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Yes, there really are Newtown truthers.
But in the crazy world of Sandy Hook conspiracy theories, this one may be the worst yet. (Maybe you’ve already heard some of the others, like the one about fantasy ties between the gunman’s family and the LIBOR banking scandal and a related theory about the Aurora shooting and the “Dark Knight Rises.”) Most of the theories are really pieces of a larger meta-theory: that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax, perhaps by the Obama administration, designed to stir demand for gun control.
In the latest angle, theorists think they have found “absolute proof” of a conspiracy to defraud the American people. “You reported in December that this little girl had been killed,” a reader emailed Salon in response to a story. “She has been found, and photographed with President Obama.”
The girl in question is Emilie Parker, a 6-year-old who was shot multiple times and killed at Sandy Hook. But for conspiracy theorists, the tears her family shed at her funeral, the moving eulogy from Utah’s governor, and the entire shooting spree are fake. Welcome to the world where Sandy Hook didn’t really happen.
There are dozens of websites, blog posts and YouTube videos extolling the Emilie Parker hoax theory. If you Google her name, the very first result is a post mocking her father for crying at a press conference after the shooting. One popular video, which already has 134,000 views, was made by the producers of a popular 9/11 Truther film. “Just as the movie ‘Operation Terror’ shows the 9/11 attacks were a made-for-TV event, so too were the mass shootings … There can be no doubt that Sandy Hook was a staged event,” the narrator intones. He goes on to say that the adults who participated in the media coverage of the shootings “should be prosecuted as accessories after the fact in a mass murder” — i.e., the parents whose children were murdered in the massacre should be thrown in prison.
The crux of the theory is a photograph of Parker’s sister sitting on President Obama’s lap when he visited with the victims’ families. The girl is wearing the same dress Emilie wore in a pre-shooting photograph of the family shared with media, so she must be Emilie, alive and well. “BAM! I cannot believe how idiot these people are [sic]… That’s her,” one YouTuber exclaims as he watches the two images superimposed on each other. (Apparently missed by these crack investigators is the possibility that the sister wore Emilie’s dress and that they look alike because they are sisters, after all.)
The supporting details to the hoax theory explanation are reminiscent of the arcana of any well-developed conspiracy theory. What about the car? What about the rifle? Why does someone off camera allegedly tell Parker’s father to “read the Card” (as in a cue card) before he goes on CNN? Why is he laughing? Who is the guy running into the woods? Why is there police audio referring to multiple shooters? Why does one boy who survived the shooting tell Dr. Oz it was like “a drill”? Why was the principal quoted by a local paper after she died? Why do some of the parents look like some of the victims of the Aurora shooting — are they “all actors”? All of these questions have simple explanations, but in each case, the theorists have sided more with less likely, but more nefarious possibilities.
One man has taken it upon himself to catalog all of the theories at SandyHookHoax.com. By way of credentials, creator Jay Johnson explains: “I am the only person in the world to solve LOST,” he writes (yes, the TV show).
In an email exchange with Salon, Johnson said he initially “wanted to help the kids express their feelings and memorialize the victims … But then I saw how the local paper interviewed the principal after she was dead, and I realized it was 99% odds another psychological operation that was going on,” he explained.
Noting that he started the website on “12/21/12” he explained, “since I am the New Age Messiah, with my Look Your Heart in the Mirror™ as the new revelation from the Goddess Tefnut, aka Ma’at, of Egypt, I thought the date was significant.”
But the hoax theory has even earned the backing for some presumably more credible sources. James Tracy, a tenured professor of communications at Florida Atlantic University, sparked controversy this week after he wrote a blog post suggesting the parents were “crisis actors.” “While it sounds like an outrageous claim, one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place — at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation’s news media have described,” he wrote.
Websites owned by Alex Jones, the conspiracy theory pundit who helped start the 9/11 Truther movement and has millions of readers, are a virtual one-stop shop for Sandy Hook “false flag” miscellanea. So far, mainstream conservative figures haven’t hopped on board, though Gun Owners of American head Larry Pratt told Jones this summer that he thought there was a good chance the Aurora massacre was perpetrated by government agents.
Then there’s just the downright bizarre subgenre of theories. One posting on the community forum of Jones’ website connects Sandy Hook and Emilie Parker to Satanism, postulating that the school was a “recruiting center” for the Church of Satan. There’s even a low-budget slasher flick called “Sandy Hook Lingerie Party Massacre” — could that be connected?
Whether there is a connection or not, we can count on the Internet’s conspiracy theorists to find one, even if it means denying the legitimacy of the mourning families’ grief.
Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.More Alex Seitz-Wald.