A court case due to open in the US will see one of the world’s most notorious conspiracy theorists forced to answer to the father of a six-year-old boy who was shot dead in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre.
Neil Heslin is suing Alex Jones, the host of Infowars, for defamation after his repeated statements claiming the school shooting, in which 20 children and six adults were killed, was a hoax to promote gun control.
Parents already struggling to come to terms with the murder of their children said the conspiracy theory had had a devastating impact on their lives.
In 2017, Heslin said of the day his son Jesse died: “I lost my son. I buried my son. I held my son with a bullet hole through his head.”
Jones helped fuel a theory which claims child actors were used to stage a “completely fake” shooting and that Heslin and other parents were therefore lying about the loss of their children.
Court papers filed by Heslin and two other families suing Jones say they have had to deal with years of harassment from his followers.
The family of Noah Pozner, the youngest victim of the shooting, said they had been forced to move house seven times due to threats from conspiracy theorists.
Speaking to Radio 4′s Today programme on Thursday, Heslin said: “I had some people come up to me and offer their condolences one second and then minutes later that same person would ask if I thought Sandy Hook actually happened, that’s how bizarre the whole thing is.
“You do your best to ignore and it and hope it will stop and go away but with Alex Jones and his comments and remarks, the damage has been done. The damage is irreversible, it’s not just something you can say ‘I’m sorry’ and `issue a retraction or a statement, it’s permanent.
“I don’t know how you’d go about correcting that and changing the thoughts of his followers and listeners who believe this tragedy didn’t happen.”
Jones has since said he believes the shooting did occur and argued the lawsuit should be dismissed, because he was acting as a journalist.
Mark Enoch, an attorney for Jones, described his client in court earlier this month as a political commentator expressing his views and played a 2017 broadcast where Jones said he did not believe the Sandy Hook shooting took place. Jones was not in court.
“Maybe it’s fringe speech. Maybe it’s dangerous speech, but it is not defamation,” he told Judge Scott Jenkins, who has 30 days to rule on the motion to dismiss the case.
The case has also prompted an examination of the responsibilities social media companies have to clamp down on such comments.
Earlier this month Facebook suspended Jones from its social network for bullying and hate speech, after Google’s YouTube removed four of his videos from its site.
Twitter temporarily suspended his account, but he has since been reinstated.
Donald Trump has also weighed in on the matter having previously praised Jones’ “amazing” reputation.
The President and some supporters have long accused tech giants of being biased against them, while bosses have long asserted that their products are without political bias.