Conspiracy Theories and Sandy Hook

December 14, 2012, was a sad day for all. Around 9:30 a.m., Adam Lanza shot his way through the entrance of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Moments after, he killed the school’s principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and the school’s psychologist, Mary Sherlach. 

He made his way to a classroom and killed Lauren Rousseau, the classroom teacher, and 14 of her students. He then went to a neighboring class and killed the classroom teacher, Victoria Soto, and six students who tried to flee. In the same class, he shot and killed special education aide Anne Marie Murphy and behavioral therapist Rachel D’Avino. Adam Lanza then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. 

Within minutes of entering the school, Lanza fired 154 shots and killed 26 people, leaving several injured. The mass shooting has been a subject of immense tragedy and criticism, with some saying it wasn’t real, but why? Why has this tragedy turned into many conspiratorial theories and public outcry? 

It started (in my opinion) with Alex Jones and his website Infowars. In the days after the shooting, he suggested that it was a hoax made up by the federal government. He even stated that the parents were faking their grief and that they were in on it. 

He and many others, like Orly Taiz and Clyde Lewis, believed that the attack was used to push gun laws and oppress gun owners. However, other conspiracies came to light, like that shooting was a training exercise created by the Department of Homeland Security. James Tracy even wrote a book denying that the mass shooting ever happened and that it was a drill.  

These conspiracy theorists did not just state their theories weeks or months after the shooting occurred; they continued to make content 11 years after the fact. Why these conspiracy theories are so popular comes down to many propaganda techniques. I’m going to talk about two of them today. 

The first, card stacking, is used to stack selected true or illogical statements to persuade people to believe a certain notion. For instance, Alex Jones once said, “Why did Hitler blow up the Reichstag — to get control! Why do governments stage these things — to get our guns!..”

The quote provides the selected wrong fact that Hitler blew up the Reichstag and connects it to the illogical notion that the government stages things. Thus, since Hilter was a controlling leader, so is the US government. 

It makes people pause and think about his statement without releasing that he has no evidence for the statement he’s suggesting. He even appealed to fear with this quote with his use of the phrase “stage these things.” It’s vague, and that’s on purpose. 

People who distrust the government will automatically plug in certain events they believe are fake, like the moon landing. Since people believe the moon landing was fake, Sandy Hook also must be fake. It’s circular thinking at its best.   

The second tactic popularly used is name-calling. For example, in 2018, when Alex Jones was penalized by Twitter for abusive content, he said, “Mainstream media is the enemy… but now it’s time to act on the enemy before they do a false flag.” His response paints the media in a negative light and suggests that they are an adversary to the public. That way, people will reject the media and its conclusions without ever examining the evidence. 

Another example includes his statements about one of the victim’s families. After a father testified, Jones reacted by saying, “he is slow.” Thus suggesting that the man has an intellectual disability which is not only false but invalidates the statement and suggests that he isn’t capable of understanding complex issues. In saying that, Jones wants viewers to disregard the man’s statement and not believe that it’s true. 

The issue, as it stands, is somewhat resolved. The trial against Alex Johnes proved to be fruitful. He was found to be liable for defaming the victim’s families, and as such, he’s been ordered to pay over $1.4 billion dollars to the victim’s families.

While holding Jones accountable is a big step in the right direction, I don’t think it will hinder conspiracy theorists from theorizing. Conspiracy theories are fueled by skepticism and distrust, two thoughts that humans naturally think about. I don’t think the matter will ever be completely resolved; people will continue to theorize no matter what happens or how long ago it was. 

As for public opinion on the subject, many people believe Sandy Hook happened thanks to the media, who have poked holes and debunked Jones’s and others’ logic. However, a big part of public opinion changed after the trial. 

A recent poll by YouGov America found that the number of people who find Jones untrustworthy has increased by 11 points to 42% of the public. Although, the same poll found that about one in five Americans believe a mass shooting has been faked. No matter how much is done to debunk theories and correct misleading statements, there will always be people that believe conspiracy theories are true. 

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