After nearly four days of deliberation, the jury in a defamation lawsuit against conspiracy entrepreneur Alex Jones has ordered him to pay $965 million in damages for what the plaintiffs’ attorney described as “defamation on a historic scale.”
The Wednesday jury award is the second time in recent months Jones has been ordered to pay damages in defamation suits. Once attorney fees are determined, the conspiracist will owe more than $1 billion in lawsuits stemming from his broadcasts and public statements peddling lies about the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. Jones claimed for years that the massacre was a false flag staged by the government.
Those lies earned him millions of dollars. Even after family members of those killed sued Jones for defamation, he continued to profit, growing an empire marketing conspiracy myths, supplements and survival gear to a growing audience. Jones has also reportedly received influxes of cryptocurrency from supporters as the defamation suits against him made their way through the courts.
As the jury award was read out on Wednesday, plaintiffs wept and looked dazed as the amount of damages approached $1 billion. Jones himself was not present.
Instead, he livestreamed the verdict on his website, cheering sarcastically as the numbers were announced and muttering asides. “This is what a political show trial looks like,” he said at one point. “This must be what Hell’s like,” he said a few minutes later.
He also repeated claims, disputed by experts, that he had no money to pay the awards. “Ain’t going to be happening, ain’t no money,” Jones asserted, in between appeals for donations from his audience and pitches for his supplement products.
Family members filed four different lawsuits; Jones declined to turn over relevant documents and was found liable for defamation by default. He has claimed free speech protection. This was the second of three trials to determine damages against the families of the victims. A third trial is due to take place in Austin, Texas, later this year.
Lawyers for the families in the Connecticut case requested at least $550 million be awarded to 15 plaintiffs who are the family members of eight victims and a first responder.
On Wednesday, those plaintiffs were instead awarded nearly $1 billion in compensatory damages — far surpassing what plaintiffs were awarded by a Texas jury in August. Texas, where Jones resides, strictly caps compensatory damage payments; the parents of one child killed at Sandy Hook were awarded $45.2 million in punitive damages and $4.11 million in compensatory damages in that case.
“He’s going on 10 years of defaming these families, and it’s not stopping,” plaintiffs’ attorney Christopher Mattei said in his closing argument Thursday, after nearly two weeks of wrenching testimony. “This is their one chance and your one chance — your one chance — to render a verdict on just how much devastation Alex Jones has caused,” Mattei said.
Mattei asked the jury to consider not only Jones’ individual lies, but the reach he had as his false claims spread across social media and his Infowars platforms. He also said a financially devastating verdict is “the only way he will stop.”
“He built a lie machine to push this stuff out,” said Mattei.
And that machine was lucrative, these defamation trials have revealed. The Texas trial had helped uncover some details about Jones’ wealth — and his attempts to hide it. An expert in that case testified that his media empire may be worth as much as $270 million.
Jones’ lawyer, Norm Pattis, described his client as a “mad prophet,” and asked jurors not to “tar and feather” him. “They are asking for damages for their distress,” Pattis said. “And from the plaintiff’s perspective, there cannot be enough.”
Jones himself was pointedly unapologetic during this trial. “I’ve already said I’m sorry hundreds of times. And I’m done saying sorry,” he said at one point.
Outside of the courthouse, Jones called the trial a “kangaroo court.” He mocked the proceedings on his show — and repeatedly leveraged the trial to ask his followers for money.
After the defamation lawsuits were filed, Jones began transferring funds out of his businesses and declared bankruptcy. He claimed that he and Infowars’ parent company, Free Speech Systems, would be unable to pay the awards.
As Grid has previously reported, roughly $70 million moved from Free Speech Systems to Jones’ own accounts, according to forensic economist Bernard Pettingill Jr., an expert witness called to the stand in the Texas trial on behalf of the plaintiffs. Pettingill also testified that millions more were transferred to separate corporations controlled by Jones and his parents.
In a court filing, attorneys for one of Jones’ businesses said that was not true, but rather the result of “misunderstanding the difference between a balance sheet and an income statement.”
At one point in 2018, Infowars was bringing in over $800,000 a day in sales. Meanwhile, Sandy Hook families said they were targeted for harassment, stalking and death threats by Jones’ followers, who believed his lies that the children killed on that day never existed, their family members were crisis actors and the entire massacre was an elaborate hoax staged as a predicate for taking Americans’ guns away. One family had to move more than 10 times. In statements during this trial, one family described how Jones’ followers urinated upon their 6-year-old’s grave site.
These lawsuits may open the door for future victims of misinformation-based harassment to turn to the courts for relief, experts have told Grid.
“Most defamation cases really focus on an individual plaintiff,” said Roy Gutterman, a media law and First Amendment expert who directs the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University. “So, in some ways, these lawsuits against Alex Jones and Infowars are kind of a novel way to rein in this new genre of conspiracy theory-related information.”
Thanks to Alicia Benjamin for copy editing this article.