AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — A man who has never been to Florida seeks punitive damages from Alex Jones and InfoWars, claiming they used his photo to falsely portray him as the shooter in the Feb. 14 murders of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
Marcel Fontaine also sued InfoWars’ corporate parent Free Speech Systems, and reporter Kit Daniels on Monday in Travis County Court.
The defamation and conspiracy complaint stems from a Feb. 14 InfoWars article about the identity of the person who attacked Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The article ran under titles, including “Reported Florida Shooter Dressed as Communist, Supported ISIS,” “Florida Shooter Inspired by ISIS – Allahu Akbar,” and “Reported Florida Shooter Discussed ‘Allahu Akbar’ on Instagram Profile.”
Several versions of the article included a photograph of Fontaine, which “conveyed the impression that the photograph depicted the suspected Douglas High School shooter,” the complaint states.
But Fontaine, a Massachusetts resident, says he has never been in Florida and had nothing to do with the mass murders. He says the articles are “manifestly false and have caused him enormous injury and continuing personal harassment.”
Fontaine thinks he was targeted by InfoWars because of a novelty T-shirt he was wearing in the photograph, which depicts historical communist figures “in a state of merriment and intoxication.”
“Mr. Jones and InfoWars have long been consumed with paranoia over the prospect of communist infiltration and indoctrination,” according to the 24-page complaint. “InfoWars has featured hundreds of sensationalist articles and videos focusing on the threat of communist agitation and conspiracies.”
Fontaine says that when InfoWars published his photo for the article, it told its readers it showed the Florida shooter in “communist garb.”
Fontaine’s attorney Mark Bankston, of Houston, told Courthouse News he does believe Fontaine was targeted due to the T-shirt he was wearing, and that InfoWars “disregarded fundamental newsroom ethics due to its desire to politicize the tragedy.”
Fontaine claims InfoWars broadcast his photo to hundreds of millions of people, subjecting him to ridicule and threats from as far away as China.
“Due to defendants’ conduct, plaintiff’s image has been irreparably tainted. InfoWars’ story became a lie told round the world,” the complaint states.
Fontaine says Jones and InfoWars compounded the defamation by calling the mass murders a “false flag” event orchestrated by the government as a pretext to create resentment of conservatives and gun owners.
As a result, even though mainstream news showed the Florida shooter to be Nikolas Cruz, some InfoWars readers think that Fontaine is part of a false flag operation, according to the complaint.
“In other words, Mr. Fontaine continues to suffer harassment and peril even from individuals aware of his identity as a Massachusetts resident, but who nevertheless remain convinced he was part of a horrifying conspiracy. … Due to these events, it is no exaggeration to say that plaintiff’s life remain in genuine peril,” the complaint states.
Bankston added in an interview: “Unless you experience it personally, I think it is difficult for anyone to understand what it’s like for millions upon millions of people to see your face as a mass murderer. That alone would be devastating. But given what he has seen online in the past month, Mr. Fontaine also fears for his personal safety.”
The complaint calls the article the latest example of a “long history of reckless defamation” by Jones and InfoWars that has led to harassment against innocent people.
It cites high-profile incidents in which Jones was accused of defaming victims of tragedies through his promotion of conspiracy theories. This includes the Sandy Hook massacre, in which Jones claimed there was evidence that could lead one to believe “that nobody died there.”
Jones also backed the so-called Pizzagate conspiracy, a supposed secret society of pedophiles operating through a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. One man, allegedly an InfoWars fan, crossed state lines to drive to the pizzeria and fire shots inside it. Jones later apologized for promoting Pizzagate, the complaint states.
More recently, Jones promoted a conspiracy theory that the mass shooting in Las Vegas was a hoax, causing some survivors to face harassment and death threats.
Fontaine says in the complaint that Jones evolved from “a fringe character, little more than a hyperactive carnival barker” to the host of a website that gets has 30 million page views per month.
As a comparison, MSNBC.com receives 40 million monthly visitors.
“Alex Jones is no longer a gimmick or sideshow. His audience rivals that of major cable networks, yet he refuses to exercise the most basic journalistic integrity. What happened to Mr. Fontaine is the predictable result of the reckless practices Mr. Jones has fostered at InfoWars,” Bankston said in the interview.
Fontaine says he demanded that InfoWars issue a correction but it did not reply.
Neither InfoWars nor Kit Daniels responded to emailed requests for comment sent Monday night.
Fontaine seeks at least $1 million in damages for defamation, infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy, plus exemplary damages.
Bankston is with Farrar & Ball.