Imagine the trauma of having your child gunned down in a horrible school shooting. Then imagine some creep trying to make money off of your child’s death by selling a phony story that it had never really happened, that it was all a government conspiracy designed to take people’s guns away, and that your grief was simply a staged part of the plan, your child’s death was faked and you were a “crisis actor.” Imagine then having to witness someone running for the office of the President of the United States telling people that this creep was an “amazing” man, singing his praises, and nodding in approval, on the same morning that fourteen more people were killed with assault weapons.
You can’t imagine that, not for more than a second. No one can. But maybe in that brief second you can understand how the parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012 must feel about radio host and conspiracy purveyor Alex Jones, and why they’re suing him for defamation.
The lawsuit arises from Jones’s extensive popularizing of a theory that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged by the federal government, and that no adults nor children were injured or killed. Rather, he put forward, so-called “crisis actors” portrayed the various parents and relatives of murdered students and educators in the media or appeared in video and photos as victims. Jones also faces a lawsuit on a similar basis in his home county in Texas, which a judge declined to dismiss in August, from the parents of a child killed in the shooting.
Conspiracy theorists have harassed victims’ families, first responders, and some entirely unconnected individuals starting within minutes of the reports coming out about the shooting. Many affected parents, relatives, and others have had to move, often repeatedly, to avoid letters, phone calls, and sometimes in-person confrontations. The FBI agent in this lawsuit, William Aldenberg, was alleged to be “portrayed” by Sandy Hook parent David Wheeler, also a plaintiff in this case
One of the beautiful features of civil litigation is the discovery process, which allows a party to essentially obtain anything (within reasonable limits) that is relevant to his claim. In the case of defamation, the parents of the murdered schoolchildren asked for information that would show Jones knowingly pushed a false conspiracy theory in order to profit from it, regardless of the harm he was likely to cause to the parents and relatives of the murdered kids. On Thursday the Court ordered that Jones must turn over essentially everything he and his connected business possessed that might bear on his state of knowledge, his intent, and how he planned to profit from the murders.
Jones, Infowars, and other connected firms have to provide internal communications, investigative work into the shooting, relevant excerpts from Jones’s 2017 child-custody case, business plans, and marketing data, including website traffic reports. The judge will decide by next week whether Jones must face a deposition from plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The Hartford Courant provides more detail on what Jones must turn over.
Among the documents to which Judge Barbara Bellis granted the families access are business and marketing plans for Infowars, contracts between Infowars and organizations such as Facebook and Twitter, and all communications and/or documents, including letters, memos, emails, text messages, instant messenger logs, regarding Sandy Hook, crisis actors, shooter Adam Lanza and mass shootings.
The only thing exempted was Jones’ tax returns (for now) and his attorney’s work product. An exposition of Jones’ contacts with the right wing media promises to be a useful exercise in determining how rot like this is spread through the conservative universe. And because the major political issue surrounding Sandy Hook is controlling the spread of automatic weapons, it will be interesting to find out what overtures or marketing efforts, if any, Jones had with the NRA or its conduits or representatives.
Jones claims that he was exercising his rights under the First Amendment, and has compared himself to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who helped in large part to uncover the Watergate scandal. In doing so, Jones appears to misconstrue the nature of those journalists’ work, to put it mildly. The First Amendment, as he is finding out, does not provide unlimited protection to maliciously target others with known lies. Even if people like Donald Trump are cruel and ignorant enough to praise him for it.
Plaintiffs’ 394 paragraph complaint suing Jones and the various business entities under his control is here.