These days, violent events like mass shootings become breeding grounds for conspiracy theories. Recent lawsuits are trying to change that, by targeting one of the main reasons for this trend: Alex Jones.
On Tuesday, three parents who lost children in the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting sued Jones for defamation. Jones once said that Sandy Hook was “completely fake with actors,”and his voice has grown louder since.
His main YouTube channel now has 2.3 million subscribers, double what it was three years ago. Part of that growth comes from his connection to Donald Trump, who has previously praised what he believes is Jones’s “amazing” reputation.
Two other lawsuits, from targets of other conspiracy theories amplified by Jones, were filed over the past month.
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“It’s clearly a moment where people are saying ‘enough is enough,'” said Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland who specializes in online privacy, in an interview last month.
These suits are part of a growing trend: A woman in Montana teamed up with the Southern Poverty Law Center to sue the neo-Nazi who ran the Daily Stormer, saying the site was harassing her.
Still, such cases are relatively untested legal territory. And Citron said that “bringing these sorts of lawsuits . . . comes with risk” of further harassment. But increasingly, that’s a risk the victims of conspiracy theories are taking.
Here is a breakdown of the three groups that have cases against Jones:
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The Sandy Hook parents
Three parents who lost children in the Sandy Hook shootings are suing Jones for defamation in two separate lawsuits, filed by the same Texas-based attorneys. The complaints say that Jones and other Infowars hosts were part of a “continuation and elaboration of a years-long campaign to falsely attack the honesty of the Sandy Hook parents, casting them as participants in a ghastly conspiracy and cover-up.”
Neil Heslin lost his son Jesse Lewis, 6, in the Sandy Hook shooting. Heslin is suing Jones and Infowars host Owen Shroyer.
In 2017, Megyn Kelly interviewed some of the victims of Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists, as part of a story on Alex Jones. Heslin spoke about his experience of the shooting’s aftermath: “I lost my son. I buried my son. I held my son with a bullet hole through his head,” he said.
Shroyer responded to Heslin in a video a few days later by claiming it was “not possible” for Heslin to have held his son. According to the complaint, Shroyer’s claim was based on incomplete information about how the medical examiner’s office processed and identified the bodies of the victims after the shooting.
Jones re-aired Shroyer’s disproven accusation days later, saying, “Quite frankly, the father needs to clarify, NBC needs to clarify.” In that same segment, Jones said “you can’t blame people for asking” whether Sandy Hook was a hoax or not.
The other parents suing Jones are Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, who lost their son Noah Pozner in the mass shooting. Leonard Pozner has become one of the more visible victims of attacks from Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists, after he and his family were intensely targeted for harassment. In July of last year, a Sandy Hook conspiracy believer was sent to prison for threatening Pozner.
The suit primarily has to do with a video from April of last year, “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed,” in which Jones commented on a CNN interview between De La Rosa and Anderson Cooper. Watching the video, Jones said:
“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. They’re recycling a green-screen behind them.”
In the one-hour video, which is still available on YouTube, Jones walked through several other points that conspiracy theorists cite as proof the shooting was faked. For instance, “they had Port-A Potties being delivered an hour after it happened, for the big media event.”
Each suit, filed in Travis County District Court in Texas (where Jones and Infowars is based), asks for more than $1 million in damages.
Jones and Shroyer have not yet commented on the lawsuits. Jones now says he believes children died at Sandy Hook, but still says he still believes there are “anomalies.”
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The man who filmed the deadly Charlottesville protests
Brennan Gilmore was in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017, when a car plowed through a group of counterprotesters who opposed a white nationalist rally. His camera captured the car as it approached the group, and then as it sped, backwards, away from the scene.
It was the deadly incident that left 32-year-old Heather Heyer dead. James Fields, who has identified himself as a neo-Nazi, now faces a first degree murder charge.
Gilmore tweeted the video and it went viral.
When The Post spoke with Gilmore and his attorney Andrew Mendrala in March, he was still getting threats related to the conspiracy theory that developed around him, falsely accusing him of being a CIA operative who helped to stage the attack.
Gilmore is suing Jones and other right-wing Internet personalities for defamation.
Jones said in one video that Gilmore “worked for John Podesta.” His YouTube channel showed videos of Gilmore on the news, as Jones accused him of being a “State Department insider with a long history of involvement in psy-ops.” An Aug. 20 Infowars video about Gilmore has more than 30,000 views on YouTube.
As a result of these conspiracy theories, “Gilmore was physically accosted on the street in Charlottesville by an unknown person,” the complaint said. In another incident, Gilmore received a letter at his parents’ address with a suspicious powdery residue and a letter explaining why Mr. Gilmore would “burn in hell.”
Gilmore and his attorneys at the Georgetown Law Civil Rights Clinic are specifically seeking a jury trial in a federal court in Virginia in order to “set a precedent,” Gilmore said.
The hope is that their case will “blunt their ability to do to others what they did to me,” Gilmore said.
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Falsely accused Parkland shooter
If you spent any time on the conspiracy fringes the hours after the Parkland school shooting, you might have seen Marcel Fontaine’s photograph. He’s wearing a red shirt with a hammer and sickle, his fist raised in the air. There are several figures on the shirt: Lenin, and Stalin, for instance. They’re holding red solo cups, as if they are at a party.
Tweets falsely saying the photo depicted Nicholas Cruz got thousands of retweets on social media. As Snopes noted, 4chan had first posted and mocked Fontaine’s photo a few days before the shooting.
As the photo spread, the conspiracy Internet picked it up as an authentic image of the shooter, citing it as proof of his political leanings. Infowars used the headline “Reported Florida Shooter Dressed as Communist, Supported ISIS.” That article now has a “retraction, clarification, and correction” at the top of the story.
Although the image was only on Infowars for a few hours, the lawsuit says Fontaine still faces “ridicule, harassment, and threats of violence” from those who believe it is authentic and that he is part of a “false flag” operation.
The suit was filed earlier this month in Travis County District Court in Texas, by the same team of attorneys representing the Sandy Hook parents.
Infowars did not return a request for comment on these lawsuits.