Florida Atlantic University Professor James Tracy, famous for spouting conspiracy theories about a number of America’s most tragic events, is at it again — this time alleging in his blog that the April 15 Boston bombings were a “mass-casualty drill,” coordinated by the government, local officials, and the media.
Among insulting claims, Tracy turns to his blog to dissect horrific images of the injuries incurred as being somehow not gruesome enough to be real. The lack of “observable severed limbs on the ground," for example, is just one form of bizarre evidence Tracy uses to insist the scene was staged.
With particular insensitivity he turns to scrutinize images of Jeff Bauman, the subject of a famous photograph who tragically lost both his legs in the bombings and is said to have helped the FBI gather intelligence, claiming his injuries were dubious and somehow staged.
“The use of a wheelchair to aid and transport an individual with such severe injuries–who amazingly is still conscious and discharging little-if-any blood,” Tracy insists, somehow provides evidence the whole event was staged by the media, “propagating the authorized narrative of a combat-like environment at the marathon finish line …”
Such allegations come on the heels of a slew of conspiracy theories on the matter that use close-in analysis of the horrific images to dishonor the subjects by calling foul on the pain they’ve incurred. It is bad enough that high quality play-by-play images of those suffering injuries are being broadcast non-stop around the world, with media tapping on hospital doors asking victims to re-live the horrific occasion. Questioning the validity of their pain is going too far.
Of course the event was so tragic it can seem unbelievable, without doubt there remain numerous unanswered questions, and there is no question that observers and media have been too-quick to jump to conclusions along the way. Just as the suspect’s father called the events “a clear setup,” many are skeptical of the nature and timing of the manhunt and ensuing investigation. But Tracy’s careless remarks alleging falsified deaths and injuries are so disrespectful of the pain incurred his allegations move far beyond healthy skepticism and move squarely under the category of sheer distaste.
The issue is indicative of a new terrain in which outspoken academics are turning to social media to broadcast their viewpoints. Gregory Scholtz, director of the department of academic freedom at the Association of University Professors, recently told the Huffington Post, "We see more and more professors getting into trouble for what they're posting on Facebook, or Tweeting." His AAUP association officially defines the academic freedom for professors as “full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties ...” A former professor sued Louisiana State University over a related matter following his firing after he made controversial statements about Hurricane Katrina.
In reality, the issue of “academic freedom” often boils down to another issue: dollars and donors. This is not Tracy’s first foray into extreme and unpopular conspiracy theories during his 10-year stint at FAU, and Florida Atlantic University officials insist that the professor “does not speak for the university” and his blog postings are “not affiliated with FAU in any way.” Still, there are reports the institution is feeling pressure to recognize Tracy’s outspoken behavior since recent outcry over his conspiracy allegations about the Newtown, Connecticut massacre. The university is state funded, but relies on donors for further programming. Tracy has responded, “But, you know, if they intend to fire me, ultimately, how good of an institution is it? If they’re not going to stand up for free speech and ideas and things of the like, then I’m not too sure I want to be here, either.”
The best approach in this case may be to stay far away from his FAU “Culture of Conspiracy” course, minimize the viral power of his theories, and speak out more fervently than ever in defense of the dignity and privacy of those victims so tragically affected by April 15 events in Boston.