The day after a shooter killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a National Rifle Association officer sent a message from his official email to an Infowars writer known for harassing parents of children killed at Sandy Hook. According to emails obtained by HuffPost, NRA training instructor and program coordinator Mark Richardson contacted Wolfgang Halbig — who has made several trips to Newtown, Connecticut, to self-investigate the 2012 shooting where 20 children and six adults were fatally shot — to pitch the Infowars contributor a potential conspiracy theory about the attack in Florida.
“Just like [Sandy Hook], there is so much more to this story,” Richardson wrote in his email, dated February 15, 2018. “[The Parkland shooter] was not alone.” In his message to Halbig, Richardson suggested details of a possible second shooter at Stoneman Douglas, to see if the conspiracist would take the bait and pursue the line of questioning on his own:
Concerning what happened in Florida yesterday, I have been asking the question and no one else seems to be asking it. How is it that Cruz was able 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? When my Children were in school the only way into the school was through the front door and past the main office. We have been told that he was. Prohibited from entering the building With a backpack. No longer a student, why was he allowed in the building at all? Where was all the equipment, in his back pocket? Just like SH, there is so much more to this story. He was not alone. Just a few questions that have surfaced in the past 24 hours. Thank you for all the information And for what you do. STAY SAFE
The same day that Richardson wrote to Halbig about the erroneous second shooter, Infowars posted a story called “Video: Second Shooter Reported in Florida Massacre,” although it’s unclear if Halbig wrote the item. The email exchange itself was released as part of the discovery process for the lawsuit that Sandy Hook parent Scarlett Lewis has filed against Alex Jones, suing the Infowars founder for intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Nine other Sandy Hook parents are suing Jones in separate lawsuits.) “I was shocked when that support came from an NRA official in 2018,” Brooke Binkowski, a consultant for Lewis’s attorneys, wrote to HuffPost, describing the process by which she came across the email.
In his career as a conspiracist, Halbig has “deluged Newtown officials with open records requests, demanding, among other things, records from the cleanup of ‘bodily fluids, brain matter, skull fragments and around 45-60 gallons of blood,’” according to the New York Times. He has also spread the conspiracy that 6-year-old Avielle Richman’s parents faked their daughter’s death at Sandy Hook, with the intention “to steal money from hard-working Americans.” In his response to the email from the NRA’s Mark Richardson, Halbig wrote the 6-year-old’s name in all-caps in the title, before boasting about how he can “no longer be called a FRAUD.”
The NRA responded to HuffPost on Thursday, calling any conspiracies related to the Sandy Hook shooting “insane.” But the emails from Richardson present a new low in the NRA’s post-shooting playbook — whether or not the instructor was in conflict with the organization’s official messaging. “The NRA literally drives conspiracies about school shootings to fear monger gun owners to buy more guns,” David Hogg, the gun-reform advocate and Parkland shooting survivor, wrote on Twitter. “I don’t understand how any human being could support an organization aimed at selling guns at the cost of dead children.” Aside from Richardson’s actions, the NRA went on the offensive after Parkland: CEO Wayne LaPierre told the audience at CPAC that gun-reform advocates “don’t care about our schoolchildren … and want to make all of us less free” before repeating the falsehood that more guns in schools would protect students. The NRA also released a video a week after Parkland that claimed that “the mainstream media love mass shootings” because they “juice their ratings and push their agenda.”
For both the NRA and the families of shooting survivors, the consequences of Parkland and Sandy Hook are ongoing. In 2017, the organization reported a loss of $55 million in income, and in its current messaging, the group states it could shutter “very soon” — although that claim may be closer to fundraising propaganda than reality. Among survivors, the ramifications are more deadly. Within the past two weeks, two Parkland survivors died by apparent suicide. And Jeremy Richman, the father of Avielle Richman — who allegedly survived the Sandy Hook shooting, according to Halbig’s conspiracy — was found dead at a movie theater in Newton, also by apparent suicide.