AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – An attorney for radio show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones asked a Texas court Wednesday to dismiss a defamation suit brought against him by the parents of Noah Pozner, a 6-year-old murdered in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Jones has peddled false information about the massacre on his InfoWars broadcasts, alleging the shooting was staged as part of a government conspiracy and that the parents of the victims are actors in a plot designed to strip Americans of their Second Amendment rights.
Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, Noah’s parents, sued Jones in April for defamation and are seeking at least $1 million in damages. Jones’ companies — InfoWars and Free Speech Systems — are also named as defendants.
According to their suit, Jones first alleged in a March 2014 InfoWars broadcast that an interview between De La Rosa and CNN’s Anderson Cooper had been faked and filmed in front of a “blue screen.” Jones has repeated this claim several times since then.
“He was relentless in stating the event was fake and that my family were part of a cover-up,” Pozner said in an affidavit.
Pozner said his family has been forced to move seven times since the shooting to escape “conspiracy fanatics” who have harassed them. One such fanatic, Lucy Richards, pleaded guilty to leaving Pozner death threats. She was ordered by a Florida judge to steer clear of InfoWars content as a condition of her probation.
Houston-based attorney Mark Bankston, representing Pozner and De La Rosa, elicited gasps from the packed gallery during the hearing on the motion to dismiss Wednesday when he told the court that Jones shared in a 2015 broadcast the address and a map to the family’s home, after taking a call from a viewer who threatened the family on air.
Because a one-year statute of limitations applies to defamation suits in Texas, the crux of the plaintiff’s case is an April 2017 InfoWars broadcast titled “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed,” wherein Jones repeats his claim that the Anderson Cooper interview with De La Rosa was faked.
“This video has broken me,” De La Rosa said in an affidavit. “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 illness.”
Using a significant portion of his allotted time in court, Jones’ attorney Mark Enoch played nearly 40 minutes of the “Vampire” broadcast, which features Jones ranting about Sandy Hook, America’s involvement in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, and several clips from the 1973 film “Soylent Green.”
Jones claims in this video that he was only playing devil’s advocate when he said in the past that no children died at Sandy Hook, and that while that he doesn’t “know the truth” about what happened, he “knows” that the government – and the mainstream media – lies.
Enoch told presiding Judge Scott Jenkins that Jones is a political commentator and that what he says in his broadcasts is protected political speech.
“You have a rigorous job to make sure free speech is maintained,” Enoch told the judge.
The Dallas-based attorney characterized Jones’ speech as “rhetorical hyperbole” and said that people don’t expect Jones to tell them facts, even though Jones himself says in the video played in the court: “We’re so real, they say we’re fake.” As hyperbolic opinions, Enoch argued, Jones’ statements should be protected by the First Amendment.
According to Jone’s motion to dismiss under the Texas Citizens’ Participation Act, the plaintiff’s case is “the very reason why” the state Legislature passed the act in 2011 to “protect those who express a constitutionally protected right from being targeted with a strategic lawsuit intended to silence them.”
Jones’ attorney said the “Vampire” video does not defame De La Rosa or Pozner.
“The fact that she is in the video does not mean it is concerning her,” Enoch said.
The plaintiff’s attorney conceded that while an ambiguous statement cannot be defamatory, reasonable viewers who heard Jones’ statements did consider them as allegations that plaintiffs engaged in some kind of fraudulent or criminal activity.
Fred Zipp, the former editor of the Austin American-Statesman who examined Bankston’s case, said in an affidavit that “nobody who has been paying attention to Mr. Jones has any ambiguity about the meaning of his claims.”
“It is my opinion that a person of ordinary intelligence could reasonably understand InfoWars’ 2017 statements to accuse Ms. De La Rosa in colluding in an act of technical trickery to simulate her presence in Newtown when she was not actually there,” Zipp said. “A person of ordinary intelligence could reasonably understand that Mr. Jones was claiming this trickery was consistent with a series of deceptions perpetrated by CNN to facilitate violence and abuses of power.”
Jones’ statements also implicate Pozner, as De La Rosa’s husband, Zipp said.
“Additionally, it is clear from my review that Mr. Jones’ statements would be reasonably understood as assertions of fact, not opinions,” Zipp said, citing a 2016 poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University which found that 24 percent of Americans believe Sandy Hook was “definitely” or “possibly” faked.
“We cannot allow his reckless lies to continue,” Bankston told the court Wednesday.
After more than three hours of arguments, the judge decided to recess the hearing until the attorneys conferred to determine the complete record, because there had been so many late-filed and amended documents. He did not give the attorneys a deadline to finalize the record, but indicated that he expected them to do so quickly.
Jones, who did not appear in court Wednesday, faces two other defamation suits in Travis County, including one brought by Neil Heslin, who is also a parent of a Sandy Hook victim. Marcel Fontaine, a Massachusetts resident who says he has never been to Florida, is also suing InfoWars for erroneously identifying him as the perpetrator of the Parkland school shooting.