A communication professor known for conspiracy theories has stirred controversary at Florida Atlantic University with claims that last month's Newtown, Conn., school shootings did not happen as reported -- or may not have happened at all.
Moreover, James Tracy asserts in radio interviews and on his memoryholeblog.com that trained "crisis actors" may have been employed by the Obama administration in an effort to shape public opinion in favor of the event's true purpose: gun control.
"As documents relating to the Sandy Hook shooting continue to be assessed and interpreted by independent researchers, there is a growing awareness that the media coverage of the massacre of 26 children and adults was intended primarily for public consumption to further larger political ends," writes Tracy, a tenured associate professor of media history at FAU and a former union leader.
In another post, he says, "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."
FAU is distancing itself from Tracy's views.
"James Tracy does not speak for the university. The website on which his post appeared is not affiliated with FAU in any way," said media director Lisa Metcalf.
Tracy said he knows he has sparked controversy on campus. In one of his courses, called "Culture of Conspiracy," Tracy said some students have expressed skepticism about his views.
"But I encourage that," said Tracy, 47, a faculty member for 10 years. "I want to get students to look at events in a more critical way."
In the Internet age, "We see more and more professors getting into trouble for what they're posting on Facebook, or Tweeting," said Gregory Scholtz, director of the department of academic freedom at the Association of University Professors. "And administrations are sensitive to bad publicity; they don't like things that public might find obnoxious or reprehensible. But most reputable administrations stay above the fray and give latitude."
Robert Shibley, an official with the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said Tracy is well within his rights of free speech, especially when teaching a course on conspiracy theory.
"The only way that a university would have a right to tone it down, or insist he stop talking about it, is if students come to him and say they find it disturbing," said Shibley. "People are allowed to talk about things that are upsetting -- for example, abortion."
On Monday, the website Global Research posted a timeline written by Tracy which purports to show how federal and local police agencies, abetted by "major media," conspired early in the Sandy Hook investigation to constuct a scenario pointing to Lanza as " the sole agent of the massacre" when others may have been involved.
In one of his blog posts, "The Sandy Hook School Massacre: Unanswered Questions and Missing Information," Tracy cites several sources for his skepticism, including lack of surveillance video or still images from the scene, the halting performance of the medical examiner at a news conference, timeline confusion, and how the accused shooter was able to fire so many shots in just minutes.
In an interview Monday, Tracy said "while it appears that people lost their lives" at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, he is not ready to buy that a lone gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, entered the school and methodically shot 20 children and six adults before killing himself.
Lanza is also suspected of killing his mother at their Newtown home before arriving at the school.
Asked if he has been accused of promoting fringe theories, Tracy said, "I do get that sense, from emails and otherwise."
Tracy said he believes the deaths at Sandy Hook may have resulted from a training exercise. "Was this to a certain degree constructed?" he said. "Was this a drill?
"Something most likely took place," he said. "One is left with the impression that a real tragedy took place."
But, he added, he has not seen bodies, or photos of bodies. "Overall, I'm saying the public needs more information to assess what took place. We don't have that. And when the media and the public don't have that, various sorts of ideas can arise."
Tracy said also has doubts about the official version of the Kennedy assassination, the Oklahoma City bombing, the 9-11 terror attacks and the Aurora, Colo., theater murders.
"I describe myself as a scholar and public intellectual," he said, "interested in going more deeply into controversial public events. Although some may see [my theories] as beyond the pale, I am doing what we should be doing as academics."