Civil and Human Rights

Gilmore v. Jones, et al.

Protecting civil discourse from harmful conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones.

In Brief

Brennan Gilmore was a peaceful counter-protester at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA who captured on video a neo-Nazi deliberately driving his car into the crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others.
After posting his video, Gilmore was subjected to false and defamatory conspiracy theories by InfoWars’ Alex Jones and others. After these conspiracy theories spread, Gilmore suffered harassment so severe he was required to seek police protection.
False and defamatory statements such as Alex Jones’s are not protected by the First Amendment, do not advance First Amendment values, and in fact, offend those values because they undermine civil discourse and the credibility of the press.

Case Summary

On August 12, 2017, in response to the Charlottesville City Council’s decisions to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a small city park and change that park’s name from “Lee Park” to “Emancipation Park,” hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia for what they labeled the “Unite the Right” rally. This rally was countered by Charlottesville residents and other concerned individuals.

Brennan Gilmore, a Charlottesville resident who was among the peaceful counter-protesters, was filming the day’s events when a neo-Nazi sympathizer deliberately drove his car into the crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others. Believing that he had just witnessed a deliberate act of terror, Gilmore concluded that he should warn others about the violent and dangerous situation in Charlottesville, and he therefore shared the video of the attack on Twitter, where it went viral. As a result, Gilmore was contacted by several media and news outlets to provide an eyewitness account of the attack, and subsequently appeared on, or was quoted by, various television, print, and radio news media outlets.

Less than a day after posting his video, Gilmore became the subject of various false and defamatory conspiracy theories put forward by InfoWars’ Alex Jones and others. After these conspiracy theories spread online, Gilmore and his family experienced harassment and threats to his family, his life, and his well-being so severe that he was required to seek protection from the police.  His professional reputation has been harmed, and he continues to fear for his and his family’s safety.

Gilmore has sued Alex Jones, Infowars, and others who are responsible for the spread of these false conspiracy theories for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. CAC, along with the Civil Rights Clinic at Georgetown Law Center, is representing Gilmore in this lawsuit.

The defendants filed motions to dismiss the case on various grounds, including that Gilmore has not sufficiently alleged facts that, if proven, would show that he had been defamed. As we explain in our brief in opposition, Gilmore has alleged that all of the defendants published false statements that harmed his reputation and did so with the intent required under law.  These defendants cannot escape liability for their actions simply by labeling their statements “opinions” when they plainly represented themselves as journalists presenting facts.

Nor can these defendants look to the First Amendment to protect them when they make these sorts of false and defamatory statements.  The courts have long recognized that the freedom of speech enshrined in our national charter does not give people license to make false and defamatory statements with reckless disregard for whether those statements are false (or with negligence when discussing private individuals).  The courts have recognized that these sorts of false and defamatory statements do not advance the values that the First Amendment was adopted to protect and, indeed, are at odds with those values because they undermine civil discourse and the credibility of the press.

On March 29, 2019, the district court denied, in principal part, the defendants’ motions to dismiss.  The court held that it could exercise jurisdiction over Gilmore’s claims against Alex Jones and others, and that “Gilmore has plausibly alleged sufficient facts to state a claim for defamation against each defendant.”

Case Timeline

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