Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has filed for bankruptcy, after courts in the United States ordered the Infowars host to pay nearly $1.5bn for spreading lies about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Jones filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections at a court in Houston, Texas, on Friday. The filing states that Jones has $1bn to $10bn in liabilities and $1m to $10m in assets.
For years, Jones claimed that the 2012 killing of 20 students and six staff at Sandy Hook was a hoax, and that many of the victims were “actors” employed by the government.
Jones has sinced acknowledged that the shooting was “100 percent real“, but the victims’ grieving relatives said they were harassed and threatened for years, even receiving deaths threats, from people who believed the lies spread by Jones.
In October, a Connecticut jury awarded families that had taken Jones to court $965m in compensatory damages, following weeks of anguished testimony by loved ones of those killed who said that their lives were overturned by Jones’s lies.
“Every single one of these families [was] drowning in grief, and Alex Jones put his foot right on top of them,” the lawyer representing the families told jurors.
Earlier in the year, a jury in Texas had also awarded the families $49m, and in November, a judge ordered Jones to pay an additional $473m to the families, bringing the total to nearly $1.5bn.
The bankruptcy filing by Jones has temporarily halted proceedings in the Connecticut case, and has pushed a judge to cancel a hearing that was to be held on Friday morning.
The hearing would have dealt with the Sandy Hook families’ request to attach the assets of Jones and his company to secure money for the damages, The Associated Press news agency reported.
Jones has claimed that he is unable to pay the penalties, and the extent of his personal wealth is not clear. However, an economist in the Texas case estimated Jones’s personal worth at between $135m and $270m.
Jones’s company, Free Speech Systems, also filed for bankruptcy in July.
Connecticut judge Barbara Bellis temporarily blocked Jones from moving any personal assets overseas after the plaintiffs claimed that Jones was trying to hide assets to avoid paying.
“Like every other cowardly move Alex Jones has made, this bankruptcy will not work,” Chris Mattei, a lawyer representing Sandy Hook families, said on Friday. “The American judicial system will hold Alex Jones accountable, and we will never stop working to enforce the jury’s verdict.”
A lawyer for Jones did not immediately return a request for comment from the Reuters news agency.
Bankruptcy can be used to wipe out debts, but not if they result from “willful or malicious injury” caused by the debtor. Jones’s lies appear to meet that standard, said Susan Block-Lieb, a professor of bankruptcy law at Fordham University School of Law.
“Defamation is pretty clearly an intentional tort – it is especially clear in Alex Jones’s case,’ Block-Lieb told the Reuters news agency.
Meanwhile, Jones continues to host his show. On Thursday, Jones hosted Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, who made a number of anti-Semitic remarks and praised Hitler.