Defamation Suit in Austin against Alex Jones
Three parents whose children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 filed a defamation lawsuit on Tuesday against Alex Jones, the right-wing conspiracy theorist who has long claimed the shooting was “completely fake” and a “giant hoax” perpetrated by opponents of the Second Amendment.
Mr. Jones, who hosts TV and radio shows and also operates the conspiracy theory website Infowars, has questioned for years whether 20 children and six adults died in the school massacre in Newtown, Conn. To bolster his false claims, he often cites news reports and video clips from the hours after the shooting that turned out to be incomplete or based on wrong information. Jones is the most vocal propagator of the theory that the shooting was staged by actors who created an elaborate scheme in order to enact stricter gun control laws. Many of the parents of the dead Sandy Hook children were attacked by these nut jobs before they even had a chance to bury their children.
The two lawsuits were filed yesterday in Travis County District Court in Austin, Texas, where Jones lives and broadcasts his TV show and operates Infowars. The lawsuits accuse Jones of making “statements that were a continuation and elaboration of a yearslong campaign to falsely attack the honesty of the Sandy Hook parents, casting them as participants in a ghastly conspiracy and cover-up.” The suits focus on comments made by Jones on his radio show called “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed,” which aired on April 22, 2017. In the show, Jones highlighted an interview that Veronique De La Rosa did with Anderson Cooper after the shooting. Ms. De La Rosa’s 6 year old was killed in the massacre. During the Cooper interview a common video glitch occurred causing Mr. Cooper’s nose to seem to disappear. Mr. Jones seized upon this common glitch to back his insane claim that both Cooper and De La Rosa were actors participating in a conspiracy.
Jones and Infowars subsequently accused Jesse Heslin, the father of a dead 6 year old, of lying when he told Megyn Kelly on NBC’s Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly that he saw his dead son and “I held my son with a bullet hole through his head.” According to Infowars and Jones, Mr. Heslin is a liar because the medical examiner said he showed photographs to the parents identifying their children. Jones later stated, “The stuff I found was they never let them see their bodies.” “That’s kind of what’s weird about this.” “But maybe they did.” What kind of person makes these claims if he is unsure himself if they are true?
In Virginia, the tort of defamation is governed by both Virginia and U.S. Supreme Court law. Because Jones’s statements impute to the Sandy Hook parents the commission of a criminal conspiracy involving moral turpitude, this appears to be what is known as a public figure (Jones) defamatory per se case. If so, in Virginia would be instructed that the parents/plaintiffs would have to prove the following: (1) that the defendants made the specific statement; (2) that the statement was about the plaintiff; (3) that the statement were heard or seen by someone other than the plaintiff; (4) that the statement was false; and (5) that the defendants made the statement knowing it to be false or made it so recklessly as to amount to a willful disregard for the truth, that is, with a high degree of awareness that the statement was probably false. See Virginia Model Jury Instruction, No. 37.000. If the case against Jones is not defamatory per se, the plaintiffs would have the addition burden of proving that they were damaged as a result of the false statement.
In either case, it would be shocking if the Sandy Hook parents did not win this case. The statements about them by Jones and his colleagues at Infowars were clearly about the parents, false and made either knowing them to be false or so recklessly as to amount a willful disregard for the truth. Despite recent evidence to the contrary, the rule of law and truth still matter in this country.