general incompetence and twisted reflexive need to manipulate the people and make them feel powerless, faked a massacre.

    Based upon the earlier existing assumptions and beliefs: Which view easily aligns with, reinforces, and confirms your assumptions. Which version contradicts your assumptions and threatens to alter your world view.

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