'Now let's just pray it's done': A how-to guide for reporting on Sutherland Springs conspiracy nuts


And infuriating.

That would be my succinct reaction to news this week that two conspiracy theorists were arrested for harassing victims of the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church massacre.

But since we focus on journalism and media coverage here at GetReligion, let's concentrate on that.

Once again, I am impressed by the coverage of the San Antonio Express News' Silvia Foster-Frau, who repeatedly has produced exceptional journalism from Sutherland Springs. A few months ago, I praised her hopeful, sensitive and nuanced reporting on the massacre's victims. Just last month, I called attention to her exclusive piece on the guilt and grief that overwhelm the mother-in-law of the gunman. 

And after the conspiracy theorists' arrests this week, her story was the must-read account of what happened:

Robert Ussery, 54, and Jodi Mann, 56, were charged with trespassing and resisting arrest after the church’s pastor accused them of repeatedly harassing the community.

The Express-News report noted:

Ussery “continually yelled and screamed and hollered and told me he was gonna hang me from a tree, and pee on me while I’m hanging,” said Frank Pomeroy, the pastor.
Pomeroy said he was in his car by the church when the pair approached the building, and he intervened when Mann began to write in large, loopy writing on a poster left for well-wishers to sign, “The truth shall set you free.”
The pair believe the church shooting was staged by accomplices of the government, though Pomeroy, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed there, knows better.
“He said, ‘Your daughter never even existed. Show me her birth certificate. Show me anything to say she was here,’” Pomeroy said. “I just told him there was enough evidence already visible, so if he chooses not to see that, how would I know he would believe anything else?”

Foster-Frau's story is factual and helpful in that it provides specific quotes from the pastor on what happened as well as relevant available background on those arrested:

The conspiracy website Side Thorn is full of homemade videos — taken from TV news reports and Ussery’s own camera — supposedly proving that the Sutherland Springs massacre, in which 26 congregants were killed, did not occur. It also claims that the tragedies at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut; the Boston Marathon and the country music concert in Las Vegas are hoaxes devised by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The website’s homepage features a photo of a United States map with the words: “Truth is treason in the empire of lies.” It presents videos purporting to show Sutherland Springs residents practicing the shooting as “nothing but a staged drill.” There is audio of a victim’s family calling him and angrily demanding he leave her family alone.
The most recent post is a video of David Hogg, a student activist at the Florida high school, with the words “EXPOSED” superimposed on his forehead. The description: “100% proof of another staged drill.”
“Before talking to him today, I thought he was trying to play some angle,” Pomeroy said. “But I think he’s truly demented. I think he truly believes his own rhetoric. I can’t explain it.”

The ending quote of the piece stuck with me:


“If it takes something happening before you get rid of these guys, then I’m just glad that this ‘something happening’ happened and nobody got hurt,” Pomeroy said. “Now let’s just pray it’s done.”

"Now let's just pray it's done."


In some ways, Foster-Frau does her job so well that she makes it look easy. Trust me, it's not. That's why this latest piece — like the others we have highlighted — is so remarkable and appreciated in a media age when sensationalism sometimes takes the place of solid, straight news reporting.

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