Florida Atlantic University has moved to fire a professor who outraged many by calling the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School an elaborate hoax.
James Tracy, an associate professor at the university, has written that although the news media reported that 26 people died in a mass shooting at the school in Newtown, Conn., the incident was staged.
Last week, one child's parents, Lenny and Veronique Pozner, wrote an opinion piece in the Sun-Sentinel that began: "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. . ..
"The heartache of burying a child is a sorrow we would not wish upon anyone. Yet 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."
Among the conspiracy theorists — and they mention Republican candidate Donald Trump's "rantings on the Alex Jones radio show" — one who got widespread attention was Florida Atlantic University professor James Tracy.
"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. 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."
They noted that the First Amendment protects freedom of speech but does not ensure someone a job, and called on the university to do the right thing.
Tracy wrote in an email that he is not able to comment publicly about the matter at this time.
On the "Hoax at Sandy Hook" Facebook page, a post apparently written by him several days after the op-ed piece ran defended his assertions that no one died at the elementary school that day, that the event was a staged drill, that "local co-conspirators" benefited financially by faking grief, and that the Pozners were trying to intimidate his employer into firing him for his extensive research.
The post quoted the Pozners as writing:
"The FAU Academic Affairs Faculty Handbook clearly states that 'A faculty member's activities which fall outside the scope of employment shall constitute misconduct only if such activities adversely affect the legitimate interests of the University.' "
"Do 'the legitimate interests of the university' include the pursuit of truth?" Tracy asked in the post.
He gave examples of that research, such as, "Other anomalies were striking when the performance occurred, including no surge of EMTs in to the building, no string of ambulances to take them to hospitals to be declared dead or alive, no Med-Evac helicopter called to the scene, no 469 other students evacuated and no bodies placed on the triage tarps outside."
Tracy earned his doctorate at the University of Iowa, according to Florida Atlantic's website, and "teaches courses examining the relationship between commercial and alternative news media and socio-political issues and events." He presents his expertise as "media history and analysis, political economy of communication."
On social media, people called on the university to fire Tracy "if they had an ounce of human decency" and "if you have any compassion for human suffering."
A university spokesman said that by law the school is unable to comment at this point in the process, beyond the public statement that university officials posted Wednesday:
"Today, James Tracy, an associate professor in the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies, was served a Notice of Proposed Discipline — Termination by the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at Florida Atlantic University.
"In accordance with the University's Collective Bargaining Agreement with the United Faculty of Florida union, by which the University and James Tracy are bound, faculty who receive such notice are afforded a grievance process. James Tracy has 10 days to respond to the notice after which final action may be taken."