The “InfoWars” host who claimed the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax is being sued by the family of one of the children killed. They say they’ve had to move over and over to evade death threats after Alex Jones targeted the boy’s mother.
AUSTIN, Texas — After playing an April 2017 tape of “InfoWars” host Alex Jones conflating lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq with his doubts about the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Jones’ attorney acknowledged that most of those who packed the Austin courtroom Wednesday might fault the well-known conspiracy theorist’s reasoning.
“Maybe it’s fringe speech, maybe it’s dangerous speech,” attorney Mark Enoch said. But he said, “That is not defamation; that’s rhetorical hyperbole at its core.”
Enoch added of Jones’ vast radio and online audience: “It’s what they expect when they tune in.”
Enoch, a Dallas attorney, was arguing before state District Judge Scott Jenkins that he should dismiss the million-dollar defamation lawsuit brought by Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, the parents of a child who was killed in the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting that Jones, over the years, had suggested was a hoax.
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Jones has since admitted the Sandy Hook shooting occurred and Enoch began the hearing by saying that his client wanted “to reiterate the fact that he is sorry for their loss.”
Noah Pozner, 6, was among the 20 children and six adults killed in the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. His parents have sued Jones for defamation in a case that centers on the host falsely claiming on “InfoWars” that De La Rosa taped an interview with CNN in front of a studio “green screen” used for visual effects and not outside a town hall in Newtown.
In the years since Noah’s death, death threats and online harassment from Jones’ supporters have forced his parents to relocate seven times. They now live in a high-security community hundreds of miles from where their 6-year-old is buried.
“I would love to go see my son’s grave and I don’t get to do that, but we made the right decision,” De La Rosa said in a recent interview. Each time the family has moved, online fabulists stalking the family have published its whereabouts.
“With the speed of light,” she said. “They have their own community, and they have the ear of some very powerful people.”
The hearing is a bellwether in three cases, including another in Texas and one in Connecticut, filed by relatives of nine Sandy Hook victims. It comes as the social-media platforms Jones relies upon to spread incendiary claims initiate efforts to curb him.
The day after the Pozner case, in the same courthouse, is a hearing in a separate defamation case against Jones brought by Marcel Fontaine, who was falsely identified on the “InfoWars” website as the gunman in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in February. Fontaine, who lives in Massachusetts, has never visited Florida. The Pozner family and Fontaine are being represented by Mark Bankston of Farrar & Ball, a law firm based in Houston.
The lawsuit was filed in Travis County, Texas, where Jones’ media company is based.
Bankston said Jones presents his opinions as facts and that’s how some listeners, including a Florida woman who in 2016 was sent to prison for death threats against the Pozner family, take them.
“We cannot allow his reckless lies to continue to put their lives in danger,” Bankston said.
After hearing arguments for slightly more than three hours, Jenkins recessed and asked the attorneys to make any additions to the written record he will use to decide whether to dismiss the plaintiff’s motion as without sufficient merit to proceed.
Once he receives all the documents, Jenkins has 30 days to render a judgment.
At issue is whether Jones is in some manner a journalist — and thus responsible for backing up what he contends are facts with evidence — or a polemicist whose every rant is protected speech under the First Amendment.
In the tape played by his attorney, Jones insisted, “Everything I say is documented … we’re so real, they say we’re fake.”
Jones has emerged as an avatar for a “post truth” ethos that flourished online during the last presidential campaign. He gained a national spotlight and millions of followers after Donald Trump appeared on his show during the campaign, praising his reputation as “amazing.” Since then, many of Jones’ bogus theories have targeted Trump’s perceived adversaries and reflect opinions held by his political base.
Last week Jones broadcast a bizarre accusation that Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, was involved in a child-sex ring. In an online broadcast, Jones addressed Mueller while repeatedly imitating firing a handgun, saying: “It’s the real world. Politically. You’re going to get it, or I’m going to die trying.”
On Friday, Facebook removed Jones’ personal page from the site for 30 days, citing “bullying” and “hate speech.”
The company has yet to take any action against the “InfoWars” Facebook page, despite pleas from Sandy Hook parents. Last week, YouTube removed four of Jones’ videos for violating its child-endangerment and hate-speech standards and barred him from livestreaming on the site for 90 days, though his channel remains a main source for his broadcasts.
The videos removed included one called “Prevent Liberalism,” in which a man chokes a child and throws him to the ground.
And on Thursday, the music streaming service Spotify said it has removed some edpisodes from “The Alex Jones Show” podcast for violating its policy on hate content.
Jones’ central claim, repeated in the April 2017 broadcast, is that CNN host Anderson Cooper’s interview with De La Rosa after the Sandy Hook shooting was not conducted in Newtown, as it was purported to be, but rather in a studio in front of a screen presenting an image of Newtown.
As Enoch explains in his motion, “Anderson Cooper’s nose temporarily disappears in this video as he turns his head, which Mr. Jones argues is evidence of technical glitches that often occur when using a … screen. Mr. Jones concluded that … CNN was misrepresenting or faking the actual location of the interview, just as he believes they had been caught doing and admitted to in the past.”
But in an affidavit on behalf of the plaintiffs, Grant Fredericks, a certified forensic video analyst, concludes that Cooper’s disappearing nose was a consequence of postproduction compression, not the use of a blue screen, and that the anomaly Jones observed does not appear on a higher quality version of the interview that has been publicly available on YouTube since April 24, 2013.
In providing live coverage of his lawyer’s effort to dismiss the defamation case against him, Jones — who did not attend the Austin hearing — said Wednesday that Twitter, Facebook and Google, which owns YouTube, are going after him to try to get Trump and gut the First Amendment through him.
“I’m now as demonized as the president,” Jones said on his broadcast Wednesday.
De La Rosa and Pozner were not in court Wednesday, in part because of safety concerns.