Newtown Board Asks Trump To Reject Conspiracy Theorists

SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (CBS Connecticut and AP) — Newtown Board of Education members hoped a newly elected President Donald Trump would speak out against a famous conspiracy theorist and others who question the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Two months later, they have yet to receive a response.

The school board sent a one-page letter in February, asking Trump to denounce the lies because the comments of those who deny what happened are still hurting the community, said Keith Alexander, board chairman.

The letter singled out Alex Jones, a radio host whose “Infowars” programming has alleged the mass shooting was a hoax. As a candidate, Trump voiced admiration for Jones during a December 2015 interview, telling Jones: “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”

The school board wrote to Trump: “We are asking you to intervene to try to stop Jones and other hoaxers like him,” urging him to “clearly and unequivocally” recognize that 20 children and six adults were killed at the school more than four years ago.

In response to questions from The Associated Press about the school board’s letter, the White House said: “President Trump has been quite clear that we, as a nation, are united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”

Messages were left seeking comment with Jones through the Infowars website and the radio network that produces his show.

Alexander said the school board had not heard back from Trump as of this week.

“I do hope that we will receive a direct response at some point,” he said.

In the days following the mass shooting, Trump used Twitter to express condolences to the Newtown families, saying it was “heartbreaking ” to see the photos of the young Sandy Hook victims and saying “it was a horrible day for Newtown, CT and our country.”

Since the shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, several victims’ relatives have been accosted or harassed by conspiracy theorists, including some who say it was staged to erode support for gun rights.

The question of how to address conspiracy theorists has been a sensitive one in Newtown. Many don’t want to talk about it publicly, fearing it will stir up more provocations. One parent whose child was killed at Sandy Hook, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of the fear of harassment, said many victims’ families opposed the letter being sent to Trump for that reason.

Leonard Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was killed in the shooting, once had a caller leave a voicemail message telling him: “You gonna die, death is coming to you real soon.” A Florida woman has been criminally charged in connection with voicemail and email threats to Pozner.

A man accused of approaching the sister of slain Sandy Hook teacher Victoria Soto and angrily claiming the massacre hadn’t happened was sentenced a year ago to two years of probation. A Newtown teacher told a court in September that he had brought a weapon to school because he feared for his safety after receiving threats from conspiracy theorists.

Pozner said he doubts the school board’s appeal to Trump will do much to sway anybody who believes the shooting that killed his son was some kind of hoax.

“I don’t think the president can do anything about this conspiracy theory, even if he wanted to,” Pozner said. “The origin of conspiracy theories is a mistrust of government.”

While he believes there is little any government official can do, Pozner has been working since 2015 to keep conspiracy theories from gaining such prominence on the internet. His HONR Network encourages the public to contact advertisers on Google and social networks to raise awareness of how ad revenue is being used to support false news.

Alexander said the school board sent the letter in hope that it would help.

“The town of Newtown suffered a tragedy that brought with it more than its own direct consequences and the comments of those who deny the events only further harm our community,” he said. “I believe the board of education action was intended to limit further harm from that behavior.”

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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