Infowars founder Alex Jones listens to a supporter at the Texas State Capital building on April 18, 2020 in Austin, Texas.
Sergio Flores/Getty Images
Sergio Flores/Getty Images
A jury in Austin, Texas, today awarded the parents of a murdered first grader $4.1 million for mental anguish caused by broadcaster Alex Jones’s false claims about the Sandy Hook shooting.
The two-week trial became emotional at times as the parents first confronted Jones in the courtroom.
“I am a mother first and foremost, and I know that you are a father. And my son existed,” said Scarlett Lewis, mother of six-year-old Jesse Lewis, who was shot along with 25 other children. and school staff in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“You still imply on your show that I’m an actress, that I’m from the deep state,” she continued, “and I don’t get it. The truth is so important to our world.”
Jones has stated time and time again on InfoWars, his radio and internet platform, that the elementary school massacre was staged by the federal government as an excuse to crack down on guns.
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“Sandy Hook is synthetic, completely fake, with actors that are artificial in my opinion,” he said in 2015.
While the pugnacious conspiracy theorist has been kicked out of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other mainstream platforms for promoting hate speech and lies, Infowars still plays on hundreds of radio stations and its website still receives millions of monthly visitors.
During the litigation, Jones’ company Free Speech Systems LLC filed for bankruptcy. He transferred $14.3 million in assets and $79 million in liabilities. But in the next phase of Jones’s trial, the parents’ lawyers will allege that he is hiding assets worth millions of dollars.
Alex Jones still sells supplements on Amazon despite bans on other platforms.
A new book, Sandy Hook:American tragedy and the battle for truth says online store Infowars generated $50 million in revenue in one year selling alternative medicines, freeze-dried foods, survival gear and other items.
Parents describe 10-year ‘hell’
The parents, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, testified that they had endured harassment, death threats and harassment from dangerous information war followers, suffered from panic attacks and had to go into hiding. Their lawyer said the threats continued in Austin during the trial, forcing them to travel with security.
“I can’t even describe the last nine and a half years,” Heslin told jurors with tears in his eyes, “the hell that I and others have had to endure because of the recklessness and carelessness of Alex Jones.”
Alex Jones admits that the Sandy Hook attack was “100% real”.
In his defense, Jones told witness testimony that “I never intentionally tried to hurt you. I never even said your name until this case went to trial.” He also said that he eventually admitted that the massacre at the school was real and not fake.
He described himself as a First Amendment-protected opinionated pundit and portrayed the defamation trial as a “kangaroo court” attempting to silence free speech in America.
Warning shot for other conspiracy theorists?
Bill Adair, Duke University journalism professor and co-founder of the International Fact-Checking Network, said the decision shows the limitations of the First Amendment.
“I think this big award shows that people should be held accountable for what they say,” Adair said. “I think some people acted on the assumption that they could just lie freely and not worry about the consequences.”
Adair said that due to Jones’ excessive reputation, $4.1 millionthe verdict “may act as a deterrent to others who may go out on various platforms and make wild, ridiculous, unsubstantiated claims.”
Jones was also a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump and attended a rally outside the Capitol on January 6 before it escalated into riots.
Earlier Thursday, plaintiffs’ lawyer Mark Bankston said he intended to pass two years of text messages from Jones’ cell phone to the US House of Representatives committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack. A bunch of messages were discovered at a dramatic moment in the trial, when Bankston confronted Jones and told him that his lawyer had mistakenly sent incriminating data to the Plantiffs.