Kim Snyder has seen first-hand the impact of conspiracy theorists on the people of Newtown, Conn.
The filmmaker spent a lot of time with the town’s residents while filming “Newtown,” a documentary about the community’s experience in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which a man killed 20 children and six adult staff members on Dec. 14, 2012, before taking his own life.
“I was aware of people being harassed as I started to make our documentary,” Snyder told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.
Some of them, she said, have tried to “debunk our documentary as some sort of Holllywood fiction.”
That’s why she is speaking out against NBC’s decision to air news host Megyn Kelly’s interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Sunday.
“I think this crosses the line. I believe that people like that feed on penetrating the mainstream media, and I just don’t think you can really change people’s minds, his mind,” she said.
Jones heads up the radio show and website Infowars, where he has questioned whether the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax — something many of his followers fervently believe.
Jones himself recently said he believes “it probably did happen,” but in the past has said the school shooting was “completely fake.”
Earlier this month, a Florida woman who believes Sandy Hook was a hoax was sent to prison for threatening a man whose six-year-old son died in the shooting.
“I think there’s a lot more of these followers than people realize, which is why I personally think it’s so risky and dangerous to air this interview with Alex Jones,” Snyder said. “Because it does engage far more followers than you might think.”
Snyder says there are people in Newtown who wanted to be a part of her film, but were too afraid it would make them the target for Jones’ followers.
“Their voices were silenced just by fear that they’d be harassed for years,” she said.
And the impact goes beyond Newtown, she said.
While touring with the film, she was asked at an opening night dinner by a film festival sponsor whether she really believed the shooting happened.
“It was shocking to hear that from someone that you would meet in that context. And even more shocking was that some of the people around her who had seen the film, felt moved by it, were kind of almost treating it not like, ‘Well, that’s the craziest thing I ever heard,’ but sort of like, ‘Well, there are two sides to this.’ Like it’s a debate.”
Backlash to the Jones interview has cost Kelly’s show advertisers and led to her being dropped as host for an event by an organization founded by parents of children killed at Sandy Hook.
But Kelly and NBC are standing behind it, arguing they have a duty to hold Jones — who has White House press accreditation and has been praised by President Donald Trump — accountable for his actions.
In an interview with Associated Press Tuesday, Kelly said reporters have interviewed controversial characters like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and child molesters in the past without getting this kind of a reaction.
“What I think we’re doing is journalism,” she said. “The bottom line is that while it’s not always popular, it’s important. I would submit to you that neither I nor NBC News has elevated Alex Jones in any way. He’s been elevated by five or six million viewers or listeners, and by the President of the United States. As you know, journalists don’t get the choice over who has power or influence in our country.”
But Snyder says giving Jones access to NBC’s massive platform is not the best way to challenge him.
“You could do a very hard-hitting piece on conspiracy theorists and what’s behind it and the psychological or political motivations,” she said.
“I think people don’t realize that it affects all victim communities and all victims of gun violence.”