For the agony brought on by years of claims that the tragedy was a fabrication, a Connecticut jury ordered Infowars founder Alex Jones to pay $965 million in damages to the families of the eight victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.
The judgement on Wednesday represents the greatest reward to yet in the families’ multifaceted legal effort to hold Jones accountable for spreading misinformation about the 2012 mass shooting in which 20 children and six teachers were slain in a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school.
Jones was informing his audience that the shooting had been manufactured as an excuse to seize guns just hours after it had occurred. Within a few days, he started to imply that distraught parents were actors. He claimed the tragedy was staged again and time again in the years that followed.
The families testified during the trial that conspiracy theorists harassed and threatened them, accusing them of fabricating the deaths of their own children as a result of the lies peddled by Jones. They talked about feeling uneasy in their own homes and constantly attentive outside. The families left Newtown in some cases.
Emilie Parker, a 6-year-old girl, was murdered in the incident, and Robbie Parker received the greatest single payout of $120 million. Jones made fun of Parker’s acting career for years. An FBI agent who responded to the incident was also one of the plaintiffs. Damages of $90 million were given to him.
The family members met outside the courthouse to thank the jurors after the unanimous decision was made.
The daughter of Sandy Hook Elementary Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, who died at the school, Erica Lafferty, stated that the truth is important. People who make money off the suffering and trauma of others will be held accountable.
The level of the damages imposed indicates that the jury particularly viewed Jones’ behavior repugnant and detrimental. Jones indicated to his audience that he would appeal the decision as soon as the result was made public.
The Wednesday announcement of damages is intended to make up for the victims’ reputational harm and emotional suffering. Punitive damages will be decided by a judge next month.
First Amendment specialist and University of California at Los Angeles law professor Eugene Volokh claimed he was unaware of another defamation case with damages of this magnitude.
According to Volokh, it does convey the message that juries care about reputation and care about lies, particularly when they involve persons who are sympathetic. The Sandy Hook families are a difficult group to feel greater compassion for.
In order to stop other families from going through the same mistreatment, the victims’ relatives have filed three defamation lawsuits against Jones, the Connecticut case being one of them.
Jones was ordered to pay over $50 million to the parents of Jesse Lewis, a 6-year-old who died at Sandy Hook, by a Texas jury in a separate lawsuit in August. State restrictions on such awards mean that the actual compensation will be much lower.
Jones, a well-known fan of former president Donald Trump who has reciprocated the compliment, is a careless proponent of conspiracies. As his presidential campaign picked up steam in late 2015, Trump told Jones, “Your reputation is great. I won’t fail you.
Jones was removed from all of the AA1 and AA2 platforms in 2018 after they claimed he had broken their rules against offensive and damaging content.
When Jones was being sued for defamation earlier this year, he admitted in court that Sandy Hook Elementary School had experienced a mass shooting and expressed some remorse for his comments. However, he reiterated this month that questions regarding the atrocity were legitimate and added, “I don’t really know what truly happened there.”
Jones violated his legal duty by refusing to provide the Connecticut case’s plaintiffs with important evidence, such as financial records and information on website traffic. He was found to be liable for defamation in a default judgment entered by Judge Barbara Bellis. As the jury began deliberations, Bellis stated that their sole responsibility was to assess the severity of the harm.
Jones’ financial situation is hazy. Jones and his businesses may have a net value of up to $270 million, according to Bernard Pettingill, a forensic economist retained by the plaintiffs for the Texas trial. Also said Jones withdrew $62 million in 2021 is Pettingill.
According to Jones, his companies are having trouble. For example, Infowars and its parent company Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.
The majority of Jones’ evidence last month showed him to be unrepentant. Jones retaliated angrily when the families’ attorney, Christopher Mattei, urged Jones to treat the family members in the courtroom with greater respect.
Is this some sort of struggle? Do we live in China? Jones made a reference to the denunciatory and degrading nature of Maoist rallies. I’ve apologized hundreds of times already, and I’m over.
All 15 plaintiffs, one FBI agent, and the family members of eight victims testified throughout the trial’s first month. They talked about getting hate mail and threats from people who thought they were crisis actors and believed in conspiracies.
Ben Wheeler, a 6-year-old boy who died at Sandy Hook, was slain by his mother Francine Wheeler, who spoke about how liars exploited her fame as a performer to promote untrue rumors about the family. They also spread a picture of her older son, who had survived the massacre, singing in the choir to imply that no kids had been slain at the school.
Losing a child is one thing, Wheeler added. It’s quite another when trolls stalk you online using information about your deceased boy, your living child, your husband, and everything else you’ve ever done in your life.
Emilie Parker, Parker’s daughter, died in the shooting. He was the first parent to openly speak after the shooting. Parker gave a fleeting uneasy smile as he noticed the assembled journalists just before he made an agonized speech to the media. Jones embraced the opportunity to use the little video clip as proof of the alleged fake, repeating it repeatedly in the years that followed the shooting.
Parker expressed his shame about the abuse the families were subjected to, feeling as though he was somehow to blame. Parker informed the court that although rationally understanding that it was not his fault, he nevertheless feels a sense of responsibility. His voice quivered and his body shook as he spoke.
On December 14, 2012, William Aldenberg—at the time an FBI agent—responded to the shooting scene. He too came to be the subject of rumors of conspiracies.
Aldenberg was questioned about if what he observed in the school that day was real by Mattei, the families’ attorney. No, no. No, he answered, sir. If there were any actors present, Mattei questioned. Aldenberg, overtaken with passion, responded, “No.” It really is bad.
Aldenberg addressed the relatives and said, “Their kids were killed.” They had to sit here and listen to me describe something that I personally witnessed.