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Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Sandy Hook Defamation Case

     James H. Fetzer, after graduating from Princeton University in 1962, joined the U.S. Marine Corps and rose to the rank of captain. In 1970, Fetzer earned a Ph.D. in History of Science and Philosophy at Indiana University. He taught at the University of Kentucky then, in 1987, joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota Duluth as a full professor.

     By the time Professor Fetzer retired in 2006 from the University of Minnesota Duluth as Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, he had published 100 articles and 20 books on various subjects related to the Philosophy of Science.

     Professor Fetzer's notoriety, however, did not come from his university teaching or his scholarly publishing. He became nationally known, and publicly ridiculed and reviled, for his controversial and outspoken belief in government conspiracies. A Holocaust denier, he called the 1963 John F. Kennedy assassination "a government hit job," and alleged that the infamous Zapruder film was a fake. Fetzer also asserted that the 911 attacks on New York City's World Trade Center either involved artillery fire or explosive devices planted inside the buildings. According the the conspiracy theorist, Jews and the State of Israel were somehow behind the historic terrorist attack.

     On December 12, 2012, Adam Lanza, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, shot and killed 20 children and six adults before taking his own life. The youngest victim of the massacre was 6-year-old Noah Pozner whose father, Leonard Pozner, would become a spokesperson for gun control.

     In October 2015, Moon Rock Books, a small publisher of conspiracy books out of Crestview, Florida, released a 455-page book by James Fetzer and Mike Palecek provocatively titled, Nobody Died At Sandy Hook. Fetzer, at the time, resided in Oregon, Wisconsin. Writer Mike Palecek, the author of several other works, lived in Saginaw, Minnesota.

     The authors of Nobody Died At Sandy Hook claimed that the mass murder at the Newtown elementary school was a FEMA drill staged as the real thing by the Obama administration to garner support for gun control legislation. The authors also accused Leonard Pozner, in furtherance of the mass murder hoax, of fabricating his son Noah's death certificate. In response to the allegation, Mr. Pozner posted his son's death certificate on social media.

     Two months after the publication of Nobody Died At Sandy Hook, Amazon banned the book. Moon Rock Books, on its Internet site, touted it as "banned," the story the government didn't want you to know. For those in search of the truth, declared the publisher, the book was still available from them. Meanwhile, author James Fetzer continued to publicly claim that the mass shooting was a hoax perpetrated upon the American people by a government that wanted to take our guns.

     In November 2018, Leonard Pozner sued James Fetzer and Mike Palecek for defamation. Mr. Pozner conceded that the authors had the right to say what they believed about Sandy Hook, but they didn't have the right to defame him with false allegations that had subjected him and his family to ridicule and hate.

     Co-author Mike Palecek, in May 2019, agreed to an out-of-court settlement with Mr. Pozner for an undisclosed amount.

     The Leonard Pozner defamation suit went forward, and in June 2019, was tried before a jury in Madison, Wisconsin. Dane County Judge Frank Remington presided over the trial. The plaintiff took the stand and testified that since the publication of Nobody Died At Sandy Hook, he had been harassed by conspiracy nuts who accused him of being an actor pretending to be the father of a boy who didn't exist. Mr. Pozner testified further that he had been subjected to numerous death threats.

     According to the plaintiff, the tragic death of his son at Sandy Hook, followed by the defendant's libelous book, led to bouts of depression and other health problems related to extreme emotional stress.

     Psychiatrist Roy Lubit, a New York City specialist on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who had treated Leonard Pozner, testified that his patient's mental health had "gone down hill" following the publication of the defendant's book.

     James Fetzer's defense rested on the assertion of free speech, that the author was protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

     Following a short deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Pozner. The damages phase of the case would take place at a later date.

     Moon Rock Books, following the verdict against James Fetzer, apologized to the Pozner family and promised to take Nobody Died At Sandy Hook out of circulation.

     On October 16, 2019, the Sandy Hook defamation case jury awarded Leonard Pozner $450,000. James Fetzer called the damages "absurd." The 78-year-old former professor said he would appeal the verdict.

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