Leonard "Lenny" Pozner is the father of a Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim, Noah Pozner. He is the founder of the HONR Network, which supports the victims of mass casualty violence as well as the targets of online hate speech and harassment.
Leonard "Lenny" Pozner
Lenny Pozner's son Noah Pozner, youngest victim of Sandy Hook School shooting
|Born||1967 (age 51–52)|
|Occupation||Founder of the HONR Network|
|Known for||Advocacy to protect victims of online harassment, especially the victims of conspiracy theorists.|
Veronique de la Rosa
(m. 2003; div. 2015)
Sandy Hook Elementary School shootingEdit
On Friday, December 14, 2012, 20 year old Adam Lanza took an AR-15 assault rifle into Sandy Hook Elementary school and killed 20 children and 6 teachers. One of the children killed was Pozner's six-year-old son Noah. Shortly afterward, conspiracy theorists used Facebook, YouTube, blogs and other social media platforms to claim the massacre was a hoax and a false flag operation and that the victims were actually crisis actors. Prominent among these conspiracy theorists was radio-show host Alex Jones, who repeatedly told his audience on his far-right InfoWars program to rise up and "find out the truth", insisting that the shooting was staged by the federal government to destroy the Second Amendment and citizens' right to bear arms. So whilst mourning the loss of their children, Pozner and the other victims' families had to deal with accusations that their children were not dead, and that the tragedy was all a fraud designed to undermine Americans' gun rights.  They endured death threats and in-person, online and phone call harassment from people who took up the call from Jones and others. In response, Pozner began reporting harassing and defaming content and claims about him and his family, as well as posts and videos using photos (often defaced) of his son. "I have to absolutely defend the memory of my son — I have no choice," he said. "I know how some of these theories build up. They don't fade away and the more time they spend online, the more accepted they become. The JFK conspiracy theory in the US is very accepted. Conspiracy theories erase history, they erase our memories, and how will this event (Sandy Hook) be remembered a hundred years from now? So I think it’s important, the work that I’m doing now."
After Pozner succeeded in getting Infowars videos removed from YouTube, Jones showed his audience Pozner's personal information and maps to addresses associated with his family. In an effort to protect themselves from the continuing harassment, Pozner and Noah's mother Veronique De La Rosa Haller, and their two surviving children, moved from Connecticut. The harassment has continued however, as each time they move, conspiracy theorists who stalk the family publish their new address. The family has had to move several times since leaving Connecticut. They currently live in hiding in a high-security community hundreds of miles from where their six-year-old son Noah is buried.
The HONR network is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded by Pozner in response to the harassment and hate that he and other families of victims of mass casualty events endured online. After his son died in the Sandy Hook shooting, and he and his family became the target of online abuse, volunteers reached out offering to help flag and report the hateful content. As additional mass casualty events occurred and the survivors and families of other victims reached out for assistance, Pozner decided to turn the loosely knit group into an organized non-profit.
The initial goal of the organization was to combat online hate and harassment, particularly when directed at survivors and the families of victims of violent tragedies and mass casualty events. More recently the organization mission has expanded to provide guidance for all people affected by harassment, bullying and abuse. The HONR Network now has around 300 volunteers who help monitor and remove harassing content online.
In 2017, Floridian Lucy Richards was sentenced to 5 months in prison for threatening Pozner's life. She admitted in her guilty plea to being part of the active online community of Americans who believe that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged and that the victims and their mourning family members are only actors. US district judge James Cohn called Richards' actions towards Pozner "disturbing" and condemned those who spread false claims about the deaths of the victims. "This is reality and there is no fiction. There are no alternative facts," Cohn told Richards at her sentencing.
Pozner and the HONR Network have had much success in changing policy and removing harmful content from the internet. In July 2018, Pozner and De La Rosa wrote an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg which was published in The Guardian. In the letter they appealed for help from the Facebook CEO, urging him to honor the pledge he made in the US Senate: to make Facebook a safer and more hospitable place for social interaction. Pozner and De La Rosa suggested two ways to better protect victims from harassment: "Treat victims of mass shootings and other tragedies as a protected group, such that attacks on them are specifically against Facebook policy. And provide affected people with access to Facebook staff who will remove hateful and harassing posts against victims immediately." Facebook has since taken steps to recognize these victims and Pozner now works with its content moderators and policymakers.
Pozner has also had success with other online platforms by flagging harmful content for violations such as invasions of privacy, threats and harassment, and copyright infringement. In 2018, HONR Network reported 2,568 videos to YouTube and had 1,555 removed. Blog hosting platform WordPress initially refused to help. Its parent company Automattic repeatedly responded to Pozner's requests with form letters saying "because we believe this to be fair use of the material, we will not be removing it at this time". In addition, they warned that the company could collect damages from people who "knowingly materially misrepresent" copyrights. Automattic have since made direct contact with Pozner and apologised for the form letters. It said the responses Pozner received were "a predefined statement" that is used in copyright situations. Automattic then added a new policy that prohibits blogs from the "malicious publication of unauthorized, identifying images of minors". This policy meant that images of child victims would be removed. As WordPress is used by 31.6 percent of websites on the web, and has 60% of the content management system market, this change has had a significant impact on what content may appear on the internet.
In May 2019, online activist group Avaaz organised meetings with executives from Twitter and Facebook to further the campaign against online hate and misinformation. Speaking at the meetings were journalist Jessikka Aro and teenage vaccination advocate Ethan Lindenberger. Pozner participated in the meetings remotely and spoke of the need to curb online harassment. "I am a strong proponent of the First Amendment, and free speech is an essential aspect of American society. However, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of people's rights and responsibilities online. A person cannot violate my civil rights to be free of harassment, bullying, or to have my likeness manipulated and my family targeted with death threats and intimidation and then simply attempt to hide behind 'free speech.'"
Alex Jones defamation caseEdit
In April 2018, in the federal court in Austin, Texas, lawyers representing Pozner and Neil Heslin, who also lost a child at Sandy Hook, launched a defamation suit against Alex Jones. In a separate case, Marcel Fontaine launched defamation proceedings against Jones for falsely identifying him as the gunman in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. In response, Jones attempted to have the Pozner and Fontaine cases dismissed under the Texas Citizens Participation Act. This act is designed to protect citizens' right to free speech against plaintiffs who aim to silence them through costly litigation. Jones also sought more than $100,000 in court costs from the Pozner family. In August, Judge Scott Jenkins rejected Jones' argument and his motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In the month following the launch of the defamation suits, separate actions were launched in Connecticut, by another six families of Sandy Hook victims, and one FBI agent who was a first responder at the scene. In February 2019, in response to this suit, Judge Barbara Bellis ruled that Jones will have to submit to a sworn deposition, in addition to turning over internal financial, business, and marketing documents related to InfoWars' operations.
Wired magazine has described the Pozner versus Jones case as highly significant with regards to free speech in the digital age. "Whether Jones wins or loses, his suit, according to First Amendment lawyers, will be a building block for the way we think of free speech in the age of the internet."
Nobody died at Sandy Hook bookEdit
In June 2019, a Wisconsin judge ruled that Pozner had been defamed by the authors of "Nobody Died At Sandy Hook: It was a FEMA Drill to Promote Gun Control." The 455-page book, published by Moon Rock Books, argued that the Sandy Hook massacre had never happened. In it, they claim several times that Pozner had faked his son Noah's death certificate. Pozner's submissions in the case included DNA samples that match those taken by a Connecticut medical examiner that prove Noah was his son. Additionally, he submitted Noah's birth certificate, report cards and medical records into the public record. The judge ruled that there was no question of fact in the dispute, and ruled in favor of Pozner in the libel case: that the co-editors of the book, James Fetzer and Mike Palecek, had defamed Pozner. "This is a victory for myself and my family," Pozner said in an interview. "It is also a victory for the survivors and victims' families of all mass casualty events who have been targeted by these people." In an email, Fetzer restated his belief that Noah's death certificate was faked: "The American people are entitled to know the truth about their own history." Pozner later said "If Mr Fetzer wants to believe that Sandy Hook never happened and that we are all crisis actors, even that my son never existed, he has the right to be wrong. But he doesn't have the right to broadcast those beliefs if they defame me or harass me. He doesn’t have the right to use my baby's image or our name as a marketing ploy to raise donations or sell his products. He doesn't have the right to convince others to hunt my family."
As the result of a separate judgement against the book's publisher, the principal officer of Moon Rock Books, Dave Gahary, agreed to stop selling the book. After listening to a 15-hour deposition, Gahary said that he no longer had any doubt that Pozner had truly lost his son. "I came away from that believing that he was telling the truth, and I felt personally bad for anything that I had done to contribute to his misery." Gahary, who has published many books on conspiracies, said he had been inundated with hate mail from deniers of the Sandy Hook massacre since his change of heart had become public. He hoped that he was sending these people a message: "If someone like me is saying that I believe him, it should carry some weight, and they should look at this event differently." A jury trial to decide damages was set for October of 2019. At the trial's conclusion, a Wisconsin jury ordered Fetzer to pay Pozner $450,000 (Palecek and Moon Rock Books having previously settled out of court). Fetzer said he would appeal.
- Felson, Leonard. "A Father Combats Conspiracy Theorists' 'Mob Hate,' And Honors The Truth About Sandy Hook". courant.com. Hartford Courant. Retrieved 20 February 2019.
- Beckett, Lois. "Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist gets prison time for threatening victim's family". theguardian.com. Guardian News & Media Limited. Retrieved 20 February 2019.
- Demick, Barbara. "In an age of 'alternative facts,' a massacre of schoolchildren is called a hoax". latimes.com. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 7 July 2019.
- Millar, Lisa. "Sandy Hook massacre victims' parents harassed by 'truthers', told children never existed". abc.net.au. ABC. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
- Williamson, Elizabeth. "Alex Jones, Pursued Over Infowars Falsehoods, Faces a Legal Crossroads". nytimes.com. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
- Williamson, Elizabeth. "Judge Rules Against Alex Jones and Infowars in Sandy Hook Lawsuit". nytimes.com. The New York TImes Company. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
- "IRS Charity Determination Letter". Aapps.irs.gov. Internal Revenue Service. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
- "HONR Today". honrnetwork.org. HONR Network Inc. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
- Pozner, Leonard; De La Rosa, Veronique. "An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg: our child died at Sandy Hook – why let Facebook lies hurt us even more?". theguardian.com. Guardian News & Media Limited. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
- Prince, Cathryn. "Family that lost a son at Sandy Hook fights against vicious conspiracy theorists". timesofisrael.com. The Times of Israel,. Retrieved 13 March 2019.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
- Maheshwari, Sapna; Herrman, John. "This Company Keeps Lies About Sandy Hook on the Web". nytimes.com. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 20 February 2019.
- Perez, Sarah. "New WordPress.com policy allows it to shut down blogs of Sandy Hook deniers". techcrunch.com. Verizon Media. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
- Lapowsky, Issie. "'Fake news victims' meet with Twitter and Facebook". wired.com. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
- Haag, Matthew. "Sandy Hook Parents Sue Alex Jones for Defamation". nytimes.com. The New York Times. Retrieved 15 March 2019.
- "Sandy Hook families v Alex Jones: Defamation case explained". bbc.com. BBC. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
- Collins, Dave. "More families of Sandy Hook victims, FBI agent sue Infowars' Alex Jones". chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
- Jorgensen, Sarah. "Infowars' Alex Jones ordered to undergo sworn deposition in Sandy Hook defamation case". edition.cnn.com. Cable News Network. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
- Grey Ellis, Emma. "Win or Lose, the Alex Jones Lawsuit Will Help Redefine Free Speech". wired.com. Condé Nast. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
- Otterman, Sharon. "Sandy Hook Conspiracy Theorist Loses to Father of 6-Year-Old Victim Over Hoax". nytimes.com. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 19 June 2019.
- "Father of Sandy Hook massacre victim wins defamation lawsuit". theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 19 June 2019.
- Lincoln, Ross. "Father of Sandy Hook Victim Awarded $450,000 in Defamation Lawsuit Against 'Nobody Died at Sandy Hook' Co-Author". The Wrap. Retrieved 16 October 2019.