Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting conspiracy theories

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut. The perpetrator, Adam Lanza, fatally shot his mother before murdering 20 students and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, and later committing suicide.[1] A number of fringe figures have promoted conspiracy theories that doubt or dispute what occurred at Sandy Hook. Various conspiracy theorists have claimed, for example, that the massacre was actually orchestrated by the U.S. Government as part of an elaborate plot to promote stricter gun control laws.[2] Other conspiracy theorists, such as Alex Jones, have denied that the massacre actually occurred, asserting that it was "completely fake."[3]

No evidence supports these conspiracy theories, which make a number of implausible claims.[4][5][6] Moreover, many Sandy Hook conspiracy theories contradict one another.[5] A number of sources have published articles debunking various claims put forward by conspiracy theorists.[5][7][8][9] In 2018, the parents of several children killed in the Sandy Hook shooting launched a lawsuit against Alex Jones and other authors of conspiracy videos for defamation, accusing them of engaging in a campaign of "false, cruel, and dangerous assertions.”[10]

Conspiracy claims

United States government involvement

Some conspiracy theories have alleged that the shooting was a hoax[11] and a false flag operation staged by the United States government.[12] Others claim the attack is being used by politicians to push through new gun control legislation,[13][14][15] or to otherwise persecute gun owners and survivalists.[5]

Lawyer and dentist Orly Taitzbest known for her promotion of Barack Obama citizenship ("birther") conspiracy theorieswas quoted as asking "Was Adam Lanza drugged and hypnotized by his handlers to make him into a killing machine as an excuse as the regime is itching to take all means of self defense from the populace before the economic collapse?"[16]

Talk show host Clyde Lewis wrote: "Don’t you find it at all interesting that Adam Lanza, the alleged shooter at Sandy Hook, woke up one day and decided to shoot up a school and kill children at about the same time that Barack Obama told the U.N. that he would sign the small arms treaty?"[17]

According to Live Science, "No one, regardless of what side of the gun control issue they are on, can deny that guns played a key role in the Sandy Hook killings. So the conspiracy theorists must instead challenge the claim that the attack even occurred. They believe it's all a hoax to scare people into supporting more gun control and a step toward an outright repeal of the Second Amendment." They also found that the vast majority of evidence used by conspiracy theorists to support the concept that Sandy Hook was a hoax is contradictory.[18] also debunked several claims of alleged United States government involvement in the shootings.[7]

Claims broadcast by Iranian television

Press TV, the official state media outlet of Iran, has promoted various antisemitic conspiracy theories blaming "Israeli death squads" for the shooting.[5][4] Press TV interviewed Veterans Today website Gordon Duff, who quoted Michael Harris, a former Republican candidate for governor of Arizona, who made the "Israeli death squads" claim.[6] Harris has publicly associated with neo-Nazi groups in the past and has previously claimed that Israel was responsible for the 2011 Norway attacks.[6] Duff asserted that the attacks were an act of "revenge" for the perceived cooling of Israel–United States relations under President Obama, especially as a response to Obama's decision to nominate former senator Chuck Hagel, a perceived critic of Israel, for the position of United States Secretary of Defense.[19][6] In another broadcast by Press TV, Holocaust denier James H. Fetzer claimed that the massacre "appears to have been a psy op intended to strike fear in the hearts of Americans" that was conducted by "agents of Israel."[4]

The Washington Post reported that claims broadcast on Press TV contain a large number of "obvious logical fallacies" typical of Iranian propaganda, which "has a well-earned reputation for incendiary anti-Israel stories and for wild conspiracy theories."[6] The Atlantic wrote that the story "obviously plays on the worst fears of those who believe in secret Jewish cabals that run the world, but it's a pretty pathetic attempt at slander, even for Iran."[5]

Additional conspirators

Ben Swann, a Cincinnati news anchor for Fox affiliate WXIX-TV, has suggested on his personal YouTube channel that Adam Lanza was accompanied by another shooter; he has made similar claims about the Aurora shooting and the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting from earlier in 2012.[20][21] Other conspiracy theorists have claimed that as many as four shooters were present.[5]

There is no credible evidence that any additional shooters were present at the event.[7] Some such reports may have been influenced by confused early news reports of the events.[5]

Relationship to LIBOR scandal

Other conspiracy theories have focused on the claim that Adam Lanza's father was an executive with GE Energy Financial Services.[5][22] According to these theories, Lanza's father was supposed to testify before the Senate Banking Committee with information about the Libor scandal. However, no such hearings were scheduled. Similar claims had been made about the father of James Holmes, the convicted perpetrator of the 2012 Aurora shooting.[5][23]

Timestamps of memorial sites

Conspiracy theories have claimed that various timestamps for creation dates, whois records, and Google caches of various memorial websites, fundraising sites, and Facebook were created before or immediately after the date and time of the shooting and are therefore "evidence" of a conspiracy or cover up. However, timestamps are frequently incorrect, particularly on search engines. Some timestamps are initially created and assigned to URLs that are then repurposed, meaning that a URL linked to a current event can have a much older date.[8][9]

Alex Jones claims

In September 2014, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who runs the website InfoWars, which had previously claimed that the murders were a "false flag" attack perpetrated by the government, made a new conspiracy claim that "no one died" at Sandy Hook Elementary School because the Uniform Crime Reports showed no murders in Newtown for 2012, and that the victims were "child actors."[24][25] This claim is false and misrepresents the FBI report. In reality, because the Connecticut State Police was the lead investigator after the attack, the Sandy Hook victims were included in Connecticut's statewide records (under "State Police Misc.") rather than under the Newtown statistics.[25][26]

In November 2016, Erica L. Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, the school principal who was shot and killed at Sandy Hook School, wrote open letters to then-President-elect Donald Trump (published in Medium and USA Today), calling upon him to denounce Jones,[27] after Trump had appeared on Infowars during his presidential campaign and lavished praise on its presenter, saying that the conspiracy theorist had an "amazing" reputation and pledging not to let him down.[27] On February 20, 2017, the Newtown School Board wrote to President Trump and urged him to recognize the murders of 26 people at Sandy Hook and to "remove your support from anyone who continues to insist that the tragedy was staged or not real."[28][29][30] Trump did not respond to the letter.[28][29]

On April 16, 2018, parents of two of the victims of the shooting sued Alex Jones for $1 million.[31]

James Tracy

James Tracy, a former professor at Florida Atlantic University who taught a course on conspiracy theories, has suggested the shooting either did not actually occur or occurred very differently than accounted in mainstream reports, claiming political motives for the coverup.[32][33] His allegations were strongly criticized by Patricia Llodra, a Newtown selectwoman.[34] Additionally, Florida Atlantic president Mary Jane Saunders issued a statement that Tracy's views were "not shared by" the university.[35] In response to his comments, the university opened an investigation of Tracy, who had tenure.[36]

In December 2015, after the family of Noah Pozner claimed that Tracy had harassed them, FAU moved to fire Tracy.[37] Chan Lowe of the Sun-Sentinel speculated that the comments were a publicity stunt by Tracy.[38] Tracy later declined an appearance on CNN with Anderson Cooper, suggesting that Cooper wanted to bring him and his family members harm by identifying him in a prior broadcast.[39][40] The university fired Tracy on January 5, 2016, citing his refusal to file required paperwork related to outside employment for several years.[41]

While Tracy has since withdrawn some of his suggestions, conceding that real deaths occurred in the shooting,[42] other sources have continued to claim that the entire event was a hoax.[43][44] A video similarly questioning official accounts of the shooting received several million views on YouTube within a week of its posting,[45] although the video has since been modified to display a disclaimer explaining that its creators "in no way claim this shooting never took place, or that people did not lose their lives."[46]

Other conspiracy theorists and claims

On September 12, 2014, during a political debate, Colorado Republican Party candidate Tom Ready (who was running for Pueblo County Commission) was accused by his opponent, Sal Pace, of posting an article on his Facebook page claiming the Sandy Hook shootings "never happened". Ready responded: "Well, there is some question of whether it happened, Sal." This was followed by more statements of the same tenor, prompting outraged yells from the audience. After allegedly receiving a death threat the next day, Ready reportedly apologized for his remarks.[47][48]

Other conspiracy theorists have tried to connect the shooting to references in popular culture. Prison Planet, a website owned by British conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, mentioned that Newtown-based author Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games books, in which 22 children are "ritualistically" killed, while 20 children were killed in the shooting.[49] Others pointed out that "Sandy Hook" can be seen on a map in the 2012 Batman film The Dark Knight Rises despite Sandy Hook also being the name of the New Jersey peninsula just south of New York Harbor.[49] This is what some conspiracy theorists refer to as predictive programming.[49]

Several conspiracy theorists have also claimed a six-year-old victim of the shooting subsequently appeared in a photograph with President Barack Obama. In fact, the child in the photograph is actually the victim's sister, wearing her deceased sister's dress.[50][51]


Writing about the Sandy Hook conspiracy theories, Benjamin Radford argued that most conspiracy theorists who allege contradictions in official accounts ignore contradictions in their own accounts, citing research from the University of Kent that conspiracy theorists selectively focus on or ignore particular details in order to fit their preferred narrative.[52][50] The conspiracy theories have also been called evidence of "the need for a national debate on mental illness."[51]

The debunking website Snopes ran an editorial debunking the "Sandy Hook Exposed" video, explaining how many of the theories make little sense, and answered many questions conspiracy theorists wanted answers to.[53]

Harassment by conspiracy theorists

Gene Rosen, a Newtown resident who was reported to have sheltered six Sandy Hook students and a bus driver in his home during the shooting, has been subject to harassment online alleging he was complicit in a government coverup,[54] among other things.[55] Some journalists have cited such incidents as part of a "Sandy Hook Truther Movement" analogous to the 9/11 Truth movement.[43][56][45] A writer for the Calgary Herald reported that the movement self-identifies as "Operation Terror."[51]

In May 2014, 28-year-old Andrew David Truelove stole a memorial sign from playgrounds dedicated to victims Grace McDonnell and Chase Kowalski.[57] He then went on to call the parents of Grace McDonnell, proclaiming that he stole the sign and that he believed their deaths were a "hoax".[58] He was arrested on May 30, and the signs were found in his home.[59] Truelove was convicted of the theft and sentenced to 12 months in prison.[60]

Robbie Parker, the father of victim Emilie Parker – after doing a CNN interview on the day after the shooting – became the target of conspiracy theorists, who claimed the interview was staged.[61] Parker has been attacked by theorists who believe he is a "crisis actor" and was "getting into character" before going on CNN to grieve over the loss of his child.[61]

In April 2016, Matthew Mills, a 32-year-old man from Brooklyn, accepted a plea agreement with prosecutors on one count of interfering with police arising from an incident in November 2015, when Mills angrily approached the sister of murdered teacher Victoria Sotowho is regarded as a heroine for her attempt to protect her students from the shooter in the Sandy Hook attackshoved a photograph in her face, "and began angrily charging that not only did the Sandy Hook tragedy not take place, but that Victoria Soto never existed."[62][63] Mills entered an Alford plea and was thus found guilty; he was given a suspended sentence of one year in jail and two years' probation.[62]

In December 2016, Lucy Richards, a 57-year-old woman from Tampa, was charged with four counts of transmitting threats in interstate commerce for sending death threats to Lenny Pozner, whose son Noah was the youngest of 20 children murdered.[64][65] Pozner has been particularly targeted by Internet trolls and conspiracy theorists because he has vocally fought back against them.[66] Richards had been expected to plead guilty to one count of transmitting threats, with both the prosecution and defense to recommend a sentence of probation and house arrest. However, in March 2017, Richardswho was free on bondfailed to show up to court for a change-of-plea hearing and sentencing. An arrest warrant was issued, Richards' bond was revoked, and she was soon apprehended.[67] On June 7, 2017, Richards was sentenced to five months' imprisonment.[68]

Lenny Pozner, the father of Sandy Hook victim Noah Pozner, founded an organization called HONR, which takes legal action against harassers of Sandy Hook survivors and families.[69]

See also


  1. "Connecticut State Police Final Report on Sandy Hook shooting incident December 14, 2012". Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting Reports. Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
  2. "Conspiracy theorists claim Sandy Hook tragedy is elaborate government hoax". Vancouver Sun. January 16, 2013. Retrieved 2013-01-17.
  3. Chris Sommerfeld, SEE IT: Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones doubles down on 'completely fake' Sandy Hook massacre claims, New York Daily News (November 18, 2016).
  4. 1 2 3 Moynihan, Michael C. (December 27, 2012). "Newtown Conspiracy Theories: Obama, Iran, and Other Culprits". The Daily Beast. Retrieved January 9, 2013.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Bennett, Dashiell (18 December 2012). "Newtown Conspiracy Theories, Debunked". The Atlantic. Retrieved 15 January 2013.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Fisher, Max (18 December 2012). "Iran's state-run news network blames 'Israeli death squads' for Sandy Hook shooting". The Washington Post. Retrieved 15 January 2013.
  7. 1 2 3 "Sandy Hook Exposed". Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  8. 1 2 Stuart, Hunter (11 February 2013). "Sandy Hook Hoax Theories Explained: Why Newtown 'Truther' Arguments Don't Hold Up". Huffington Post. Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  9. 1 2 Sieczkowski, Cavan (16 January 2013). "Sandy Hook Conspiracy Theory Video Debunked By Experts". Huffington Post. Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  10. Aaron Cooper, "Six more Sandy Hook families sue broadcaster Alex Jones", May 24 2018, CNN,
  11. Vancouver Sun (2013-01-11). "Conspiracy theorists claim Sandy Hook tragedy is elaborate government hoax". The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 2013-01-17.
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  13. Dean, Marion. "Sandy Hook conspiracy cult: Shootings a hoax staged to pass gun control laws". Archived from the original on July 3, 2015. Retrieved 2013-01-17.
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  17. Patton, Ron (2013-04-12). "Ground Zero » Mental Hopscotch". Retrieved 2017-06-13.
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  25. 1 2 David Mikkelson, FBI Admits Sandy Hook Hoax?: Rumor: The FBI revealed that no murders occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, proving the Sandy Hook massacre was an elaborate hoax, Snopes (February 7, 2015).
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  28. 1 2 Russell Blair, Trump Silent After Newtown Asks Him To Denounce Sandy Hook Deniers, Hartford Courant (April 4, 2017).
  29. 1 2 Christopher Hoffman, Newtown tries—and so far, fails—to get Trump to acknowledge Sandy Hook massacre, Columbia Journalism Review (March 31, 2017).
  30. Parents Of Children Who Were Killed In Sandy Hook Are Suing Alex Jones Over His Conspiracy Theories BuzzFeed News, April 17, 2018
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  59. Menu (2014-08-20). "Mystic playground sign thief gets jail time in Virginia". The Westerly Sun. Retrieved 2017-06-13.
  60. 1 2 "Sandy Hook Truthers Say Robbie Parker Video Is Evidence Of Hoax". The Inquisitr News. January 18, 2013. Retrieved 2014-05-31.
  61. 1 2 Daniel Tepfer, Sandy Hook 'truther' gets suspended sentence, Connecticut Post (April 18, 2016).
  62. Stepansky, Joseph; Dillon, Nancy (November 11, 2015). "Brooklyn man harassed family of slain Newtown teacher". New York Daily News.
  63. Robles, Frances (December 7, 2016). "Florida Woman Is Charged With Threatening Sandy Hook Parent". New York Times.
  64. Cruz, Jennifer (8 December 2016). "Sandy Hook truther charged for threatening victim's parent". Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  65. Mike Wendling, Sandy Hook to Trump: 'Help us stop conspiracy theorists', BBC News (April 2, 2017).
  66. Paula McMahon, Woman accused of threatening Sandy Hook parent jailed after she was a no-show for court, South Florida Sun-Sentinel (April 3, 2017).
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  68. "About Us - HONR Network | Against the Abusers | Awareness". 2013-05-26. Retrieved 2017-06-13.
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