Infowars host ordered to pay an extra $45m to Sandy Hook family
The far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been ordered to pay a further $45m (£37m) to a grieving family who sued him over his claims the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre was faked, on top of the $4m he had already been told to pay.
The combined amount of $49.3m is hefty but still below the $150m Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis – the parents of slain six-year-old Jesse Lewis – had demanded over Jones’s repeated lies that the murders in Connecticut were an elaborate ruse carried out by “crisis actors” hellbent on forcing gun control reform.
Jones spread the lies on his rightwing conspiratorial outlet Infowars as well as other media platforms.
The jury’s original award was to compensate Heslin and Lewis for Jones’s actions. The $45m award was meant to punish Jones for conduct the jurors found to be egregious.
Before the verdict’s reading, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Wes Ball, asked the jury to send a “very, very simple message … and that is stop Alex Jones, stop the monetisation of misinformation and lies,” an impassioned Ball said. “Please.”
Jones’s attorney, Federico Andino Reynal, sought to persuade jurors that they had “already sent a message” with the $4m award.
During a two-week trial that began on 25 July, Heslin and Lewis testified that Jones’s followers harassed them for years over the lie that they had lied about their son’s death as well as the killings of 19 other students and six staff members at Sandy Hook.
Saying he made healing after their son’s murder impossible, the pair sued Jones for defaming them and intentionally inflicting emotional distress. They won a judgment in their favour by default after Jones failed to provide documents in response to their lawsuit, setting up this trial, the sole purpose of which was to determine how much Jones owed.
Jones, for his part, tried to distance himself from the Sandy Hook conspiracy theories he touted, saying he was sorry if he hurt the plaintiffs’ feelings while conceding that the massacre was “100% real”.
Yesterday began with testimony from a financial expert who estimated that Jones and his media company Free Speech Systems enjoyed a combined worth of between $135m and $270m. Forensic economist Bernard Pettingill added that Jones and his company earned more than $50m annually between 2016 and 2021.
Pettingill said those estimations were made complicated by the fact that Jones used a web of shell companies that own nothing and employ no one to shuttle his money around.