Alex Jones, a noted conservative conspiracy theorist, must pay at least $965 million in damages to numerous victims’ families of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting for making false claims that they were actors who faked the whole tragedy.
A Connecticut jury issued the verdict after three weeks of testimony in a state court. It exceeded the $49 million Jones was ordered to pay in a similar Texas case brought by two other Sandy Hook parents in August.
The verdict in Connecticut applies to Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems LLC, owner of Jones’ Infowars website. FSS filed for bankruptcy in July, before the July and August verdicts.
In the Connecticut case, the plaintiffs included over a dozen relatives of six staff members and 20 children who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012. For years, Jones claimed the massacre was staged as part of a plot by the government to take guns away from Americans.
Jurors decided the plaintiffs should additionally be awarded attorney’s fees, which will be decided in November. As the verdict was read during a live broadcast, Jones said his company’s ongoing bankruptcy would protect Infowars while he is appealing.
“We’re fighting Goliath,” Jones said.
Lawyer for the families, Christopher Mattei, said the verdict was “against Alex Jones, his lies and their poisonous spread, and a verdict for truth and for our common humanity.”
One of the plaintiffs in the case, Robbie Parker, thanked the jury for its verdict when speaking outside the courthouse, “Everybody who took the stand told the truth,” said Parker. “Except for one. The one who proclaims that that’s what he does. But while the truth was being said in the courtroom, he was standing right here, lying.”
Jones was also found liable in a default judgment last year after failing to comply with court orders.
During last week’s closing arguments, Mattei said Jones profited for years on lies he spread about the shooting, boosting sales of his products and building traffic to his Infowars website. The finances for Infowars are not public; however, according to testimony at the trial, the site earned revenue of $165 million between 2016 and 2018.
An economist in the Texas case estimated that Jones’s worth lies between $135 and $270 million. The bankruptcy filing by FSS will limit the total amount of money available to families of Sandy Hook. However, families could seek other assets from Jones, according to the plaintiff’s attorney, who was not involved in the case, Brian Kabateck, if the judge rules the company deliberately harmed them.
“The underlying conduct was egregious, and that’s the kind of thing that could get you beyond the bankruptcy limits,” said Kabateck. Although Jones has yet to file for personal bankruptcy, the same principle would apply when and if he does, according to Kabateck.
Anguished family testimony
The Sandy Hook families were subjected to a decade-long campaign of death threats and harassment by Jones’ followers, said Mattei. “Every single one of these families (was) drowning in grief, and Alex Jones put his foot right on top of them,” said Mattei to the jurors.
During closing arguments, Jones’ lawyer countered that plaintiffs had only shown scant evidence of any measurable losses. Attorney Norman Pattis urged jurors to put aside the political side of the case.
“This is not a case about politics,” said Pattis. “It’s about how much to compensate the plaintiffs.”
The weeks of the trial were marked by anguished testimony from the families, who took turns speaking about how Jones’ lies about Sandy Hook only compounded their grief. An additional plaintiff in the case was also a plaintiff in the case.
Jones testified, railing against his “liberal” critics and would not apologize to the families. He has since acknowledged that the shooting occurred.
Calling it excessive under state law Jones’ lawyers have said they hoped to eliminate most of the payout in the Texas case before the judge approves it. Jones could also appeal the verdict in Connecticut on legal grounds. The state does not place caps on damages.
Mattei said families would continue to go to any court to enforce the jury’s verdict “for as long as it takes because that’s what justice requires.”