A man who Alex Jones' InfoWars misidentified as the mass shooter in Parkland, Fla. — even though he had never even been to the state — is suing the conspiracy theory website for $1 million.
Massachusetts resident Marcel Fontaine, 24, accused the website of "reckless defamation" in a lawsuit filed Monday in a Texas state court. The suit also names Jones' company that owns Infowars and Kit Daniels, author of the story misidentifying Fontaine as the Parkland shooter, as defendants.
It was not Fontaine, but 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine's Day, killing 17 people and wounding another 17.
Cruz was arrested and identified as the shooter a little over an hour after the rampage began.
Nevertheless, InfoWars published a story that, according to Fontaine's lawsuit, “conveyed the impression” that Fontaine – not Cruz –was the shooter.
The story, written by Daniels, underwent several revisions, the lawsuit says, and was alternatively titled “Reported Florida Shooter Dressed as Communist, Supported ISIS”; “Florida Shooter Inspired by ISIS – ALLAHU AKBAR; and “Reported Florida Shooter Discussed ‘Allahu Akbar’ on Instagram Profile.”
All versions of the Infowars story included a photograph of Fontaine, taken from his Instagram account.
According to the suit, Fontaine was “targeted by Infowars” because of the novelty “Communist party” T-shirt he is wearing in the photograph, which depicts notable figures from Communist history partying together, including “Karl Marx wearing a lampshade on his head.”
Cases against media companies for innaccurate reporting can be difficult to win, since libel and defamation laws often require evidence of actual malice, or that journalists knew or should have known they were reporting false information.
Fontaine's complaint says Jones is a not a journalist protected by those laws, but rather "little more than a hyper-active carnival barker" in conspiracy culture, who pushes a "combination of lies and paranoia."
"Jones feeds his audience a steady diet of false information intended to convince them that a shadowy association of global elites are hatching countless insidious schemes to destroy their way of life or threaten their bodily fluids. The combination of lies and paranoia are designed to drive sales to InfoWars lucrative online store," the complaint says.
The complaint also says Fontaine has never even been to Florida.
InfoWars published a "retraction, clarification and correction" about the Fontaine story Monday, writing, "We regret that this error occurred."
Jones has made many infamous false claims on his show, such as calling the 9/11 attacks an "inside job" and saying the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax conceived to limit gun rights.
He pushed the phony "Pizzagate" theory that claimed Democratic Party oficials operated a secret child sex ring out of the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C.
A fan of Jones' show, Edgar Maddison Welch, opened fire in the restaurant last year and said he came to "self-investigate" the conspiracy theory. No one was harmed. Welch was sentenced to four years behind bars.
Jones apologized in a video posted to the Infowars website directly addressing the owner of the pizzeria, James Alefantis, during which Jones referred to the content of his website as “commentary,” not news.
“In our commentary about what had become known as Pizza gate, I made comments about Mr. Alefantis that in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him.”
[Photo: Screenshot Of Fontine's Legal Complaint, Courtesy Of Travis County District Court, Texas]
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxgen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.