Friday February 03, 2017

Father of Sandy Hook victim warns against conspiracy theories

The city of Victoria and the Muslim community held a vigil on Jan. 31 to honour the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting.

The city of Victoria and the Muslim community held a vigil on Jan. 31 to honour the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting. (Chad Hipolitio/CP)

Listen 13:01

Within hours of the shootings at a Quebec mosque, conspiracy theories about the event began to spread online.

On Youtube, there are already dozens of videos claiming the killings were a "false flag," a military term for an attack carried out under another country's flag, intended to deceive or cause confusion about who was responsible.

On sites like The Rebel and InfoWars, you can find speculation that the official story of events is inaccurate or misleading, that the police aren't being as truthful as they could about what happened that night, and that the mainstream media is avoiding questions about why one person was originally treated as a suspect and was then released as a witness. 

On his Youtube channel, American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones recently interviewed what he called a 'terrorism expert' who suggested the killings at the Quebec City mosque were staged to discredit Donald Trump's policies.

Lenny Pozner knows the story well.

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Gun owners and supporters participate in an Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day rally at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield last March. Calls for tighter restrictions on gun laws have grown following the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (Seth Perlman/Associated Press)

His son was killed in the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary.

After that incident, conspiracy theorists spread videos online questioning whether the shooting had ever actually taken place, whether the victims, like Pozner's son, had even existed at all, and claiming that the whole story was cooked up as a pretext to confiscate guns. Alex Jones once claimed the massacre was "completely fake, with actors." 

Pozner says conspiracy theories around mass shootings have a regular pattern.

The model that they follow, as soon as there's a public incident such as this, a mass casualty event, it must be a 'false flag' right away... they start to look for anything that's out of place or anything that's a coincidence, they start looking for anomalies and look for patterns, and then just the existence of those things is proof it's not a real event in the way they present it. - Lenny Pozner, HONR Network, honr.com

Jones, like The Rebel in their coverage of the Quebec killings, says he's just asking questions the mainstream media won't.

To Pozner, those questions led to years of online conspiracy theorists using the death of his son as fodder in political diatribes. A Florida woman was recently charged with sending death threats to Pozner, because she believed the Sandy Hook killings were a hoax.

Noah Pozner

Noah Pozner, age 6 (Courtesy of the Pozner Family/AP)

Pozner now runs a foundation dedicated to eradicating false news. For people in Canada, should they come across people spreading conspiracy theories about the Quebec shooting, Pozner says the appropriate response is to call it out. 

A lot of people still stick with the 'don't feed the trolls' idea but I don't think that's what freedom of speech is about... if enough people disagree with it they need to voice their opinion. Of course, these people can be outnumbered if everyone wasn't silent about it. - Lenny Pozner, HONR Network, honr.com

Pozner says conspiracy theories about mass shootings usually begin because of confusion over reports of a 'second shooter.' It's become newsroom wisdom that, while mass shootings often start with reports of multiple shooters, this most often turns out to be false. In the case of the Quebec City shooting, there were reports of multiple shooters early in the investigation. Only one man, Alexandre Bissonnette, is charged in the killings. A second person, initially described as a suspect, turned out to be a witness, and was released by police.