I respect Kelly’s journalism. But it’s important that her work be done responsibly. On this count, she is falling short of the mark.
Kelly has a job to do, and I appreciate that, especially if it serves to expose and possibly demote someone who has been given credibility for doing nothing but spreading lies and hate. Still, it wasn’t a hard choice for me to ask her to step down as host of the Sandy Hook Promise Champions Gala this week. Her decision to interview Alex Jones, a self-professed “performer” who has used his position of host at the website Infowars.com to transmit conspiracy theories about the shooting at Sandy Hook and other tragedies, is unacceptable. Jones may view his actions as harmless entertainment, but he does not acknowledge the impact his lies have on real people. Online and in-person harassment and threats of physical harm and death are not entertaining. They are real and they are terrifying.
Imagine yourself in my shoes for just one moment. Imagine one of your children was brutally murdered, and then someone like Alex Jones spread lies about you and your child, and provoked others to continue those lies, harass and threaten you. Put yourself in the shoes of any parent from any tragedy that Jones claims was a “false flag.” Imagine someone telling you that you’re an agent in a government conspiracy, not a grieving parent who lost a child.
Would you accept this being done to you? Would you want to receive the same emails and tweets we do? Would you want to go to your mailbox and open letters full of hateful words or violent images? Would you want to receive death threats simply because you suffered immeasurable loss and are trying to help others?
I first heard from conspiracy theorists in January 2013, just one month after the shooting at Sandy Hook School that took the life of my beautiful 6-year old son, alongside 19 other first-graders and six educators. To think that anyone could possibly believe that the shooting was staged for the purpose of “gun control” or some other government agenda, or that my son had not died or never lived and that I was just a “crisis actor,” both shocked and infuriated me. To then read what these hoaxers were saying about me and my family was simply unbelievable.
In the beginning, I tried to have conversations with them, identifying myself, explaining what happened and responding to their ridiculous hypotheses. That was a big mistake. The more I engaged them, the bolder they grew with their attacks and their vicious hate spread to new, gullible minds, who then joined in the attack. It didn’t take me long to learn an important rule — don’t feed the trolls. Don’t read the comments, don’t respond to emails and block all hoaxers who reach out on social media. Overall — do not engage.
Not everyone shares my opinion, and I respect that each person or family targeted by hoaxers has their own choices to make. But for me and Sandy Hook Promise, the gun violence prevention organization I helped launch, our position has remained steadfast on this issue — we do not support anyone who gives a platform and voice to hoaxers. We do not feed the trolls, because we know that the consequences of those actions are felt by families like us.
I understand that Kelly and NBC are trying to expose Jones for his wrongdoings and to question how a person such as this has been elevated to such a position of assumed credibility. But there is a bigger picture here: It’s not just the nearly unbearable pain of having to deal with the harassment on top of having lost a child; it’s that giving Jones the credibility of an NBC interview special legitimizes him. He will get more fame, publicity and wealth; and, worse, he may encourage more people to seek the attention they get when they support his theories through hateful acts that make it impossible for us to live in peace and without fear.
Jones has a right to freedom of speech, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to give him a louder voice, more views and more publicity. Though the public may become more educated about conspiracy theorists, they will not understand the damage people like Jones inflict on the real subject of the interview — the families, like mine, who have become targets.
This is why I have called upon Kelly and NBC News not to broadcast this interview on Sunday. Publicity, notoriety and fame are Jones’s lifeblood. Take these away, ignore the hoaxers, and the Joneses of the world fade into obscurity.
My request is that NBC and Kelly do the right thing — the thing I had to learn to do when I was still grieving for my 6-year-old son: Don’t feed the trolls. Think of the people that will feel the consequences and harm from your action. Don’t give Jones a platform to spew hate and lies.