For some, an unwillingness to accept the concept of individual responsibility can lead down a bizarre path. Rather than accept the possibility that a single, evil man could perform the unthinkably evil act of killing 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month, some would place the blame on the tools he used to commit this crime. Others turn to bizarre conspiracy theories that spread with lightning speed over the Internet.
Even the ivory tower is not immune to the trend. James H. Fetzer, a professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota at Duluth, published an op-ed in an Iranian official state news outlet claiming Mossad agents orchestrated the massacre. The reason: They wanted to help the American government supposedly wage a "massive civil war" on its own citizens. "The killing of children is a signature of terror ops conducted by agents of Israel," Mr. Fetzer wrote. "[W]ho better to slaughter American children than Israelis, who deliberately murder Palestinian children?"
James Tracy, a professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), argued the massacre was the result of a huge government-inspired plot. He speculated in a blog post (since removed from the site) that "crisis actors" were used to make the shooting look real -- right down to alleging that the parents' grieving was fake. "While it sounds like an outrageous claim, one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place -- at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation's news media have described," he wrote in a Dec. 24 entry. As Mr. Tracy works at a state-funded university, taxpayers are subsidizing these speculations, at least in part.
Since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, America has been awash in conspiracy theories. The outlandish claims abound: Kennedy was not killed by a lone gunman; the 1969 moon landing was staged; the government is covering up the existence of UFOs; Elvis still lives; Sasquatch exists; the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were an inside job by the George W. Bush administration (in collusion with Israel); and now, Sandy Hook.
It is a testament to how mainstream conspiracy theories have become on both the left and the right that President Obama's former green-jobs czar, Van Jones, is an avowed 9/11 "truther" -- that is, someone who thinks the U.S. government knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes beforehand and still allowed them to happen. Radio talk-show host Alex Jones thinks America's "military-industrial complex" orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The supposed nefarious purpose was to erect a quasi-fascist surveillance state.
Such theories flourish in a society where people look for simplistic, easy answers as a response to complex, tragic situations. The theories thrive in a culture that continues to be dumbed down to avoid acknowledging the unpleasant reality that evil exists. It was an evil man who took the lives of the schoolchildren at Sandy Hook. There can be no solution to the problem that does not start from this truth.
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