Far-right conspiracy monger Alex Jones has been ordered to pay a total of nearly $1 billion to families of several victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
The award came Wednesday in one of three defamation suits filed by Sandy Hook families after Jones claimed the mass shooting was a hoax. He later acknowledged that the massacre was real, but that was after the suits were filed and the families had endured threats and harassment. Jones also has a record of speaking out against LGBTQ+ rights and spreading various outrageous and untrue conspiracy theories. He was an early and ardent supporter of Donald Trump's presidential ambitions as well.
In the shooting at the school in Newtown, Conn., 20 children and six educators were killed. The suit decided Wednesday was brought in Connecticut by the families of eight victims and by one first responder. Given that Jones had refused to submit key evidence, including his financial records, Judge Barbara Bellis ruled that by default, he was guilty of defamation, and told jurors they simply had to determine the damages. The damages total $965 million.
Jones, who had a large following on television, radio, and the internet, was quick to claim the massacre was staged to rally support for gun control and that actors were playing the grieving parents. He didn't backtrack until years later. But as recently as last month, he said he didn't know what really happened at Sandy Hook, and much damage had already been done.
"The families testified during the trial that the lies spread by Jones led to harassment and threats by conspiracy theorists who have accused them of faking their own children's deaths," The Washington Post reports. "They described feeling unsafe in their own homes and hypervigilant in public. Some of the families moved away from Newtown."
The families may not see any of the money, as Jones's Infowars platform and its parent company have filed for bankruptcy, and he claims to be broke. But much about his finances is unknown. In any case, "the size of the punitive award is considered a sign that jurors found a defendant's conduct particularly reprehensible and harmful -- and as a way of deterring future wrongdoing," the Post notes.
In a separate case, a jury in Texas ruled in August that the parents of Jesse Lewis, a 6-year-old killed in the shooting, should receive nearly $50 million, but the award will be reduced because of state limits.
In court in Connecticut, Jones and his attorney used freedom of speech as a defense, and Jones said at one point, "I've already said I'm sorry hundreds of times, and I'm done saying I'm sorry." He lambasted the decision on a Wednesday broadcast.
His attorney, Norm Parris, said outside the court, "My heart goes out to the families, we live in divided times," according to CNN. "They've been weaponized and used for political purposes in this country, in my view, and today is a very, very, very dark day for freedom of speech." He said the ruling will be appealed.
Jones was removed from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Apple, and Spotify in 2018, with the platforms citing their policies against harmful content. Among his lowest points: saying he wanted to execute journalists, including Rachel Maddow; that spreading HIV is part of gay culture; that transgender women are just gay men who want to "pick up more guys"; that most trans people are ugly and severely overweight, and sexualize children; that women become lesbians because they want to be physically abused and can't get a man to do it; that Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff "looks like the archetypal cocksucker"; and the list goes on and on. He had often hosted Roger Stone, a a Trump adviser being investigated for his role in the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.