Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: FAU conspiracy theorist undone by his cruelty

James Tracy’s mad conspiracy theories — dismissing one gun massacre after another as elaborate fakery— were embarrassing enough for the university where he enjoys a tenured teaching position.

But the cruelty, his shameless torment of the victims’ families — that was too much. Last week, Florida Atlantic University announced that Tracy, an associate professor with the school of communications, had been “served a notice of proposed discipline — termination.”

Somehow, Tracy, 49, has become the school’s best known academic by propagating wacko claims that mass killings were only theater staged by government agents. Over the years, Tracy has ascribed the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, the 7-7 London subway terrorism acts, the Aurora theater murders, the Boston Marathon attack and other horrors to government contrivances.

Sure, thousands of conspiracy nutballs troll the Internet, but Tracy’s craziness was bolstered by academic credentials, bringing national media attention to FAU’s infamous professor. But on Dec. 10, it became clear to the administration that Tracy was more than an eccentric embarrassment, protected by tenure. The Sun Sentinel carried a wrenching op-ed by Veronique and Lenny Pozner, whose son Noah, 6, was the youngest among 26 victims killed at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 12, 2014. “The heartache of burying a child is a sorrow we would not wish upon anyone,” the Pozners wrote. “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.”

The Pozners called FAU’s Tracy “chief among the conspiracy theorists.” They described how he had “personally sought to cause our family pain and anguish by publicly demonizing our attempts to keep cherished photos of our slain son from falling into the hands of conspiracy theorists” — how he had sent the grieving family a “certified letter demanding proof that Noah once lived, that we were his parents.”

Tracy actually seems proud of his cruelty, posting references to the letter on his website. The gambit reverberated around the Internet, from one lunatic site to the next, inspiring Tracy’s disciples to join the harassment of the Pozners and of other victims’ family members who denied the mob’s contention that they were actors in some ghoulish government hoax.

“I wouldn’t call it a pathology, I’d call it a world view,” said Joseph E. Uscinski of the University of Miami, who wrote American Conspiracy Theories with fellow UM prof Joseph Parent. Uscinski, an expert in this stuff, has come to think Tracy, along with a disconcerting percentage of the American population (with something like religious fervor) really believes that a U.S. president plotted fake killings to foist gun control on Americans.

A letter signed by James Tracy Ph.D (adding “Nobody died at Sandy Hook” to the signature line) has been posted on the “Sandy Hook Hoax” Facebook website (administered by the owner of a Hollywood moving company) complaining that the Pozners were trying to “intimidate my employer into firing me.”

Not soon enough.