In a career of relentless controversy, no story has dogged Jones like Sandy Hook…
In the past, Noah Pozner, one of the 20 children killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was referred to by Jones as Leonard Pozner’s and Veronique De La Rosa’s “supposed son” or a child who “reportedly” died, Bankston said.
“Compelling Mr. Jones to admit in a legal pleading that Plaintiffs’ son truly died was an important step towards safety and justice for this family,” Bankston wrote. “But it is not the last.”
It is one of five defamation lawsuits against Jones now working their way through the courts — three brought by Bankston in Jones’ home turf of Austin — that collectively threaten Jones’ long and enormously lucrative run as the nation’s premier conspiracy theorist, a formerly outsider role that has made Jones, in this topsy-turvy political moment, one of President Donald Trump’s most influential media allies and defenders.
If the Travis County Sandy Hook case makes it to trial, it could become an epic courtroom showdown, heading into Trump’s re-election campaign, over where to draw the line between free speech and libel in an era of competing claims of “fake news.”
Bankston and Dallas attorney Mark Enoch, representing Jones, will be in a Travis County courtroom Wednesday arguing over Enoch’s motion to dismiss the defamation case under the Texas Citizens Participation Act — a law unanimously passed by the Legislature in 2011 and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry that was intended to protect citizens’ First Amendment rights from meritless claims intended to silence them. Bankston said the law is being invoked in this case as nothing more than a stalling tactic.
Enoch argues that the suit is a “strategic device” to silence Jones “as well as anyone else who refuses to accept what the mainstream media and government tell them, and prevent them from expressing any doubt or raising questions.”
“The purpose of this lawsuit is to create new Texas law that open Texas’ citizens to civil liability should they openly question the government and/or craft any type of ‘conspiracy theory’ or differing view to that which is reported by the mainstream media,” Enoch said.
The lawsuit, according to Enoch, is really intended to undermine the Second Amendment by going after Jones’ First Amendment rights.
“His audience grew in large part because people agreed with his opinions about the Second Amendment and his opinion that corporate media and liberal elected and appointed officials had historically worked to limit gun owners’ rights, sometimes deceptively, and could not be trusted to preserve the rights of gun owners under the Second Amendment,” Enoch said. “As his audience grew, his voice became more powerful.”
The suit, Enoch said, is about silencing that voice and is only the latest effort in what he contends is Pozner’s and De La Rosa’s public campaign against Jones, “all in their quest to outlaw conspiracy theories, assault rifles, high-capacity clips and to increase firearm registration requirements.”
The plaintiffs, all of whose lives were turned upside down when they found themselves on the wrong side of Jones’ reports, are determined to demonstrate, in painstaking detail, that Jones is a willful propagator of fake news and that he peddles stories promoted as fact, that he knows or should know are false, to an often credulous audience, at least a few of whom are all too willing to act on Jones’ false information with sometimes perilous results.
The spine of Bankston’s case is provided by an exhaustive analysis of Jones’ brand of journalism by Fred Zipp, the former editor of the Austin American-Statesman, who since 2012 has been teaching at the University of Texas, where he supervises a digital media initiative known as Reporting Texas.
“I was aware of InfoWars’ extremely poor reputation in the media industry with respect to the reliability of the information it publishes, and I also knew that Mr. Jones had alleged the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a government hoax involving actors,” Zipp writes in his 26-page affidavit, which is accompanied by 172 pages of transcripts from Jones’ broadcasts.
“While the site purports to be a news and information operation it is actually a propaganda site for Mr. Jones’ theories about a global conspiracy to control and enslave the world’s population,” Zipp writes. “In Mr. Jones’ view, communists are active participants in the conspiracy, and depriving citizens of access to firearms is a tactic used in enslaving the population.”
Jones is broadcast on more than 160 radio stations, his YouTube channel has more than 2.4 million subscribers, and InfoWars had nearly 24 million page views in June, according to Alexa.com, which tracks website traffic.
Jones, 44, began his broadcasting career in Austin on local cable access and talk radio, and, as Zipp notes, “Mr. Jones’ rise to notoriety coincided with his assertions that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were orchestrated by the U.S. government.”
Since then, Zipp writes, “a major element of Mr. Jones’ brand is built on his allegations that major national tragedies are actually the results of orchestrated government actions.”
“Mr. Jones’ pattern of predictably asserting that events are ‘false flags,’ sometimes within hours of the event, is circumstantial evidence that Mr. Jones recklessly disregarded whether his broadcast was true in this case,” Zipp said of InfoWars’ Sandy Hook coverage.
“Alex Jones and InfoWars generally have a signature style: rapid-fire assertion of various data points with little or more often, no attribution,” Zipp said in the brief. “The assertions are presented to the viewer as facts. Underlying the presentation is the premise that Jones is at war with ‘the globalists’ and that he wins the war by marshaling his assertions more effectively than they do. In traditional journalism, by contrast, attributing assertions to sources is an essential element of the work, and the attribution becomes more important in proportion to the seriousness of the facts asserted.”
But, Zipp concluded, in its reporting on Sandy Hook, Jones and company “failed to use reasonable care to ascertain the accuracy of their statements” and, in Zipp’s opinion, they “entertained serious doubts about the truth of their statements.”
“Given the evidence I have reviewed, I conclude that the statements by InfoWars were published with reckless disregard for falsity,” Zipp said.
John Clayton, a talk radio host using the name Jack Blood who worked closely with Jones from 2002 to 2009, says he broke ties with Jones because he “no longer had any commitment to the principles and philosophy of the independent media movement.”
“One of those principles is the practice of rigorous journalism. In alternative media, it is imperative that we get our facts right,” Clayton states in his own affidavit. “Near the end of my work with Mr. Jones, it became apparent that he had made the conscious decision not to care about accuracy. He made it clear that his goal was to produce views on InfoWars content.”
“I personally observed countless situations in which Mr. Jones made claims on the air for which he knew he had no substantiating evidence,” he said.
In a career of relentless controversy, no story has dogged Jones like Sandy Hook.
On Dec. 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother at their Newtown, Conn., home, drove to Sandy Hook where he fatally shot 20 children between 6 and 7 years old and six adult staff members, and then turned the gun on himself.
“For years I have been very, very clear that I think Sandy Hook happened, but that there was PR involved, and CNN and others basically didn’t want to let a good crisis go to waste,” Jones told the American-Statesman when the suit was filed in April.
In a parallel defamation case brought by other Sandy Hook parents in Connecticut, Jones’ attorneys — Jay Wolman of Hartford, Conn., and Marc Randazza of Las Vegas — filed a motion July 20 to dismiss the suit that contends that Jones “firmly believes” that the Sandy Hook shooting “was not a hoax,” but that, “as a proponent of free and open debate, he permitted others to state their opinions that it was a hoax and comment on the evidence in support of those opinions.”
Citing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s reliance on anonymous source Deep Throat in their Watergate coverage, Jones’ Connecticut motion argues that “to stifle the press (by making them liable for merely interviewing people who have strange theories) will simply turn this human tragedy into a Constitutional one.”
But in his affidavit, Zipp catalogs statement after statement, show after show, year after year, in which Jones described the Sandy Hill shooting as “staged,” as “scripted,” “a giant hoax,” “the whole thing was a fake,” “synthetic, completely fake with actors, in my view, manufactured,” “I did deep research and it pretty much didn’t happen,” and “as phony as a three-dollar bill.”
“He has continued to repeat this lie for years, and he gave a platform to other malicious liars,” Pozner said in his deposition. “He was relentless in stating the event was fake and that my family was part of a cover-up.”
Pozner had been conspiracy-minded, an Alex Jones listener who told New York Magazine that “I probably listened to an Alex Jones podcast after I dropped the kids off at school that morning.”
But in 2015, Pozner started an organization called the HONR Network, focused on taking down online “hoaxer” content and drawing Jones’ ire.
“Mr. Jones has specifically targeted me in his broadcasts,” Pozner says in his deposition. “For example, when I was successful in having an InfoWars hoax story removed from YouTube, Mr. Jones went on an angry rant about me for nearly an hour. During this Feb. 12, 2015, broadcast, he also hosted a call with an obsessed fellow conspiracy theorist who issued a threat to me. Mr. Jones then showed his audience my personal information and maps to addresses associated with my family. Mr. Jones stated he would personally visit Florida to come investigate me.
“In the years since the shooting, my family and I have been forced to move seven times. I maintain post office boxes in multiple cities to confuse conspiracy fanatics. My utility accounts are not in my name. To this day, conspiracy fanatics routinely exchange the latest personal information they have been able to discover about my family or post our personal details online.”
In 2016, Lucy Richards, who lived in the same Florida county where the Pozner family had moved after the tragedy, began stalking them, leaving death threats by voicemail and email. She was arrested, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five months in prison followed by five months under house arrest.
Richards was motivated to do what she did by listening to Jones, and her sentence prohibited her from listening to him after her release, Bankston said.
Bankston said that Jones in an April 22, 2017, video, “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed,” “revived his sick campaign of lies, telling viewers that Sandy Hook was staged and that the media coverage, including Plaintiff Veronique De La Rosa’s interview with Anderson Cooper in the days following the shooting, had been faked,” and that their son and other victims “could not have attended Sandy Hook Elementary because the school had actually been closed,” which was not true.
That video proved crucial to the case because it restarted the one-year statute of limitations on defamation claims.
“I have tried for over five years to remain strong in the face of Mr. Jones’ endless abuse. I had dedicated my life to debunking the conspiracy theory he spread. I’ve spent countless hours online in a struggle to preserve and safeguard my son’s memory,” Pozner said in his affidavit. “But after viewing Mr. Jones’ broadcast from April 22, 2017 breathing new life into those lies, I have come to realize that my son’s legacy will never be pure. It will always be tainted by this ugly footnote. There will be an asterisk on my son’s name that Mr. Jones created. When the story of my son is remembered by history, it will be forever tied to this horrible man.”
Jones’ central claim is Anderson Cooper’s interview with De La Rosa was not actually conducted in Newtown as it was purported to be, but rather in a studio in front of a blue 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 blue 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 post-production 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.
“It is my opinion that InfoWars either had knowledge of the falsity of its statements, or made those statements while having serious doubts about the truth of those statements,” Fredericks said.
But Enoch contends, “No reasonable reader or listener would interpret Mr. Jones’ statements regarding the possibility of a ‘blue screen’ being used as a verifiably false statement of fact, and even if it is verifiable as false, the entire context in which it is made discloses that the statements are mere opinions ‘masquerading as a fact.’”
Enoch also argues that Jones’ complaints about the supposedly staged interview were directed at CNN, not at De La Rosa, and that the “‘vampires’ in the title of the segment refers to the corporate media.”
That all rings hollow for De La Rosa.
“Beginning just one month following the shooting, Mr. Jones first alleged that I faked an interview with Anderson Cooper, and he cited this lie as key evidence in his claim that Sandy Hook was staged as part of a fraudulent or criminal plot,” she states in her deposition. “He has continued to repeat this lie for years.
“There is no truth to Mr. Jones’ allegation. There was no blue-screen or technical trickery involved in my interview. I did not misrepresent myself to the public or collude with CNN to fake the interview,” De La Rosa says. “The interview was conducted in front of the Edmond Town Hall in Newtown, Connecticut. I am not an actress. I am an ordinary mother who lost her son due to the horrific attack carried out by Adam Lanza.”
“When I viewed the April 22, 2017 video, I realized Mr. Jones will never willingly stop tormenting victims. I became totally despondent and wracked with extreme mental stress,” De La Rosa wrote. “I became both outraged and hopeless. I have suffered extreme insomnia, depression, panic attacks, and bouts of uncontrollable grief.”
“This video has broken me,” she says. “For five years, I have endured Mr. Jones tormenting me and my family.”
In June 2017, Pozner wrote in the Hartford Courant newspaper that “alternative facts” will give way to “alternative history if we allow the village idiots to grow in number and take over the town.”
“The government and the police are bound by the First Amendment to honor the conspiracy theorists’ right to free speech,” Pozner wrote. “Society, however, is free to despise, renounce, shame and shun them; to administer social justice in response to their repugnant world view and wicked deeds. Hoaxers need to be rejected and shamed by their families, their neighbors, their bosses, their co-workers, their friends and their communities.”
These words were cited by Enoch as further evidence that Pozner and De La Rosa are essentially combatants with Jones in the public square and are, as such, in legal terms, “limited use public figures,” meaning that a defamation case must prove not just that the party was harmed by a false statement, but that the statement was made with “actual malice,” requiring that the person making the statement knew it was false or with a reckless disregard about whether it was true or false.
Jones’ comments about Sandy Hook, Enoch contends, were “part of the fierce national debate about gun control in which Plaintiffs were publicly active participants.”
But in her affidavit, De La Rosa said, “The only reason I have any public prominence in the hoax ‘conspiracy,’ is because Mr. Jones and other ‘conspiracy theorists’ have inflicted that publicity upon me, against my wishes.”
Jones can’t make Pozner and De La Rosa into public figures by attacking them, and they don’t become public figures by defending themselves from his attacks, according to a brief on behalf of the plaintiffs by Enrique Armijo, a professor and associate dean for academic affairs at Elon University School of Law in Greensboro, N.C., and a legal scholar who studies the intersection between the First Amendment and online speech.
“Making these plaintiffs prove actual malice in a defamation suit would get the First Amendment backwards,” Armijo said. “It would stifle important public responses to disastrous events in private lives. It would encourage individuals to accept the tragedies that happen to them and swallow them silently.”
Alex Jones faces five defamation lawsuits. His attorneys are seeking to have each of the cases dismissed.
1. Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, the parents of Noah Pozner, who was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, filed suit against Jones in state District Court in Travis County. The suit focuses on what they maintain is a false claim by Jones that De La Rosa was part of a faked interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. There will be a hearing Wednesday on a motion by Jones to dismiss the case.
2. Neil Heslin, the parent of a Sandy Hook victim, filed suit in state District Court in Travis County against Jones and InfoWars host and reporter Owen Shroyer. It focuses on what Heslin maintains is the false claim by Shroyer that Heslin was lying when he said he held his son’s dead body and observed a bullet hole in his head. A hearing is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 30.
3. Marcel Fontaine filed suit in state District Court in Travis County against Alex Jones and Kit Daniels, an InfoWars editor, claiming that in the hours after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., InfoWars published a photograph of Fontaine erroneously identifying him as the Parkland shooter. A hearing on a motion to dismiss the case will be held Thursday.
4. The immediate families of four children and two educators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School filed suit against Jones and others in state court in Connecticut, maintaining that Jones has accused Sandy Hook families of faking their loved ones’ deaths, leading to harassment and death threats against them.
5. Brennan Gilmore filed suit against Jones, InfoWars reporter Lee Ann McAdoo and others in federal court in Charlottesville., Va. While participating in a counterprotest against neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Gilmore filmed on his cellphone the car driving into the crowd killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. His tweet of the video went viral, and he was accused by Jones and the others of being part of a plot to overthrow President Donald Trump. He claims that Jones falsely described him as a “high-level CIA” operative on the “payroll of (George) Soros.”
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