The likes of James Tracy wouldn’t have thrived before the digital age.
In the old days, he would have been regarded by folks around Florida Atlantic University as a kind of private in-house embarrassment, as he slouched around the campus, fulminating about the government and preaching his convoluted conspiracy theories and warning about “corporate controlled media” cover-ups.
It would have been enough to avoid getting cornered by Tracy in the faculty lounge.
But in 2013, FAU’s crazy aunt in the attic has become the most famous professor on campus.
Tracy, who teaches courses in mass communications, brought FAU a deluge of unwanted national notoriety in January through his now-infamous blog, Memory Hole, with his suggestion that the Newtown massacre of 20 children and six teachers might have been a staged event, if it happened at all. Perhaps the Obama administration contrived Sandy Hook to get its gun-control agenda rolling. Tracy wrote, “While it sounds like an outrageous claim, one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place — at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation’s news media have described.”
It’s all preposterous. And cruel. But preposterous theories can find an audience, “a community,” out in the far reaches of the Internet.
His Sandy Hook fabrications were hardly new stuff for Tracy, 47, who seems to have a conspiracy theory for every notable horror. He has described government conspiracies behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, the 7-7 London subway terrorism. Last year, he suggested the killing of Osama bin Laden was an elaborate staged event. All pulled off with help from the “corporate” media, said the media professor.
“In the immediate wake of President Obama’s May 1, 2011, announcement of the alleged extrajudicial killing of Osama bin Laden by US military forces, a struggle reemerged over the official 9/11 myth that major journalistic outlets have been complicit in perpetuating over the past decade,” he wrote last year. He also suggested that the mass slaughters at Aurora, Colo., and Oak Creek, Wisc., were likewise government conspiracies, false-flag operations, blamed on a couple of patsies, staged to support the Obama gun-control agenda.
But no one much noticed Tracy’s craziness before Sandy Hook. There were too many truthers and birthers and Elvis-lives conspiracy theorists clamoring for attention on the Internet for some no-account prof at a not-so-famous Florida university to get much traction. But when the tenured professor lent his academic credentials to the Sandy Hook conspiracy fantasies, Tracy finally got himself the attention he must have craved.
Most of the reaction, to be sure, was utter revulsion. FAU issued a disclaimer and launched an investigation. Not that the administration can do much about what a tenured professor publishes on his private blog. But Tracy was bringing more unwelcome notoriety to a school trying to tamp down the controversy over selling the football stadium naming rights to a private prison outfit.
FAU has also been wrestling with another academic freedom issue after the so-called “Jesus stomping” exercise led by another professor, taken from an intercultural-communications textbook, in which students were asked to step on a sheet of paper bearing the word “Jesus,” then to examine their own emotional reactions to the denigration of a cultural symbol. The emotional reaction turned out to be considerable. One student complained to the media and the national conservative press went wild. The governor and other pols were howling.