Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been ordered to pay $4.1mn in damages to the parents of a Sandy Hook shooting victim, dealing a blow to one of America’s most notorious peddlers of misinformation.
A Texas jury on Thursday awarded the compensatory damages for the emotional distress Jones’s company caused by falsely claiming the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six teachers were killed, was a hoax staged to justify gun control.
The jury had deliberated for about a day before returning its decision. It will now weigh the plaintiffs’ request for punitive damages, which could result in an additional award.
While the firebrand has courted controversy for more than two decades through InfoWars, the Sandy Hook action is the first major legal reckoning for Jones’s media business.
The defamation lawsuit was brought by Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, the parents of Jesse Lewis, a 6-year-old killed at Sandy Hook.
During testimony in the trial, Jones this week disowned falsehoods his companies had actively promoted for several years. He conceded that the US’s deadliest school shooting was “100 per cent real” and not the “false flag” operation he had long claimed. He also expressed remorse for “unintentionally” hurting people’s feelings.
Lewis and Heslin had requested as much as $150mn in compensation for a decade of emotional torture, saying their lives were made a “living hell” through death threats and harassment by strangers who wrongly believed the couple faked their own child’s death.
Jones, the founder of the InfoWars radio show and webcast, has been banned from major social media platforms for hate speech and abuse. But his site continues to attract a sizeable audience — InfoWars hosted almost 8mn visits last month, according to data company Similarweb.
Jones has already been found liable by default judgment in three lawsuits filed in Texas and Connecticut after failing to disclose relevant information requested by the court.
In a move to potentially limit financial exposure, Jones’s company Free Speech Systems, the parent of InfoWars, filed for bankruptcy protection last week. Three other associated companies sought Chapter 11 protection earlier this year.
Jones was the lone witness in his defence earlier this week. He flailed under cross examination before being upbraided by the judge for telling untruths under oath. “This is not your show,” Judge Maya Guerra Gamble told him. “Just because you claim to think something is true does not make it true. It does not protect you. It is not allowed.”
A lawyer for the plaintiffs also disclosed during the proceedings that Jones’s legal team had inadvertently sent him two years’ worth of messages from Jones’s phone. The lawyer said he had received requests to share the messages with various authorities, including the congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.