WASHINGTON >> Lawyers for the families of two Sandy Hook shooting victims are accusing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars media business of intentionally destroying evidence relevant to the defamation cases against him, according to a motion filed today in a Texas court.
Jones is being sued by the families of nine Sandy Hook victims for spreading false claims that the 2012 shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 first-graders and six adults was a government-backed hoax, and that the families of the dead were actors.
Jones said on his broadcast last week he had told his staff to delete material after CNN cited Infowars content that violated Twitter’s policies, according to the motion filed today.
Jones has been protesting an unprecedented effort this month by Apple, Facebook, YouTube and other services to remove Infowars content from their platforms for violating policies on hate speech, child endangerment and inciting violence.
At least some of the deleted content was considered evidence in the Sandy Hook cases, and Jones had been informed in writing in April that he was obligated by law to preserve all relevant material, according to the court filing in District Court in Travis County in Austin, Texas.
“As pressure mounted from pending defamation lawsuits and growing public indignation, Mr. Jones chose to destroy evidence of his actual malice and defamatory conduct,” the motion filed on today said. “Infowars deleted critical evidence at the precise moment plaintiff and his experts were attempting to marshal that evidence.”
The suit said it was not known how much content had been deleted, but it included written social media materials and videos. The motion was filed on behalf of Neil Heslin, father of Jesse Lewis, a 6-year-old killed at Sandy Hook, by Mark Bankston, Kyle Farrar and William Ogden of Farrar & Ball in Houston.
Over the five years since the shooting, families of the Sandy Hook victims have been stalked, threatened and subjected to online abuse by Jones’ followers, after he spread false claims about the mass shooting, calling it “synthetic, completely fake with actors, in my view, manufactured,” according to court documents.
Today’s allegations come amid difficult times for Jones and Infowars, which has become symbolic of a national conversation about online standards in a so-called post-truth era, in which false information spreads online to millions in minutes.
Jones peddles diet supplements, survivalist gear and gun-related paraphernalia on radio broadcasts and videos that spread outlandish claims like the government is trying to infringe on Americans’ rights, destroy their health or control their minds.
On Tuesday, Twitter suspended Jones for a week after he posted a link to a video calling for supporters to get their “battle rifles” ready for a fight against the press and others, violating the company’s rules against inciting violence.
Also this week, the Federal Communications Commission shut down a pirate radio station that served as Infowars’ flagship outlet, and which has operated without a federal license since at least 2013, The Austin American-Statesman reported.
today’s motion is the latest legal salvo in three separate defamation lawsuits filed by Sandy Hook families, which seek tens of millions of dollars in damages and pose an existential threat to Jones’ business. Should the court find Jones and Infowars willfully destroyed evidence, he, and possibly his lawyer, could be assessed thousands of dollars in fines and be subject to punitive action. Most important, the material that was destroyed could be presumed by the court as supporting Heslin’s claims against Jones, bolstering his case.
Besides the two cases in Texas, the families of seven more Sandy Hook victims and an emergency medical worker subjected to harassment filed a separate defamation suit against Jones and his associates in May in Connecticut. The families in the larger case are represented by Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, a Bridgeport, Connecticut, firm that also represents Sandy Hook families in a lawsuit against Remington, the maker of the AR-15-style weapon used in the shooting.
The first court appearance in the Sandy Hook lawsuits was in Texas this month, when the court heard arguments in Jones’ motion to dismiss the defamation case brought by Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, the parents of Noah Pozner, a 6-year-old killed at Sandy Hook. A decision is expected early next month. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30 in Jones’ motion to dismiss the second Texas case, brought by Heslin.
A ruling on today’s motion alleging destruction of evidence is expected before the Aug. 30 hearing.
In a recent interview, Jones said he had previously considered removing Sandy Hook-related material from Infowars’ archives. Turning to Rob Dew, another Infowars personality, Jones asked him, “How many years ago did I say, ‘Take all the Sandy Hook videos down because I was tired of them’” — meaning his critics — “’editing them out of context’?”
“We had a big serious meeting about that, actually,” Dew replied. “But then I think in the end we made the decision to leave the stuff up there, because then we could go back and use it as our defense later and say, ‘Look, this is what we really said.’”