Alex Jones, the infamous radio host and conspiracy theory peddler, has used his InfoWars show to make false and unsubstantiated claims on numerous occasions that the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was fake. Jones appeared in court Wednesday to determine damages in a defamation case in which Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of a 6-year-old who died in a school shooting, are seeking $150 million in damages.
On Thursday afternoon, a jury ruled that Jones must pay at least $4.1 million to her parents. Although the verdict signed by 10 of the 12 jurors, is less than the 3% compensation the parents sought, Jones may still be ordered to pay more. On Friday, the jury will reconvene to determine whether Jones is owed any of the $75 million in damages that Heslin and Lewis’ attorney sought.
The Texas trial, which began on July 25, is one of three similar cases against Jones over his claims about the Sandy Hook massacre in Newton, Connecticut. Jones was found guilty of libel in each case. The courts will now decide how much he will pay in damages.
On Wednesday, Jones faced questions from attorneys about the plaintiff and his defense attorney, as well as the jury. In response to questions from defense attorney Andino Renal, Jones said he understands it’s irresponsible to believe the mass shooting was fake. Jones added that it was “100% real”.
Mark Bankston, an attorney for the Sandy Hook parents, presented a segment from Jones’ InfoWars show that aired last week. made false claims on Judge Maya Guerra Gamble. Bankston also showed another clip from InfoWars where Jones called the jury “extremely blue collar” and said he didn’t know what planet they were on.
Then, in a move that surprised Jones, Bankston revealed that the defense sent him by mistake the entire text message history of Jones’ phone. This evidence contradicted Jones’ sworn testimony that he did not have the Sandy Hook texts. The is reportedly preparing to solicit those texts and emails, Rolling Stone reported Wednesday.
After both the prosecution and the defense had no further questions, the jury wrote out questions for Jones to read to the judge. One juror asked what compensation Jones thought would be appropriate for the parents. He said anything over $2 million would “sunk” us. Earlier in the plaintiff’s questions, Jones confirmed that at one point his show was making $800,000 a day.
Both sides rested late Wednesday afternoon for closing arguments. After the argument, the jury began deliberations.
On Thursday, Judge Gamble rejected the defense’s request for rape while the jury deliberated. Bankston also confirmed this turns over the contents of Jones’ phone to law enforcement who requested copies.
In that lawsuit, Heslin and Lewis sought $150 million in damages not only for emotional harm caused by false claims that the massacre was a false flag attack aimed at promoting stricter gun control laws, but also for death threats from people who believe . in the discredited conspiracy theory espoused by Jones.
“I can’t even begin to describe the last nine and a half years, the hell that I and others have had to endure because of the recklessness and negligence of Alex Jones,” Heslin said in court Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.
At the center of the defamation trial were comments Heslin made in 2017 during a television interview with broadcaster Megyn Kelly and how InfoWars interpreted his statement to fit its own narrative. Recalling the Sandy Hook shooting, Heslin said of his 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, “I was holding my son with a bullet hole over his head.” Shortly after the interview aired, InfoWars host Owen Shroyer claimed, without evidence, that the timeline of events “couldn’t” have cradled his child.
Here’s everything you need to know about legal negotiations.
Who is Jones and what was Sandy Hook?
Alex Jones, 48, is an extremist, avid conspiracy theorist and media personality best known for his radio and YouTube show InfoWars. Jones, who is based in Austin, Texas, has pushed conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate, the false notion that a Washington, D.C. pizzeria was involved in a child- and sex-trafficking ring backed by high-ranking Democrats, and more recently, the debunked claim that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Jones was found to have helped fund pro-Trump rallies on January 5 and 6, 2021, which precipitated the attack on the US Capitol.
A recurring theme in Jones’ claims is the concept of a “false flag” operation – an event staged to provoke political action. Jones said without evidence that the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was a false flag operation “to try to bring down Trump.” Jones falsely accused Jason Kessler, who organized a rally of white nationalists and neo-Nazis, of being a federal agent. Local resident Heather Heyer was killed when a man drove his car into a group of counter-protesters.
In the Sandy Hook massacre, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 27 people. Lanza first shot his mother at home, then moved to the school where he massacred 20 children and six adult staff members before committing suicide.
Amidst the strange conspiracies Jones runs, he has enjoyed a large and influential audience. Former President Donald Trump appeared on his show in 2015 when he was a presidential candidate. The YouTube channel for InfoWars had 2 million subscribers before the platform launched in 2018. (In April,although the reasons for this may be related to contemporary libel suits.)
InfoWars generated more than $165 million over a three-year period, InfoWars producer Daria Karpova said in court on July 29. Much of that money was through products sold on his website, including health supplements and survival gear.
What did Jones say about Sandy Hook?
Of all the extreme conspiracy theories Jones has pushed, the claim that Sandy Hook was a “hoax” is the most infamous. At one point, Jones claimed the massacre was a false flag operation by the Obama administration to push for stricter gun laws.
“My gut is, with the timing and everything that happened, it’s staged,” Jones said the day of the massacre. He compared the shooting to Adolf Hitler’s 1933 plan to seize total power by burning down the German parliament and declaring martial law. “Why did Hitler blow up the Reichstag? To gain control,” he said on the show. “Why do governments organize these things? To get our weapons!”
Jones began questioning the legitimacy of parents whose children were killed at Sandy Hook. A grieving Robbie Parker was seen holding a folded sheet of paper before speaking to the media about his daughter’s death the day after the shooting. Jones argued without evidence that the papers were evidence of a conspiracy involving the media or the government.
Jones later falsely claimed on InfoWars that several parents laughed before media interviews, where they immediately burst into tears.
Crucial to Jones’ defamation case are statements made on Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly in 2017 and on a subsequent episode of InfoWars.
“I lost my son, I buried my son, I held my son with a bullet hole over his head,” Heslin said of his freshman son who died in the shooting. InfoWars host Owen Shroyer suggested that Heslin made up some or all of the story.
In court testimony on July 28 and 29, Shroyer admitted that he did not properly fact-check the report that contained his comments about Heslin.
Why are Sandy Hook parents receiving death threats?
Several parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre have said they have been subjected to constant abuse and death threats by people they mistakenly believe were actors in the staged event.
“Alex lit the flame that started the fire,” Heslin said in court Tuesday. “Other people brought some wood to add to it.
One such offender was a 57-year-old woman who was jailed in 2017 for sending a voicemail to a grieving parent saying: “You’re going to die, death will come really soon.” Another man was jailed for reaching out to the sister of Victoria Soto, a teacher who was killed in the massacre, falsely and “angryly alleging” that Sandy Hook didn’t happen and that Soto “never existed.”
In testimony Tuesday, Heslin said he was harassed online and on the street and that his home and car were shot up.
“My life was in danger,” he told the jury. “I fear for my life, I fear for my safety.
Lenny Pozner, another father of a Sandy Hook victim, told Now This News in 2018 that his family had moved seven times in the previous six years due to safety concerns.
“Alex Jones is like him [WWE] news,” said Pozner, who won a defamation lawsuit against Jones last year. “Some people enjoy it, they can suspend disbelief and enjoy what they hear. Some people look at it and think it’s real.”
Jones defended himself by saying that he never actively incited violence. “I never said go to people’s houses,” Jones said on the Joe Rogan Experience in 2019.
What is at stake in a defamation lawsuit?
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have struggled with misinformation and found it difficult to strike a balance between preserving free speech and curbing harmful misinformation. Jones was a central figure in this fight and was among the first high-profile bills.
Jones’ ongoing legal battles will determine whether US courts are an effective recourse for victims of harmful misinformation. “Speech is free, but you pay for lies,” Heslin and Lewis’ attorney Mark Bankston said in his opening statement to the jury.
For his part, Jones tried to recast the trial as a free speech debate. When he arrived in court on July 26, he came with a tape over his mouth with the phrase “save the 1st” written on it, in reference to the First Amendment.
“If questioning public actions and free speech is banned because it might hurt someone’s feelings, then we are no longer in America,” Jones said in testimony last month.
However, the First Amendment addresses government efforts to restrict speech. It does not apply to individuals or businesses, and defamation cases by definition involve damages caused by false or malicious statements.
Jones went on to broadcast episodes of InfoWars denouncing the case as a “trial” and a “distraction”.