Tensions between American citizens are higher than ever with no sign of slowing down any time soon and there’s ample evidence that the 2016 election played a significant role in widening those divides. Trump’s presidential campaign ran on a platform of anger and division as he routinely worked his rally crowds into a froth of resentment and hatred.
As he encourages his citizens to attack each other (both verbally and physically) his proponents who work in television, radio, and on the internet have likewise been encouraging their followers to participate in the same destructive behaviors. One such supporter, Alex Jones, has a radio show and website in which he publishes conspiracy theories about natural disasters. While the rest of the country was mourning the lives lost in the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, and Sandy Hook, Jones publicly and repeatedly insisted the first two were inside jobs and the last one never happened. Instead, he claims survivors and their families are “crisis actors” promoting the “gun-grabbing” agenda.
But the families have had enough. Family members of eight of the Sandy Hook victims, plus an F.B.I. agent who was a first responder at the shooting, have filed a total of three defamation lawsuits against Jones. One lawsuit alleges Jones and his company, InfoWars, have continuously perpetuated the monstrous lie that the Sandy Hook families faked the deaths of their loved ones.
The plaintiffs allege the perpetuation of these unspeakable lies has resulted in Sandy Hook families being followed, emailed, videotaped, and pestered by Jones’s followers who demand “proof” that their loved ones died in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. One family member even received death threats, prompting him and the rest of his family to move to a gated community that includes 24-hour security. His daughters, who survived the shooting, reportedly sleep with the lights on, after checking to make sure all the doors and windows are locked.
After two of the defamation lawsuits were filed back in April, Jones posted a video explaining how his positions on the event had shifted. In the video Jones claims to explain how Jones eventually came to believe that the Sandy Hook shooting was not a conspiracy after all, which has the potential to make it more difficult for the family members to prove his statements were defamatory.
In order to successfully sue for defamation, the family members will have to prove that Jones knew the statements were false when he made them and that he made them anyway with the intention of causing them harm.
Further complicating their case is the potential that the family members could be considered public figures as a result of the media attention they have received from the shooting. If the judge does decide to consider them public figures, they’ll have to bear a higher burden of proof to show Jones knowingly made false statements with the intention of causing them harm. Although the First Amendment does not extend to defamation, it does protect the majority of speech made regarding public figures with the intention that free and open debate about public figures is in the best interests of the public – even if it’s not in the best interests of the public figures who are a target of false statements.
Our Naperville, IL libel and slander lawyers concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases, including cases representing a consumer sued by a large luxury used car dealer in federal court for hundreds of negative internet reviews and videos which resulted in substantial media coverage of the suit; one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired; and a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law, where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois. One of our partners also participated in representing a high profile athlete against a well-known radio shock jock.
Our Chicago defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. Our Chicago Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Carol Stream and West Chicago who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating sites and pretend consumer rating sites that are simply forums to falsely bash or business clients. We have also represented and defended consumers First Amendment and free speech rights to criticize businesses who are guilty of consumer fraud and false advertising.
Super Lawyers named Chicago and Oak Brook business trial attorney Peter Lubin a Super Lawyer in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation, and Consumer Rights Litigation. Lubin Austermuehle’s Oak Brook and Chicago business trial lawyers have over thirty years of experience in litigating complex class action, consumer rights and business and commercial litigation disputes. We handle emergency business lawsuits involving injunctions, and TROS, defamation, libel, and covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud or defamatory attacks on their business and reputations.