Marcel Fontaine, who was falsely declared a suspect in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting by conspiracy-theorist website InfoWars, is now suing Alex Jones for more than a million dollars.
Fontaine, a young man from Massachusetts, filed suit in the district court of Travis County, Texas on Monday against InfoWars head Alex Jones; InfoWars reporter Kit Daniels; InfoWars LLC; and Free Speech Systems, LLC, InfoWars’ parent company. The suit charges that InfoWars “irreparably tainted” his reputation in a report that falsely claimed he was suspected as the Stoneman Douglas shooter.
Daniels’ story about the shooting, published Feb. 14, included a picture of Fontaine.
“And another alleged photo of the suspect shows communist garb,” Daniels wrote, above the picture of Fontaine.
The picture showed Fontaine wearing a novelty T-shirt that said “Communist Party,” with communists drinking and carousing (including Karl Marx with a lampshade on his head).
“Shooter is a commie,” InfoWars blared.
The lawsuit notes that a Republican state legislator in North Carolina shared the InfoWars piece, and estimates that “hundreds of millions” of people saw the story.
“InfoWars’ story became a lie told round the world,” the suit reads.
The suit also said Fontaine still faces “ridicule, harassment, and threats of violence” from InfoWars readers who believed the story was true, and that his life “remains in genuine peril.” He is also facing a “severe degree of mental stress and anguish,” according to the suit.
“Because InfoWars advises its audience to distrust mainstream media sources, the subsequent mainstream news reports showing Nikolas Cruz as the Florida shooter did not remove the threat to Marcel Fontaine,” the suit says. “Some InfoWars readers now believe that Mr. Fontaine is part of the supposed ‘false flag’ operation.”
The suit also said that Fontaine—represented by Mark Bankston of Farrar & Ball—demanded a correction from InfoWars, and that the site did not respond.
The lawsuit also details InfoWars’ history of incorrect and conspiratorial stories about mass shootings. It notes that Jones once claimed he had evidence nobody died in the Sandy Hook school shooting, that the Las Vegas shooting was “as phony as a three-dollar bill or Obama’s birth certificate,” and that the Sutherland Springs church shooting may have been part of an Antifa revolution against Christians.
Because it includes so much background that isn’t directly related to the article about Fontaine, Ken White—a First Amendment litigator at Brown White & Osborn—said the suit could run afoul of Texas state law.
“The core of the lawsuit—that InfoWars falsely accused Mr. Fontaine of being the shooter—states a very plausible claim for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress,” White told The Daily Beast. “The problem is that the complaint buries that core wrong into a general attack on InfoWars and Alex Jones and their fans.”
“That might make for good press, but it’s dangerous,” White continued. “Texas has a very strong anti-SLAPP law. If InfoWars can frame the lawsuit as being more broadly about the content of its speech in general (or about the speech of third-party commenters, for whom InfoWars is not responsible under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act), the plaintiff faces a real risk of an anti-SLAPP ruling.”
SLAPP, or Strategic lawsuit against public participation, refers to strategic, frivolous lawsuits designed to silence particular categories of speech. Different states have different types of laws on this litigation. Gov. Rick Perry signed Texas’s anti-SLAPP law in 2011, and it had the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, and a number of free speech advocates and organizations.
It’s unclear how InfoWars will defend itself against the lawsuit. Alex Jones did not immediately respond to a request for comment.