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Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth, by Elizabeth Williamson
Elizabeth Williamson’s Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth is a marvelous book, which the Sandy Hook tragedy from two equally finely-honed angles. On one level, the book is heartbreaking in its detailed account of that day in December 2014 when 20 first-grade children and six teachers were shot dead at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. On another level, it is an enraging account of the conspiracy theorists, led by InfoWars cretin Alex Jones, who caused much anguish to the parents of the slain children by their very public efforts to insist the entire massacre never happened, that it was a false flag performance by the government aimed at promoting gun control.
The details of that terrible day can be devastating. Police Sergeant Bill Cario, upon entering classroom 8:
At first it looked empty, a relief. Then he saw the bodies of two teachers on the floor. Opening the door to what he thought was a closet, he saw a damp heap of cloth that in his shock he mistook for some kind of art project.
Describing what happened next in his report, Cario’s detached official language turned ragged and anguished. “As I stared in disbelief, I saw the face of a little boy…I then began to realize that there were other children around the little boy, and that this was actually a pile of dead children.
“The face of that little boy is the only specific image I have in that room.”
It’s not just the crime details that can bring you to tears. Equally wrenching are the stories of the parents in the days and hours leading up to the shooting, and in its aftermath.
While his parents chatted, Jesse scratched “I love you” into the light frost coating Scarlett’s car door, surrounding the message with hearts. Scarlett told him to stay put and ran into the house for her camera. Her last phot of Jesse is of him squinting in the morning sun, showing off his handiwork. His ski jacket was open, revealing an untucked rugby jersey with blue and black stripes, the shirt he died in.
Emilie was a Sandy Hook student for less than a year. After her deathm her bed remained unmade and her artwork half-finished on the table nearby, as she had left it on her last morning.
Robbie lifted the scarf and unfolded it. Six frayed round holes marked the path of the bullet that entered Emilie’s neck. Her parents wept.
A few days before Noah’s death, Veronique Pozner finished bath-and-story time in the house in Sandy Hook….[Later] She was in bed with a book when she looked up to see Noah again, standing bare-chested in the December chill.
“What are you doing out of bed, and what are you doing without your pajama top?” she asked, exasperated.
“I just wanted to give you one more hug.”
“Okay, but why is your pajama top off?”
“So I could feel your hug better,” he said.
These sorrowful details in the early chapters serve as a poignant reminder of that terrible tragedy, but in fact are meant to set the scene for the real story the book wants to tell. That begins in Chapter Four, just 70 pages in, with the introduction of a “barrel-chested, vain man” with a combover “making wagging, chopping gestures with hands resembling inflated rubber gloves” a “diagnosed narcissist” with “roots planted in the globalist paranoia of the far-right John Birch Society”, who glommed onto the tragic massacre of children to gain “attention, and a chance to spin a myth of official fraud and cover-up starring himself as crusading truthteller.” Enter Alex Jones and InfoWars, and for the remaining 400 pages we are shown how the personal, private individual tragedies of the Newtown parents and community became years of a very public and very cruel torment that continues to this day.
This wasn’t Jones’ first hijacking of a tragedy to attract publicity for his special brand of conspiracy. Just five months earlier, he had promoted the idea that the mass killing in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, in which twelve were killed and seventy injured, was a hoax perpetrated by actors in a plot to give a green light to the government to start confiscating guns.
Just five days after the Sandy Hook massacre, as Robbie and Alissa Parker were preparing for their daughter Emilie’s funeral, Jones was on the air, mocking Robbie as “a soap opera actor” who in a televised statement was simply reading a card provided by the government. On his broadcast, he repeatedly played a six-second-long clip out of the grief-stricken father’s eighteen-minute media appearance the day after the shooting.
“We’re going to play a clip from a CNN press conference with Robbie Parker,” Jones said. Mischaracterizing Robbie’s appearance as being somehow organized by CNN, a big Infowars target, was another way of undermining its credibility.
“I’ve seen this before, and he’s laughing, looks really excited,” Jones said, frowning. “And then he walks up like he’s an actor, and then breaks down on camera.”
Jones launched into a hammy, concocted rendition of Robbie facing the media, focused on Robbie’s brief smile and side comment to his family as he stepped to the lectern that night.
“I mean, it’s like ‘HAHAHA! Yeah, huh? Oh, I read this card? Okay, OOOH HOOOOO’” Jones said, wailing in mock grief….
“Unbelievable,” Jones said. “I mean, he does look like a soap opera actor. Handsome guy, he has a very suave walk. Perhaps that's how you handle it when you’re really nervous, but that is a smile of absolute satisfaction….So he’s really smiling, he looks happy, and all of a sudden, suddenly—it looks totally fake.”
The hatemongers who follow Alex Jones lead began to act on their conspiratorial beliefs. One person, Wolfgang Halbig, emailed the school nurse: “Are you a registered nurse? Why in the closet for four hours? Why close your eyes when you have seen blood before you are a nurse?” He went on to email and call Newtown officials and victim’s families, to file hundreds of requests for public documents, and to become one of Jones’ favorite ‘experts.’
Soon the families were being harassed. Posts would show up on their social media, such as this one on Veronique Pozner’s (mother of Noah) family Facebook page:
This interview was the point where I KNEW that Sandy hook was a Hoax. When I saw Veronique Pozners shawl and perfectly matched earrings...Even her shade of lipstick is the exact red shade for the color of her olive green outfit.
No mother who had just had her baby shot through with holes would take care to match an outfit”
Noah’s father Lenny was one of those who fought back most ferociously against the conspiracy gang. Messages began to turn up in his Google Voice mailbox: “DEATH. You’re going to die. Death is coming to you real soon, motherfucker.” “”Did you hide your imaginary son in the attic? Are you still f**king him, you f**king Jew bastard?”
Four years after the massacre, a man stopped Robbie Parker in the street in Washington State, where he and Alyssa had moved, and asked if he had lost a child at Sandy Hook.
“Yeah, that was my daughter, Robbie said, extending his hand.
The man ignored it. “How do you f**king live with yourself, you f**king piece of shit?” he hissed.
The man trailed him for blocks, “jabbering in my ear,” Robbie recalled.
You f**king liar. Sandy Hook never happened; how much money did you get from the government, you evil son of a bitch?
Robbie later describes how it felt: “I was randomly walking down the street in a random city three thousand miles away from Newtown. For him to see me, recognize me, put me in the right context, I can’t imagine how many videos or how many things he had read and seen about me. I can’t say directly who Alex Jones’s audience is, but I have seen the effects of people who absorb that content and what they do. And that’s a direct impact.”
Author Elizabeth Williamson goes on to detail how the hate, driven by false news and media-hammered conspiracies has metastasized into the toxic political brew that put Trump in the White House and that we continue to suffer under. Early in the book, she writes:
From a decade’s distance, Sandy Hook stands as a portent: a warning of the power of unquenchable viral lies to leap the firewalls of decency and tradition, to engulf accepted fact and established science, and to lap at the foundations of our democratic institutions.
It is a remarkable book, and I highly recommend it.