American far-right and alt-right radio show host and prominent conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been ordered to pay a total of $965 million in damages to the plaintiffs of the defamation trial surrounding his lies about the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting. The 15 plaintiffs of the case included the relatives of eight Sandy Hook victims, as well as a former FBI agent suing Jones.
The families of eight victims, and an FBI agent who responded to the attack, had sought at least $550m in the defamation trial in Connecticut.
They alleged the right-wing radio host’s misinformation led to a decade of harassment and death threats.
Twenty children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Jones, who founded the conspiracy-laden Infowars website and talk show, argued for years that the massacre was a “staged” government plot to take guns from Americans and that “no-one died,” per BBC.
He called the parents of victims “crisis actors” and argued that some of them never actually existed.
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A Connecticut jury reached a unanimous verdict Wednesday afternoon before the judge read aloud a detailed report of the various damages owed to each plaintiff by Jones and his media company, Free Speech Systems.
Jones was found liable for violating Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act by using lies about the Sandy Hook massacre to sell products on his website. Under that law, there is no limit on punitive damages.
According to Variety, During his August trial for defaming Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, parents of Sandy Hook victim Jesse Lewis, Jones said he now believes the shooting is “100% real.” He was ordered to pay Heslin and Lewis $49 million in damages by a Texas jury last month.
Jones was broadcasting live on his show while the verdict came in, telling his viewers: “They want to scare us away from questioning Uvalde or Parkland. We’re not going away. We’re not going to stop… The forces of Satan are trying to drive the world into thermonuclear war.”
Earlier in his show, Jones said, “This must be what Hell’s like, they just read out the damages. Even though you don’t got the money” (via NBC News). He added that he “lost count” of the damages and began selling “vitamineral fusion” from the Infowars store in an effort to raise money.
The three-week trial was marked by emotional testimony from a succession of parents.
Some described receiving a deluge of online hate and others said they had to move homes repeatedly for their own safety. A father, Mark Barden, recounted hearing that people were desecrating his son Daniel’s grave by “urinating on it and threatening to dig it up”.
Jurors also heard evidence that Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, made millions of dollars selling nutritional supplements, survival gear and other products on the Infowars catalog.
Jones broadcast himself watching Wednesday’s verdict and scoffing at the court proceedings. He also appealed to his followers to make urgent donations, and pledged that the funds would not go towards his legal costs.
“The money does not go to these people,” he said. “It goes to fight this fraud and it goes to stabilise the company.”
His lawyer Norm Pattis told reporters that they will appeal the decision.
“Candidly, from start to finish, the fix was in in this case,” he said outside the court.
In closing arguments, plaintiffs’ attorney Chris Mattei said: “When every single one of these families were drowning in grief, Alex Jones put his foot right on top of them.”
Jones, for his part, had slammed the proceedings as a “show trial” run by a “tyrant” judge and argued he was not to blame for the actions of his followers.
“I’ve already said I’m sorry hundreds of times, and I’m done saying I’m sorry,” he said in dramatic testimony late last month that brought some in the courtroom to tears.
His lawyers urged the six-member jury to ignore political undercurrents in the case and award minimal damages.
His lead defense lawyer, Mr Pattis, also drew a stern rebuke from the judge after he accused the opposing legal team of “inventing anger”.
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