TRI in the News

Plaintiff in Aug. 12 Defamation Suit Won't Settle

March 20, 2018


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- When Brennan Gilmore posted cell phone video of the car allegedly driven by James Fields plowing into a crowd of people in downtown Charlottesville on Aug. 12, he thought he was performing a public service.

Instead, he alleges in a lawsuit filed on March 13 in federal court, he became the victim of online harassment and threats spurred by conspiracy theories promoted by far-right-wing websites.

"All of a sudden, I'm finding myself the target of all these defamatory lies," said Gilmore.

His suit alleges the online conspiracy theories about him have damaged his reputation and caused him to fear for his safety.

"In general, the sense is that I'm working for some sort of leftist conspiracy, I was funded by George Soros or some of the bogeymen like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton to come down and orchestrate this violence against the community," he said.

Gilmore, who is on long-term unpaid leave from the U.S. State Department, says online trolls made things worse after the accusations against him were picked up by high-traffic websites including InfoWars and The Gateway Pundit.

"There was an amplification of hate and harassment, death threats directed towards me," said Gilmore. "They published my parents' address online, every known address that I had."

And the threats weren't all online. Gilmore said he received white powder in the mail and he was confronted on the streets of Charlottesville by someone who had read the theories about him online.

Gilmore is represented by the Georgetown University Law Center's Civil Rights Clinic. His suit names nine defendants including InfoWars founder Alex Jones and James Hoft of The Gateway Pundit. It asks for damages in an amount to be determined at trial. 

Jones did not respond to a request for comment. In an email, Hoft calls Gilmore's accusations against him "slanderous and abusive" and says he stands by his reporting.

Gilmore says he hopes the suit will prevent the same thing from happening to other people.

"I thought bearing witness to what we saw on Aug. 12 was a public service," he said. "I don't think someone who does that should then become the target of defamatory lies that essentially completely disrupt their life."

Attorney John Whitehead, the founder of civil rights organization The Rutherford Institute, says Gilmore's suit has legal merit, and he notes that the First Amendment right to free speech does not protect defamatory speech.

"If Jones and the other people connected to this lawsuit don't have any facts, I think they're in deep trouble, and they could lose this lawsuit," Whitehead said.

He said a jury could make a strong statement if the facts laid out in Gilmore's complaint are true.

"Delivering a large judgment might back some of these people off and make them start doing their homework and stop making allegations about people, and that's the key," Whitehead said.