The Georgetown University Law Center Civil Rights Clinic is suing right-wing commentator and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for defamation on behalf of a man who posted footage online of white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.
Brennan Gilmore, the plaintiff, was among the counterprotesters at the white nationalist rally Aug. 12. Gilmore used his phone to record as Alex Fields Jr. allegedly drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 36 others. Gilmore’s footage was picked up by news media outlets after he posted it on Twitter. He was also interviewed as a witness on several outlets.
The footage also caught the eye of Jones — of Infowars and other far-right outlets — who accused Gilmore of being party to a “deep state” conspiracy to sabotage the presidency of President Donald Trump.
Now, Gilmore alleges the claims Jones made about him caused “irreversible personal and professional damage in Virginia, including the loss of business opportunities in Virginia, irreparable damage to his career as a Foreign Service Officer, and the loss of friendships with individuals in Virginia,” according to the suit.
Gilmore further alleged in a Washington Post op-ed that he and his family were “subject to harassments, threats, hate mail and hacking attempts” after the conspiracy theories spread online. He was also mailed an envelope containing a “suspicious white powder residue” and a “four-page diatribe.”
In an interview with The Hoya, Gilmore said he initially decided to post the video online because his footage showed the incident was a deliberate attack. Soon thereafter, he was unwillingly thrust into the online world of right-wing conspiracy websites.
“I became almost immediately the target of numerous conspiracy theories that really gave me a sort of firsthand perspective on what is now seen as a pattern of attacks that politically motivated outlets like Infowars, the Gateway Pundit, and other defendants launch against the witnesses and other victims of tragedies,” Gilmore said.
The Civil Rights Clinic at the Law Center acts as a public defense firm and is supporting Gilmore’s case pro bono.
“Our hope is that we can create more explicit case law and legal precedent that will refine and set the boundaries for what someone like Alex Jones can and cannot say about a private citizen who happens to be a witness to a terrorist attack,” Andrew Mendrala, a supervising attorney with the Civil Rights Clinic, said in an interview with The Hoya.
Other defendants in the case include the parent company of Infowars, Free Speech Systems, LLC; former congressman Allen West; Lee Stranahan, formerly of Breitbart News and currently of RT; Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit and Infowars reporter Lee Ann McAdoo.
Gilmore sees the case as a way to take a stand against websites that purvey “fake news.”
“Fact-based journalism is essential to a healthy democracy because it provides citizens with objective information on issues of public concern. Infowars and Gateway Pundit do the opposite — poisoning our civic discourse by distorting the truth and blurring the line between news and propaganda,” Gilman wrote in the Washington Post op-ed.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday; Jones has since posted a video asserting the legal action is itself a deep state conspiracy by Georgetown and the CIA. Gilmore also said online harassment of him has “ramped up considerably.”
“I’ve been getting messages calling me all sorts of profanities,” Gilmore said in an interview with The Hoya.
The Georgetown lawsuit is not the first time Jones has been sued for defamation. In April 2017, the yogurt company Chobani sued Jones for alleging the company’s Idaho factory, which employs refugees, was linked to a 2016 child sexual assault case and a rise in tuberculosis, according to The New York Times. He later settled the suit and made a statement in one of his broadcasts, apologizing for mischaracterizing the company.
Mendrala said settling cases makes sense for many plaintiffs, but would not allow for the kind of impact the clinic is hoping for with this case.
“If he settles an individual case, then that individual case goes away and those people are pacified,” Mendrala said. “But it doesn’t have a larger effect on the future.”
Mendrala also cautioned the case is not meant to undermine First Amendment speech laws.
“We feel like a victory in this case would be a victory for people like Brennan nationwide,” Mendrala said. “And it would shift the paradigm onto which conspiracy theorists operate by holding them legally accountable for their lies.”