EDITORIAL: The evil sport of tormenting families of shooting victims

The term “fake news” has been spoken and written so routinely by President Donald Trump that it has mellowed into a rather mild expression of dissatisfaction with published reports of various types.
    But what might be called real fake news—untruths disseminated with intent to injure individuals and institutions—has been around since long before the current president popularized the expression, and in its most pernicious forms it is a cruel and effective weapon. A particularly heinous example of weaponized fake news was on display in a Wisconsin courtroom last week.
    Two men, one a resident of Oregon, Wis., have been tormenting the father of one of the first-graders killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012 for years with lies and conspiracy theories.
    On June 17, Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington held them accountable, ruling they had defamed Lenny Pozner with their falsehoods, including the claim that Pozner’s son Noah was not killed in the mass shooting and that his death certificate was faked.
    The tormentors of the grieving father are the Wisconsinite James Fetzer and his associate Mike Palecek. They edited a 455-page book whose title is in itself a perfect example of fake news with evil intent: “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook: It was a FEMA Drill to Promote Gun Control.”
    This would be merely disgusting or even laughable if some people had not taken the book’s title and contents and related conspiracy theories promoted on the internet seriously. Pozner has not been the only parent of Sandy Hook victims to be persecuted in perverted campaigns to deny the existence of the tragedy in the face of incontrovertible fact. There are echoes here of the bizarre yet persistent denials of the Holocaust.
    The slaughter of 20 young children and six school teachers and staff members in the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Conn., was documented by news media in searing words and pictures and by law enforcement agencies in official records that will forever blacken American history, yet the claim that it was all a hoax lives on the internet as well as in the appalling book that was the subject of the lawsuit in Dane County.
    Most of the victims’ parents have been harassed by so-called hoaxers. Their addresses have been posted on the internet, in some cases with videos of their homes. A number of them have had to move, forced, as Pozner put it, to “live in hiding.” The mother of a Sandy Hook victim, whose husband committed suicide after their child was killed, changed her name to escape harassment. In 2016, a Florida woman was sentenced to prison for making death threats against Pozner.
    The most prominent Sandy Hook hoaxer has been Alex Jones, the host of an internet and radio program called Infowars, whose followers have even donated money to the cause of proving the Sandy Hook killings never happened. It was recently reported by reputable news organizations that Jones emailed child pornography to families of the victims. Jones faces numerous lawsuits and has been banned from Facebook and YouTube.
    What motivates these attacks on the families of mass shooting victims? (People close to the victims of the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre and other mass shootings have had similar experiences.)
    It is apparently the fear that mass killings by guns will lead to gun control measures. Jones’ conspiracy theory, for example, is that the government and the Sandy Hook victims’ parents worked together to stage the massacre in a plot to force the confiscation of firearms.
    It goes without saying that no responsible gun owner or gun-rights advocate would go along with this ghoulish nonsense, yet enough people do to make it a stain on the American character.
    The blame lies not just with the sleazy perpetrators, but with those among the public who are too intellectually lazy to verify easily accessible facts and cruel enough to allow their ignorance to add to the suffering of the loved ones of the victims of Sandy Hook and other mass murders.

 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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