Sandy Hook Parents Sue Alex Jones For Defamation

The parents of two of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre are suing Alex Jones for falsely accusing them of lying about the deaths of their children.

The parents of two of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting are suing radio host and conspiracy theory spreader Alex Jones for defamation:

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, the popular radio show host who 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.

Soon after they buried their children, many Sandy Hook parents started to come under fierce attack by conspiracy theorists who have said they are actors in an elaborate scheme to enact stricter gun control laws. The fringe theories still thrive in small forums online but have reached a far greater audience through Mr. Jones, the most vocal propagator.

The two lawsuits filed on Tuesday represent the first civil action taken by parents accusing Mr. Jones of defamation. One was filed by Leonard Pozner and his former wife, Veronique De La Rosa, and the other was filed by Neil Heslin. Their sons, Noah Pozner and Jesse Heslin, both 6, were killed at Sandy Hook.

The suits focus on comments made by Mr. Jones in the past year. In a segment on his radio show called “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed,” which aired on April 22, 2017, Mr. Jones highlighted an interview that Ms. De La Rosa did with Anderson Cooper of CNN after the shooting. While they are standing outside a downtown Newtown building, Mr. Cooper turns his head to face her.

During that quick head movement, Mr. Cooper’s nose seems to disappear — evidence, Mr. Jones said, that the interview with Ms. De La Rosa was conducted in a studio. In reality, the glitch is known as a compression artifact, a distortion that is common in video encoding.\

Mr. Jones suggests it means they are both actors. “When he turns, his nose disappears repeatedly because the green screen isn’t set right,” he said.

A few months later, in June, Mr. Jones was profiled on NBC’s “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly,” which brought up his past comments about Sandy Hook. Ms. Kelly also interviewed Mr. Heslin, who recalled seeing his dead son.

“I held my son with a bullet hole through his head,” Mr. Heslin told her.

But a week later in an Infowars video, Owen Shroyer, who works for the site, argued that it was “not possible” that Mr. Heslin held his dead son because the medical examiner said he showed photographs to the parents to identify their children.

“Will there be a clarification from Heslin or Megyn Kelly?” Mr. Shroyer said. “I wouldn’t hold your breath.”

The next month, Mr. Jones replayed part of that Infowars video on his show. “The stuff I found was they never let them see their bodies,” Mr. Jones said. “That’s kind of what’s weird about this. But maybe they did.”

Both lawsuits were filed in Travis County District Court in Austin, where Mr. Jones lives, broadcasts his show and operates Infowars. The parents are seeking at least $1 million in damages.

“The statements 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 parents’ lawsuits said.

More from The Huffington Post:

Alex Jones has spent years claiming the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School ― where a shooter killed 20 small children and six adults ― was faked. He has claimed the parents of these dead children are liars and “crisis actors.”

Now, those parents are coming after him.

In a pair of lawsuits filed late Monday, the parents of two children who died in the December 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, say Jones’ repeated lies and conspiratorial ravings have led to death threats. The suits join at least two other recent cases accusing the Infowars host of defamation.

Neil Heslin, the father of a 6-year-old boy killed in the shooting, and Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, who lost their own little boy, filed the suits in Austin, Texas, where Jones’ conspiracy-minded media outlet is based. Each suit is seeking more than $1 million in damages from Jones, Infowars and a related company, Free Speech Systems LLC. Infowars reporter Owen Shroyer is also named in one of the suits.

“Even after these folks had to experience this trauma, for the next five years they were tormented by Alex Jones with vicious lies about them,” Mark Bankston, the lawyer handling the cases for the parents, told HuffPost. “And these lies were meant to convince his audience that the Sandy Hook parents are frauds and have perpetrated a sinister lie on the American people.”

(…)

Heslin’s suit focuses on what it calls a “heartless and vile” claim of Shroyer’s: that the father lied in an interview with NBC News’ Megyn Kelly about holding his dead son’s body.

I lost my son. I buried my son. I held my son with a bullet hole through his head,” Heslin told Kelly in the June 2017 segment profiling Jones.

Days after the segment aired, Shroyer told Infowars viewers that Heslin could not have held his son because victims were identified through photographs, not in person.

“That’s not something you would just misspeak on,” Shroyer said during the June 26, 2017, broadcast, which Jones himself plugged a month later.

But that claim is “manifestly false,” Heslin’s suit says: The children’s bodies were eventually turned over to their parents for their funerals.
In the other suit filed Tuesday, Pozner and De La Rosa ― whose son was the youngest victim in the shooting ― are also targeting Jones for calling them liars.

During an April 2017 broadcast on Infowars, Jones discussed an interview De La Rosa gave to CNN’s Anderson Cooper shortly after the tragedy, and claimed the entire thing was faked.

“So here are these holier than thou people, when we question CNN, who is supposedly at the site of Sandy Hook, and they got in one shot leaves blowing, and the flowers that are around it, and you see the leaves blowing, and they go [gestures]. They glitch,” Jones said, according to a transcript quoted in the lawsuit. “They’re recycling a green-screen behind them.”

This was a lie Jones has been repeating for years.

“Folks, we’ve got video of Anderson Cooper with clear blue-screen out there,” Jones said in 2014. “He’s not there in the town square. We got people clearly coming up and laughing and then doing the fake crying. We’ve clearly got people where it’s actors playing different parts for different people, the building bulldozed, covering up everything.”

It’s been five years since the shooting, the lawsuit says, and “Mr. Jones continues to push this sick lie about Mrs. De La Rosa and her interview.”
Infowars’ practice of disseminating outright lies has led to serious consequences for the families of the Sandy Hook victims, the lawsuit says. In June 2017, Florida woman Lucy Richards, then 57, was sentenced to five months in prison for sending threats to Pozner.

“You gonna die,” Richards told Pozner in one recorded voicemail message. “Death is coming to you real soon.”

As part of her sentence, Richards will no longer be allowed to access Infowars, according to the lawsuit.

As of Tuesday morning, Infowars still had blatantly false stories posted on its website claiming the mass shooting was a hoax. ”FBI SAYS NO ONE KILLED AT SANDY HOOK,” screams one headline.

The lawsuits were filed in state court in Travis County, Texas, which is where Jones lives and broadcasts his radio show from. So far I’ve been unable to obtain copies of the Complaints, but given that defamation is a fairly standard cause of action across jurisdictions, it’s not too difficult to guess at what the basis of the claims might be in these two cases. As a general rule, a Plaintiff pursuing a claim of defamation must show that there has been a statement or statements made about them that have been published (which includes broadcasting via the Internet, television, or radio), that this statement is false, that they suffered some sort of injury due to the false statement, and that the statement is not covered by some form of privilege. In these cases, there appear to be no questions that the statements regarding these parents were published, or in this case, broadcast, that those statements are demonstrably false and that the parents have been injured in some respect by these false statements. It also does not appear that the statements would be covered by any applicable privilege.

One legal question that may need to be dealt with in this case is the question of whether or not these parents are “public figures.” This distinction is important because of the ruling made by the Supreme Court in New York Times v. Sullivanwhere it ruled that a party that the First Amendment requires that individuals who are considered “public figures” must allege and establish that the defamatory statement was made with what the Court called “actual malice.” In the relevant section of its opinion in that 1964 case, the Court put it this way:

A rule compelling the critic of official conduct to guarantee the truth of all his factual assertions — and to do so on pain of libel judgments virtually unlimited in amount — leads to a comparable “self-censorship.” Allowance of the defense of truth, with the burden of proving it on the defendant, does not mean that only false speech will be deterred. Even courts accepting this defense as an adequate safeguard have recognized the difficulties of adducing legal proofs that the alleged libel was true in all its factual particulars. See, e.g., Post Publishing Co. v. Hallam, 59 F. 530, 540 (C.A. 6th Cir. 1893); see also Noel, Defamation of Public Officers and Candidates, 49 Col.L.Rev. 875, 892 (1949). Under such a rule, would-be critics of official conduct may be deterred from voicing their criticism, even though it is believed to be true and even though it is, in fact, true, because of doubt whether it can be proved in court or fear of the expense of having to do so. They tend to make only statements which “steer far wider of the unlawful zone.” Speiser v. Randall, supra, 357 U.S. at 526. The rule thus dampens the vigor and limits the variety of public debate. It is inconsistent with the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The constitutional guarantees require, we think, a federal rule that prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made with “actual malice” — that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.

The question of whether or not a person qualified as a “public figure” has been the subject of much litigation in the years since Sullivan was decided, and it can often be difficult to determine when a particular individual qualifies for this distinction. One could make the case, for example, that the fact that these parents have made themselves available for press interviews in the years since the shooting means that they, at the least, qualify as “limited purpose public figures” in that they have “thrust themselves to the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved.” In this case, that particular controversy would be the issue of gun control and how we ought to respond to events like Sandy Hook or the Sandy Hook Shooting. On the other hand, one could argue that these parents are merely speaking as parents whose children were shot by a madman and that they haven’t voluntarily “thrust themselves” into a public debate merely by speaking to the press. However one resolves that issue seems immaterial to me, though. Even if these parents are considered “public figures” for purposes of these claims, it seems clear that there is sufficient evidence for the “actual malice” that the Sullivan standard requires. At the very least, it seems clear that Jones made or published via his website the defamatory statements in question with “reckless disregard” of whether or not they were true or false. Therefore, Jones would still be liable even if he were successful in arguing that the Plaintiffs are “public figures.”

These aren’t the only lawsuits that Jones is facing for comments he has made in the past regarding conspiracy theories. Last month, for example, the same Texas attorney representing the parents in these lawsuits filed a suit against Jones on behalf of a Massachusetts man who they falsely identified as the shooter in the February 14th school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Additionally, last month the man who recorded the deadly car attack at last July’s racist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia filed a defamation suit against Jones after Jones had referred to him a “deep state shill” and a “CIA asset” who helped organize the attack. Both of those statements are untrue, of course, but Jones continued to make them even after the truth became apparent. In other words, it appears that the chickens are coming home to roost for Alex Jones. He deserves it.

Update: Here is the Complaint filed in Heslin v. Jones et al:

Heslin v. Jones Et Al by Doug Mataconis on Scribd

And here is the Complaint filed in Pozner v. Jones et al:

Pozner v. Jones Et Al by Doug Mataconis on Scribd

FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, Law and the Courts, Media, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. teve tory says:

    Jones could try to claim that he made an honest mistake, but IIRC last year in the custody case his lawyer told the court that he doesn’t really believe what he says, it’s just an entertainment act. I wonder if this will factor into the case.




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  2. Hal_10000 says:

    Good for them. I find entertainment value in conspiracy theories, but this crisis actor nonsense crosses a bright line for me. I am sure, as teve noted above, Jones will claim he’s just an entertainer. Even if that lets him off the hook, that needs to be broadcast 24-7. I’ve recently had a close relative have trouble in their life because of a similar charlatan who makes bold claims than scuttles behind, “I’m just an entertainer”. To hell with them. This legal two-step has to stop.




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  3. Yes I recall that defense in the custody battle. As you said it will be interesting to see if he tries to make that claim in response to these lawsuits and in response to the Parkland and Charlottesville lawsuits.




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  4. CSK says:

    @teve tory:
    Indeed. His lawyer called Jones a “performance artist.”




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  5. Kathy says:

    I wish he could be sued for every last penny he owns, and then some.




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  6. CSK says:

    @Kathy:

    Impoverished and muzzled would be very good.




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  7. grumpy realist says:

    Doug: This is why I think IIED should also be used much more.




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  8. Facebones says:

    It takes a special kind of ghoulishness to stomp on the grave of five and six year old children and pretend it was a “false flag” or they were all actors, rather than admit that a lunatic with easy access to a gun killed 20 children.

    If Jones actually believes that, it’s terrible. If he doesn’t believe it and is instead maligning grieving parents for fun and profit, then he is reprehensible and deserves to be bankrupted and put in a pillory and be pelted with eggs.

    I hope those parents end up owning all of InfoWars and everything that creep owns.




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  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    One could make the case, for example, that the fact that these parents have made themselves available for press interviews in the years since the shooting means that they, at the least, qualify as “limited purpose public figures” in that they have “thrust themselves to the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved.”

    It should be noted a lot of those media appearances occurred after the original claim by Alex Jones, so they would fall under the “bootstrapping” exception. That is, the defendant can’t claim the public figure defense if the potentially-defamatory claim is what caused the plaintiff’s public notoriety to begin with.




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  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Merely impoverished is too good for him. May he be afflicted with all the maladies and troubles of Job.




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  11. Kylopod says:

    @teve tory:

    but IIRC last year in the custody case his lawyer told the court that he doesn’t really believe what he says, it’s just an entertainment act.

    Jones then went on the air and told his audience that he was for real, contradicting his own lawyer.

    In any case, I don’t think the lawyer’s argument helps him very much (it certainly didn’t in the divorce settlement). The lawyers here can correct me if need be, but I think he’d have to show not just that he intended his on-air persona as an act, but that he reasonably made this clear to his audience with some kind of disclaimer.

    For those who have the time, check out the recent 24-minute interview with Jones’ ex-wife. She suggests he’s largely not an act, that if anything he may be an even more unhinged person in real life than on his show.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebByb9JJgJg&t=1s

    It’s also worth noting that he’s currently being charged by ex-employees for sexual harassment, racism, and anti-Semitism in private.




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  12. Kathy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Not all. his children are innocents in this.




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  13. Monala says:

    One of the plaintiffs, Leonard Pozner, used to be a follower of Alex Jones and a major conspiracy theorist himself. It’s very sad that he had to learn the truth about Jones in the most heartbreaking way possible.

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/02/sandy-hook-school-hoax-massacre-conspiracists-victim-father




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  14. teve tory says:

    For those who have the time, check out the recent 24-minute interview with Jones’ ex-wife. She suggests he’s largely not an act, that if anything he may be an even more unhinged person in real life than on his show.

    Joe Rogan claims to be friends with Jones, and says that Jones is, in fact, honest and batshit crazy. FWIW.




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  15. Slugger says:

    The death of a child is a terrible loss, and I can imagine only one thing worse and that is to suffer the desecration of their memories that Jones tried to perpetrate. This grievous wrong can not be erased. However, I hope that the court will express the outrage of all people and deliver a sentence that will be noted by other potential wrongdoers.




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  16. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Alex Jones is the type of a-hole who makes me hope Hell is real. To make money off the deaths of massacred children…I hope they win and bankrupt the %^$^%&^$#@@!!




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  17. Barry says:

    @CSK: “Impoverished and muzzled would be very good.”

    A good start.




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  18. Franklin says:

    “public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct”

    IANAL, but that ruling’s phrase of “official conduct” implies to me that the public official is actually, you know somebody who works for the government. If this is supposed to be analogous to a public *figures* then I guess it’s only the parents’ conduct as public figures that is exempt from libel laws unless it was done with actual malice. This analogy barely makes any sense to me. A government official does stuff at work and then goes home. Up to a point, you can libel him for his work, but you can’t libel him about stuff at home. How would those two things be separated for someone who is simply a dead kid’s parent in all cases?




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  19. By way of an update, I have tracked down copies of the Complaints in these two case and posted embedded copies in an update to the original post.




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