A federal judge has ruled that Alex Jones’ “InfoWars” host must face defamation claims brought by the families of Sandy Hook victims.
A group of mothers who lost children in the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., sued Jones and InfoWars after they discovered statements about the Sandy Hook tragedy spread by Jones.
In 2014, a federal jury ruled Jones had damaged the residents of Sandy Hook by spreading false information about the case, and they were awarded $1.8 million in damages.
“This is a victory for the #SandyHook families because until now we have not had justice in the years since the tragedy,” said Victoria Jackson, a longtime Jones critic and victim of the Sandy Hook massacre.
“The idea that InfoWars would use Sandy Hook as an excuse to peddle ugly lies is disgusting,” she added.
However, Jones’ claim of a defense of free speech did not survive a legal challenge brought by James Otis, who hosts a similar show on Infowars.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan wrote in his ruling that Otis’ depiction of the case as “a second-rate conspiracy theory far fetched even by most extremists” was inappropriate in light of the case’s “extreme and tragic consequences.”
The plaintiffs in the case are seeking $10 million in damages. A request for comment from Otis was not immediately returned Saturday night.
A statement from Jones’ lawyer, Jim Colson, said, “We are grateful that Judge Sullivan has determined that Mr. Jones cannot be compelled to testify in a malicious and grossly excessive defamation lawsuit that was initiated by a right-wing radio show host. We are currently considering our options with respect to further relief.”
Like Otis, much of Jones’ defense of free speech hinges on his comments after the 2012 shooting, in which he has accused what he called the “elite” media of tarnishing the lives of dead children. Jones’ statements about the case “were wrongly characterized as fraudulent, intentionally misleading, or hurtful to plaintiffs, and Mr. Jones is entitled to the presumption of innocence and the presumption of fair play,” Sullivan wrote.
“The blatant lies made by InfoWars about this tragic tragedy, a story the public already believes is fictitious, were largely accurately understood to be untrue,” the judge wrote. “As the trial court found, their repeated lies about what occurred in the tragedy were perceived by the public to be true.”
But Sullivan also stated that there was some basis for the plaintiffs’ allegations that InfoWars disseminated lies. “Indeed, the website’s lies about what occurred that day raised a real specter of dishonesty and disgust,” he wrote.
The suit and trial were described by many as a defining moment in the country’s ongoing “debate over ‘fake news.’”
In his 2013 claim of defamation, Otis claimed that Jones’ statements about the Sandy Hook massacre defamed him as an individual and damaged his reputation and business as a speaker. In his 2014 statement, Otis contended that Jones’ reputation damage was caused by his defamatory statements about the massacre, specifically whether he fabricated the story that Dylan Hockley, a 6-year-old Sandy Hook victim, was able to escape.
Otis was portrayed as a delusional conspiracy theorist who on numerous occasions praised the Sandy Hook massacre. Otis, a 48-year-old Boston-area resident, has been an outspoken critic of Jones for years.
“I’m proud to stand up for the truth,” Otis said in a 2017 CNN documentary. “But it’s always infuriating when a right-wing radio host begins to jump the shark and uses the tragedies to peddle his truth.”
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