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Jurors began deliberating shortly after noon in the case of a controversial blogger who says he was fired from a tenured professorship at Florida Atlantic University in retaliation for his conspiracy theorist blogging about the Sandy Hook massacre.
James Tracy alleges that FAU violated his First Amendment rights to free speech. He wants to be reinstated to his former position, with back pay and an unspecified amount of damages.
FAU officials say they never censored Tracy or prevented him from expressing his opinions. They say he was fired after repeatedly and intentionally refusing to file mandatory disclosure forms that require all professors to reveal outside work activities that could affect their work or the university.
The controversy began in late 2012 after Tracy posted conspiracy theories on his Memory Hole blog about whether the mass shooting — which killed 20 children and six teachers — had really happened. Tracy hinted at a government conspiracy and later contributed a chapter and timeline to the book “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook: It Was a FEMA Drill to Promote Gun Control.”
The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported on Tracy’s blogging in January 2013 and the story was picked up by national and international media.
The publicity led to widespread criticism and distaste regarding Tracy’s methods and words, which included writing that the families of the victims — the parents of murdered elementary schoolchildren — were “playing a role.”
FAU officials testified the public reaction to Tracy’s blog created an ongoing ruckus and potential security threat on the Boca Raton campus, as well as calls for him to be fired.
They said Tracy agreed in 2013 to post a clearer disclaimer on his blog to emphasize that his writings reflected his personal opinions. They also asked him to distance his controversial writing from the university by making it clear that he was not speaking or writing in his role as an FAU professor, they said. Finally, they asked him to disclose all outside activities.
FAU officials said the decision to fire Tracy, made in late 2015, was because he had gone out of his way to avoid disclosing his activities on the mandatory forms. They said he was fired for “insubordination” for repeatedly ignoring direct and reasonable orders from a supervisor.
Tracy testified he was confused about what should or should not be reported.