RICHMOND, Va. - A former State Department official who became the target of harassment after posting a video showing the car attack during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville sued right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and others Tuesday.
Brennan Gilmore, who attended the August rally as a counterprotester, witnessed the attack that killed Heather Heyer and injured dozens more. He posted a video to Twitter, which went viral, and was interviewed by national media outlets. Soon after, Jones, his website Infowars and the other defendants started spreading conspiracy theories about him, which led to threats against Gilmore and his family, the complaint alleged.
"Supporters of the alt-right and the 'Unite the Right rally,' including the defendants, created a new identity for Mr. Gilmore — the organizer and orchestrator of (accused driver James) Fields' attack and a traitor to the United States," the lawsuit said.
The defendants' lies about Gilmore "quickly mobilized their army of followers to launch a campaign of harassment and threats" that continue to this day, the lawsuit said.
Gilmore suffered from hate mail and death threats, hacking attempts and in-person harassment, the lawsuit said. Gilmore and his parents' known addresses were posted online, prompting local law enforcement to patrol his parents' home.
The lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial and damages to compensate Gilmore as well as punitive damages, was filed in federal court in Charlottesville. Georgetown Law's Civil Rights Clinic is representing Gilmore, who said in an interview with The Associated Press that he "absolutely" would not consider settling the suit and that any monetary damages are a secondary goal.
"There's no amount of money that would overcome the motivation of this case," which is to set a legal precedent to prevent the same thing from happening again, Gilmore said.
Gilmore said the defendants have spread misinformation time and again after high-profile tragedies, citing the recent Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
Infowars recently suggested that survivors of the shooting that left 17 people dead were coached on their pleas for gun control. Jones, who owns the site, has also called the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School a hoax and said the Sept. 11 attacks were an inside job.
The AP requested comment from Jones and received an emailed link to an approximately hour-long YouTube video of him addressing the suit. In the video, which included an extended scene from one of the "Lord of the Rings" movies, Jones called his detractors "cowards," ''slaves," and "little fallen twisted people looking for power."
The lawsuit, which alleges defamation and intentional infliction of emotion distress, also names six other individuals as defendants. Among them is former Florida congressman Allen B. West, who the lawsuit alleges published an article on his website with the headline, "BOMBSHELL: New Evidence Suggests Charlottesville Was a Complete SET-UP."
West didn't immediately respond to an inquiry from AP sent through his website.
Gilmore is a Virginia native who worked for years as a foreign service officer, a post from which he is currently on long-term unpaid leave, according to the lawsuit. Last year, he served as chief of staff for Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Perriello.
Charlottesville became a target for white nationalists after its city council voted to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a downtown park.
After several smaller rallies, hundreds of white nationalists and counter-protesters converged in downtown Charlottesville on Aug. 12. Fighting broke out before the event officially began, and the brawling went on for about an hour until an unlawful assembly was declared and the crowd was forced to disband.
Later, as counterdemonstrators were peacefully marching through downtown, the car barrelled into the crowd. Heyer, 32, was killed.
Fields, the driver, faces charges including first-degree murder.