- A conspiracy theorist author who claimed the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax has been ordered to pay $450,000 to the parents of one of the victims.
- The payment comes as the result of a nearly year-long lawsuit launched by one of the victim's parents, Leonard Pozner, where he claimed he had been defamed by the book's author in a passage claiming Pozner had faked his son's death certificate.
- One of the book's co-authors, James Fetzer, argued the false statements were protected under his first amendment freedom of speech protections. A Wisconsin jury ultimately ruled against him and in favor of Pozner in June.
- The court's judgment and the hefty payout are the latest in a string of lawsuit victories for the families of mass shooting victims suing harassers.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
A Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist has been ordered to pay $450,000 to Leonard Pozner, the father of one of the shooting victims, for saying that Pozner faked the death certificate of his own son.
The court order is the latest in a series of victories for the Sandy Hook families who have sued a number of prominent conspiracy theorists for defamation over claims the shooting was a "hoax," including InfoWars founder Alex Jones.
The book, bluntly called "Nobody Died at Sandy Hook," baselessly claims that the child deaths in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting were fake. It was co-written by the retired University of Minnesota Duluth professor James Fetzer and Mike Palacek. In it, the authors claim that the Sandy Hook massacre never actually happened and that the event was actually an elaborate ruse spearheaded by the federal government under President Obama in order to justify rolling in strict new gun control legislation.
In a statement provided to Insider, Pozner said he believed the court's decision could set an example and dissuade other hoaxers from harassing families.
"This sends a message to hoaxers and conspiracy theorists and others who seek to use the internet to victimize and terrorize vulnerable people, that their actions have consequences," Pozner said. "When you defame people online, that has consequences."
The author falsely claimed Pozner had created a fake death certificate for his son
One of the children singled out in the book was Noah Pozner, a 6-year-old who was killed during the massacre. The book falsely claimed that Noah hadn't actually died and that his father, Leonard Pozner — who has become a leading voice supporting the families of mass shooting victims from harassment — wasn't actually his dad.
Pozner filed a defamation lawsuit against Fetzer late last year, and the Wisconsin courts ruled in his favor in June. A summary judgment, viewed by the Washington Post, sided with Pozner and confirmed he had been defamed, specifically because of statements in the book claiming he had created a fake death certificate for his son.
AP Photo/Julio Cortez
"Nobody Died at Sandy Hook" was pulled by its publisher earlier this year. Dave Gahary, the principal officer at publisher Moon Rock Books, explained how a conversation with Pozner had helped sway him towards pulling the book from shelves in June.
"My face-to-face interactions with Mr. Pozner have led me to believe that Mr. Pozner is telling the truth about the death of his son," Gahary told the Associated Press. "I extend my most heartfelt and sincere apology to the Pozner family."
Wisconsin Jury draws a line between freedom of speech and defamatory harassment
Fetzer had tried to argue that his false claims were protected under his first amendment freedom of speech but Pozner, and ultimately the Wisconsin jury, disagreed.
"As I have said before, this is not a First Amendment issue," Pozner told the jury, according to the Wall Street Journal. "Mr. Fetzer has the right to believe that Sandy Hook never happened. He has the right to express his ignorance."
Pozner told Insider that he toiled through the legal system for years trying to help other families but faced roadblocks because a legal precedent hadn't been set. This case, Pozner said, may serve as that precedent for other legal claims.
"Without legal precedent, courts didn't want to wade into the unknown waters of online defamation and harassment," Pozner said. "Today, I believe that hesitation ends and the countless other victims of Mr. Fetzer and other conspiracy theorists like him who use the internet to harass and defame will now have the ability to pursue legal action against their abusers."
In an interview with The Washington Post following the decision, Pozner's attorney, Jake Zimmerman, said the nearly half a million-dollar payout should send a message to future harassers of mass shooting victims,
"Anyone else who's in the business of harassing families of victims of mass-casualty events — which unfortunately has become a cottage industry, it seems — has to look at this and say there is a cost to making these statements," Zimmerman said.
- Read more:
- It's been 6 years since the Sandy Hook shooting. Here are the names and pictures of the 27 victims, including 20 children, who were murdered that day.
- Alex Jones said in a deposition that 'a form of psychosis' made him believe the conspiracy theory that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged
- Sandy Hook families switch tactics, put hoaxers on defensive
NOW WATCH: Why Venice floods every year