Sandy Hook parents plan legal action against Alex Jones

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption Parents of victims, people who knew the victim and family members of victims will also be seeking damages

US TV host Alex Jones could be sued for libel by the parents of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.

They claim a 2014 statement Jones tweeted in which he described some families as “crisis actors” is defamatory.

Lawyers have called for similar suits to be filed against Jones and Infowars, his controversial website.

This could lead to “significant damage” to Jones, say lawyers who have advised Sandy Hook families.

The six children and 20 school staff members died at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Image copyright Sandy Hook Promise Image caption The website Infowars distributes the video in question

Paul Butler, senior partner at law firm Thompson Coburn, which is representing families in the case, said the legal action could potentially be the largest legal challenge against Mr Jones.

He added that suing on behalf of the broader Sandy Hook community was in the best interests of all the victims.

“For the victims of this tragedy and their families to have to take on one of the loudest voices in American politics is an extraordinarily difficult thing,” he said.

“But it is necessary, for the entire community, to hold this poster boy for conspiracy theory accountable for the falsehoods that have become his staple diet and been published in his best-selling books, on his website and through his paid radio broadcasts.

“Every surviving parent and family member deserves to have a peaceful end to this awful battle that has devolved into a personal vendetta against them.”

Exposing facts

US courts have ruled that news organisations are liable for defamation only if their report contains factual inaccuracies that could put the accused at real risk of harm.

In a 2016 report about the same Sandy Hook case, the Campaign Legal Center, a non-profit group which says it works on behalf of free speech and political transparency, said Jones’ statements were false and defamatory.

If the court decides to proceed with a case, claims could include libel, false light invasion of privacy and invasion of publicity.

Jones says his website’s content is based on real-world stories. He believes the Sandy Hook parents staged the shooting to gain sympathy for their children, thus supporting the government’s gun control policy.

Image copyright Infowars Image caption Jones allegedly suggests that parents may have been paid for the tragedy

“A court could find that the Sandy Hook families’ families are literally at risk of becoming victims themselves if their deceased loved ones’ images and quotes are attributed to Sandy Hook performers – and if that were to result in a seizure of all their personal property,” said the organisation.

“[These people] would then be saddled with the grief, expense and burden of restoring their reputation and standing in the community.”

The court could also find that Infowars is liable for defaming Mr Jones if it published defamatory material without his knowledge or consent, Mr Butler said.

Infowars could not be reached for comment.

‘Able to intimidate’

Ben Cooper, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, said some of the potential damages could be in the millions of dollars.

“The question for [Mr Jones] is not whether he is prepared to face any kind of financial penalty,” he said.

“The question for Mr Jones is whether he will be able to intimidate by this action a few grieving parents who have been very public in standing up to him.”

Lawyers have been advising families of victims and others to take action since December.

In an interview with BBC News, Mr Jones acknowledged he was under investigation by the FBI and New York police and said that reporters should approach him directly to speak about Sandy Hook.

But he said he would “never, ever” testify in court.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Experts say Alex Jones could be targeted by the US government over Sandy Hook

“I’ve spoken to the FBI a lot of times about this but they don’t tell me anything,” he said.

“Right now, they just have my kids. They have my family because there’s no concrete proof at all that they were related to the tragedy in Newtown.”

A year after the shooting, a report by the state of Connecticut found that the tragedy was at least partially a result of the shooter’s mental health problems.

More than 150 legal actions have been brought in connection with the shooting by people who lost loved ones at the school.

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