AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas jury Thursday awarded the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting more than $4 million in damages from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the first time he has been financially liable. has been charged with defaming the parents of the victims by spreading lies that they were complicit in a government plot to stage the shooting as a pretext for gun control.
The decision was the first in a series of possible awards against Mr. jones. On Friday, the jury will consider evidence of Mr Jones’ assets to determine how much, if anything, the parents, Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, will award in punitive damages.
Two other lawsuits by Sandy Hook parents seeking damages from Mr. Jones are scheduled for next month, although they may be delayed because his company filed for bankruptcy last week.
Mr. Jones has become increasingly emblematic of how misinformation and false stories have gained popularity in American society. He has been instrumental in spreading some of recent history’s most pernicious conspiracy theories, such as Pizzagate — in which an Infowars video helped inspire a gunman to attack a pizza parlor in Washington, DC — as well as coronavirus myths and “Stop the Steal” falsehoods about electoral fraud for the January 6, 2021 Capitol bombing.
The verdict came after several days of emotional testimony, including 90 minutes on Tuesday when Ms. Lewis personally addressed Mr Jones and asked him why he was deliberately spreading lies about the death of her child, Jesse, 6, who died along with 19 others. graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“Jesse was a real boy. And I’m a real mother,” Mrs. Lewis told Mr. Jones. Later she admonished him, “Alex, I want you to hear this. As a country, we are more polarized than ever. Part of it is because of you.”
But the most explosive revelation came on Wednesday, when family attorney Mark Bankston revealed that Mr. Jones’ legal team had accidentally sent him the entire contents of Mr. Jones’ cell phone, including at least two years’ worth of money. incriminating text messages that matter now. to the House Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. The committee is investigating the role of Mr. Jones in planning events surrounding the uprising, and Mr. Bankston is now seeking the judge’s approval to deliver the text reports to prosecutors and the Jan. 6 commission.
Mrs. Lewis and Mr. Heslin had filed for $150 million in damages, and Mr. Bankston said he was optimistic about what the jury would award Friday. “You can probably imagine that if a jury returns a verdict of more than $4 million in damages to these plaintiffs, I think the sentence will likely be in that range or higher,” said Mr Bankston. “I think it’s entirely to be expected that we’ll see a nine-figure judgment against Mr. Jones.”
He added: “It’s been a long journey, and it’s really nice to be able to turn around and look at my customers and say, ‘He can’t go wrong with this. He can’t. You had a defendant who went into that courtroom and said, “I think I should pay them a dollar.” And this jury said no.”
Mr. Jones said in his bankruptcy filing that he had paid $15 million in legal fees to date for the Sandy Hook lawsuit. Citing the damages sought by Ms. Lewis and Mr. Heslin, Mr. Jones called the award a “big win” in a video posted to Infowars Thursday night, even urging viewers to purchase products from his website in order to prevented what he portrayed as financial ruin.
“I admitted I was wrong,” he said. “I admitted it was a mistake. I admitted that I followed disinformation, but not on purpose. I apologized to the families. And the jury understood that.”
Mr Jones defaulted on a string of defamation charges against Sandy Hook last year after repeatedly failing to provide court-ordered documents and testimony. Those statements formed the basis for the trial this summer.
More important than money, the Sandy Hook families have said, is society’s judgment of a culture where viral misinformation damages lives and destroys reputations.
“Speech is free, but you have to pay for lies,” Mr Bankston told the jury last week. “This is a case of creating change.”
At the heart of the trial was a June 2017 episode of NBC’s “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly” in which Mr. Jones was profiled. On the broadcast, Mr. Heslin protested against Mr. Jones’s denial of the shooting. He recalled his last moments with Jesse, saying, “I held my son with a bullet hole through his head.”
Then Mr. Jones and Owen Shroyer, an Infowars host, put on shows suggesting that Mr. Heslin had lied.
“Is there a clarification coming from Heslin or Megyn Kelly?” mr. Shroyer said about Infowars. “I wouldn’t hold your breath.”
During the trial, Mr. Jones’ attorney, F. Andino Reynal, said that Mr. Jones was essentially conducting his own defense. After much uncertainty about whether the conspiracy transmitter would testify, he was adamant that he would appear as the sole witness in his defense.
Mr Heslin and Ms Lewis deployed several experts. The trial began with testimony from Dan Jewiss, a retired Connecticut state police detective who led the Sandy Hook case; a forensic psychiatrist and the psychologist who treated Mr. Heslin and Mrs. Lewis; and several Infowars employees, whose dubious statements allowed the family’s attorneys to submit evidence damaging to Mr. Jones, including a televised version of the full interview with Ms. Kelly, in which Mr. Jones made inflammatory false claims.
The audience of Mr. Jones and its associated earnings have soared in the decade since Sandy Hook, reaching over $50 million a year.
His defense of the Second Amendment after the mass shooting caught the attention of mainstream news organizations. But it was Mr. Jones’ alliance with former President Donald J. Trump, which appeared on Infowars in December 2015, that took him from the far-right fringe to the center of Republican Party populism.
Mr. Jones and Mr. Trump have often repeated the same incendiary false claims, including the racist lie that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States; that Muslims in the New York area ‘celebrated’ the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; and the 2020 election warnings that brought violence to the Capitol last year.