Thursday, September 28, 2023

Alex Jones Must Pay $4.1 Million Over Sandy Hook Defamation Allegations

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A jury has ordered conspiracy channel Alex Jones to pay $4.1 million to the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The decision followed a trial that saw Jones and his counsel breaking courtroom protocol and – at some point – send accidentally copies of Jones’ phone records to the opposing legal team. The fine marks one of the first concrete legal consequences for Jones’ false claims that the shooting was a staged “false flag,” leading to years of parental harassment. But it represents only a fraction of the money Jones has made in the years since.

Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse Lewis was one of 20 children killed at Sandy Hook, had asked for $150 million in compensation for Jones’ statements about Sandy Hook. As The New York Times notes, the jury will meet again after today’s verdict to consider whether further punitive damages should be awarded. Jones will undergo a total of three trials of Sandy Hook parents; ever since he lost by default in all three cases of slander in any case, for refusing to submit documents to the court, the jury will decide on financial penalties.

So far, however, Jones claims to be fearless. “We have a plan to stay on the air. We can afford these kangaroo trials,” he said during a live video broadcast between ads for health supplements and other products. (Jones was banned from major web platforms in 2018 and 2019, a fate he compared to “technically…still be on Earth, but you’re in jail” during the trial.) Jones alleged at trial that a fine of more than $2 million would “sink” him, but court evidence showed Jones’ site Infowars was making $50 million a year even after he was “deplatformed.”

Jones also apparently took steps to hide his money during the trial. His company Free Speech Systems (FSS) declared bankruptcy with a debt of $54 million to another company that appears to be controlled by Jones, and he has been accused of “systematically transferring large amounts of money” from FSS to limit its losses. The bankruptcy filing delayed the next two trials, previously scheduled for September.

The bizarre trial has exposed both the limits of Jones’ fabulistic approach to media and the difficulty in holding him accountable in court. Judge Maya Guerra Gamble expressed open frustration at Jones for lying in the stands reminding him that “your belief that something is true doesn’t make it true.” She also rebuked his (eleventh) attorney, Andino Reynal, for sending one of Jones’ witnesses with him to discuss the case. “This is not your show”, Judge Gamble told Jones at one point.

Jones too conceded during the trial that the Sandy Hook shooting was “100 percent” real, despite his previous statements. “I inadvertently took part in things that hurt these people’s feelings,” Jones said — who broadcast segments that suggested, among other things, that Heslin had lied about holding his dead son in his arms. “I’m sorry about that.”

But as legal writer Ken White noticed before the verdict, the ruling will not necessarily diminish the public for Jones’ often untrue claims or his ability to make money from them, even if he has given up on this particular theory. “The people who enjoyed his Sandy Hook truthfulness didn’t enjoy it because it was factually convincing or coherent; they enjoyed the emotional state it conveyed because it matched theirs,” wrote White. “The law’s dabbling technicalities are probably insufficient to make them change their minds.” That makes defamation claims for Jones a cost-benefit calculation. So far, costs include today’s $4 million verdict, some much smaller last Finesand a reported $15 million in legal fees — and the benefits of tens of millions of dollars earned each year.

Still, the lawsuits will continue to be a legal headache for Jones — and they’re not over yet.

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