Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay at least $965 million in damages to numerous families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting for falsely claiming they were actors who faked the tragedy, a Connecticut jury said on Wednesday. For years, the founder of the far-right InfoWars website claimed that the 20 children and six staff members who died in the massacre had pretended to be dead as part of a government plot to introduce gun controls. He even suggested that the parents of the victims were in fact actors who had been hired to carry on the charade.
Prosecutors argued that Jones cashed in for years on the lies about the shooting, which drove traffic to his Infowars website and boosted sales of its various products. He only conceded the tragedy was “100% real,” while facing several lawsuits. By then, his network of shell companies – which he used to hide an estimated fortune of between $135 and $270 million – was under suspicion.
Jones’ lies about the Sandy Hook massacre convinced many of his followers. The plaintiffs in the Connecticut case included more than a dozen relatives of 20 children and six staff members who were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. During the trial, parents testified about how they were threatened and harassed by Jones supporters, who accused them of having faked the death of their children. The situation became so bad they no longer felt safe in their own home. Some of the parents even moved away from Newport, the Connecticut town where the school was located.
“I am incredibly proud and thankful of the message we sent here today: The truth matters. And those who profit off of other people’s trauma will pay for what they’ve done,” Erica Lafferty, the daughter of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre, told the press. “There will be more Alex Joneses in the world. But today they learned that they will be held accountable.” Her mother, Dawn Hoschsprung, was the principal of the elementary school, when Adam Lanza entered the grounds and started shooting students after killing his own mother. Hoschsprung was shot dead when she went out to see what was happening and warn the others.
Wednesday’s verdict far outstrips the $49 million Jones was ordered to pay in August by a Texas jury in a similar case brought by two other Sandy Hook parents. A previous sentence also ordered him to pay $4.1 million in compensation.
The Connecticut verdict applies to both Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, which owns InfoWars and filed for bankruptcy protection in July. Declaring bankruptcy is a common tactic used in the United States to avoid paying a fine or compensation. This strategy has already helped Jones delay paying the damages from the Texas ruling.
Jones, who was on the air with his radio program as the verdict was read, vowed to appeal and said his company’s ongoing bankruptcy will protect Infowars in the meantime. “We’re fighting Goliath,” he said.
During the three-week trial, the far-right conspiracy theorist refused to apologize to the Sandy Hook families, arguing that he had already done so on other occasions. In addition to the compensation, jurors said the plaintiffs should also be awarded attorney’s fees, which are set to be determined in November.
Christopher Mattei, a lawyer for the families, said outside the courthouse that the verdict was “against Alex Jones, his lies and their poisonous spread, and a verdict for truth and for our common humanity.”