In 2012, the unspeakable happened. A madman, armed with rifle designed for war, slaughtered little children in a school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Butchered them. Left their small lifeless bodies bleeding. An act of horror.
The horror deepened when conspiracy theorists began claiming that the parents of the dead children were “actors in an elaborate scheme to enact stricter gun control laws.” The conspiracy theorists asserted that the grief-stricken parents, were, hoaxers; that there had been no slaughter; that the story was fake.
One of the loudest voices promoting this cruel theory has been Alex Jones, “a right-wing conspiracy theorist,” who is a popular radio host, and operates the “conspiracy theory website Infowars.” According to the New York Times, he “has long claimed the shooting was ‘completely fake’ and a ‘giant hoax’ perpetrated by opponents of the Second Amendment.” He “has questioned for years whether 20 children and six adults died in the school massacre in Newtown, Conn.” Haag, M. “Sandy Hook Parents Sue Alex Jones for Defamation, NY Times, April 17, 2018. (All quotes herein are from the Times article).
Now some of the parents are fighting back. On Tuesday, April 17, 2018, three parents whose children were murdered in the school sued Alex Jones for defamation. The tort of defamation is “the offense of injuring a person’s character, fame or reputation by false and malicious statements.” Black’s Law Dictionary, De Luxe Fourth Ed. (1951).
According to the Times, Jones issued “a rambling 10-minute response” to the lawsuit, in which he stated that he “believed Sandy Hook happened.” This comes, however, after repeated statements to the contrary. As the Times reported, the parent’s lawsuits claims that the statements from the Infowars site “were a continuation and elaboration of a years-long campaign to falsely attack the honesty of the Sandy Hook parents, casting them as participants in a ghastly conspiracy and cover-up.”
We will have to see how this lawsuit plays out in court. There is, after all, a right of free speech in the country, guaranteed in the Bill of rights. But it is well-established that there are limits to that speech – You can’t falsely yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, for example. Did Jones act maliciously? Will he and the staff at Infowars fight this lawsuit, or settle?
By all means, let us protect, defend and preserve our Constitutional right of free speech. But let persons like conspiracy theorists beware of making false, malicious and defamatory statements of such cruelty.