In a world plagued by human monsters like the shooter who killed 20 first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, James Fetzer and Mike Palecek might more accurately be described as gnats. Or maybe mosquitoes.
These two “authors” wrote a book titled “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook,” pushing that putrid conspiracy theory. They alleged, as their fellow insects have, that the Dec. 14, 2012, school shooting in Newtown, Conn., never happened. They claimed it was staged to promote gun control, that the children were actors who didn’t actually die, that their grieving parents are unrelated stand-ins perpetuating the hoax.
The book claims Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah died at Sandy Hook, isn’t actually the boy’s father and that he forged the death certificate. Sandy Hook parents have quietly put up with this kind of sewage from the nether reaches of kook-land for years, but some are now pushing back. Pozner sued for defamation, won a settlement from the publisher, and a judge last week issued a summary judgment against the authors, with damages yet to be determined.
In another satisfying bit of justice last week, Alex Jones, the Infowars founder, early Sandy Hook conspiracy promoter and all-around cockroach, was sanctioned by the judge in a separate defamation suit and ordered to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees. This was after an on-air rant in which Jones accused the attorney of “planting” the child pornography that turned up in Jones’ computerized documents during the proceedings. Yeah, right.
(Jones, it should be noted, counts among his admirers President Donald Trump, who has appeared on his show and once beamed to him, “Your reputation is amazing!” Another shining example of our Dear Leader’s flawless judgment of character.)
Bad-faith denial of horrific crimes is nothing new; the evil phenomenon of Holocaust denial goes back more than 70 years. And Sandy Hook isn’t the only modern mass shooting to draw the gnats. But it has drawn them more consistently than the others, with the parents trailed by harassment and even death threats for years.
It’s another depressing reminder of how inhuman some humans can be. But it also speaks to the mind-boggling details of this particular tragedy, which almost do feel like dark fiction. It wasn’t the worst shooting in terms of numbers, but it remains the one that, more than the rest, prompts the devastating thought: If this didn’t change things, nothing will.
If someone were to design a tragedy for the specific purpose of rousing America from its gun-addled stupor to finally create sane national gun policies, it would look like Sandy Hook. The 20 children who died along with six adults were the most innocent victims imaginable, their small bodies ripped by an arsenal that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a battlefield.
The shooter (I won’t use his name, and no one should) took the weapons from his mother, who, though clearly a gun stockpiler, was scrupulously law-abiding about it. The semiautomatic rifle, handguns and high-capacity magazines her son gathered up were all purchased legally. Which indicates that, had some of those items not been legal to buy, the mother probably wouldn’t have had them on hand for her son to take. So much for the National Rifle Association’s nonsensical claim that gun laws can’t prevent shootings.
Due to a truly bizarre coincidence, Sandy Hook also demolishes the ridiculous NRA trope that “guns don’t kill, people kill.” There was another attack against schoolchildren on the same day, in Chenpeng village, China, where firearms are restricted. So the attacker had to settle for using a knife. Twenty-two young children were wounded — just wounded — while almost as many of their American counterparts in Connecticut died. So much for the trope.
Yet seven years and many mass shootings later, nothing has changed. Federal law regarding firearms today is essentially what it was on the morning after Sandy Hook, when Lenny Pozner and his fellow grieving parents awoke to a world that, for them, would never be the same.
The most important freedom we have, the one without which all other freedoms are meaningless, is freedom of speech. But even that foundational freedom has limits, as the Sandy Hook conspiracy gnats are learning. It’s been long established that the First Amendment, despite its unambiguous language about free speech, doesn’t protect defamation.
Yet the NRA and its congressional minions continue to insist that the ambiguous language of the Second Amendment — language that, on its face, appears to predicate the right to bear arms on the formation of state militias — is instead virtually boundless; that even the most common-sense forms of gun control, like universal background checks, assault-weapons bans and magazine limits, are intrinsically unworkable and automatically unconstitutional; that this obstinate stance is philosophically necessary, no matter how many first graders it costs. And that’s the real hoax.