Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) came out in defense of far right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones after a judge ordered him to pay $1 billion to the families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting this week, claiming that the ruling violated Jones’s free speech rights.
“No matter what you think of Alex Jones all he did was speak words,” Greene said on Twitter, grossly mischaracterizing the many lies about the massacre Jones has capitalized on over the years. “He was not the one who pulled the trigger.”
Greene also defended Jones by saying that he apologized to the families of Sandy Hook victims. Notably, Jones didn’t apologize until this year, when it was almost certain that he would lose the lawsuit — almost 10 years after the shooting took place in December 2012.
“Free speech is dead,” Greene claimed in a separate tweet shortly after.
The freedom to express one’s opinion is enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, if a person’s speech leads to someone being harmed, they can be prosecuted for their words, in both criminal and civil cases.
In the civil case against Jones, brought forward by parents of children who were killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, jurors agreed with the notion that Jones’s words caused significant emotional and personal harm to the families of victims.
Jones’s followers bought into his false claims that the Sandy Hook shooting never happened, and that parents and their children were paid “crisis actors” who had faked the event in order to draw support for gun reform.
During the trial, parents recounted how people who believed Jones’s lies had stalked and harassed them over the course of the last decade.
One parent whose child was killed in the shooting recalled how someone had sent them pictures of other deceased children because, they alleged to the parent, “as a ‘crisis actor’ [they] didn’t know what dead kids looked like.” Parents also said they had received letters in which believers in Jones’s conspiracies told them they had desecrated their children’s graves or planned to dig up their bodies.
Their lawyers also showcased how Jones had profited from his lies. On the same day his InfoWars website published an article falsely claiming that the FBI said no one died at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Jones earned $200,000 in online sales for items he regularly advertised.
Although the jury awarded family members affected by Jones’s lies around $965 million in damages, it’s unlikely that Jones will ever pay the full amount. Jones’s net worth isn’t entirely clear, but some experts put the figure between $135 million and $270 million.
Jones may try to appeal the ruling, or, failing that, declare bankruptcy as a result of the lawsuit — a move that would allow him to avoid paying much of what he owes.
“In our system, sadly, many defendants like Jones cleverly avoid payment for years or forever,” victim’s rights attorney Lisa Bloom said to Newsweek.