Civil and Human Rights

InfoWars defamation lawsuit allowed to proceed

A Charlottesville federal judge will allow an Albemarle County man’s defamation suit against InfoWars owner Alex Jones and others to proceed.

Brennan Gilmore, an activist and former Foreign Service officer, sued Jones, InfoWars and several others in March 2018 for defamation.

After Gilmore witnessed and filmed the Aug. 12, 2017, car attack that killed counter-protester Heather Heyer, the defendants started spreading conspiracies about him, leading to death threats against him and his family, according to the suit.

In addition to Jones and InfoWars, the complaint names Free Speech Systems LLC, Lee Stranahan, Lee Ann McAdoo, Scott Creighton, James Hoft, Derrick Wilburn and former Rep. Allen B. West, R-Georgia, as defendants.

Along with being owner and publisher of the Infowars website, Jones runs radio and internet shows linked to the site. Stranahan, a former Breitbart News employee, was featured in a video on Infowars and made defamatory statements about Gilmore, according to the complaint. McAdoo wrote an article published on Infowars that Gilmore alleges contains false statements about him.

Creighton and Hoft both run blogs that ran stories containing false statements about Gilmore, according to the suit. Creighton is owner and author of American Everyman, and Hoft operates Gateway Pundit.

The complaint also states that West and Wilburn are responsible for an article containing false statements about Gilmore that was published on West’s website.

In November, attorneys representing the defendants said the case should be dismissed, taking issue with the court’s jurisdiction to try the case and claiming Gilmore was a limited-purpose public figure in the wake of the attack.

In an opinion issued Friday, U.S. Magistrate Norman K. Moon disagreed with the defendants’ dismissal claims and said he will allow the suit to continue.

Moon allowed only West to be dropped from the suit because “Gilmore makes no concrete factual allegation that West played any direct role in writing, editing, or developing Wilburn’s article, or that West generally exerted editorial control over AllenBWest.com.”

Gilmore’s claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress also were dismissed from the suit, as Moon ruled they were argued inadequately.

“Gilmore adequately pleads defamation under Virginia law against all remaining defendants, and his defamation claims will therefore survive,” Moon wrote. “Gilmore does not, however, adequately plead IIED under Virginia law, and his IIED claims will thus be dismissed without prejudice.”

In an interview with the Daily Progress on Friday, Gilmore said he was thankful to see the suit move forward and that he hopes his case will show that the First Amendment does not protect the producers of damaging false content.

“I hope that I — and similar defamation suits filed by the Sandy Hook parents — can set a precedent with this case so [Jones] and the other defendants understand that they cannot claim the mantle of journalism if they are not also taking on the ethics and work that is required,” he said.

Andrew Mendrala, supervising attorney with the Civil Rights Clinic at Georgetown Law, which filed suit on behalf of Gilmore, said in a written statement that he was pleased with the ruling.

“Victims of vile conspiracy theories should take comfort in Judge Moon’s ruling that Brennan Gilmore’s defamation suit against InfoWars must proceed,” he wrote. “Today’s decision shows that the law will protect victims of baseless lies by holding people like Alex Jones accountable for the harm they cause.”

Brianne Gorod, chief counsel for the Constitutional Accountability Center, who co-represents Gilmore, said in a written statement she was similarly pleased with the ruling.

“As Judge Moon correctly recognized, [Jones] cannot use the First Amendment as a shield when he makes up lies that injure ordinary Americans like [Gilmore],” she said. “Indeed, 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.”

Attempts to reach Jones’ attorneys for comment were unsuccessful.

No hearings for the case have been set yet.