On December 11, I wrote a story about Lenny Pozner, the father of a boy who was killed during the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Since his son’s murder, Pozner has had to deal with the harassment of “hoaxers” — conspiracy theorists who believe the massacre was a government production, and that the victims never really existed. The article focuses on Pozner’s fight against Wolfgang Halbig, one of the movement’s de facto leaders and his main tormentor. Halbig thinks parents should exhume the remains of their children to prove they aren’t fictional characters.
Pozner has had to deal with another prominent hoaxer: James Tracy, who was, until January 6, a tenured communications professor at Florida Atlantic University. In mid-December, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence launched a petition demanding that the school remove Tracy from his job. After the petition quickly gained more than 5,000 signatures, university officials were moved to recommend Tracy’s termination. He had just over a week to appeal; the university has not publicly commented whether he did so. Tracy was fired on Tuesday, though the school provided no specific reason for his termination.
Through Memory Hole, Tracy’s popular blog, he has for years claimed that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged to provide the Obama administration with an excuse to pass tougher gun laws. For fellow hoaxers, his academic position lends an air of legitimacy to the movement. Conspiracy theory kingmaker Alex Jones has featured him on his show.
The day before my story was released, Pozner and his ex-wife published an op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel. Tracy, they said, once sent them “a certified letter demanding proof that Noah once lived, that we were his parents, and that we were the rightful owner of his photographic image.” The following Monday, on the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, Tracy responded to the editorial in a post on his Facebook page. “The Pozners, alas, are as phony as the drill itself, and profiting handsomely from the fake death of their son.”
Tracy’s involvement with the hoaxers shows that the movement has attracted people in positions of influence or power, and his firing is not likely to put a stop to the movement. One hoaxer video, “The Sandy Hook Shooting—Fully Exposed,” has been viewed nearly 12 million times to date. And within days of the mass shooting at an Oregon community college, in early October, it was revealed that the country sheriff had once posted a Sandy Hook hoax video to his Facebook page. “This makes me wonder who we can trust anymore,” he wrote. When The Trace first covered the Pozner family’s interactions with hoaxers, it was shortly after the San Bernardino shooting in early December; videos claiming that the attack on an office holiday party was a hoax were already popping up online. Tracy, for his part, had posted a blog entry titled, “THE SAN BERNARDINO SHOOTING—What Really Happened Behind The Scenes?”