Alex Jones Ordered to Pay $45.2 Million in Punitive Damages to Sandy Hook Parents

Alex-Jones-Trial-pre-write-decision - Credit: Briana Sanchez/Austin American-Statesman/AP

InfoWars conspiracy monger Alex Jones will have to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, the parents of a six-year-old killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, an Austin, Texas, jury determined on Friday. The decision was unanimous.

The decision comes a day after the jury determined Jones must pay Lewis and Heslin $4.1 million in compensatory damages for repeatedly calling the 2012 massacre a hoax, bringing the total Jones is owed to the family at just under $50 million.

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The decision, which closes a two-week trail period for one of several civil lawsuits that have been brought against Jones, comes after a day of testimony in which attorneys for the Sandy Hook family hammered home that Jones is not as broke as he claims. Bernard Pettingill, a forensic economist, took the stand to explain that Jones is a “very, very successful man” with several revenue streams, and that he actually made more — not less — money after being booted from Twitter and Facebook in 2018, contrary to what Jones has claimed. 

“First, you are asked to punish Alex Jones,” Wesley Ball, one of the lawyers for the family, which sought $150 million in damages, said in his closing remarks to the jury. “Second, you are asked to deter Alex Jones from ever doing this awfulness again to another family or another person, and to deter others who may want to step into his shoes.”

“He is worth almost $270 million that we know of,” Ball added. “Please take an amount that punishes him, and an amount that ensures he never does this again.”

Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled last September that Jones was liable in the lawsuit. The jury trial, which was meant to establish how much he was required to pay, was originally slated for April, but delayed as Jones sought bankruptcy protection. Jones played the bankruptcy card again last Friday when his media company Free Speech Systems LLC, the umbrella company for InfoWars, made an emergency filing in an attempt to decrease the amount of money Jones could be held liable for. On his Sunday broadcast, Jones bragged that the bankruptcy filing would slash the bonds for his appeals down to half of his net worth and bog down the process in appeals while he continues broadcasting.

Sandy Hook families have long accused Jones of hiding his assets. Court documents obtained by HuffPost in January revealed that the InfoWars store raked in $165 million over three years selling supplements, prepper kits, and a variety of tactical gear. Jones claimed in court on Wednesday that any ruling over $2 million would “sink us,” however evidence introduced in the trial indicated that InfoWars brought in up to $800,000 a day in revenue in 2018.

The revelation about InfoWars daily revenue came after Jones’ lawyer, Andino Reynal, mistakenly gave the Sandy Hook team a digital copy of all of Jones’ phone communications for the past two years. Mark Bankston, an attorney for the family, told Jones of the mistake during cross-examination while showing texts of Jones discussing Sandy Hook. Jones had lied during discovery that he didn’t have any such texts. “You know what perjury is, right?” Bankston asked Jones.

Rolling Stone reported later on Wednesday that the Jan. 6 committee is preparing to subpoena Jones for the trove of communications as it investigates the attack on the Capitol.

Bankston revealing that Reynal Bankston had given him Jones’ phone records was the most shocking moment of what was a circus-like trial. In addition to his attempts to skirt the monetary consequences of his conviction, Jones has publicly attacked the jury, as well as Judge Gamble and the Sandy Hook lawyers on his broadcast, calling them “demonically possessed” on his show. He even aired video depicting Judge Gamble on fire. “The judge is the fire burning Lady Liberty. The judge is consuming freedom,” Jones attempted to clarify when the video was played in court.

Reynal, meanwhile, gave Bankston the middle finger during a dispute regarding the admission of video evidence in the trial. 

Judge Gamble during the trial has scolded Jones for everything from chewing gum to lying under oath. “You believe everything you say is true, but your beliefs do not make something true,” Gamble said on Tuesday. “That is that is what we’re doing here. Just because you claim to think something is true does not make it true. It does not protect you. It is not allowed. You’re under oath. That means things must actually be true when you say them.”

The requirement to speak truthfully is a gargantuan task for Jones, who built his career on red-faced conspiratorial rants that often twisted — or flat out ignored — reality. In the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, Jones called the killing of 20 children “a giant hoax,” accusing anti-Second Amendment forces of having staged the massacre of children and its aftermath with “crisis actors.” Jones claimed that family members of the victims were actors feigning grief for public support.   

Families of the victims were then subjected to a torrent of harassment, both online and off, that compounded the grief and trauma. In 2018, Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse Lewis was killed in the shooting, sued Jones in Texas for defamation. In his testimony before the jury, Heslin said words couldn’t begin to describe the “nine-and-a-half years of hell” he endured at the hands of Jones and his supporters. 

Veronica de la Rosa, the mother of Noah Pozner, whose family also sued Jones in 2018, described in an interview how her family had had to move more than 10 times since the shooting, noting how her family’s address was published online “with the speed of light” after every move. “I would love to go see my son’s grave and I don’t get to do that,” she told The New York Times. 

In June of 2018, multiple Sandy Hook families sued Jones for defamation in Connecticut. In March 2017, Jerry Richman, the father of victim Avielle Richman and a lawsuit plaintiff, committed suicide. Jones took to his broadcast to claim that Richman had actually been murdered, and floated a conspiracy that the death was somehow meant to distract from the release of Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. “I mean, is there going to be a police investigation? Are they going to look at the surveillance cameras? I mean, what happened to this guy? This whole Sandy Hook thing is, like, really getting even crazier,” Jones said. 

In an April deposition, after Jones was ordered to testify under oath in the Connecticut lawsuit, Jones called the judge’s ruling “fraudulent” and insisted he was not responsible for any harassment faced by the victims’ families. “No, I don’t [accept] responsibility because I wasn’t trying to cause pain and suffering,” said Jones, arguing that the children and their families were “being used to destroy the First Amendment.”

On Wednesday, Jones testifies that he now believes the Sandy Hook massacre was “100% real,” claiming that while he understands his actions were irresponsible “[the media] won’t let me take it back.”

Families of the victims have argued that Jones’ shows of contrition are not genuine, and that a judgment needs to be issued in order to hold him accountable for the pain and suffering he’s inflicting on families already dealing with the horrific deaths of their children. “There’s got to be a strong deterrent that shall prevent him from peddling this propaganda,” Heslin said in his testimony on Tuesday, explaining that the trial was not only an opportunity for justice, but a way to restore the reputations and legacy of the victims and their families.

Jones may wind up paying through more than his wallet. Bankston said Thursday morning that the Jan. 6 committee and law enforcement entities have reached out about the trove of Jones’ communications he received from Reynal, and that he is ready to provide them unless the court prevents him from doing so. Jones allegedly has ties to extremists involved in the Capitol attack, as well as former Trump adviser Roger Stone, who himself has ties to extremist groups and whom Trump told former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to call the day before the riot. There’s no telling what’s on Jones’ cell phone, and what may soon be in the hands of investigators.

He may not be out of financial trouble, either. The trial that wrapped up on Friday is only the first of three trials for damages against Jones. Another one will commence in Austin on Sept. 14, and will be presided over once again by Judge Gamble. The other, which will also take place in September, will be held in Connecticut, where as The New York Times notes, laws governing damages favor the plaintiffs even more so than they do in Texas.

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