AUSTIN, Texas (TUSEN) — A Texas jury on Thursday ordered that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones pay more than $4 million in damages to the parents of a 6-year-old boy killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, to mark the occasion of the first time the Infowars host was held financially liable for repeatedly claiming that the deadliest school shooting in US history was a hoax.
The Austin jury has yet to decide how much the Infowars host should pay Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse Lewis was one of 20 children and six educators killed in the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut.
The parents had demanded at least $150 million in compensation for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Jones’ attorney asked the jury to limit damages to $8 — one dollar for each of the fees they consider — and Jones himself said any prize over $2 million would “sink us.”
It probably won’t be the final verdict against Jones — who was not in court when the jury announced its decision to award $4.11 million — over his claims that the attack was staged in the interest of greater gun control. A Connecticut judge has ruled against him in a similar lawsuit filed by the families of other victims and an FBI agent working on the case.
The Texas award could be a milestone for other cases against Jones and underscores the financial threat he faces. It also raises new questions about Infowars’ ability – which has been banned from YouTube, Spotify and Twitter for hate speech – to continue operating, though the company’s finances remain unclear.
Jones, who portrayed the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights, admitted at trial that the attack was “100% real” and that he had falsely lied about it. But Heslin and Lewis told the jurors that an apology would not be enough and called on them to make Jones pay for the years of suffering he inflicted on them and other Sandy Hook families.
The parents testified Tuesday about how they endured a decade of trauma, first inflicted by their son’s murder and what followed: gunshots fired at a house, online and telephone threats, and intimidation on the street by strangers. They said the threats and intimidation were all fueled by Jones and that his conspiracy theory was spreading to his followers through his website Infowars.
A forensic psychiatrist testified that the parents suffer from “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” caused by ongoing trauma, similar to what a soldier at war or a victim of child abuse can experience.
At one point in her testimony, Lewis looked straight at Jones, who was barely 10 meters away.
“It just seems so incredible to me that we have to do this – that we have to beg you, we have to punish you – to make you stop lying,” Lewis told Jones.
Jones was the only witness to testify in his defense. And he was scathingly cross-examined by the plaintiffs’ lawyers, as they watched Jones’ own video claims about Sandy Hook over the years, accusing him of lying and trying to hide evidence, including text messages and emails about the attack. It also contained internal emails from an Infowars employee stating, “This Sandy Hook thing is killing us.”
At one point, Jones was told that his attorneys Mark Bankston, who represents Heslin and Lewis, had been sending text messages from Jones’ cell phone for the past two years. Bankston said in court on Thursday that the Jan. 6 U.S. House committee investigating the 2021 Capitol attack has requested the data and plans to comply.
And shortly after Jones stated, “I don’t use email,” Jones was shown one that came from his address, and another from an Infowars Business Officer who told Jones that the company had earned $800,000 gross from his products in one day, which would equate to nearly $300 million in a year.
Jones’ media company Free Speech Systems, the parent company of Infowars, has filed for bankruptcy during its two-week trial.
For more coverage from the TUSEN on school shootings: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings