January 15th, 2013
11:04 PM ET

Newtown families targeted, intimidated

Anderson Cooper speaks with Salon.com reporter Alex Seitz-Wald, who has been covering the Sandy Hook conspiracy theories, and Jordan Ghawi, whose sister was killed in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting. Ghawi was targeted by conspiracy theorists days after Jessica died.

Seitz-Wald researched conspiracy theories in the U.S. and found most followers are "inclined to believe the government is out to get them" and is collaborating with the media. "They have this confirmation bias, as psychologists call it, to look for only evidence that supports their theories and disregard anything that says otherwise," he says.

Gene Rosen, who lives next to Sandy Hook Elementary School, helped shelter and comfort six children who were lost immediately after the shooting and wandered onto his property. He's fearful after receiving an onslaught of threatening emails and calls by those who believe he's part of a government plot.

Ghawi was accused of being a crisis actor when his sister was murdered, and he received a death threat. But he says he's not worried for his safety – he's concerned the people buying into the lies have access to weapons and need counseling.

"They were digging through even Facebook photos and photos I posted years prior of me with a SWAT team that I trained with saying 'Hey, look, this is proof that he's an actor, look he's really an officer," says Ghawi.  "It's a complete rejection of reality and facts. Many of their statements are completely contradictory, in fact."

soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Paul G

    Part of this story included criticism of a professor at a public Florida university who suggested the Sandy Hook attack was staged. Anderson expressed his legitimate outrage at this suggestion, while using coded language which tried to tie the conspiracy theory to conservatives. As a liberal this is nothing new, but CNN tries to present itself as a politically neutral network. We expect better.

    Presenting a broader picture of conspiracy theories from the past would have lifted the liberal prism from the story. For example, I can't ever recall CNN focusing on the conspiracy theories on the left surrounding the 9/11 attacks in NYC, which claimed President Bush planned the collapse of those buildings. As you'll recall, outspoken liberal Rosie O'Donnell was a leading voice in that crowd, arguing that fire didn't collapse the buildings because fire can't melt steel – seriously. Her quote was, "the first time in history, steel was melted by fire. It is physically impossible".

    Why make a big deal over an unknown college professor, while ignoring a widely known public figure with an audience 10,000x larger?

    Liberal bias!

    January 18, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
  2. Tom C

    It scares me to death, but I'll say it: Timothy McVeigh.
    The network feeding this disturbed fringe once traveled in underground circles, limited by both a lack of communication channels and a societal recognition that these are truly deranged if not psychopathic people. Their numbers were relatively small, and their support lines were limited.
    But today we have not only the internet, but talk radio and a whole TV network dedicated to undermining trust in our government and our country, and we've come to the point that we accept these crazed, paranoid individuals as having legitimate points of view that we should seriously consider.
    And they have guns too.

    January 18, 2013 at 2:02 am |
  3. Dan

    So is THIS the new thing, America? If people like me think 9/11 & Sandy Hook don't add up (....they don't, just look at the evidence) then we are automatically slapped with being "mentally ill?"

    Once again, this is yet another trick the government pulls. They use the media to "suggest" that these people are sick, and lead you to believe that I am unstable. Disgusting

    January 17, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
  4. Danny

    its scary these people own guns.

    January 17, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
  5. David

    I don't think it's a big conspiracy, but Rosen's story doesn't add up and it changes in each story I read. Where is the bus driver? How come I haven't seen an interview with that bus driver who would appear to be the bigger hero.

    January 16, 2013 at 11:15 pm |

    The more publicity we give these conspiracy theorists the happier we make them, and the more dillusional they become. I think we need to not report anything they have to say. The publicity is like energy gives them power.

    January 16, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • Steve

      You're right that giving these creeps attention only empowers and motivates them. Now think about this: think about how much attention the Media gives the mass murderers who carry out these school shootings! Think about how much that empowers and motivates the NEXT creep, living in a basement somewhere and thinking about how the Media is going to glorify HIM when he takes out another 20 or 30 or 50 school children.

      January 18, 2013 at 7:56 am |
  7. mark

    what these families are going through is a reason for a background check-any body who is of a mind to believe the government makes this horrible event up and needs protection from the government should not have guns. These harassers actually believe the government is after them. Why; because little kids were killed? It makes no sense to me. Then to turn around and attack the families and people who helped. Or did this thing just never happen? More of an explanation as to why.

    January 16, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • Diana

      The conspiracy theorists believe Sandy Hook was staged as a catalyst for gun control measures. That's why.

      January 17, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
  8. Terry J. Wickwire

    Anderson, the conspiracy theorists are now in my own circle. I watched the video with claims of government planning, professional actors acting as parents or people in authority during the Sandy Hook tragedy. I'm not one to "drink the kool-aid" and give creedence to those who want to spew conspiracy; quite the contrary. I want to show them that this tragedy happened, that the government is not responsible for a hoax, and that people like you enlighten the truth. Peace.

    January 16, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  9. Sal

    This article just goes to show you that there are a lot more sick people in this country than you ever imagined! 

    January 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  10. Kathi Bennett

    There is a special place in hell for these people, I am a grieving parent of 2 years now, I don't even recall the first few days or how I acted, these people had their children slaughtered, I can only imagine the pain, it has to be far worse than what I have lived through. You may laugh at an inappropriate time, you may choose not to "lose it," in public, that's your business no one else's. I am praying for all of Newtown, the mourning families, the responders, everyone.

    January 16, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
  11. DCJ

    This is further evidence of the scope of mental instability in America, and one more reason why we need to make the identification and isolation of these unstable people the highest priority.

    January 16, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  12. Ralph in Canada

    Unbelieveably, dismayingly sad.

    Doesn't anyone realize how deranged America is pereceived by other countries by this stuff?

    The United Staes of America appears to be in the throes of self-destruction.

    January 16, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • Marybeth

      I agree with this and am scared at what i am seeing and what our future holds...

      January 17, 2013 at 9:24 pm |

    I FEEL VERY SAD FOR ALL THOSE CHILDREN , but AMERICA has to done it to itself. with all violence they expose their children to, such as shows, movies, video games, all these things poison their minds. America will continue to experience all these things, they have have destroyed these generations.

    January 16, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  14. David Wright

    I blame the behavior of past presidents, such Nixon and Clinton, and the past and present Congress for people's inability to trust government on all levels and construe false facts about conspiracy with no proof. There are lots of unstable people in the world who cause lots of friction and discontent during tragedy. What happened at Newtown was dispicable and tragic. Too bad we will never know the shooter's real motive and some of us find it so hard to acce

    January 16, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  15. Pat

    Geez Anderson, you hemmed and hawed several times trying to find a word to describe this group of non-believers. The whole time I was yelling at you on the T.V. to say it, "wack, wackos". At least Jordan came closest. He said he feared those people, every news/traffic helicopter flying over- head would be "after them", and that they should never be able to own guns and should seek help for mental issues. Piers Morgan's fb page is FULL of conspiracy nuts, over this issue and the fact that the U.S. government is trying to disarm them in order to rule tyrannically over them. Perhaps any new gun law should require a yearly psych test.

    January 16, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  16. Brenda Clark

    I don't believe the teacher is saying it didn't happen but more like who is really behind it.. I find odd that movie theater shooter parent was a cia as well this shooters mom was CiA... the Media did very sloppy coverage and speculation up the ying yang. Anderson Cooper is about a beep... He has come to his own conclusion but still ask the questions...I do think it is just crazy there are frequent shootings... and suspicious deaths....... in fact 2 in one day. Put Fear in the Americans you haven't won them over on gun control.. and How about the illegals and their weapons will the gov. track them down? that's right their is no accountability to the unknown..so I do believe the gov. is using the media to distort the story and the truth just like Benghazi!!!

    January 16, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  17. Nick Randy

    Thank you for addressing those horrible people and the things they do. It is just appalling and I wish there was a way to protect the families of the victims of Newtown and other shootings and tragedies from those sick paranoid individuals.

    Professor Tracy remains a coward for not wanting to speak to you. He can say anything he wants but at the same time you are free to criticize him. He shouldn't be teaching at a public university and the FAU should be asked about their stand on this again.

    Some of the conspiracy crazies think it was a hoax because the google cache sites of some Sandy Hook related websites like a fundraiser, a tribute facebook page and so on showed dates like Dec 10 or 11, thus where created before the shooting and they see this as proof that the events were staged. Anyone with a little bit of knowledge about the internet knows that google cache will show the date a website was created but wil also show the updated content. So you get a date set before the shooting and content created after the shooting. Any chance of bringing in a computer/internet expert to explain to those dummies how the internet works?

    Most of the other "evidence" is so ridiculous it shouldn't even be addressed. The only other thing I can think of is that they complain that the surveillance camera footage of the shooting is not being released. Now if there is footage, what person in his right mind would think it would be appropriate to show little children being murdered and to do that to the families of the victims just to satisfy paranoid wackos who would claim it is all actors and CGI anyway?

    January 16, 2013 at 7:02 am |
  18. Kim

    How dare they!!! The audacity of people. This man is a hero, an angel to those kids in their time of need, when they were terrorized. The hoax malarky is the most ridiculous thing I've heard in a long time. I can't believe people can be so ignorant and callous.

    January 16, 2013 at 6:45 am |
  19. Janet MacDonald

    Thank you for exposing these extremist bullies who rely on an ignorant audience maintained in their unchallenged bubble realty. And in typical bully fashion, as soon as they feel vulnerable they lash out and double down with absurd counter-accusations. Please don't let these fools intimidate you and your network. Stay safe, you are doing very important work that will affect generations of Americans.

    January 16, 2013 at 4:39 am |
  20. Joanne

    Oops .... This guy was part of a swat team from another town.

    January 16, 2013 at 4:38 am |
  21. Joanne

    Ok I'm laughing so hard now. The guy running in the woods who was captured by the police was a 'father' on his way to the school to make gingerbread houses? In fatigues and a black t-shirt? Come on Anderson you gotta be laughing behind the scenes, 'cos we all are. We would believe this hoax if the stories were a little less embellished. They are too sickly sweet, including the parents monologues, it really is a farce and you should be ashamed that you are calling us 'mentally ill' 'disgusting'. You need to apologise.
    Oh and by the way the Newtown Bee reported that this guy was part of assay team from another town?

    January 16, 2013 at 4:36 am |
  22. Ryan

    I'd love to see you post something about how an AR-15 wasn't even used in the shootings. Even though everyone was pushing for "long rifle" the fact that the killer only used hand guns is pretty damning... report the real truth .. and people wonder why conspiracy theories are made because nothing is what it seems.

    January 16, 2013 at 3:51 am |