I didn’t know if they were brothers and sisters of friends, the siblings of friends of friends, or the foundations of families I used to stroll past in search of lima beans at Shop Rite. I just knew that they were children. And that the death toll kept climbing.
Josephine Grace Gay was born in 2005 and shot dead seven years and three days later. She is one of the 20 six- and seven-year-old victims of the Sandy Hook massacre who should be tweens by now. They’d be canoeing across Candlewood Lake, competing at soccer tournaments, and wandering around the imagined kingdoms accessible to their parents by metaphor only. I know this because that’s what I did when I was a middle-schooler in a sluggish, boring, dumb suburb of Danbury, Connecticut, 15 minutes west of Newtown.
Instead, they were mowed down by a Bushmaster XM-15 assault rifle before lunch on a Friday in December.
It was 2012; I was in the twilight of adolescence. My disbelief melted into horror melted into shame. Sandy Hook was the final of three traumas, I think, that shaped the millennial psyche, making us all survivors undeserving of survival.
The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, of course, was the first. I experienced 9/11 as “recess is cancelled” in 2001, and then as “so are your rights,” as I got to know forever war and Islamophobia. And if liberty was downed in 2001, then 2007 revealed that the pursuit of happiness ends in a cul-de-sac of foreclosed homes. The Great Recession constitutes our second trauma, punctuated by familial tension, unfathomable debt, and perpetual insecurity.
But it was the Slaughter of the Innocents that broke us. Semiautomatic death at Sandy Hook proved that school children are acceptable casualties to the forces that pump military weapons into our homes and line the pockets of elected officials. The children were forfeit. And we, the elder siblings of the 20 kids shot in cold blood in Newtown, suffer from generational survivors’ guilt. The future is bleak for us. It is barren for those who come after.
Adam Lanza was born exactly 363 days before I was. We almost shared a birthday, and almost a hometown. We may have raced each other in track, and I don’t know if perhaps he also wanted to be a marine biologist as a second grader, or why he possessed assault-grade weaponry before he could buy a beer. He was supposed to have been awkward, in and out of therapy. So was I.
Perusing Sandy Hook conspiracies exercises my gag reflex. In crafting elaborate hoaxes, paranoid sleuths harass the parents of dead children and allay their own psychological inadequacy. The man who propogated the idea that the Sandy Hook massacre was orchestrated by the US government, Alex Jones, also drove the epistemological schism in America required for a president of fake news. If you believe the government is behind Sandy Hook, you believe that Donald Trump is a man of the people, too.
The irony, of course, is that the government’s negligence does make it responsible for Sandy Hook. The collective shrug of our lawmakers in the wake of the most heinous act of my adulthood suggests that fascism is latent in our politics — just not in the way Alex Jones thinks.
To consumers of InfoWars, Sandy Hook was not perpetrated by a demented young man, but by a tyrant state eager to curtail civil liberties. Jones stokes libertarian fantasies of World Government to keep Americans small, alone, and without recourse save pump-action shotguns.
Fascism is a state of panoptical violence, of submission through anxiety and fear. Gun manufacturers, in addition to Uzis and Kalashnikovs, manufacture the American carnage that keeps our schools in lockdown and our country in continual crisis. Fascism both breaks a people apart into atomized units — the libertarian phantasmagoria of citizen sovereignty — and pits them against faceless abstractions – the military industrial complex, anonymous police enforcers, gun culture, and bloodshed saturating the news. There’s no distance between “a man’s home is his castle” and state violence. It all collapses into war.
Sandy Hook was the literalization of this war of all against all, when dawn broke over the fact that the conspiracy is true. None of us are safe. Not even Kindergarteners.
Connecticut’s Eagle Scouts answered the calls of grieving parents in the days after the shooting. I joined the funereal honor guard in full regalia between my bosom friends, forming a palisade of tan and red around the groans, tears, and despair inside Newtown’s Trinity Episcopal Church. Before December 14, 2012, Main Street’s only claim to infamy was congestion caused by an enormous American flag placed with defiance in the middle of traffic. But at the services, white vans with satellite dishes (some from reputable news stations, others from InfoWars’ ilk) mobbed Main Street. The regiment of Eagle Scouts held the ground around the church so families could mourn without facing a cacophony of coffins in the tabloids at checkout. The coffins were too small to photograph, anyway.
Newtown’s enormous American flag might still be at half-mast, though I wouldn’t know — I avoid the settled uneasiness of Main Street now.
The twinkling souls hushed five years ago are a reminder to millennials that we are never safe or secure. We learned, from children as cannon fodder, that America was fascist before Donald Trump. A system that absorbs the mass murder of six-year-olds with nothing but a shudder is not a system worth keeping.