A judge in the United States has found right-wing radio host Alex Jones liable for damages for broadcasting a false conspiracy theory that a 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut was a hoax.
Parents of several children killed in the massacre had sued Jones in Connecticut Superior Court for his claims that the massacre had been staged and the children’s families were “crisis actors”.
Judge Barbara Bellis on Monday found Jones liable by default in four defamation lawsuits because he and his lawyers had failed to turn over documents to the parents’ lawyers.
In reaching the ruling, Judge Bellis cited a failure by Jones and his companies “to produce critical material information that the plaintiffs needed to prove their claims”, The Associated Press reported.
A hearing now will be scheduled on how much in damages Jones and his companies will have to pay the families, the judge said. Jones’s lawyers have denied violating rules on turning over documents.
The Connecticut ruling against Jones came as the US is experiencing a rising wave of gun violence that has killed more than 39,000 so far this year including suicides and murders, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
There have been 625 mass shooting incidents – where four or more are shot and killed – so far in 2021, up from a total of 611 mass shootings in all of 2021.
The 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, killed 20 first-grade students and six educators. Jones has since said he does not believe the massacre was a hoax. But families said they were subjected to harassment and death threats from Jones’s legion of followers.
Lawyers for the parents claimed Jones and his companies, including Infowars and Free Speech Systems, violated court rules by failing to turn over documents to them, including internal company documents showing how, and if, Jones and Infowars profited from talking about the school shooting and other mass shootings.
“Their pattern of defying and ignoring court orders to produce responsive information is well established,” lawyers for the family wrote in a court brief in July.
By law and practice, US courts routinely require disclosure of documents and information by parties to a lawsuit through a process called discovery. Failure to comply with court-ordered disclosures can result in adverse rulings, as in this case.
With the prospect of court sanctions looming, Jones’s lawyers had attempted last month to disqualify Judge Bellis, whose conduct they claimed in court papers was “rife with the appearance of judicial impropriety”.
“Judge Bellis’s rulings continued to demonstrate a high degree of antagonism towards” Jones, his lawyers said.
A Texas judge recently issued similar rulings against Jones in three defamation lawsuits brought by Sandy Hook families in that state, finding Jones liable for damages, according to the AP.
In July, Remington Arms Company, maker of the semi-automatic, assault rifle used at Sandy Hook, offered some of the victims’ families nearly $33m to settle a lawsuit about how the company marketed the firearm.
Sandy Hook was perpetrated by a 20-year-old lone gunman who first murdered his mother at home and later shot himself after attacking the school.
Newtown was the deadliest mass shooting at an elementary school and the fourth deadliest in US history.