By Frances Robles (NY Times)
In the latest episode over the proliferation of fake news and the people who believe it, a Tampa woman who thinks the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Conn., was staged has been charged with threatening a parent of one of the slain children.
The woman, Lucy Richards, 57, faces four counts of transmitting threats in interstate commerce. Ms. Richards sent four messages in January that said things such as: “You gonna die. Death is coming to you real soon,” according to an indictment made public on Wednesday.
Ms. Richards’s belief “that the school shooting was a hoax and never happened allegedly motivated her to make the charged threats,” the United States attorney’s office in Miami said in a statement. Each charge carries a maximum five-year sentence upon conviction.
According to the indictment, the threats were sent to a parent identified only as “L.P.” The initials are an apparent reference to Lenny Pozner, whose son, Noah, was the youngest of 20 children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School four years ago.
Mr. Pozner, who now lives in Florida, dedicates himself to unmasking the various conspiracy theorists who blog about Sandy Hook, suggesting that the Obama administration orchestrated the massacre using actors to further a gun-control agenda.
The conspiracy theorists have criticized Mr. Pozner and his counterinvestigations of their work. Mr. Pozner has filed complaints with law enforcement, private companies and the attorney general’s office. He even wrote a 165-page book raising questions about a champion of the hoax theory, according to a September article in New York magazine.
“People don’t understand what trolls are,” Mr. Pozner told the magazine. “If you don’t feed them, they don’t just go away.”
When Mr. Pozner asked a Florida Atlantic University professor, James F. Tracy, to stop posting photos of Noah, the professor sent him a certified letter asking for proof that the boy existed, Mr. Pozner wrote in an essay in The Sun-Sentinel newspaper last year.
The professor, who was tenured, was soon fired, and he blamed Mr. Pozner.
Mr. Tracy, a communications professor who taught classes including one on the “Culture of Conspiracy,” is suing to get his job back. On his blog, he recently complained that WordPress, which had been hosting his blog, suddenly kicked him off the site.
Mr. Pozner declined to comment.
Phony news has become a major issue in the weeks since Donald J. Trump was elected president. Facebook has been blamed for providing a platform for the sharing of wild, made-up articles that misinformed the electorate. The company, along with Google, recently announced plans to block websites known for publishing false news from using online advertising networks.
Early this week, a North Carolina man showed up armed at a Washington pizzeria, bent on rescuing children held in sexual slavery. The restaurant, Comet Ping Pong, had been the subject of conspiracy theories on the internet insisting that Hillary Clinton’s campaign operatives were running a child sex ring out of the restaurant.
Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son, Daniel, was killed at Sandy Hook, said he had never been threatened by or even encountered any of the conspiracy promoters.
“It’s terribly offensive, but I know it happens after tragedies,” Mr. Barden said. “If only Sandy Hook had never happened. It would be the answers to my prayers.”