We’ve covered much of what has come to be known as the Sandy Hook truther movement, conspiracy theorists rallied by the likes of Alex Jones to “question the official narrative” of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school — but one persistent and ugly thread to the denial of the series of events as reported has involved grieving parent Robbie Parker, who spoke directly after the tragedy about the heartbreaking loss of his little girl, Emilie.
Robbie Parker’s CNN appearance was one of the most upsetting bits of the Sandy Hook coverage we observed, and never could anyone have imagined that after the brave step Parker took to address the media just a day after Emilie was killed would later be rehashed in such a critical manner.
Like Gene Rosen, Parker has since been eviscerated by Sandy Hook truthers who have dissected that video — made during what was likely the largest amount of stress he would ever experience in his life — and populated the web with scathing accusations that the grieving man is a “crisis actor,” that his likely-nervous laughter is a surefire way to know his subsequent tears are fake, that no parent who had lost their child in such a horrifying way would ever be able to laugh after such a tragedy.
Indeed, movies and TV give us a constant portrait of grief we’ve come to expect, but the reality of the kind of shock people like Robbie Parker would experience is outside the scope of a two-hour long drama. And in real life, the grieving process is not a cookie cutter, one size fits all thing.
In the clip, Robbie Parker is seen nervously approaching what is very likely his first ever appearance live on national television, an experience that can in and of itself be intimidating. Sandy Hook truthers point out that Parker is prompted to “read the card,” another bit of what they say is evidence the event is scripted.
However, given the length at which Parker speaks and the coherence of his statement, it’s not difficult to imagine his remarks were prepared ahead of time. Regardless of the situation’s gravity and horror, it’s likely anyone speaking to every major media outlet in the US will prepare their statement to facilitate presenting a clear and consistent set of remarks. Imagine how the press conference would have gone, for a second, had the heartbroken man not had a guardrail of remarks on which to cling as he described the murder of his child the previous day to every single American tuning in?
Robbie Parker is not the only Newtown parent to address media, though by and large the grieving families have kept to themselves. And the same critique is offered time and again, as Sandy Hook truthers shout “NO TEARS” when families are interviewed in short segments on TV about their lost loved ones.
In truth, grief rarely looks the same between different people, and Parker is just grieving in the way that his own personality would dictate. The Inquisitr consulted with a psychiatrist about the specific behavior cited by Sandy Hook truthers in the now often-critiqued Robbie Parker clip.
The doctor says that it’s rare to see people who have experienced shock and horror such as that at Sandy Hook Elementary to even be past the shocked part of grief for days — and often their affect seems overly calm, unemotional or not outwardly sad. In short, behavior like what Robbie Parker displayed in the video is not only explainable — it’s normal.
DeeAnna Merz Nagel is a psychotherapist in Highlands, New Jersey and co-founder of the Online Therapy Institute. Her organization in part treats people who may feel wary of in-person therapy after a traumatic event, and Nagel explains how grief is a process that varies from individual to individual — and that emotions that seem out of line with a devastating loss are actually the norm:
“Some people experience chronic grief which can last for years and other people experience a shorter period of grief before moving forward … Generally though, in my experience, displays of emotion that are incongruent with the event occur when the event is particularly traumatizing or laden with shock and/or betrayal.”
Nagel continues, citing “paradoxical laughter” as a common and oft-observed effect of shock and trauma:
“In fact, a person in emotional shock may often display behaviors that may seem out of place but it is a coping response in their attempt to makes sense of something that is likely impossible to understand … The more familiar version of this is nervous laughter happens during intensely stressful periods- many of us have experienced this.”
A comprehensive takedown of Sandy Hook truthers in Salon zeroes in first on the Parker video and the online outcry — of which there is quite a bit, sadly — and points to an article in Scientific American about laughing and smiling during times of intense stress, grief or trauma. What the piece indicates is that again, experts in psychology have determined that a reaction like Robbie Parker’s is painfully normal and clearly not the hallmarks of a government hoax — the site both quotes and explains:
” ‘ … oscillation between sadness and mirth repeated itself in study after study … Time and again, a grief-stricken person’s expression would change from dejection to laughter and back.’ George Bonanno, a psychologist at Columbia University who studies grief, even developed a way to determine if this mourner’s laughter was genuine or merely a facade to hide grief — he determined that they ‘exhibited the real thing.’ Scientists think this is part of our internal resilience mechanisms kicking in, because constant grief is simply too much for a person to handle.”
So why the controversy? What prompted the dark corners of the internet to turn on Robbie Parker — a man who bravely took the time to speak in the midst of his greatest trauma — and start pouring vitriol upon him? Who would engage in such behavior, and to what end?
Faith-related blog Patheos opines on Sandy Hook conspiracy theories, presenting a possible psychological reasoning for the tendency for some to do the unimaginable and strike out at grieving parents like Robbie Parker — the writer explains:
“At bottom, a good conspiracy theory makes us feel safe. It offers an explanation for the horrors and absurdity of the world. It is a secret gnosis that only the elect have. It fills our lives with purpose by making our political opponents into larger than life arch-[nemeses]. It flatters our biases.”
Ultimately, a confusing “narrative” about Sandy Hook is easily explainable — it’s not a narrative, people. A shocking an unimaginable event occurred, and reporting was spotty. The narrative is messy because it is not a narrative at all — it’s a collection of accounts from thousands of witnesses, the recollections of traumatized victims, the remembrances of shell-shocked loved ones and the ever-increasing clarity that comes with the passage of time. What appears to the tinfoil-hatted mind as a story full of “holes” was never a story to begin with — it was a complicated chronology of 27 murders, 26 inside an elementary school.
We won’t be linking to any of the copious criticism of Robbie Parker across the web, partially because we don’t want to direct traffic to conspiracy merchants and partially because we don’t want to be complicit in the promotion of such material in search engine results.
But in the exceedingly likely event Sandy Hook truthers are wrong about Robbie Parker — and all evidence suggests they are indeed very, very wrong — think for a second about what such assertions would do to a grieving family. In their worst days, this family has been on the receiving end of intensely cruel internet mockery, denials the crushing horror they experienced even happened, and attacks on their character as human beings. (And recall Parker stood up in his grief not to express anger or hate, but to offer condolences to the family of the shooter.)
“I’d like to offer our deepest condolences to all the families who were directly affected. It’s a horrific tragedy, and our hearts go out to them … This includes the family of the shooter, and I want you to know that our love and support go out to you as well.”
Robbie Parker displayed unimaginable grace, humility, compassion and kindness even as he faced the murder of his oldest daughter, a first-grade student who had yet to reach the age of seven. If you’re looking to exercise your critical thinking skills and amateur detective work, this particular angle is not an ethical one to explore, and anyone who has furthered such damaging claims should be heartily, deeply ashamed for compounded the pain of a family who have already experienced the worst possible loss imaginable.