At the beginning of his famous 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Richard Hofstadter makes clear that he is using the word “paranoid” in a loose or perhaps metaphorical sense, rather than making a literal psychiatric claim:
I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics. [Emphasis added]
It’s of course potentially very dangerous to classify political or other types of dissent as forms of mental illness, and repressive regimes have abused the language and methods of psychiatry to sanction dissenters. So Hofstadter’s squeamishness in this regard is probably a good thing.
On the other hand, some dissenters from conventional belief are in fact certifiable lunatics, or would be if we still certified lunatics instead of dumping them on our city streets.
Consider the case of James Tracy, a tenured professor of communications at Florida Atlantic University, who has become convinced that the Sandy Hook mass murder of 20 schoolchildren and six staff members was an elaborate hoax:
Nobody Died at Sandy Hook
James Tracy, Ph.D.
The attack upon me and Jim Fetzer, Ph.D., McKnight Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota Duluth, is only the latest in an ongoing campaign to conceal the deception known as “Sandy Hook”. In a December 10 opinion piece published by The South Florida Sun-Sentinel Lenny and Veronique Pozner seek to intimidate my employer into firing me because of the extensive research several academics, including Fetzer and myself, have done on the Sandy Hook massacre.
The Pozners write:
The FAU Academic Affairs Faculty Handbook clearly states that “A faculty member’s activities which fall outside the scope of employment shall constitute misconduct only if such activities adversely affect the legitimate interests of the University.”
Do “the legitimate interests of the university” include the pursuit of truth?
As the new book, NOBODY DIED AT SANDY HOOK (2015) demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt, the school had been closed by 2008, which means there were no children there for Adam Lanza to have shot.
The book—-which presents hundreds of proofs that the shootings at Newtown, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School (SHES) on 14 December 2012, was a staged, elaborate hoax—-enjoyed brisk sales of around 500 copies since Amazon initially offered it on October 22nd of this year. But it was abruptly removed–banned–by Amazon on November 19th, despite nearly 80 reviews.
The Pozners would like you to believe that Jim Fetzer and I are the only Sandy Hook researchers to conclude that it was an elaborate hoax, but the book has thirteen (13) contributors—six (6) current or retired Ph.D. professors as well as a half-dozen other experts—including a Los Angeles school safety expert, Paul Preston, who consulted his contacts in the Obama Department of Education to confirm that it was a drill, that no one had died and that it had been done to promote gun control.
Tracy’s mania (based on the principle of interpretive charity I will assume he is insane) has led him to harass the parents of at least one of the murdered Sandy Hook children:
“Although many of these tormentors persecute us behind anonymous online identities, some do so openly and even proffer their professional credentials in an attempt to lend credence to their allegations,” Lenny and Veronique Pozner wrote. “In this piece we want to focus on someone who is chief among the conspiracy theorists — Florida Atlantic University Professor James Tracy.”
According to the Pozners, the Florida professor has engaged in a campaign of harassment against them, including sending them a certified letter demanding proof that their son ever existed.
“Tracy is among those who have personally sought to cause our family pain and anguish by publicly demonizing our attempts to keep cherished photos of our slain son from falling into the hands of conspiracy theorists,” they wrote. “Tracy even sent us a certified letter demanding proof that Noah once lived, that we were his parents, and that we were the rightful owner of his photographic image. We found this so outrageous and unsettling that we filed a police report for harassment. Once Tracy realized we would not respond, he subjected us to ridicule and contempt on his blog, boasting to his readers that the ‘unfulfilled request’ was ‘noteworthy’ because we had used copyright claims to ‘thwart continued research of the Sandy Hook massacre event.’”
Tracy has also suggested that the Boston Marathon bombing may have been staged by the government.
What, if anything, should FAU do about this? Note that Tracy’s claims are based on his professional expertise: his academic bio says that his work examines “the relationship between commercial and alternative news media and socio-political issues and events,” and he teaches a class entitled “Culture of Conspiracy.” He’s not the equivalent of a chemistry professor who posts Holocaust denial craziness on the internet in his spare time: he’s much more akin to a history professor who comes to believe that the Holocaust didn’t really happen, and that the conventional account of the event is the product of an international Zionist conspiracy.
I’m not suggesting there’s an easy answer to this question, but I do think it should be asked.