By Susan Svrluga at The Washington Post
James Tracy, a professor who wrote that the mass killing of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School was an elaborate, staged hoax designed to pass gun-control legislation, has been fired from his job at Florida Atlantic University.
University officials began the termination process last month after Lenny and Veronique Pozner, parents of one of the Sandy Hook victims, wrote an opinion piece in the Sun-Sentinel: “It’s been three years since we last embraced our precious little boy, Noah. At six-years-old, he was the youngest child murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School….
“… to our horror, we have found that there are some in this society who lack empathy for the suffering of others. Among them are the conspiracy theorists that deny our tragedy was real. They seek us out and accuse us of being government agents who are faking our grief and lying about our loss.”
They accused Tracy of badgering them for proof that the murders really happened.
“Tracy even sent us a certified letter demanding proof that Noah once lived, that we were his parents, and that we were the rightful owner of his photographic image,” they wrote. “We found this so outrageous and unsettling that we filed a police report for harassment. Once Tracy realized we would not respond, he subjected us to ridicule and contempt on his blog, boasting to his readers that the ‘unfulfilled request’ was ‘noteworthy’ because we had used copyright claims to ‘thwart continued research of the Sandy Hook massacre event.’ ”
The letter, which called on the university to fire Tracy, sparked an outpouring of horror and outrage from people sympathetic to the families of victims.
On Tuesday evening, university officials issued a written statement:
“Florida Atlantic University today issued James Tracy with a Notice of Termination. This follows the Notice of Proposed Discipline issued to James Tracy Dec. 16.
“The effective date of the termination is Jan. 8, 2016.
“James Tracy was scheduled to teach three classes during the upcoming Spring semester. Alternative instructors will be assigned to teach those classes.”
Tracy deferred requests for comment to his lawyer.
Twenty-seven people were shot and killed by a gunman who then shot and killed himself in Newtown, Conn., a mass killing that shocked many Americans because most of those slain were young children.
Tracy repeatedly questioned whether the shooting — and other recent mass shootings reported by the media — actually happened.
A post apparently written by him on the “Hoax at Sandy Hook” Facebook page held that no one was killed at the school, that the tragedy was faked, that “local co-conspirators” benefited financially by pretending to be grieving parents, and that the Pozners were trying to intimidate his employer into terminating him for researching and speaking the truth.
On Wednesday, a guest post on Tracy’s blog, “The De-Authorization of James F. Tracy,” presented a view of what had happened. After Sandy Hook,
“… the academic had published a series of articles describing the neglect of major media to address discrepancies in their own reporting, as well as the appearance of their collusion with law enforcement and federal agencies in carefully managing a narrative that focused away from journalistic investigation.
“… While the government palpates the body politic for signs of resistance, and mass media is busy scrawling politically correct ideas across the face of questionable national events that seem to demand some urgent action, emotion is pouring out of the populace, short-circuiting critical thought and inciting a righteous desire for state intervention. Finally, the government has what it wants: a mass of citizens are clamoring for the agenda it was pushing all along.
“… James Tracy’s job as an academician may be over, but his authority has never faltered in the public sphere where the true sources of political and moral authority are found. In the new public space, he is a locus of authority, and diverse citizens gather around and practice the art of intellectual self-defense and the hopes of free speech.”
Tracy “teaches courses examining the relationship between commercial and alternative news media and socio-political issues and events,” according to Florida Atlantic’s website — a page that was no longer visible Wednesday — with expertise in “media history and analysis, political economy of communication.”
In the letter from university officials, they noted that they had asked Tracy to report “outside activity” so that the university “can address potential, actual, or perceived conflicts of commitment or interest,” but that he had refused to do so.
“There’s still a lot that most of us don’t know,” said Peter Bonilla of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “I would hope that it not be the case that this investigation and their termination proceedings are motivated by hostility to his views — which are obviously quite in the minority and quite unpopular. I can only hope that they give him the same process that it would give any other faculty member who is accused of the same violations that Professor Tracy is.
“… It’s very easy for anyone’s message to go viral and to lose control of that message, and universities have in those situations a lot of pressure to look for a kind of quick and easy solution,” Bonilla said. “It’s unfortunately easy for universities in those situations to forget their institutional values where free speech and academic freedom is concerned. That is a concern of ours.
Tracy is getting support from the United Faculty of Florida. Marshall Ogletree, the interim executive director, sent a written statement on behalf of the organization’s president, Jennifer Proffitt: “The United Faculty of Florida has a legal and ethical obligation to provide fair and vigorous representation in all cases involving our members, the terms and conditions of their employment, and any disciplinary action. UFF and its representatives are doing that in this case.
“Since this is a private personnel matter, UFF will not and cannot comment on any of the specifics of this case. The United Faculty of Florida is a labor organization, not an academic panel, and takes no position on Dr. Tracy’s research or any personal positions or opinions he may have that informs or guides his work.
“Our responsibility and focus are to ensure that due process and other rights as stipulated in the collective bargaining agreement are being adhered to as we would for any member of the bargaining unit.”
Thomas Johnson, an attorney in Brandon, Fla., is representing Tracy for the UFF. A woman in his office said Johnson was not speaking with the media because it would be unethical during litigation. When asked whether there was litigation pending, Ogletree said it is too early to know where the case will go.
Schools: Florida Atlantic University