The parents of a 6-year-old Sandy Hook mass shooting victim had a court date Wednesday in their suit against the conspiracy theorist they say defamed them and incited harassment against them with his false claims that the 2012 attack was staged.
Veronique De La Rosa and Leonard Pozner — whose son, Noah, was among 20 first-graders and six adults murdered on Dec. 14, 2012, in the shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut — did not attend the hearing in Travis County, Texas, due to security concerns, reports The New York Times.
But the torment the couple say they have endured since that tragic day was laid out by their attorneys in their defamation lawsuit against radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whose own defense lawyer on Wednesday tried to deflect blame from Jones’s statements and dismiss the suit entirely.
A decision by Judge Scott Jenkins on whether the lawsuit will go forward is pending, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
De La Rosa said death threats and online harassment — fanned by Jones’ unfounded conspiracy theories — have led her and her husband to move seven times, most recently to a secure community in another state. Each time they have moved, stalkers found and published their whereabouts “with the speed of light,” she told the Times.
“I would love to go see my son’s grave and I don’t get to do that, but we made the right decision,” the grieving mom the newspaper.
At the time their lawsuit was filed last April, the couple’s attorney, Mark D. Bankston, told PEOPLE: “Our clients have been tormented for five years by Mr. Jones’ ghoulish accusations that they are actors who faked their children’s deaths as part of a fraud on the American people. Enough is enough.”
The Austin-based Jones hosts an eponymous radio show and podcast and also owns Infowars.com, a website that has trafficked in conspiracy theories on various topics including Sandy Hook.
According to the lawsuit brought by Pozner and De La Rosa — and a separate but related claim brought by Neil Heslin, whose 7-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, also was killed at Sandy Hook — Jones at various times has claimed the shooting was a hoax staged by the federal government that used actors to pose as victims’ parents in an attempt to disguise the truth, and thus drive anti-gun activism.
In total, nine Sandy Hook families have filed lawsuits against Jones. The Pozner family’s suit is the first of three defamation cases to reach a court hearing.
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Among the alleged actions cited in the Pozner family’s lawsuit, Jones “went on an angry rant against me for nearly an hour” after Pozner caused YouTube to remove an Infowars video from Jones’s channel, Pozner said in an affidavit, according to the Times.
Jones “also hosted a call with an obsessed fellow conspiracy theorist who issued a threat to me,” Pozner alleges in the affidavit.
In court Wednesday, defense attorney Enoch described Jones’ comments as “rhetorical hyperbole at its core” and said of his client’s radio and online audience, “It’s what they expect when they tune in,” the Austin American-Statesman reports.
He argued that Jones’ statements amount to free speech. “Maybe it’s fringe speech, maybe it’s dangerous speech,” he acknowledged. “That is not defamation.”
As the case has proceeded, YouTube last week removed four more of InfoWars videos and Facebook recently took down Jones’ personal page for 30 days, according to the Times.
Also Wednesday, according to the outlet, Spotify cited violations of its policy against “hate content” as the reason for removing an unspecified number of episodes of his podcast The Alex Jones Show: Infowars, from the streaming service.