Aug 5, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Jury orders Alex Jones to pay $45 million in punitive damages

Alex Jones during a protest at the Texas State Capitol in Austin in April 2020.
Alex Jones during a protest at the Texas State Capitol in Austin in April 2020. Photo: Gary Miller/Getty Images

A jury in Texas ordered far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay the parents of a 6-year-old boy killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting $45.2 million in punitive damages for falsely calling the mass shooting a hoax.

Why it matters: The punitive damages come on top of the $4.1 million the jury ordered Jones to pay in compensatory damages to the parents, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, on Thursday, which marked the first time he had been held financially liable for spreading conspiracy theories about the mass shooting.

  • Jones, primarily through his website and radio show Infowars, previously claimed the shooting was a "false flag" operation planned by the government using "crisis actors" to undermine gun rights secured by the Second Amendment, though he admitted during the trial that he believes it was "100% real."
  • In civil cases, compensatory damages compensate for losses suffered by the injured party, while punitive are awarded to punish a defendant whose behavior is found to have been especially harmful, according to Cornell Law School.

Details: Heslin and Lewis asked the jury for about $145 million in punitive damages on Friday before the order was issued.

  • As a result of Jones' false claims, Heslin and Lewis said they endured trauma from threats online and over the phone, street harassment and gunshots fired at their home.
  • Their son, Jesse Lewis, was murdered alongside 19 additional children and six educators during the shooting at the elementary school.

What they're saying: Wesley Ball, a lawyer for Lewis and Heslin, asked the jurors Friday to award nearly $146 million in punitive damages, saying they had an opportunity to "stop Alex Jones. Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies."

The other side: Jones' attorney, Andino Reynal, told the jury that Jones had "apologized repeatedly and offered to have the parents on his show" — and asked them to set punitive damages at roughly $270,000.

The big picture: Jones has been found liable in other defamation lawsuits brought by the family members of other Sandy Hook victims.

  • The parent company of Jones' conspiracy-peddling empire, Free Speech Systems LLC, declared bankruptcy last week for a second time this year in a bid to limit the cost of litigation damages, Axios' Kate Marino writes.

Worth noting: Jones was accused of committing perjury during the trial with Heslin and Lewis after his lawyers accidentally sent their lawyer years' worth of texts and emails from his phone.

  • Those messages refuted claims he made under oath that no messages containing the words "Sandy Hook" were on his phone.
  • The congressional select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot has requested those messages. Jones was involved in the planning and funding of the rally that preceded the deadly rampage.

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