Prior to December 14, 2012, Sandy Hook, a picture-postcard pretty, three hundred-year-old village in Newtown, Connecticut, itself a bedroom community for affluent New Yorkers, was largely unknown. But on that chilly, winters day, the name Sandy Hook become synonymous with mass-casualty shootings, the death of innocent children, and inexplicably with conspiracy theorists' most aggressive, vitriolic hate campaign in the history of the internet.
At roughly 9:30 am, a mentally disturbed, former student entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and opened fire. Within minutes, 20 first graders and 7 teachers and staff members were dead. Sandy Hook became the second deadliest school shooting, and the fourth deadliest mass-casualty shooting by a single gunman in US history. But as people from around the country and around the world mourned the senseless massacre and embraced the victim's families with prayers and aid, a nefarious force was growing, a force that would cause immeasurable damage to the lives of those already suffering the most horrific of losses.
Hoax sites and conspiracy theorists emerge in the wake of the tragedy.
As the names of the victims and their families emerged after the massacre, their anguish was met with a new round of unexpected hell. Extremists, believing that the government would either murder innocent people OR stage an elaborate crisis play, began making claims that the Sandy Hook School shooting was a hoax designed to repeal the Second Amendment.
Within hours, posts on blogs and social media began suggesting that there were no victims at Sandy Hook and that the grief stricken parents were actually "crisis actors." Conspiracy theorists began combing through the social media of victim's families looking for "proof," stealing photos and personal information that they then disseminated on their own sites, and harassing those who spoke out in support of gun control in the wake of the shooting.
As the youngest victim, cherubic six-year-old Noah Pozner's picture became the media "go-to" photo when reporting on Sandy Hook. This coupled with his mother Veronique's eloquent and impassioned call for stricter gun control measures, and the family's Jewish faith quickly pegged the Pozners as the main target for conspiracy theorists, as well as anti-government, white supremacist, and antisemitic groups.
By the end of January, a mere six-weeks after Noah was murdered, the attacks from some of the largest extremist platforms, which included radio and televised broadcast with 10 million hits a month, were so relentless that Lenny Pozner, Noah's father wrote to the platforms, begging for compassion and relief. By this time, the conspiracy theorists had so whipped their fans into a frenzy against the Pozners, that thousands of followers were themselves posting Noah's picture, often defaced, spreading "crisis actor" allegations, and sharing the personal identification details of the family on their own social media pages.
With little option, Lenny takes on the conspiracy theorists.
In response to the horrifying claims that his son didn't even exist or that he and his family were "crisis actors," Lenny made a decision that likely changed the course of his life. Being a practical person, he decided that the best way to quell the controversy and shut down the conspiracy theorists was to make himself personally available on social media, to answer people's questions, and provide proof of Noah's existence. Armed with photos of the child throughout his life, school report cards, birth announcements, and both a death certificate and an autopsy report, Lenny steeled himself to answer questions about the murder of his son. Instead of being receptive, hoaxers and their followers used the access to attack from all sides. It became shockingly clear that people were not interested in the truth, they were interested in villainizing someone, and that someone became Lenny.
Conspiracy theorists and their followers descended on the family in mass. Social media groups dedicated to sharing information about Lenny and his family sprang up. Fans of the hoax sites shared social security, credit, and back ground information about the family, others stalked the Pozners, posting videos taken of the family's home and of Noah's grave. As the rhetoric of the hate groups and conspiracy theorists ratcheted up, followers began to call for violence and even death against the family.
Shortly before the two-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, a "documentary" comprised of strung-together hoaxer videos was released as "proof" that the shooting was staged. One of the most prolific conspiracy theorist became an advocate for the accuracy of "documentary," which further attacked Noah, and promoted it across the internet. Outraged that these people would release a new round of attacks against his son, right before the anniversary of his death, Lenny shifted his energy from trying to provide hoaxers with the truth to learning how to remove the documentary, photos, and harassing content from the internet.
Victims Are Targeted
Victims and the families of victims, from every mass crisis event (mass shooting, school and church shootings, terrorist attacks, etc.) in the United States since 2013, have contacted HONR for advice and assistance on dealing with online hate, harassment, conspiracy theories, defamation, stalking, and threats.*
Together, through empowerment, education, and advocacy we can effect change and create a safer more inclusive online experience for all.
Help us achieve this goal.