Glenn Beck has not always been held up as a shining example of reason, but his episode tonight regarding the Sandy Hook “truthers” (in particular the claim that parents of slain children are not “sad enough”) casts a critical gaze on the phenomenon of conspiracy theories related to the Newtown school shooting.
In the clip below, Glenn Beck first displays and then debunks viral YouTube videos featuring parents like Robbie Parker who have sparingly spoken to press in the days and weeks since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Beck, himself not unskilled at clever framing, explains that Sandy Hook truthers have been creatively editing videos and presenting what appears to be skepticism masquerading as evidence. And in the clip below, you can watch his takedown of the “crisis actors” aspect of the Sandy Hook conspiracy theories.
After our last post about Parker (regarding circulating claims that a brief, apparently nervous laugh at the start of a press conference one day following the death of daughter Emilie Parker at Sandy Hook Elementary indicated evidence of a larger, clearly obvious hoax), we spoke with Asha Tarry, LMSW, founder of the grassroots organization, The Collective Advocates.
We asked Tarry to review a clip of Parker that has unfortunately been one of the cornerstones of the Sandy Hook truther argument and the idea that a grieving parent should act a single, certain way in the wake of unimaginable grief, horror, and shock.
As we suspected, Tarry agreed that not only are the parents interviewed behaving in line with how those who have experienced such tragedy might be expected to but their behavior is indeed quite normal.
In her assessment of the clip, Tarry observes that Parker does smile before his emotional statement about Emilie, and says:
“I, like so many others, do not know what the conversation entailed prior to Mr. Parker approaching the mic and podium, but yes, I saw him smiling, and clearly that’s what it looked like.”
But what Tarry gleaned from the clip was not the chicanery alleged by Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists but rather an affect typical of people of faith. She explains:
“However, what I also saw at the time of his opening remarks and was immediately struck by, before his confirmation of this, was his faith in a higher power. He was able to acknowledge before his own loss, the loss the shooter’s family was also experiencing. It reminds me of the part of the Lord’s Prayer which says ‘forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’ — a hard practice to do, even for Christians.”
“But as Mr. Parker continued to speak I didn’t see a man who smiled inappropriately or lacked emotionality. I saw a man who was clearly in pain — voice cracking, eyes batting and closing often as he spoke about this obvious grave tragedy. I saw a man who was able to be in touch with loving feelings he had for his daughter that elicited a positive reaction — smiling –which is appropriate, as he described his last encounter with her.”
Watching the clip, she says she saw not a man pushing forward a “narrative” but one deriving comfort from memories of the time he had with his daughter, and she continues:
“As he shared fond memories, his responses were not atypical of people who lose loved ones and talk about them in that way. One of the greatest fears of people who suddenly lose a loved one is that they are going to forget what they look and sound like after they die. Mr. Parker’s gentle and detailed recall was evident that he loved his child and misses her.”
The criticism, Tarry explains, is something frequently lobbed at those who have suffered loss based on brief observations by strangers:
“The public has a tendency to pass poor judgment on others even in our limited knowledge of another’s reaction to a loss. In the time leading up to the press conference, no one knows the Parker family’s reactions to Emilie’s murder and if you consider that it is Mr. Parker, not Mrs. Parker, who is speaking I would be cautious to assume that this family, including the husband, is not grieving deeply.
“If we contemplate the role of man/husband in our society, it is to be the protector, provider and the guide for our families. He has to be strong and courageous not only in public but in private. Mr. Parker, to me, is no actor. He is a father, a husband, and a pained individual.”
Tarry says that similar behavior is something she’s observed working with bereaved and PTSD-affected individuals. She says:
“In my experience with individuals in psychotherapy, it is not uncommon for people to have atypical reactions to sudden loss, death and post-traumatic stress. I’ve bore witness to inappropriate jokes by survivors following a traumatic event. Typically signs of PTSD can arise anywhere from several hours to several days after a tragic event. PTSD also has no determined time to end and the signs and symptoms can linger for months, to years after. So, again, in response to this father’s reaction to a very tragic event, that included his daughter, it is not up to the public to judge how he grieves and to demonstrate that to us.”
She concludes, noting several truthfulness “tells” in Robbie Parker’s clip for those who may still not be convinced:
“As Mr. Parker himself has shown, humankind has to have empathy not only for that which is known to the subjective eye, but also for that and those which we know little about. To me, it’s evident that Mr. Parker is demonstrating a practice of thoughtfulness and compassion, which takes great discipline, not only for himself, his family and those who’ve passed but also to the living relatives of the perpetrator. At the same time, his voice, intonation, eye movements and even the tension in his jaw at times, is evident that he is suffering too.”
Asha Tarry can be found on Twitter, and you can watch the clip we discussed following the viral rise of Sandy Hook truther videos below as well as Beck’s takedown.