An email exchange between an NRA official and a man who has called the Sandy Hook massacre “the biggest government illusion that’s ever been pulled off” is raising questions about whether the gun lobby encourages conspiracy theorists.
The emails — sent in the immediate aftermath of the 2018 school massacre in Parkland, Florida — surfaced during the discovery process from litigation by Sandy Hook parents against the InfoWars host Alex Jones, and have been published exclusively by HuffPost.
The official in question, Mark Richardson, is identified in NRA documents as a Training Counselor Program Coordinator. Hours after the shooting that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Richardson sent an email to Wolfgang Halbig — a defendant in a federal lawsuit brought by Sandy Hook parents alleging “negligent infliction of emotional distress” for the promotion of the lies that “parents of the children killed in the shooting were paid actors, that the children killed in the shooting were not in fact related to their parents, and that the children were not killed in the shooting.” (The case was remanded to Connecticut state court in November 2018.)
In the email, Richardson writes Halbig to insist that the Parkand shooter had help entering the school. (The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, is charged with murdering 17 students and school staff.) “I have been asking the question and no one else seems to be asking it,” the email reads. “How is it that Cruz was able [to] gain access to a secured facility while in possession of a rifle, multiple magazines, smoke grenades and a gas mask? To pull the fire alarm, he had to already be inside. Correct?” The email turns from asking a question to proposing a theory: “He was not alone,” before adding: “Just like SH” — an apparent reference to Sandy Hook — “there is so much more to this story.”
The email concludes with a few words of appreciation to Halbig for his work:
Thank you for all the information
And for what you do.
In his alleged reply to Richardson, sent to his NRAhq.org email address, Halbig asks the NRA official to “Please call me to discuss this school incident,” according to HuffPost. Richardson told HuffPost that he was just raising his concerns about the Parkland shooter, saying: “It is a legitimate question to ask if he had assistance concerning access to the school.”
Rolling Stone’s requests to Richardson and Halbig for comment were not immediately returned.
NRA Director of Public Affairs Jennifer Baker told Rolling Stone in a statement: “Sandy Hook was a horrific tragedy and any suggestion that the unspeakable atrocities committed by an evil lunatic were faked as part of an elaborate hoax are insane. The men and women of the National Rifle Association grieve for the innocent people who were killed, the families ripped apart, and the entire Sandy Hook community.”
Asked to explain the email exchange and whether Richardson will be disciplined, NRA spokesperson Andrew Arulanandam responded only: “This personnel related matter is under review.”
The NRA has a history of inflammatory rhetoric. As far back as 1995, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called federal law enforcement officials “jack-booted government thugs,” warning that they had the Clinton administration’s go-ahead to “harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.”
But an NRA official allegedly egging on conspiracy theorists accused of harassing the families of mass murder attacks would mark a new low, particularly as the tragedies around these shootings continue. (Both the Sandy Hook and Parkland communities have dealt with suicides in recent days.) Parkland activist David Hogg accused the NRA in a tweet of amplifying “conspiracies about school shootings” in an effort to get gun owners “to buy more guns,” adding: “I don’t understand how any human being could support an organization aimed at selling guns at the cost of dead children.”