A jury in Austin, Texas, has awarded the parents of a child victim of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting $4.1 million in their defamation lawsuit against Alex Jones, a right-wing conspiracy theorist who has spread lies about family members of victims for nearly a decade.
Jones’s lies over the years have been devastating, the parents said during the trial, and included claiming on his InfoWars website that their child, Jesse, didn’t actually exist, much less die in the shooting. Jones has also claimed that the grieving parents were paid actors, and falsely described the Sandy Hook shooting as a “hoax” orchestrated by the government in order to influence Americans’ views on gun control.
The parents set to receive the defamation award, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, said that they had been stalked, harassed, and received death threats as a result of Jones’s flagrantly false and incendiary commentary. They had sought $150 million for the defamation and emotional distress they endured, while Jones’s lawyers had argued that he should only have to pay a single dollar after being found guilty.
It’s possible that the parents will be awarded more in punitive damages the jury has yet to decide upon. The jury returns on Friday to begin that process.
“Punitive damages are the opportunity for the jurors to send a message,” said Jill Huntley Taylor, a trial consultant who spoke to The Washington Post.
After it was announced that he owed $4.1 million to the parents, Jones appeared to take no responsibility for his actions, saying that he “followed disinformation, but not on purpose.”
Jones also appeared to view the amount — which is much lower than what the parents had asked for — as a personal win. “I apologized to the families and the jury understood that,” he said, going on to call the outcome a “big victory against the tyrants and the new world order.”
Mark Bankston, a lawyer for the parents, said that they were satisfied with the judgment.
“Neil and Scarlett are thrilled with the result and look forward to putting Mr. Jones’s money to good use,” Bankston said. “With punitive damages still to be decided and multiple additional defamation lawsuits pending, it is clear that Mr. Jones’s time on the American stage is finally coming to an end.”
Earlier this week, Bankston caught Jones in a lie, revealing during a cross-examination that Jones’s lawyers had accidentally sent him two years worth of phone data. Although Jones had previously testified that he hadn’t sent messages about the parents or other family members of Sandy Hook victims, the phone data proved otherwise.
Bankston then asked a flustered, sweaty and visibly nervous Jones if he knew “what perjury is,” alluding to the possibility of more legal consequences for the InfoWars host in the future.
It’s also possible that Jones’s phone records will be examined by the January 6 committee, as they may include his conversations with allies of former President Donald Trump in the run-up to the attack on the U.S. Capitol building — including his communications with the Oath Keepers, a far right militant group that had discussed providing Jones and others with security on the day of the attack.