A jury has ordered conspiracy broadcaster Alex Jones to pay $4.1 million to the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The decision followed a trial in which Jones and his defense counsel followed courtroom protocol. broke up and – at one point – accidentally sent copies of Jones’ phone records to the opponent’s legal team. The fine marks one of the first concrete legal consequences for Jones’ false claims that the shooting was a staged “false flag,” leading to years of parental harassment. But it represents only a fraction of the money Jones has made in the years since.
Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse Lewis was one of 20 children killed at Sandy Hook, had asked for $150 million in compensation for Jones’ statements about Sandy Hook. As The New York Times notes that after today’s verdict, the jury will meet again to consider whether further punitive damages should be awarded. Jones will undergo a total of three trials of Sandy Hook parents; since he lost to defamation in all three cases by default for refusing to submit documents to the court, the jury will rule on financial penalties in each case.
So far, however, Jones claims to be fearless. “We have a plan to stay on the air. We can afford these kangaroo trials,” he said during a live video broadcast between ads for health supplements and other products. (Jones was banned from major web platforms in 2018 and 2019, a fate he compared to “technically…still be on Earth, but you’re in jail” during the trial.) Jones alleged at trial that a fine of more than $2 million would “sink” him, but court evidence showed Jones’ site Infowars was making $50 million a year even after he was “deplatformed.”
Jones also apparently took steps to hide his money during the trial. His company Free Speech Systems (FSS) has been declared bankrupt with a $54 million debt owed to another company that appears to be controlled by Jones, and he is accused of “systemically transferring large amounts of money” out of FSS to cover its losses. to limit. The bankruptcy filing delayed the next two trials, previously scheduled for September.
The bizarre trial has exposed both the limits of Jones’ fabulistic approach to media and the difficulty in holding him accountable in court. Judge Maya Guerra Gamble expressed open frustration with Jones for lying in the stands, reminding him that “your belief that something is true doesn’t make it true.” She also reprimanded his (eleventh) attorney, Andino Reynal, for sending one of Jones’ witnesses with him to discuss the case. “This is not your show,” Judge Gamble told Jones at one point.
Jones also admitted at trial that the Sandy Hook shooting was “100 percent” real, despite his previous statements. “I inadvertently took part in things that hurt these people’s feelings,” Jones said — who broadcast segments that suggested, among other things, that Heslin had lied about holding his dead son in his arms. “I’m sorry about that.”
But as legal writer Ken White noted before the verdict, the ruling won’t necessarily diminish the public for Jones’ often false claims or his ability to make money from them, even if he has given up on this particular theory. “The people who enjoyed his Sandy Hook truthfulness didn’t enjoy it because it was factually convincing or coherent; they enjoyed the emotional state it conveyed because it matched theirs,” wrote White. “The law’s dabbling technicalities are probably insufficient to make them change their minds.” That makes defamation claims for Jones a cost-benefit calculation. To date, costs have included today’s $4 million verdict, some much smaller previous fines, and a reported $15 million in legal fees — and the tens of millions of dollars in benefits accrued each year.
Still, the lawsuits will continue to be a legal headache for Jones — and they’re not over yet.