A Texas jury has ordered conspiracy theorist and Infowars owner Alex Jones to pay the parents of a Sandy Hook shooting victim $4 million in compensatory damages and $45.2 million in punitive damages
Jones has spent almost a decade arguing that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School — which left 28 people, including 20 children, dead — was a hoax, and that the parents of the victims were “crisis actors” upholding the lie. One set of parents, Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, sued Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, in 2018 for defamation.
In a verdict signed by 10 members of the 12-member jury, the group ordered Jones to pay a total of $49.3 million in damages to Lewis and Heslin. “It seems so incredible to me that we have to do this,” Lewis said at the trial, speaking directly to Jones. “That we have to implore you — not just implore you, punish you — to get you to stop lying … It is surreal what is going on in here.” Lewis said she felt hitting Jones with monetary damages was necessary because she believed it would be the only thing to get him to change his behavior.
In the lead up to the jury’s decision, Jones claimed that any judgement for more than $2 million would leave him in financial ruin. His company, Free Speech Systems, also filed for bankruptcy in an effort to limit his financial liability.
However, just a day before the jury settled on a number for compensatory damages, it was revealed that Jones’ lawyers accidentally emailed the full contents of his phone to the attorneys representing Lewis and Heslin, providing dozens of emails and texts that contradicted Jones’ claims about Infowars’ profitability. Specifically, the emails revealed that at its peak Infowars had generated as much as $5 million in revenue per week. Plus, Jones’ supporters recently rallied around the embattled host by donating upwards of $8 billion in Bitcoin.
Throughout the case, Jones also repeatedly asserted that he had no text messages about Sandy Hook to turn over during the discovery process. The phone did in fact contain messages related to Sandy Hook, suggesting that Jones had committed perjury.
To make Jones’ legal troubles even worse, Mark Bankston, the lawyer who represents Lewis and Heslin, said Jones’ phone contained texts with Trump associate Roger Stone, and that he had heard from “various federal agencies and law enforcement” about the material. One such agency was the US House committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. The committee first subpoenaed Jones in November, demanding documents related to the conservative figure’s efforts to spread misinformation about the 2020 election. In the subpoena letter, Rep. Bennie Thompson said Jones helped organize the January 6th rally at the Ellipse that preceded the insurrection, encouraged his listeners to attend the rally, and urged them to march from the park to the Capitol, where Trump was said to speak. Bankston said he planned to turn over the data from Jones’ phone to the committee.
Lewis and Heslin are just one set of Sandy Hook parents with ongoing lawsuits against Jones. Two more trials are expected to begin in Texas in the coming months, while a group of families in Connecticut won a default judgment against the radio host after he failed to comply with the discovery process.
Update: This article has been updated to include the jury’s decision on punitive damages.