Last Wednesday, a Connecticut jury found InfoWars host Alex Jones liable for 965 million dollars in damages due to defamation. For years, Jones claimed that the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, where 20 children and six adults were killed, was a false flag operation designed to enact sweeping gun control laws. The class-action lawsuit was filed by over a dozen relatives of those killed during the Sandy Hook shooting. Free Speech Systems, the parent company of InfoWars, is held equally liable, as they made more revenue from the traffic driven to the site after this claim.
Mass shootings are often fodder for conspiracy theories, but Jones’ claim was unique in the fact that he pinned the blame on the parents and teachers of the children that were killed. Whereas most conspiracy theories frame the deaths as real and part of a scare tactic, Jones said that the crying parents and children were “crisis actors,” a term which here means someone who pretends to be a victim of a disaster in order to sway public opinion. In this case, the alleged goal was to turn public opinion in favor of stricter gun control laws. Jones’ claims were primarily based on Newtown police records, which publicly showed that no murders were committed in 2012. In reality, this is because the deaths were recorded by the Connecticut State Police, who responded to the shooting and conducted the investigation. In 2019, Jones renounced this belief, saying that he now believes the deaths are real.
This was all understandably distressing to Sandy Hook families, but that wasn’t the primary focus of the lawsuit. The majority of the damages came from harassment they faced at the hands of Jones’ supporters. According to CNBC, the families were mocked openly by strangers and even had physical threats levied against them. They said that “strangers showed up at their homes to record them. People hurled abusive comments on social media. Erica Lafferty, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, testified that people mailed rape threats to her house. Mark Barden told of how conspiracy theorists had urinated on the grave of his 7-year-old son, Daniel, and threatened to dig up the coffin.” The harassment continued for some time, with the conspiracy spreading across the country.
Jones continued to acknowledge the authenticity of the shooting during the trial, however, this was coupled with an air of defiance both during his testimony and on his show. “I’ve already said ‘I’m sorry’ hundreds of times and I’m done saying I’m sorry,” he said during his testimony, later calling the entire proceeding a “kangaroo court.” He also referred to the plaintiff’s lawyer as an “ambulance chaser,” a derogatory term for attorneys that try to make money off of those who were injured, even if there’s no legal ground for it.
During the trial, Jones also claimed that he would be unable to pay any fines over two million dollars. Free Speech Systems LLC has filed for bankruptcy protection, meaning that money has been tight for a while. However, during the trial, an economist testified that Jones and Free Speech Systems were likely worth well over 200 million dollars. If he is unable to pay, Jones could face insolvency, an inability to pay one’s debts. This means that his assets and properties would likely be liquidated in order to pay as much as possible, and his name will be put on the National Personal Insolvency Index, which would affect his ability to get credit or loans in the future.
The largest sum of money— 120 million dollars— was awarded to Robbie Parker, the father of six-year-old Emilie. Parker was the primary target of online and in-person harassment by conspiracy theorists due to a video of him smiling and laughing before giving a speech about his daughter. This short, one-second clip was replayed over and over again on InfoWars, causing death threats and harassment for years to come. Parker also testified that during the funeral Emilie’s mother Alissa was so scared of a disruption that he found her “cowering in a closet before the service.” According to the New York Times, “Mr. Parker described a 2016 episode in which he was accosted in Seattle — four years and thousands of miles away from the massacre — by a man who launched a profanity-laced tirade, asking Mr. Parker how much money he had made from the government for faking his daughter’s death at Sandy Hook,” showing how widespread and long-lasting Jones’ impact has been on their lives.
While this trial and payment are unprecedented in the history of Alex Jones, the conspiracy itself is certainly nothing new. Jones has been responsible for the spread of almost every major conspiracy theory throughout the 21st century. A great number of them have led to violent outbursts. “Pizzagate” led to an attempted shooting inside a D.C. pizza restaurant. Jones’ “great replacement” theory was a catalyst for the Charlottesville car attack. He also was at least partially responsible for the January 6 Capitol Hill riots, due to his constant coverage of the “stolen” election.