AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Lawyers for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones asked a Texas court on Wednesday to dismiss a defamation lawsuit against him and his InfoWars website, filed by parents of two children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre.
Jones, who lives in Travis County, Texas, has used his media platform to call the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that killed 26 people a hoax, and suggested a political cover-up took place by left-wing forces seeking to take advantage of the shooting to promote gun control.
Mark Enoch, an attorney for Jones, described his client as a political commentator expressing his views and played a 2017 broadcast where Jones said he did not believe the Sandy Hook shooting took place. Jones was not in court.
“Maybe it’s fringe speech. Maybe it’s dangerous speech, but it is not defamation,” he told Judge Scott Jenkins, who has 30 days to rule on the motion to dismiss the case.
In 2013, Jones called the massacre “staged” and continued to stoke his conspiracy theory for years.
“Sandy Hook is a synthetic, completely fake, with actors, in my view, manufactured,” he said in a January 2015 broadcast.
Although his theory is false, people who believe Jones have for years harassed and taunted families of the victims, court papers showed and the families have said. The lawsuit filed in April by Leonard Pozner, Veronique De La Rosa seek at least $1 million in damages. They claim they were subject to harassment that forced them to move seven times after Jones claimed the parents were liars and frauds who helped in a cover-up, according to court documents.
Mark Bankston, an attorney for the parents, told the judge that InfoWars viewers understood Jones was alleging that the parents were part of a criminal conspiracy and subjected the parents to years of threats.
A gunman killed 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012, in an attack that ranks among the five deadliest mass shootings by a single gunman in U.S. history.
Facebook (FB.O) last week suspended Jones from its social network for bullying and hate speech, after Google’s YouTube removed four of his videos from its site.
The lawsuits in Texas were the first defamation cases brought by parents of Sandy Hook victims against Jones. He is also facing civil action in Connecticut by additional Sandy Hook parents.
Bankston said after the hearing he sees the cases as a building wave that could topple Jones.
“The dam has broken and people are not scared to come forward. For years, people were afraid to take on Alex Jones,” he said.
Jones’ lawyer declined to speak after to media the hearing.
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Bill Berkrot