In the aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., President Obama has moved to strengthen America's gun laws, and public opinion has swung significantly in support of stricter gun control. Gun-rights advocates have responded passionately, but opposition has also begun to take on uglier forms — most notably in conspiracy theories that contend the shooting was a hoax perpetrated by the government, the media, or some wildly improbable combination of the two.
What kind of conspiracy theories are out there? One contends that something is amiss because the adults in Newtown — particularly Robbie Parker, who lost his 6-year-old daughter Emilie in the shooting — haven't grieved hard enough. According to this theory, many of the shattered adults you've seen on camera are actors. Another claims that Emilie is still alive, appearing in a photograph with President Obama (the person in the photo is Emilie's sister). Yet another claims that there were other gunmen besides Adam Lanza. For a comprehensive list, as well as a thorough debunking (not that you'd need one), check out this article from Salon.
The thread that connects the various theories is gun control. "The underlying theme in all the theories is that the media, the government, and the Obama administration specifically either manipulated or orchestrated the shooting to move political opinion on gun control," says Laura Edwins at The Christian Science Monitor. Analysts say the theories may be a way to deflect blame from guns to imaginary culprits.
Of course, conspiracy theories abound on the internet. But the Sandy Hook variety are gaining traction, approaching Obama-was-born-in-Kenya ubiquity. One YouTube video, "The Sandy Hook Shooting—Fully Exposed," has been viewed more than 10 million times. Gene Rosen, a Newtown resident who sheltered six children during the shooting, has reportedly received creepy phone calls and emails from those who believe he is an actor. And it's all over social media, according to Ben Smith and CJ Lotz at BuzzFeed:
"It's by far the hottest topic of the moment," said David Mikkelson, the co-founder of the popular fact-checking website Snopes.com, which offers a detailed and extensive debunking of the theory's various planks.
The term "Sandy Hook conspiracy" was also a "hot search" on Google this week. [BuzzFeed]
It may be unwise to attribute these theories to a bunch of cranks. As the National Rifle Association showed this week, with an anti-gun control ad harping on Obama's daughters, a conspiratorial strain runs through the gun lobby's public relations approach. As David Weigel at Slate explains:
The idea that the government is one short step away from a gun ban is actually integral to the lobby's pitch…At the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, [NRA head Wayne] LaPierre warned that the first-term Obama administration's "lip service to gun owners is just part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term"…
[T]he fact that Obama responded to Sandy Hook at all validates LaPierre’s fears, and he’s said so. Why would anyone be surprised when that paranoia grows into a full-on conspiracy theory? [Slate]