A court in the United States has ordered right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay $45.2m in punitive damages to the parents of a six-year-old boy killed in the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook, on top of the money he has already been told to pay for the suffering he put them through with years of false claims that the school shooting was a hoax.
The total sum of $49.3m, while considerable, is below the $150m Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis had sought for the years of lies that they, and other parents, had to endure as a result of Jones’ Texas-based InfoWars talk shows.
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Afterwards, Lewis said that Jones – who was not in court to hear the decision – had been held accountable.
She said when she took the stand and looked Jones in the eye, she thought of her son – Jesse Lewis – who was credited with saving lives by yelling “run” when the killer paused in his rampage.
“He stood up to the bully Adam Lanza and saved nine of his classmates’ lives,” Lewis said. “I hope that I did that incredible courage justice when I was able to confront Alex Jones, who is also a bully. I hope that inspires other people to do the same.”
The attack on the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012, left 20 children and six staff dead, and remains the deadliest in US history.
Jones, 48, a prominent supporter of former president Donald Trump, falsely claimed the massacre had been staged.
He has since acknowledged the shootings were “100 percent real,” but the Sandy Hook families say his denialism, coupled with his ability to influence the beliefs of thousands of followers, caused significant emotional trauma.
He is also accused of profiting from his harmful lies and disinformation.
Lanza used a Remington Bushmaster rifle during his rampage through the school, which ended when he killed himself with the sound of approaching police sirens.
Jones has been found liable in multiple defamation lawsuits brought by parents of the Sandy Hook victims, with the case brought by Heslin and Lewis in Texas, the first to reach the damages phase.
He is also under scrutiny for his role in the January 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol by Trump supporters.
“We ask that you send a very, very simple message, and that is: stop Alex Jones. Stop the monetisation of misinformation and lies,” Wesley Todd Ball, a lawyer for the parents, told jurors on Friday before they began deliberations on punitive damages.
“Stopping Alex Jones stops the root of his message and the root of his message is fear and hate,” he added.
The judge admonished Jones during the trial for not telling the truth during his testimony about his bankruptcy, and his lack of compliance with requests for documents.
Doug Mirell, a defamation litigation expert who was not involved in the case, said the question of Jones’ truthfulness on the witness stand could have been a factor in the jury’s award of punitive damages, noting that it was unusual for a jury to award significantly more in punitive than compensatory damages.
“The jury may have simply latched on to their revulsion at the lies and decided Mr Jones is truly a bad actor,” Mirell told Reuters news agency.
Forensic economist Bernard Pettingill testified on Friday on behalf of Lewis’s parents that Jones “promulgated some hate speech and some misinformation” and “made a lot of money”.
Jones and Infowars are worth between $135m and $270m combined, Pettingill said.
Infowars declared bankruptcy in April and another company owned by Jones, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy last week.
Jones’ lead lawyer, Andino Reynal, told the judge he planned to appeal and ask the courts to reduce the scale of the damages.