Witness to Tragedy, a Victim of Fake News Conspiracies Sues Alex Jones and Others
March 13, 2018
Charlottesville rally counterprotester who filmed deadly car attack files defamation suit against media who pushed “deep state” conspiracies and instigated vicious campaign of harassment against him
Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic today filed suit in federal court in Virginia on behalf of Brennan Gilmore, a Charlottesville counterprotester at last August’s “Unite the Right” rally who captured video footage of the car attack that killed Heather Heyer and injured 36 others.
Gilmore is suing Alex Jones, Infowars, former Congressman Alan West and others for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress for branding him a murderous “deep state” shill and mobilizing an army of followers to pursue a campaign of harassment and threats against him that continues to this day.
“From Sandy Hook to ‘Pizzagate’ to Charlottesville, Las Vegas and now Parkland, the defendants thrive by inciting devastating real-world consequences with the propaganda and lies they publish as ‘news,’” said Gilmore. “Today, I’m asking a court to hold them responsible for the personal and professional damage their lies have caused me, and, more importantly, to deter them from repeating this dangerous pattern of defamation and intimidation.”
Gilmore, a Charlottesville-area resident on leave from his career as a foreign service officer, had his phone camera running when neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr. barreled his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of peaceful counterprotesters on Aug. 12, 2017. After hearing some media characterize the attack as an accident or act of self-defense, and fearing that other attacks might follow, Gilmore posted his video on Twitter, where it went viral.
Gilmore was contacted by media outlets to discuss his experience and soon became the target of elaborate online conspiracies that placed him at the center of a “deep-state” plot to stage the attack and destabilize the Trump administration.
Videos and stories posted by alt-right defendants with millions of collective followers included titles such as “Breaking: State Department/CIA Orchestrated Charlottesville Tragedy,” “Random Man at Protests Interviewed by MSNBC, NY Times is Deep State Shill Linked to George Soros,” and “BOMBSHELL: New evidence suggests Charlottesville was a complete SET-UP.”
Just as victims of defendants’ previous conspiracies connected to Sandy Hook, Las Vegas and other incidents have experienced, Gilmore became the target of an “entirely foreseeable” barrage of threats and harassment, the complaint argues. He has been the target of “an overwhelming volume of hate mail and death threats, hacking attempts and even in-person harassment on the streets of Charlottesville,” the complaint states. Gilmore and his parents’ addresses were published online, and an unknown powdery substance was sent to his parents’ home.
“To this day, Brennan suffers the effects of this character assassination: his career as a diplomat has been compromised, he has lost potential partners and clients in his most recent business venture, and his social relationships have been irreversibly damaged,” the complaint says.
By cloaking their smear campaigns as journalism, the defendants denigrate the First Amendment, said Andrew Mendrala, supervising attorney of Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic.
“The First Amendment does not and cannot protect deliberate lies designed to incite incessant harassment and violence against private citizens,” Mendrala said. “This case is a simple defense of democracy. A well-informed public is essential to a healthy democracy. But a deliberately misinformed public is fatal to it.”
Defendants in the case include: Alex Jones; Infowars; Infowars’s operating company Free Speech Systems; Infowars “reporters” Lee Stranahan and Lee Ann McAdoo; Jim Hoft, author of the alt-right blog Gateway Pundit; former U.S. Congressman Allen B. West, who operates the alt-right website www.allenwest.com; Derrick Wilburn, author of a defamatory article about Gilmore on www.allenwest.com; and Scott Creighton, operator of the blog American Everyman.
The suit filed today by Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic seeks damages to compensate Mr. Gilmore for his reputational injuries and emotional distress, as well as punitive damages to deter the defendants, and others like them, from visiting such harm on other private citizens in the future.
Last October, Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection filed a separate suit to prevent a recurrence of illegal paramilitary and private militia activity on the streets of Charlottesville. “Unite the Right” organizers have vowed to return to the city on the rally’s one-year anniversary.