AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Lawyers for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones asked a Texas court on Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit against him and his InfoWars website filed by parents of two children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre who accused him of defamation.
FILE PHOTO: Alex Jones from Infowars.com speaks during a rally in support of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump near the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo
Jones, who lives in Travis County, Texas, has used his media platform to call the mass shooting at an elementary school that killed 26 people a hoax, and suggested a political cover-up took place by left-wing forces seeking to take advantage of the shooting to promote gun control.
Mark Enoch, an attorney for Jones, described his client as a political commentator and played a 2017 video of a broadcast where Jones said he did not believe the Sandy Hook shooting took place.
“Maybe it’s fringe speech. Maybe it’s dangerous speech, but it is not defamation,” he told Judge Scott Jenkins, who has 30 days to rule on the motion to dismiss the case.
In 2013, Jones called the massacre “staged” and continued to stoke his conspiracy theory for years.
“Sandy Hook is a synthetic, completely fake, with actors, in my view, manufactured,” he said in a January 2015 broadcast.
Although his theory is false, people who believe Jones have for years harassed and taunted families of the victims, court papers showed and the families have said. Some families said they have been subjected to death threats and been forced to move several times in an effort to escape harassment.
The lawsuits filed in April by Leonard Pozner, Veronique De La Rosa and Neil Heslin seek at least $1 million in damages. Each claims Jones repeatedly asserted the Sandy Hook shootings were staged and that the parents were liars and frauds who helped in a cover-up, according to court documents.
The parents have said Jones has engaged in a campaign of “false, cruel, and dangerous assertions,” court filings showed.
Mark Bankston, an attorney for the parents, told the judge that InfoWars viewers understood Jones as alleging the parents were part of a criminal conspiracy, and the parents have suffered emotional and reputational damage from harassment from Jones’ followers and his false allegations.
A gunman killed 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012, in an attack that ranks among the five deadliest mass shootings by a single gunman in U.S. history.
Facebook (FB.O) last week suspended Jones from its social network for bullying and hate speech, after Google’s YouTube removed four of his videos from its site.
The lawsuits in Texas were the first defamation cases brought by parents of Sandy Hook victims against Jones. He is also facing civil action in Connecticut in a lawsuit by additional Sandy Hook parents.
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Bill Berkrot