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'Sandy Hook' author depicts a tragedy first of gun violence, then of disinformation

Penguin Random House
Beowulf Sheehan

Editor's note: This conversation originally aired March 31, 2022.

On December 14, 2012, a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 first graders and six educators.

In the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut , family members of the victims then faced another unimaginable struggle — online conspiracy theorists began lying about the shooting, including making the absurd claim that the shooting was staged in order to increase gun control laws throughout the country.

The conspiracies were amplified by Alex Jones, a right-wing provocateur who runs Infowars, a website that is known for publishing fake news.

A decade later, viral lies and conspiracy theories seem to have become more commonplace. From PizzaGate, to QAnon, to members of Congress continuing to push lies about the past election, author Elizabeth Williamson writes that “Sandy Hook was the first mass tragedy to spawn an online circle of people impermeable and hostile to reality” — and argues that the reverberations of Sandy Hook are being felt to this day.

We’re joined by Williamson to discuss how the Sandy Hook tragedy became fodder for conspiracy theorists and what might be done to stem the ongoing flow of disinformation.


Elizabeth Williamson, feature writer for The New York Times and author of “Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth

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Jesse Steinmetz is Producer of Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Before joining WFAE in 2019, he was an intern at WNPR in Hartford, Connecticut and hosted a show at Eastern Connecticut State University.