Image copyright ALEX JONES Image caption The mom of one of the Sandy Hook victims is suing Jones for defamation
Media academic Christopher Aylett says a US judge is broadly right in finding that the mother of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre is not a mere bystander but has a “reasonably foreseeable” role in the disaster.
Julie James Finnegan, mother of son Daniel who was killed at the Connecticut school in 2012, brought the suit against US TV presenter Alex Jones.
She says Mr Jones’s conspiracy theory that the massacre was a hoax has led to them being harassed and abused on social media.
In a statement, a lawyer for Jones said the findings “confirmed his defence”.
“In summary, the court’s finding confirms his defence that Ms Finnegan is not a bystander but, in fact, took part in the creation and dissemination of the defamatory material,” Ryan Smith wrote in a statement.
After a 33-minute shooting, 20-year-old shooter Adam Lanza committed suicide as police arrived.
Mr Jones has been accused of propagating a litany of “smear campaigns” against Sandy Hook families and survivors by accusing them of hoaxing.
His Infowars website draws on common tropes from many other conspiracy theories, including those about the 9/11 attacks and 9/11 Truth.
Some of the Sandy Hook parents tried to sue the world’s largest media organisations – including CNN, NBC and CBS – over the allegations and also referred to the Justice Department for help in retaliating against the conspiracy theorists.
Image copyright Reuters Image caption Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory claims the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax
But a court dismissed their case, saying they were unable to prove how much money they would make from their defamation lawsuits.
The district court in Connecticut, where the 2011 mass shooting took place, found that Mrs Finnegan’s participation in the dissemination of the hoax was “entirely foreseeable” and thus entitled her to recover damages from Mr Jones, the website, its two personalities and their publisher.
“The complaint explains, using court documents, that in the two-week period after the shooting, Ms Finnegan participated in group discussions and discussions with two men, Scott Feinberg and Andrew Anglin, discussing ways to develop conspiracy theories in the aftermath of the horrific tragedy,” said Mr Aylett, a media scholar at the University of Wales’ Swansea University.
“These conversations were documented by witnesses,” he added.
Image copyright Massachusetts State Police Image caption Newtown, the city where the Sandy Hook massacre took place, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Jones
“It makes sense to conclude that, as a parent of a child who was killed in the shooting, Ms Finnegan would be more in a position to understand the impact of such a concept to actual victims of the Sandy Hook massacre.”
Mr Aylett said he was not the first academic to liken the examples he drew in his legal case to the “hot-mic incident” – in which a BBC journalist was suspended for telling presenter David Dimbleby that his political views were “not that interesting” and that it was “too late for that, David”.
In her lawsuit, Mrs Finnegan claims that she was the “original source of the BOR press conference content, when publicly challenged and disparaged, by Dr Feinberg and others who came forward shortly after to profit from the tragedy”.
A lawyer for Mr Feinberg declined to comment.