Alex Jones’ Actual Malice
How a Talk Show Host Can Help Defeat the First Amendment
By James F. Tracy
Beginning in April the parents of children said to have perished in the December 2012 Sandy Hook School massacre have filed defamation lawsuits against Alex Jones (e.g. here, here and here) and others claiming the radio talk show host defamed them by repeatedly stating to his audience that the incident was staged. The plaintiffs are requesting an unspecified monetary sum from the defendant, claiming he caused them to be harassed and threatened by parties who share Jones belief that the event was a hoax.
In the event these actions are tried they will in all probability not function as a venue where the veracity of the Sandy Hook event itself can be verified or disproven. Nor will the plaintiffs likely have to provide much if any evidence of harassment or pain and suffering.
The parents’ attorneys assert in one suit that “overwhelming–and indisputable–evidence exists showing what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.” This claim is unanimously (though erroneously) supported by Connecticut State authorities and national news media, and has been accepted as settled fact by a federal judge in Lucyv.Richards.
An open question remains whether the suing parties would need to suppress any countervailing evidence. This is largely because over five years after the Sandy Hook massacre event Jones still routinely exhibits uncertainty on whether or not the shooting was real. It is with this suggestion of “actual malice” that he is setting himself up for an untenable position before a jury.
Sullivanv.NewYorkTimes defined actual malice as a primary requisite for a plaintiff to prevail in bringing a defamation suit. In that famous episode the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an advertisement with factual inaccuracies produced by 1960s civil rights advocates and carried in the Times had not been published with actual malice. The court ruled that under the given circumstances the newspaper’s staff did not run the ad either 1) knowing it was false, or 2) with reckless disregard for the truth.
In the cases at hand Jones’ would-be confusion about Sandy Hook began just hours after the alleged shooting itself, when Jones, perhaps anticipating the mixed orientation of his audience toward the incident, expressed confusion over exactly what took place in Newtown. At the same time, and without any real evidence, he used anonymous callers’ observations to label the event a probable “false flag.” This ambiguity would continue for more than five years.
In the months and years thereafter substantial evidence emerged suggesting the “massacre” was probably a FEMA drill overseen by the Obama administration and presented as an actual attack to lay the groundwork for strengthening gun control legislation. Some of this data was compiled in the book edited by Professor Jim Fetzer, Nobody Died at Sandy Hook.
Instead of inviting Fetzer on to his radio program following the book’s publication and subsequent censorship by Amazon.com in late 2015, Jones ran in the other direction, actually deleting a story by Infowars writer Adan Salazar from his website and thus in effect joining forces with Amazon to suppress that title’s revelations.
Jones conflicted stance toward Sandy Hook is now even mirrored in his attorney Marc Randazza’s public remarks. “We are going to be mounting a strong First Amendment defense and look forward to this being resolved in a civil and collegial manner,” Jones’ counsel Randazza explained to the New York Times, where he continues to note “that Mr. Jones has ‘a great deal of compassion for these parents.'”
Such a statement suggests how the Sandy Hook official narrative as defined by the media (and in the minds of any potential jury member) is shared by the defendant himself and his own legal team.
University of Texas law professor David Anderson contends that Jones’ repeated waffling on Sandy Hook makes him especially vulnerable.
What I understand is that he’ll say these things at one point, and then later on, he’ll say, “Of course I know that wasn’t true.” If he says things, and then says he knows it wasn’t true, he’s in trouble. If he consistently says, “I never claimed that to be true,” then he’s probably on more solid ground.
Because Jones’ confusing array of broadcast utterances on Sandy Hook are all a matter of public record it will not be difficult for the “prosecution” to demonstrate Jones’ confusion amounts to a “reckless disregard for truth.”
Further, since Jones’ public persona precedes him and given the fact that jurors are often impressionable and will surely not be avid “Infowarriors,” plaintiffs’ counsel will likely find it easy to depict Jones as a devious and malicious actor. Unfortunately, these are all a jury needs to be fed to affirm the parents’ claims.
Jones’ uncertainty on the Sandy Hook massacre is especially unusual for a figure who is the self-proclaimed “founding father of the 9/11 truth movement,” and who for over two decades been the country’s most prominent “conspiracy theorist.”
Moreover, Jones strongly-voiced political opinions in many areas is what his fans find most appealing. In light of this the broadcaster has waffled so much on Sandy Hook that it’s difficult not to believe that he isn’t a pre-designated foil in a broader play to defeat what’s left of speech freedoms in the United States. It’s at least for certain that Jones is not any truth movement’s most desirable ally.