Jan 10 2013

Sandy Hook Conspiracy

That’s right – there is already a conspiracy theory alleging that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was actually a conspiracy, that it either did not happen at all, or happened very differently from what is being reported. James Tracey, an associate professor of communications at Florida Atlantic University, runs a conspiracy-mongering blog in which he calls into question the official story of what happened at Sandy Hook.

It is the usual conspiracy fare – anomaly hunting combined with the usual logical fallacies. It is interesting, however, to see it applied to an event that, for me, happened right next door and when I personally know some of the people involved. I guess that makes me part of the conspiracy.

Before I delve into his claims, it is interesting to note that Tracy teaches a course called, Culture of Conspiracy. This raised an interesting possibility for me. Does he run such a course because he is a conspiracy theorist, or is his conspiracy theorist persona (including his blog) all part of a radical teaching strategy? What better way to teach about conspiracy theories than to simulate one yourself (a meta-conspiracy)? If the latter, I wonder how long he plans to keep up the charade before revealing what he is doing.

For now this is just speculation, and for whatever reason he is making certain claims about Sandy Hook that are worth examining.

Most of his “evidence” for some type of conspiracy or coverup is the inconsistent reporting of the event by the media. He writes:

At 9:53AM, no more than ten minutes after the reported shooting ceased, the Associated Press published a story, “Official with Knowledge of Connecticut School Shooting Says 27 Dead, Including 18 Children.” AP and the Washington Post have since removed the story from their websites in lieu of subsequent reports that took their cue from a press conference scheduled for later that day.

When we discussed the event on the SGU we also criticized the media for their reporting of the event. What typically happens after an event like this (meaning a dramatic event that is likely to draw extreme public attention), the media are tripping over themselves to get the scoop, to report something and to justify why they are spending so much time focusing on this event. So any tidbit of information, even if preliminary and not well sourced, is reported.

Eventually official information comes out, and the media have to backtrack on their previous error-ridden reports.

This always happens. This is what is going to happen when a real dramatic event occurs (meaning not the product of any conspiracy). Therefore – the fact that there was media confusion over the details of the event is not evidence for a conspiracy, because it would be present without a conspiracy.

Another category of evidence offered by Tracy for a conspiracy is the lack of information and documentation from official sources.

Indeed, aside from internal police accounts of what took place inside Sandy Hook Elementary there is little information available to piece together what may have actually transpired inside the school. No photographic or video footage of the crime scene have been made publicly available and major media have to a large degree based their conclusions on Connecticut Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver’s verbal account of the postmortem which is at best ambiguous.

This is standard police procedure – to carefully control the flow of information so as not to compromise their investigation. Unlike the media, the police do not want to release any information until it is completely verified. Further they can decide to protect the rights of certain individuals by not releasing certain information. This is standard procedure – not evidence of a cover up.

For example, apparently several individuals taken from the scene were initially considered to be possible suspects in the shooting. The police here were just doing due diligence. When it became apparent they had nothing to do with the shooting they were released. Their names were not made public – to protect them. If there was insufficient evidence to actually arrest them, and they were no longer suspects, why focus attention on them, especially during a highly emotional event. Perhaps they may have been targeted by vigilantes or distraught relatives of the victims. Again – standard professional procedure.

No video was released from inside the school. Of course not – imagine how gruesome those videos must be. The families and the community should be given some degree of privacy in such matters.

This one comes down partly to trust. Officials have reviewed the video as part of their investigation, and they will release final reports when the investigations are complete. I do think that professional journalists should have the right to access any of this information also (once the official investigation is done) in order to independently verify the story – and they do.  All the information will eventually come out. But I do not think pictures of slaughtered children should be shown on tv or news outlets, especially this soon after an event.

That’s really all Tracy has – inconsistencies and withholding of information. All of this is easily explainable without invoking a conspiracy. He has not actual evidence for any particular conspiracy.

He does float some speculation about what might have actually happened. He speculates that perhaps it was a drill gone awry. He thinks that the school was running a drill to prepare children for such an event, including playing sounds of shooting and chaos over the intercom. I am not sure how this accounts for all the dead children and their families.

For that he speculates that people interviewed on tv were actors. There is a huge problem with this. If parents and others related to the event were actors, people in the community would know. It would at least be odd because no one would know who they were. If, on the other hand, the people interviewed were really involved in the massacre, there would be a web of connections in the community to them. Most people in the area would know them or know someone who knows them. This is, in fact, the case. As I said, I personally know one family who was interviewed on camera about the event (they did not lose any children, but were at the school). I am part of that web of personal connection in the community.

Conclusion

This may sound strange, but I think that conspiracy theorists do play an important role in a democracy. It is good to have people who question everything about what is reported by the media and the government. It is good not to be complacent about the information we are given. At the very least it forces us to ask – how do we really know what happened? Is there sufficient transparency in the system? Are the media doing their job?

In fact, my primary criticism of most conspiracy theorists is not that they are asking these questions, but rather that they are doing a poor job of filling this role. Their musings are often so absurd, their logic so flawed, and their conclusions so bizarre that they invite any rational person to dismiss their claims out of hand. If they did a better job at being the conspiracy theorist, they would better serve the function of fighting against the complacency they so often criticize.

In fact, I am not the only one to make this observation (that conspiracy theorists often do a transparently bad job). In fact, some conspiracy theorists have accused other conspiracy theorists of being part of a meta-conspiracy to discredit conspiracy theorists. Actually I think they accomplish that all on their own.

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