Disinformation and Defamation: Alex Jones and the Sandy Hook Massacre

U.S. Supreme Court Defamation Cases

  • New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964) “A State cannot, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, award damages to a public official for defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves ‘actual malice’––that the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.” For further study: The Editorial Board, “The Uninhibited Press, 50 years later,” New York Times, March 8, 2014. (“Fifty years ago this Sunday, the Supreme Court answered that question with a landmark decision in New York Times v. Sullivan. The ruling instantly changed libel law in the United States, and it still represents the clearest and most forceful defense of press freedom in American history.”)
  • The two companion cases, Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130 (1967) and Associated Press v. Walker, 388 U.S. 130 (1967) acknowledged that “the distinctions between government and private sectors are blurred” and, consequently, many private actors are “intimately involved in the resolution of important public questions.”
  • Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. (1974), created three categories of public persons: (1) the “all-purpose” public figure who hold “persuasive power and influence” or has such “pervasive fame or notoriety”; (2) the “voluntary, limited purpose” public figure who asserts oneself into “the forefront of a particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved; and (3) the “involuntary” public figure who, through no “purposeful action” of their own, is “drawn into a particular public controversy.” The first of these three must prove actual malice.
  • Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. Hepps, 475 U.S. 767 (1986), requires private figures to prove falsity of any alleged defamatory statements.
  • Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1 (1990), held that an “opinion privilege” does not apply to a statement that is objectively false.

Sandy Hook Defamation Cases

  • Jones v. Heslin, No. 03-18-00650-CV (Tex. App. Aug. 30, 2019) (“On Dec. 20, 2019, Travis County Judge Scott Jenkins granted a motion for sanctions and legal expenses against Jones and Infowars, ordering them to pay $65,825 for ignoring a court order about providing documents and witnesses. In another ruling issued that same day in Heslin’s case, Jenkins denied an Infowars motion to dismiss the case and ordered Jones and Infowars to pay an additional $34,323.80, for a combined total of $100,148.80 levied against Jones and Infowars in a single day. Added to an earlier October order against Infowars, Jones and his outlet have been ordered to pay $126,023.80 over the case, even before it reaches trial.” Citation: Will Sommer, “Alex Jones and Infowars Ordered to Pay $100K in Court Costs for Sandy Hook Case,” Daily Beast, December 31, 2019.
  • Leonard Pozner v. James Fetzer, No. 18CV3122 (Dist. Ct. Wis., Dec. 12, 2019). Chris Rickert, “Jury awards Sandy Hook father $450,000 for defamation by local conspiracy theorist.” Wisconsin State Journal, October 16, 2019. (“James Fetzer, a retired professor who lives in the village of Oregon, appears Tuesday with one of his attorneys in Dane County Circuit Court. Fetzer was found in June to have defamed the father of a victim of the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. A jury awarded his victim, Leonard Pozner, $450,000 in damages after his attorneys argued Fetzer’s writing contributed to his post-traumatic stress disorder.”) Earlier developments in Pozner v. Fetzer: “A Wisconsin judge issued a summary judgment in favor of Pozner in a defamation lawsuit against the authors of a book called Nobody Died at Sandy Hook, a 400-page book purporting a series of false claims, including ideas that the mass shooting was a FEMA drill to promote gun control and that the grieving father had fabricated his son Noah’s death certificate, which is a crime in Connecticut… The lawsuit focused narrowly on the claim by James Fetzer and Mike Palecek that Pozner had forged or faked the death certificate, though it also alluded to other convoluted theories advanced by Fetzer on his blog, including the theory that Noah was not Pozner’s son.” Citation: Vanessa Romo, “Sandy Hook Victim’s Father Wins Defamation Suit; Alex Jones Sanctioned” NPR, June 18, 2019.
  • Erica Lafferty v. Alex Jones, Civil Action No. 3:18-CV-1156 (JCH) (D. Conn. Nov. 5, 2018). (Case brought by six families was remanded to state court.) (For further study see plaintiff’s complaint and Jone’s failed motion to dismiss the complaint.)
  • Sherlach v. Jones, NO. 3:2018cv01269 (D. Conn.). (Lawsuit against Alex Jones and Infowars and others by husband of Sandy Hook shooting victim William Sherlach spouse of Mary Sherlach in Connecticut.) (Case remanded to state court. See case docket.)
  • Sandy Hook shootings: Four things revealed by FBI filesBBC News, October 25, 2017.

In the News

For Further Study

Your Progress
Thank you for your thoughtful engagement.