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His Son Was Killed At Sandy Hook. Then Came The Online Harassment.


On this day seven years ago, a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Twenty children, along with six adults, were killed. Incredibly, for the families, the nightmare did not end with the deaths of their children. The families of the murdered children became the targets of conspiracy theorists who decided that the massacre did not happen, the children were not real or that the parents had been paid to stage the attack. And not only did they share these false and hateful messages among themselves, they began harassing families of the murdered children.

One of those parents, Lenny Pozner, made it his mission to fight back - not only to honor the memory of his murdered son Noah, but to protect his surviving family members. And earlier this year, he won a defamation case against one of those conspiracy theorists. And he's with us now. Lenny Pozner, thank you so much for joining us.

LENNY POZNER: Thank you.

MARTIN: And just - if I could just say as, a human being, I mean, as a parent, I'm very sorry for the loss of your son. And I wish it were different.

POZNER: Thank you.

MARTIN: I wanted to start by asking, how soon after the massacre did the conspiracy theories start? Like, how did you first hear about all this?

POZNER: The conspiracy theories started the same day. They started right away. I wasn't paying attention to the news or social media for weeks, so I wasn't aware of it at the time. But as soon as I went online, I noticed the talk of crisis actors. And all kinds of theories were swirling around. So as soon as I saw this being discussed, I immediately knew that this was going to be an issue and this wasn't going to be something that was just going to blow over.

MARTIN: But I also want to be clear that, I mean, obviously, this is devastating - you've already lost a child - but that some of these people are dangerous. I want to mention that you spoke with some of our colleagues at the public radio program This American Life, and they have the tape of this. I mean, some of these people take it to a whole other realm, if you could talk a little bit about that.

POZNER: Yeah. A lot of the people online claim that they are questioning the tragedy. They're just asking questions. And they're - they want to know more information. And that isn't - for a segment of that population, they're not just curious. They are absolutely certain that they are the good guys and they are in the right and that people who are described as victims in the news are somehow, you know, the bad guys in this world. And they are lying about their tragedy. And they are very certain that this didn't happen.

MARTIN: This summer, you won a defamation case against a professor in Minnesota. Could you just briefly tell us, what were the grounds? How did that happen?

POZNER: Well, in 2014, there was - during the time when I was in contact with some of the deniers, I had published information about Noah about his life and about his death. So I had published his death certificate. And after doing so, I was accused of publishing a fake death certificate. And that had turned into a larger work titled "Nobody Died At Sandy Hook," which was a book that was over 400 pages.

So in that book, I was accused of faking the death certificate and also lying about other things. So in the lawsuit, I had to show a lot of information about Noah's life, prove that he lived. I took a DNA test and took a sample of Noah. And a DNA test was taken by Noah's mother as well to prove to the court that, in fact, I am Noah's father and that Noah lived and that Noah died. So all of that information had to be actually presented in court.

MARTIN: It must have been awful. I mean, you sound very calm about it, but the reality - I mean, that just had to have been awful.

POZNER: Well, it was necessary. And I accomplished my objective.

MARTIN: What do you feel the lawsuit accomplished? Tell me about that.

POZNER: Well, for one thing, I think it gives people who are also attacked and victimized online the confidence that this is something that can go to court and that you can win. It feels good to win and stand up for Noah's life - very short life.

MARTIN: I'm still trying to help people understand what this has been like for you. You've had to move - what? - seven or eight times. I mean, why have you had to move seven or eight times?

POZNER: Well, I've certainly had to insulate myself from a lot of hate and a lot of targeting. And since I can't change what they're thinking and doing, all I could do was protect myself and my family. Now, they have distributed comprehensive background checks on me and tracked where I live and where I have lived and everything about me. So moving is the simplest way to have a little bit more space for myself to not feel like my information and my address is being published online and that I have a little bit more privacy and safety.

MARTIN: Is there anything that other people can do to help?

POZNER: Well, I think that people need to not ignore this type of hate when they see it online. Certainly they can come and volunteer with the HONR Network. I think people have a responsibility to report content as they see it, not to just walk by it and ignore it and kind of step over it. There are quick methods to report content online on most platforms, and people, I think, need to do that, and people who know of people in their own family who are engaging in this type of activity - to not just ignore it.

MARTIN: That's Lenny Pozner. He's the founder of the HONR Network. That's spelled H-O-N-R. It's a group that, as he explained, is dedicated to stopping the harassment of victims of major tragedies, particularly online.

Mr. Pozner, I just want to thank you once again for your speaking with us. And I just want to say once again I'm really sorry for the loss of your son.

POZNER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.