Ruling party candidate quits Australian campaign over anti-Muslim posts

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten shake hands before the first leaders forum at the Seven West Media Studios in Perth, Australia, on April 29, 2019. (AAP Image/ The West Australian POOL, Nic Ellis/via REUTERS)
Updated 03 May 2019
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Ruling party candidate quits Australian campaign over anti-Muslim posts

  • In her posts, Jessica Whelan called for a referendum to ban immigration of “filthy Muslims”
  • Whelan is running for the lower house of parliament from the island state of Tasmania

SYDNEY: Another candidate for Australia’s governing Liberals was forced to stand down over anti-Muslim comments Friday as the party struggles to fend off charges it harbors right-wing extremists.
Jessica Whelan became the third Liberal candidate to quit the race for May 18 elections in the past three days over racist or homophobic social media posts.
Whelan, running for the lower house of parliament from the island state of Tasmania, initially said the posts, which included references to “filthy Muslims” and called for a referendum to ban Muslim immigration, had been doctored by hackers.
But after screenshots of additional anti-Islam posts emerged in the Australian press overnight, Whelan withdrew from the race early Friday.
The move came after the Liberals, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, were forced to drop two other candidates in the key state of Victoria on Wednesday after they were found to have posted anti-Islam or homophobic messages on social media.
The incidents provided new ammunition to opposition parties’ charges that the Liberals have become dominated by extremists since party hard-liners ousted moderate prime minister Malcolm Turnbull last August, putting the more conservative Morrison in power.
“The Liberals have been forced to dump another one of its extreme right-wing candidates,” trumpeted Bill Shorten, leader of the main opposition Labor party, which is leading in opinion polls.
Morrison denied that Whelan’s views reflected a broader far-right agenda for his party.
“Her views were her views and they do not represent the views of the party I lead,” he said.
But Labor has also been hit by controversy as both major party campaigns are roiled by social media posts made by their candidates, sometimes years earlier.
One Labor candidate dropped out of the race earlier this week over posts deemed anti-Semitic, while Liberal leaders demanded on Friday that Shorten sack another Labor hopeful for posting rape jokes and other sexist comments.
Luke Creasey, a 29-year-old school teacher running for office in the Victorian capital of Melbourne, posted the comments in 2012 and Shorten defended him on Friday, saying the candidate regretted the posts made when he was 22.
“He has apologized deeply and he certainly doesn’t hold those views now,” Shorten said, adding, “Jessica Whelan said what she believes now (and) tried to cover it up.”
In an increasing fiery campaign, both parties are learning the value of vetting candidates even in long-shot races where they stand little chance of taking office.


Father of boy killed in school massacre wins defamation suit

In this Dec. 14, 2012 file photo, Alissa Parker grieves with her husband, Robbie, as they leave a staging area after receiving word that their daughter, Emilie, was one of the 20 children killed in the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, Conn. (AP)
Updated 19 June 2019
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Father of boy killed in school massacre wins defamation suit

  • Victims’ families scored another victory Tuesday when a Connecticut judge imposed sanctions on Jones for an outburst on his web show against one of the families’ lawyers

HARTFORD, Connecticut: The father of a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre has won a defamation lawsuit against the authors of a book that claimed the shooting never happened — the latest victory for victims’ relatives who have been taking a more aggressive stance against conspiracy theorists.
The book, “Nobody Died at Sandy Hook,” has also been pulled from shelves to settle claims against its publisher filed by Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was killed in the shooting.
“My face-to-face interactions with Mr. Pozner have led me to believe that Mr. Pozner is telling the truth about the death of his son,” Dave Gahary, the principal officer at publisher Moon Rock Books, said Monday. “I extend my most heartfelt and sincere apology to the Pozner family.”
A Wisconsin judge issued a summary judgment Monday against authors James Fetzer and Mike Palacek, a ruling that was separate from the settlement between Pozner and the book’s publisher. A trial to decide damages has been set for October.
Pozner has been pushing back for years against hoaxers who have harassed him, subjected him to death threats and claimed that he was an actor and his son never existed. He has spent years getting Facebook and others to remove conspiracy videos and set up a website to debunk conspiracy theories.
Lately, the fight has been joined by others who lost relatives in the Dec. 14, 2012, school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. After quietly enduring harassment and ridiculous assertions for years, some have changed their approach, deciding the only way to stop it is to confront it. Their efforts have turned the tables on the hoaxers, including Alex Jones , host of the conspiracy-driven Infowars website.
Victims’ families scored another victory Tuesday when a Connecticut judge imposed sanctions on Jones for an outburst on his web show against one of the families’ lawyers.
Judge Barbara Bellis on Tuesday ordered the Infowars host to pay some of the relatives’ legal fees and prohibited him from filing motions to dismiss their defamation lawsuit against him.
The families of several of the 20 children and six educators killed in the 2012 shooting are suing Jones, Infowars and others for promoting the hoax theory.
Jones made angry comments on his show Friday about a lawyer for the families, accusing him of trying to frame him by planting child pornography in documents Jones’ attorneys submitted to the families’ lawyers.
Robbie Parker, whose 6-year-old daughter Emilie was among those killed at Sandy Hook, spent years ignoring people who called him a crisis actor. His family moved to the West Coast, but still the harassment didn’t stop. He would get letters from people who found his address. He was once stopped in a parking garage by a man who berated him and said the shooting never happened.
“You are taught when you are young that you ignore bullies and eventually they will leave you alone,” Parker said. “But as time went on, and my other girls were getting older, I realized they weren’t stopping and some of this was getting worse and getting more personal.”
Parker is now part of a lawsuit against Jones, has testified before Congress and pushed for changes on social media platforms, such as YouTube, which announced this month it will prohibit videos that deny the Sandy Hook shooting and other “well-documented events.”
“It wasn’t until the lawsuits and until it became a mainstream news story that people realized they were being complicit in this and started to moderate the content,” Parker said.
Pozner is the lead plaintiff in several of at least nine cases filed against Sandy Hook deniers in federal and state courts in Connecticut, Florida, Texas and Wisconsin.
In the case against Jones, the families of eight victims and a first responder say they’ve been subjected to harassment and death threats from his followers. A Connecticut judge ruled in the defamation case that Jones must undergo a sworn deposition, which is scheduled for July in Texas.
On Monday lawyers for the families disclosed that child pornography was found in electronic files sent to them by Jones as part of the discovery process. An attorney for Jones said the pornography was in emails sent to his client that were never opened.
Wisconsin’s Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington ruled Monday that Pozner had been defamed by Fetzer and Palacek, whose book claimed, among other things, that Noah’s death certificate had been faked, according to Pozner’s lawyer, Jake Zimmerman.
“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,” Pozner said. “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.”
Before the case went to a judge, Fetzer had said “evidence clearly shows this wasn’t a massacre, it was a FEMA drill,” referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“If you believe otherwise, then you are being played,” Fetzer, a Wisconsin resident, said at the time.
A redacted copy of the actual death certificate is attached to Pozner’s lawsuit. Additionally, Pozner has had DNA samples taken and compared with those provided by the Connecticut medical examiner to prove that Noah was his son. He has put Noah’s birth certificate, report cards and medical records into the public file in his legal actions.
His goal, he says, is to make sure that “normal people” have access to the truth and aren’t persuaded by the hoaxers.
A Florida woman, Lucy Richards, was sentenced to five months in prison for sending Pozner death threats. She was also banned from visiting web sites run by conspiracy theorists, including Fetzer.
Christopher Mattei, a lawyer who represents the families in their Connecticut lawsuit against Jones, said his clients want to live their lives free from that kind of harassment. They also want these hoaxers to know they are affecting real people, who have already been emotionally devastated.
“When the grief process includes having to justify your grief or having to prove your child’s existence,” he said, “it makes it very difficult.”