“We believe that Mr. Fontaine was targeted due to the T-shirt he was wearing, and that Infowars intentionally disregarded fundamental newsroom ethics due to its desire to politicize the tragedy,” Mr. Bankston said.
Infowars did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
On Monday, the website appended an editors’ note atop the Feb. 14 story that said it had previously “showed a photograph of a young man that we had received and stated incorrectly that it was an alleged photo of the suspected shooter.” It continued, “We regret that this error occurred.”
An archive of the Infowars story by the Wayback Machine shows that Mr. Fontaine’s photo was online for at least five hours.
In the editors’ note, Infowars said Mr. Fontaine later asked for the photo to be removed, but by that time, it had already been taken down.
But the short time it did appear on the site caused lasting damage, according to the lawsuit. Mr. Fontaine continues to be harassed and receive threats, the lawsuit said, and is seeking more than $1 million in damages.
Led by Mr. Jones, who has repeatedly asserted that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was “completely fake” and that the Sept. 11 terror attacks were an “inside job,” Infowars attracts millions of visitors every month with stories often based on unsupported claims and conspiracy theories. With little evidence, Infowars and Mr. Jones, the host of a popular radio show, have propagated wild allegations that they have ended up having to retract.
In March 2017, Mr. Jones apologized for spreading the hoax known as Pizzagate, which claimed that top Democratic officials operated a satanic child pornography ring in the basement of Comet Ping Pong, a Washington pizza restaurant. His apology came three months after a man motivated by the conspiracy theory fired a rifle inside the restaurant. In May 2017, Mr. Jones retracted several stories and issued an apology to Chobani Yogurt in order to resolve a lawsuit filed by the company for asserting that its Idaho factory, which employs refugees, was connected to a 2016 sexual assault of a child.
The shooting at Stoneman Douglas High, along with the student survivors who have since led impassioned rallies for restrictions on guns, quickly attracted the attention of far-right provocateurs. A month after the shooting, YouTube cracked down on some fringe groups whose conspiracy-theory videos had climbed the site’s “trending” list. YouTube issued a warning against Infowars, which had published a video that falsely claimed that a Stoneman Douglas student, David Hogg, was a “crisis actor.”
In the lawsuit, Mr. Bankston said that the Infowars story about the school gunman fell in line with the site’s overall strategy. “These sorts of reckless lies are what caused a disturbed individual to enter a pizzeria and begin firing,” he said.
“Alex Jones is no longer a gimmick or sideshow. His audience rivals that of major cable networks, yet he refuses to exercise the most basic journalistic integrity,” Mr. Bankston added on Tuesday. “What happened to Mr. Fontaine is the predictable result of the reckless practices Mr. Jones has fostered at Infowars.”