One of the more pervasive zombie myths still being propagated by the Sandy Hook denialist cult is the lie that Sandy Hook Elementary School quietly closed in 2008 and was therefore empty when Adam Lanza (who may or may not have even existed, depending on which wackadoo you’re dealing with) carried out his deadly attack on December 14th, 2012. This alleged closure was so quiet, in fact, that not a single local media outlet covered it.
This absurd fantasy seems to have originated with professional conspiracy theorist James Fetzer, a bloated carny who has been supplementing his retirement income with a series of increasingly insane (and lazy, based on the fact that nearly every word in “Nobody Died At Sandy Hook” was lifted from a pre-existing blog entry) books declaring everything that has ever happened – from the moon landing to the Boston Marathon bombing – to be an elaborate fake. And despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary (including numerous photographs depicting a bustling school, years worth of PTA meeting minutes, school facilities surveys, news articles, job listings, etc.), Fetzer has seemingly based this outrageous claim entirely on a combination of outdated information and a total – and possibly intentional, though that may be giving him too much credit – misunderstanding of how the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine functions. That’s it.
But what is the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine (“The Wayback Machine”)? From Wikipedia:
The Wayback Machine is a digital archive of the World Wide Web and other information on the Internet created by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization, based in San Francisco, California, United States. The Internet Archive launched the Wayback Machine in October 2001. It was set up by Brewster Kahle and Bruce Gilliat, and is maintained with content from Alexa Internet. The service enables users to see archived versions of web pages across time, which the archive calls a “three dimensional index.”
Since 1996, they have been archiving cached pages of web sites onto their large cluster of Linux nodes. They revisit sites every few weeks or months and archive a new version if the content has changed. Sites can also be captured on the fly by visitors who are offered a link to do so. The intent is to capture and archive content that otherwise would be lost whenever a site is changed or closed down. Their grand vision is to archive the entire Internet.
Hopefully you caught that. The Wayback Machine revisits sites “every few weeks or months”. This concept is reiterated later in the same article:
The frequency of snapshots is variable, so not all tracked web site updates are recorded. Sometimes there are intervals of several weeks or years between snapshots.
And just in case it wasn’t already incredibly obvious, this is again stated very plainly – as a disclaimer – right there on their calendar view page:
So with that in mind:
“Arguably, the most compelling evidence that SHES had long been abandoned before the 2012 massacre is the testimony from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine of the school’s lack of of Internet activity from the beginning of 2008 through all of 2012.” pg. 34
I can’t stress this enough: archived versions of websites, sporadically crawled by the Wayback Machine, are not at all synonymous with “Internet activity”. This claim demonstrates a level of technological ignorance best described as “absolutely staggering” (although it’s still not as egregious as the commenter who claimed “all internet connections” were “severed”, as if someone had walked into the school’s networking closets with a pair of gardening shears and just went to town).
“The Wayback Machine is a digital archive of the Internet which uses a special software to crawl and download all publicly accessible World Wide Web pages. It was Jungle Server who first discovered that the Wayback Machine shows an absence of Internet activity from SHES since 2008 — the same year when the school was found to be contaminated with asbestos.” pg. 34
There is absolutely no evidence that Sandy Hook Elementary School was any more “contaminated” with asbestos in 2008 than it was in 1956, which is when the school was built. Just as my own home was no more contaminated with asbestos when I had the original siding replaced a few years ago than it was when it was built, which was sometime in the mid-50s (when asbestos building materials, including siding, were commonplace).
Since the book predictably does not provide a source for the asbestos claim, I was forced to trace it back to an entry on Maria Hsia Chang’s completely wretched “Fellowship Of The Minds”. Chang’s source is a single, short paragraph from the Newtown Bee’s website, published on November 7th, 2008. While no longer available at the provided URL, it is still accessible via – you guessed it – the Wayback Machine. You can view it for yourself here.
The asbestos levels in Newtown schools pose no threat to the health or safety of those using the schools, according to Superintendent John Reed. The areas in the schools where there is evidence of asbestos — the ceiling above the high school pool, areas of the upstairs floor of the Middle School A wing and the girls’ and boys’ locker rooms, are also considered acceptable and safe.
Hopefully your reading comprehension is not as poor as Maria Chang’s, but if you’re at all confused, I’ll reiterate: in November of 2008, the asbestos levels in Newtwon schools – which presumably included Sandy Hook Elementary, although it is not mentioned by name – presented no threat to students or faculty. So Chang’s own source does not corroborate her claim. And if Sandy Hook was “contaminated” enough to be closed (which it wasn’t), then where did that leave the high school and middle school, which were specifically called out for showing “evidence of asbestos”?
Furthermore, Sandy Hook Elementary School was given a 4 (out of a possible 4, indicating that there was “Not a problem”) for “Asbestos remediation” in the Connecticut Department of Education’s 2011 school facilities survey:
“To verify Jungle Surfer’s claim, I searched for SHES’s website, http://newtown.k12.ct.us/~sh” pg. 34
Here’s where things really go south: Sandy Hook’s website has not been located at http://newtown.k12.ct.us/~sh since the summer of 2006 (and it would change again in 2011). That’s when the webmaster for the Newtown public school district changed the address of every school’s site, not just Sandy Hook’s. And if you search The Wayback Machine for any of those old addresses, it returns very similar – if not even more extreme – results:
That Newtown changed the addresses for all of their school’s websites is not particularly difficult information to find – which I’ll show you in a moment – and it once again hammer home just how incompetent or deliberately dishonest this book’s researchers really are. They simply cannot be trusted to report the truth to their readers, and this is especially egregious when so much of this book is dedicated to vilifying the mainstream media.
Even though the address for Sandy Hook School is incorrect, the website for all of Newtown’s public schools was in fact http://www.newtown.k12.ct.us back in 2008. And plugging that into the Wayback Machine returns the following results:
The first thing that likely jumps out at you is – with the exception of a single snapshot taken in January of 2010 – a gap that exists between November of 2007 and July of 2011. I’ll explain the reason for this later, but for now, if you take a look at the very last snapshot before the break (taken on November 20th, 2007), you’ll see that the link provided for Sandy Hook Elementary School is http://www.newtown.k12.ct.us/shs:
This address is corroborated by the earliest edition of “The Sandy Hook Connection” (Sandy Hook’s official newsletter) that I was able to find, which is dated January 8th, 2009:
When you enter that address – the correct address – into the Wayback Machine, you got the following results:
This narrows the gap considerably, whittling it down to April of 2008 (April? Do these goons think they closed the school with two months left in the school year?) through October of 2010, or a full year and a half shy of the original claim of four full years. But even taking into consideration the inconsistent nature of the Wayback Machine, two and a half years still seems like kind of a long time between snapshots. So what gives? As is usually the case with these things, there’s actually a very simple, technical explanation. From The Wayback Machine’s FAQ:
How can I have my site’s pages excluded from the Wayback Machine?
You can exclude your site from display in the Wayback Machine by placing a robots.txt file on your web server that is set to disallow User-Agent: ia_archiver. You can also send an email request for us to review to firstname.lastname@example.org with the URL (web address) in the text of your message.
And what is a robots.txt file? From Wikipedia:
The robots exclusion standard, also known as the robots exclusion protocol or simply robots.txt, is a standard used by websites to communicate with web crawlers and other web robots. The standard specifies how to inform the web robot about which areas of the website should not be processed or scanned.
Sure enough, we can see that on June 4th, 2008, the webmaster for Newtown’s public schools added the following to their robots.txt file:
This “User-agent: *” means this section applies to all robots. The “Disallow: /” tells the robot that it should not visit any pages on the site.
Once those changes were made, the Wayback Machine – by design – stopped crawling and archiving the sites for every school in the Newtown public school district, not just Sandy Hook. This is not up for debate, and anyone with a few minutes of free time can easily replicate the steps I took above and achieve the exact same results. And unlike the unscrupulous contributors to this cretinous book, I fully and enthusiastically encourage you to do exactly that.
If this is truly James Fetzer’s “most compelling evidence” that Sandy Hook Elementary School was shuttered in 2008 in preparation for an imaginary drill, what hope is there for the rest of his claims?
Of course there are still some that have talked themselves into remaining unconvinced, like alleged IT professional Ruth Teltru, who writes:
Still very suspicious that it just so happens Sandy Hook Elementary is the only school in CT. that had the internet archive issues.
First of all, as explained as well as demonstrated in this very article, this is patently false: the site for every school in Newtown’s public school district produced similar results during this time period due to the fact that the robots file was applied at the root level, therefore impacting everything below it. So we’re off to a pretty rough start with this comment. But it gets worse (as it usually does), because even if you replace “Sandy Hook Elementary” with “Newtown Public School District”, it’s still wrong. I know that because unlike Ruth here, I actually checked the Wayback Machine results for the site of every district in Connecticut before running my mouth.
Of those districts – and there were a lot of them to go through – nineteen districts had a gap of over thirty months. That’s nineteen districts that had a gap exceeding Newtown’s. Three districts had gaps of four years or more:
So once again, a Sandy Hook denier not only fails miserably in challenging my work, but makes another demonstrably false claim in the process. Will they ever learn?
Additional reading: “When The Internet Archive Forgets”