The 2012 mass-shooting that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut was an undeniable tragedy. A mentally disturbed young man named Adam Lanza, shot and killed 20 children and six adult staff members. To make matters worse, families of the victims were not only forced to cope with grief, but were then subjected to harassment by conspiracy theorists who claimed the tragedy never happened.
Leonard Pozner, father of 6-year-old victim Noah Pozner, was mentioned in a 2016 book titled “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook”. The authors of the book, James Fetzer and Mike Palacek, are conspiracy theorists who published numerous false statements about Pozner. Some of their claims include that Pozner forged his own son’s death certificate, Noah never existed, the shooting was just a FEMA drill, and it was all staged in order to get the Second Amendment repealed. They believe that parents of the victims were crisis actors and the Obama Administration orchestrated the event to promote gun control.
Pozner decided to take legal action via a SLAAP suit, or a strategic lawsuit against public participation. This type of suit is designed to silence critics by overwhelming them with the cost of a legal defense until they stop their opposition. This past June, Fetzer’s statements in his book were deemed defamatory in nature, which brought the case to trial so damages could be determined. This October, a Wisconsin jury came to the decision of awarding Pozner $450,000 for his emotional distress, which was intentionally inflicted upon him by Fetzer. Fetzer is solely responsible for paying the damages because Palacek and his parent company already settled with Pozner, and that case was dismissed.
This is a victory for Pozner, his family, and other families who lost someone during the Sandy Hook shooting. Many family members of victims have been defending the existence of their loved ones for over seven years because of conspiracy theorists. Alex Jones, owner of far-right website InfoWars, is also facing multiple lawsuits for similar reasons, including one from Pozner.
Jones and his staff published many false articles denying Sandy Hook which then caused his followers to partake in a harassment campaign against victim’s parents. One woman from Florida even called Pozner and told him that death was coming for him. Moreover, the lawsuits against Jones will most likely make their way to the Supreme Court, but there is a long road ahead. Concerns over First Amendment freedoms complicate these suits, but hurdles in the litigation process have already been overcome by the plaintiffs.
In New Jersey, the statute of limitations to file a defamation suit is one year from when the defamatory statement was made. Defamation lawsuits concern the damaging of someone’s reputation with oral or written false statements. Slander is used to define oral false statements and libel describes false written statements. Truth is the absolute defense to a libel or slander claim because falsity of the statement must be proven in a defamation suit. The burden of proof falls on the plaintiff since he or she is the one who was allegedly defamed.