Lucy Richards, with her wheelchair and pathetic demeanor and alternate reality, was trucked off to prison Wednesday. Justice never looked so tepid.
Not that Richards doesn’t deserve her five-month stretch in a federal lockup. She and her fellow conspiracy-theory trolls needed to know that civil society won’t abide lunatic death threats, designed to torment the parents of children murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre.
But Richards, such a pitiable excuse for a criminal, was the only troll sent to jail.
Richards, 57, had been charged last year with “transmitting threats through interstate communications” after she joined the online mob haranguing relatives of the six teachers and 20 school kids slaughtered on Dec. 14, 2012.
She had sent Lenny Pozner, father of the murdered 6-year-old Noah, a series of threats via email and voice mail last year: “Death is coming to you real soon and there’s nothing you can do about it.” And: “Look behind you. It is death.”
According to the Sun Sentinel, U.S. District Judge James Cohn, looking down at Richards in his Fort Lauderdale courtroom, said, “Words do matter. This is reality. There is no fiction here and there are no alternative facts.”
Judge Cohn tacked five months of house arrest onto her prison sentence, with another three years of supervised release. He prohibited her from visiting websites that foment conspiracy theories.
So Richards has gone to jail. But the cabal of conspiracy theory instigators who sucked this unhinged woman into their crazed world view are still out there, spinning fantasies, torturing truth, denying reality, harassing Sandy Hook parents and town officials in Newtown, Connecticut, and abusing the hell out of the First Amendment.
“These hoaxers present a constant and consistent emotional and physical danger to the citizens of our town and the friends and families of those lost on 12/14,” Eric Paradis, chairman of the Newtown Democratic Committee, told me via email Thursday. “There are instances of physical and emotional attacks on those impacted the most by the tragedy.”
Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra told me, “We in Newtown and all reasonable people know what happened here. For the most part, we are able to push aside the harassment and persistent social media haranguing of the conspiracy theorists and focus our energies on our own community journey toward full recovery.”
The hoaxers, pushing a theory that the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School was faked by the federal government, have disrupted town meetings and harassed school officials in Newtown. They’ve overwhelmed the local government with freedom of information requests. Llodra said the town, finally, has found some legal strategies “to blunt the effects of the hoaxer efforts.”
But the selectman admits to a “great deal of personal anger toward the ‘leaders’ of the hoaxer movement because of how their efforts have harmed some unsuspecting, naive, and confused persons and have propelled those inductees into acts such as conducted by Lucy Richards.”
Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, the hoaxer movement has become another example of Florida’s inherent weirdness. The muddled Richards is a retired waitress from the Tampa area. The conspiracy theory Facebook page, Sandy Hook Hoax, is administered in Hollywood. Not long after Richards was sentenced, the site was churning up conspiracy commenters. “No kids died. No teachers died.”
James Tracy, a Florida Atlantic University communications professor until he was fired last year, has been a leading instigator of the Sandy Hook hoax theory. (He once sent Leonard Pozner certified letter demanding proof that Noah had ever existed.) Tracy, by the way, might not stay fired. In February a federal judge refused to dismiss his wrongful dismissal lawsuit against FAU.
The Rev. Carl Gallups, a prominent Panhandle evangelical preacher who delivered the invocation last year at a Donald Trump campaign rally in Pensacola, has used his Christian radio show as a platform for his theory that actors faked the Sandy Hook murders.
Then there’s Wolfgang Halbig of Lake Mary, who has used crowd-funding appeals to help fund his ongoing harassment campaign against the school board and town council in Newtown. “These sick and deranged individuals are reaping financial gain from tormenting these families and our citizens,” Paradis said.
In February, the Newtown School Board sent a letter to Donald Trump, pleading with the president to denounce the Sandy Hook hoaxers. “We are asking you to acknowledge the tragedy from 12/14/12 and to denounce anyone spreading lies and conspiracy theories about the tragedy on that December morning.”
Trump has not responded, and the hoaxers continue their weasel ways. At least Lucy Richards apologized Wednesday, before she went to prison.