He leads a fringe movement of ‘Sandy Hook truthers’ who promote hateful conspiracy theories.
by Erica Lafferty
This Thanksgiving, I sat at a dinner table with an empty seat. It’s the very seat where my mother, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, should be. Smiling, laughing and enjoying a holiday meal with her daughters and grandchildren. Instead, my mom wasn’t there because nearly four years ago, she was murdered in Newtown, Conn., along with five of her colleagues and 20 first-graders. That day, as the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, she died a hero trying to protect her innocent students.
My heart — and my dinner table — reflect the hole in my life that will never be repaired. And while I’ve chosen a path of gun safety advocacy that not everyone agrees with, some opponents of gun violence prevention follow a different, darker path. A fringe movement of “Sandy Hook truthers” promotes hateful conspiracy theories that the shooting never took place. My Thanksgiving table tells a different story. And so does the reality of the families who had their loved ones ripped out of their arms by senseless gun violence.
The most prominent popularizer of the “Sandy Hook hoax” theory is the radio and Web personality Alex Jones. He is the kind of person you’d expect to be confined to the darkest echo chambers of the Internet. Yet, Jones has been bolstered by the very man who has proclaimed he’ll make our country great again: President-elect Donald Trump.
A quick Google search for the phrase “Sandy Hook truthers” will turn up thousands of stories about how the worst day of my life was actually an elaborate conspiracy that never happened at all. It’s insanity.
Even after an election that exposed deep divisions in our country, surely we can all agree on this: The mass shooting at Sandy Hook happened. Twenty-six families, including mine, were torn apart and will never be the same. Any preposterous ideas to the contrary cannot be allowed to seep into our country’s mainstream discourse. They must be swiftly and publicly refuted.
Surely, the newly elected leader of the free world can see that.
Yet Donald Trump has promised to again appear on Jones’ program — to chat with a man who claims that one of the worst mass shootings in American history was a hoax. President-Elect Trump has praised Alex Jones’ “amazing” reputation and promised he won’t let him down.
Mr. President-elect: You are letting me down.
I believe in free speech. I believe that a wide range of opinions can be accommodated in our democracy. And I know that the vast majority of Americans — like me — support the Second Amendment and don’t believe Jones. I believe that it is only a tiny fraction of extremists who subscribe to the idea that my mother’s death is a fiction.
But part of what allows the president-elect to entertain chatting with Jones is the indifference of decent people to stand up and condemn the thinking of those like Jones in the first place.
We cannot normalize fact-denying behavior. We cannot shrug our shoulders and chalk it up to “Trump being Trump,” yet do nothing about it. Whether I like it or not, Donald Trump is the face of America to all our citizens and the rest of the world. We may approach the issue of gun violence in America differently, but we must all realize that claiming mass shootings are elaborate, government-manufactured hoaxes is deeply hateful and hurtful to those of us living this terrible truth.
President-elect Trump will face the same kinds of tragedies President Obama has lived through. He’ll need to visit with the broken-hearted, and he’ll need to prove he’s the kind of man — and president — who can represent us all. A man who ran on a campaign to “improve our country” simply cannot embrace a man whose preposterous theories are antithetical to our shared values.
This is particularly true for traditional conservatives. Conservative thinkers may interpret the Second Amendment differently than I do, but most of the conservatives I know cherish both facts and civility. For example, I’ve worked closely with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and consider him to be among the kindest public servants I’ve encountered. I know conservatives like him do not subscribe to the conspiracy theories of Alex Jones and his ilk.
Deep down, I do not want to believe that the Jones and the trolls who constantly bombard me with hate on Twitter are reflective of conservatives. But if mainstream conservatives won’t disavow fringe thinkers such as Alex Jones, how on earth can they claim the moral high ground?
I am asking conservatives and all Americans to join me in telling President-elect Trump this: Alex Jones represents the worst of our country. It’s time to disavow the man who calls my mother’s death a hoax and not appear on his show.
I’ve faced the cold, hard truth of the murder of my mother, and it’s time for Trump to face one of his own. American presidents are held to higher standards than reality television stars, and our new president-elect must learn that. He must openly denounce Jones and the hateful fictions that he spews. Countless survivors of gun violence and I urge him to do so now.
Erica Lafferty’s mother, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, was the principal of Sandy Hook School and was murdered while protecting her students. Erica is partnerships manager at Everytown for Gun Safety. Follow her on Twitter: @EricaSmegs