In early January, GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump issued a press release on his website announcing the endorsement of several Florida community leaders, including a pastor and conservative radio host named Carl Gallups. Trump called the endorsement a “great honor,” but failed to mention one of the pastor’s deeply held convictions: that the 2012 mass shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School never happened.

According to the watchdog group Media Matters, which dug up the release, Trump has aligned himself with Gallups in order to secure more votes in the upcoming Florida primary, on March 15. The state is home to several prominent Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists, also known as hoaxers. They claim that the Newtown massacre was a government-orchestrated event, and that the victims never existed but were instead paid “crisis actors,” hired to help the Obama administration usher in tougher gun laws. Much like palm trees, these hoaxers seem to thrive in Florida, one of the most gun-friendly states in the country.

In December, I wrote about the plight of Lenny Pozner, whose six-year-old son, Noah, was killed in the massacre. For years, he has been forced to endure the harassment of hoaxers, who seek to shame him into admitting his role in the supposed conspiracy. One of the movement’s de facto leaders, a Florida native named Wolfgang Halbig, demanded Pozner exhume his son’s remains to prove that he had been fatally shot. Another theorist, James Tracy, a tenured communications professor at Florida Atlantic University, once sent Pozner a certified letter demanding evidence that Noah had ever lived. (Earlier this year, Tracy was fired from his job after Pozner published an op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel calling for his removal.)

On January 13, the day Trump announced the endorsement, Gallups delivered the invocation at a rally the real estate mogul held in Pensacola. It was not the first time Trump has shared the bill with a Sandy Hook hoaxer. In December, he appeared on the radio show of conspiracy theory kingmaker Alex Jones. The radio host has functioned as a megaphone for the hoaxer movement, providing legitimacy to folks like Halbig, a former high school security director who Jones once referred to as a “leading expert” on Sandy Hook. On the show, Trump told Jones, “Your reputation is amazing.”

Gallups often posts on his website evidence that supposedly proves “Newtown was a gun-grab hoax.” In early February, he had a man called “Barry Soetoro”on his radio show. Soetoro, per Gallups, had discovered the truth about a husband and wife who lost their child in the massacre. “Barry has uncovered the fact that this dude is a Hollywood actor, his so-called wife is a Hollywood actor, and then he found footage, television footage of this guy at Sandy Hook in an FBI SWAT team outfit,” Gallups declared. “It’s the same dude, folks.”

Other posts on Gallups’s site allege that Pozner’s son is a fictional character. A leading presidential contender’s approval of the pastor lends an air of legitimacy to the movement, and confirms Pozner’s worst fears. As the grieving father told me, “I know that the more garbage that is out there, the more it ages over time, the more the myth becomes accepted as a disgusting historical fact that tries to dismiss the existence of my child.”

[Photo: Flickr user Darron Birgenheier]