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Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth (Paperback)
Based on hundreds of hours of research, interviews, and access to exclusive sources and materials, Sandy Hook is Elizabeth Williamson’s landmark investigation of the aftermath of a school shooting, the work of Sandy Hook parents who fought to defend themselves, and the truth of their children’s fate against the frenzied distortions of online deniers and conspiracy theorists.
On December 14, 2012, a gunman killed twenty first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Ten years later, Sandy Hook has become a foundational story of how false conspiracy narratives and malicious misinformation have gained traction in society.
One of the nation’s most devastating mass shootings, Sandy Hook was used to create destructive and painful myths. Driven by ideology or profit, or for no sound reason at all, some people insisted it never occurred, or was staged by the federal government as a pretext for seizing Americans’ firearms. They tormented the victims’ relatives online, accosted them on the street and at memorial events, accusing them of faking their loved ones’ murders. Some family members have been stalked and forced into hiding. A gun was fired into the home of one parent.
Present at the creation of this terrible crusade was Alex Jones’s Infowars, a far-right outlet that aired noxious Sandy Hook theories to millions and raised money for the conspiracy theorists’ quest to “prove” the shooting didn’t happen. Enabled by Facebook, YouTube, and other social media companies’ failure to curb harmful content, the conspiracists’ questions grew into suspicion, suspicion grew into demands for more proof, and unanswered demands turned into rage. This pattern of denial and attack would come to characterize some Americans’ response to almost every major event, from mass shootings to the coronavirus pandemic to the 2020 presidential election, in which President Trump’s false claims of a rigged result prompted the January 6, 2021, assault on a bastion of democracy, the U.S. Capitol.
The Sandy Hook families, led by the father of the youngest victim, refused to accept this. Sandy Hook is the story of their battle to preserve their loved ones’ legacies even in the face of threats to their own lives. Through exhaustive reporting, narrative storytelling, and intimate portraits, Sandy Hook is the definitive book on one of the most shocking cultural ruptures of the internet era.
About the Author
Elizabeth Williamson is a feature writer for The New York Times. She joined the Times as a member of its editorial board, writing about national politics during the 2016 presidential campaign. Previously, Williamson was a writer for The Wall Street Journal, covering national politics and the Obama White House, and a national reporter for The Washington Post. She began her career with a decade as a foreign correspondent, including covering Eastern Europe for The Wall Street Journal. She grew up in Chicago, and lives in Washington, D.C.
Praise for Sandy Hook “[A] persuasive and heartbreaking new book.”—Robert Kolker, author of Hidden Valley Road, for the New York Times Book Review
“Filled with the most impeccable details—the ones that rarely make it into tight news reports—Williamson draws on documented facts to paint pertinent portraits of the families and victims of the December 14, 2012, shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. . . . Conspiracies and our post-truth reality are topics that have become evergreen, making Sandy Hook one of the most important books of 2022.” —Associated Press
"Disturbing and important . . . A feature writer at The New York Times, Williamson is a compassionate storyteller and a thorough reporter who never loses sight of the larger issues Newtown presents."—NPR
“Meticulously reported . . . Williamson has produced heartbreaking portraits of the parents. . . . It is hard to read this book without being utterly terrified—in many ways, it’s the scariest I’ve ever read.”—Barbara Demick for The Washington Post
“In her deeply researched and painfully compelling book, Williamson makes the smart choice not to fulminate over the many florid misdeeds of Jones and his lesser-known collaborators. Instead, she coolly assembles a great wall of evidence and observation, calmly documenting Jones’s myriad lies, and describing his gonzo shenanigans with an often amusing sobriety. . . . One of the particular strengths of Sandy Hook is that it offers many in-depth accounts of and interviews with Sandy Hook hoaxers, a motley crew of misfits and crackpots. . . . [Williamson] found [Alex Jones] and his rants about the First Amendment shopworn and 'tiresome,' but her masterful description of the encounter is anything but. . . . The courtroom victories of the Sandy Hook parents against Jones and his cronies makes for a satisfying ending to Sandy Hook.”—Slate
“A new book by Elizabeth Williamson, a journalist at The New York Times, describes the collective delusion and malice of conspiracists who denied that the [Sandy Hook] shooting happened or asserted that it was a government plot to stoke anti-gun sentiment. . . . [It] also shows how these hoaxers, and the platforms that helped them, created a ‘conspiratorial-industrial complex’ that has eroded American democracy.”—The Economist
“The Sandy Hook school shooting was a national tragedy; in the decade that followed, it became a focus of many outrageous conspiracy theories driven by people like Alex Jones. This well-researched book takes a look at how these myths came to be—and the fight against them.”—New York Post
“New York Times reporter Williamson’s searing debut demonstrates that the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol had its roots in the deeply troubling efforts to claim that the 2012 massacre of twenty-six first-graders and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was a hoax. . . . Williamson’s years of research includes interviews with survivors of the school shooting, parents, and first responders, as well as analysis of court documents and other records. She has produced the definitive account of this dark chapter of American history.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An important book that is recommended for anyone concerned about the rise of conspiracy theories in American society, and how families are working to preserve their children’s legacies in the aftermath of tragedy.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Readers concerned about misinformation and the health of democracy will be grateful for this superbly documented account, an outstanding achievement in nonfiction.” —Booklist (starred review)
"It is obvious that Williamson began this book as an act of restitution for the families of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, subject to the despicable lies and attacks by Alex Jones and Infowars. But in recounting in agonizing detail the lies and their viral spread — the kind of online-driven misinformation that would fuel the rise of Donald Trump and the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — “Sandy Hook” becomes much more than a book about gun violence. It is an essential read about this country’s terrifying free-fall into fascism." —Los Angeles Times
“Important . . . A sober reminder that we have to trust each other and our institutions (even as we work to improve them). Without bonds of trust, our democracy dies."—Houston Chronicle
“[A] series of extraordinary portraits of online trolls who created a vast community centered on the lie that Sandy Hook was a hoax and its victims the actual perpetrators.”—Chicago Tribune
“The Sandy Hook massacre . . . was horrific beyond words, but as Elizabeth Williamson vividly shows in her book, the tragedy unleashed an odious campaign by Alex Jones and others to prove that it had been faked for nefarious reasons. The author methodically traces the arc of this campaign and the damage it inflicted on families already devastated by grief, deftly portraying those who fought back against Jones and are succeeding in their battle against a rotted system that too often lets lies fly without consequence.”—Air Mail
"The central narrative of the book is the battle between fact and fiction."—The New Republic "A marvelous book . . . Equally wrenching are the stories of the parents in the days and hours leading up to the shooting and in its aftermath . . . Author Elizabeth Williamson goes on to detail how the hate driven by false news and media-hammered conspiracies has metastasized into the toxic political brew that put Trump in the White House and that we continue to suffer under."—Daily Kos