Sandy Hook, Uvalde and the Exploitation of American Paranoia

How crisis entrepreneurs like Alex Jones and demagogues like Donald Trump keep poisoning American hearts and minds

Micah Sifry


I just finished reading Elizabeth Williamson’s new book Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth, and it really has hit me hard. The book is a tour-de-force dissection of the rise of crisis entrepreneurs like Alex Jones of Infowars, who, along with a lesser army of self-styled debunkers, gun nuts, and freaked-out young suburban moms, decided that the 2012 massacre of 20 children and 6 adults in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, had to be fake, or a government plot to drive the public toward drastic gun control, or both. As Williamson notes, while Americans have a long history of skepticism bordering on conspiracism, this reaction to the Sandy Hook tragedy marks a watershed.

A 2013 poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University found that a quarter of all Americans thought that the facts about Sandy Hook were being hidden, and an additional 11 percent were unsure. Joe Uscinski, a University of Miami political science professor who studies conspiracy theories, tells Williamson that according to his research, as of 2020, one-fifth of all Americans believed that every school shooting was faked. And not just school shootings; Uscinski says virtually all high-profile mass shootings draw this level of doubt.

As a Politifact article on the ongoing skepticism about mass shootings points out, “Search queries for the term ‘false flag’ over the past five years have spiked during mass shootings, including those at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs (November 2015) and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando (June 2016). Interest peaked during the week of the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017, which inspired widespread false flag conspiracies. And searches for the term shot up again after the El Paso and Dayton attacks.”

One out of every five of us is living in another reality, where mass shootings can’t be real.

I can understand somewhat a suburban mom not being able to believe that something as evil as Sandy Hook actually happened, because it threatens her most precious possessions: her children and their safety. Instead of accepting that, yes, their…