Alex Jones v Sandy Hook: Why the false flag conspiracist is being sued by the victims’ families

·12 min read
Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is being deposed for a lawsuit brought by Sandy Hook families  (AP)
Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is being deposed for a lawsuit brought by Sandy Hook families (AP)

Hours after 26 people were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Alex Jones began spouting false claims that the massacre wasn’t real.

More than 10 years later, the far-right conspiracy theorist’s inflammatory comments have continued to haunt him as families of the shooting victims – 20 of which were young children – hold him accountable in court.

Following multiple attempts from the Infowars host to delay and derail justice, his time is finally up.

On 26 July 2022, Jones’ defamation trial finally begins in a Texas courtroom, with jurors hearing opening statements and the first testimony in the case.

The 12-person jury and four alternates were selected on Monday from a jury pool of more than 100.

Now, they will be tasked with deciding how much the Infowars host must pay to two of the victims’ families for the damage his lies caused them.

Though the lawsuits do not ask for a specific amount, attorneys for the families suggested they could seek $100m or more in compensatory and punitive damages.

The day in court comes off the back of a dramatic few months where Jones was held in contempt of court for failing to appear twice for a deposition and filed for bankruptcy to try to delay paying up.

Now, with the trial finally under way, here’s what you need to know about the years-long legal battle between the far-right personality and the families of the victims of one of the worst mass shootings in American history:

What happened at Sandy Hook?

On 14 December 2012, 26 people were shot and killed at  Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

That morning, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot dead his mother at their home and then drove her car to the public school for kindergarten through fourth grade students, armed with four firearms.

He murdered 20 students aged just six and seven years old and six staff members before turning a gun on himself.

The massacre - which remains the worst crime in modern Connecticut history nine years on - ignited calls for stricter gun controls in the US.

The hearse of Sandy Hook Elementary school victim Noah Pozner (Reuters)
The hearse of Sandy Hook Elementary school victim Noah Pozner (Reuters)

What did Alex Jones do?

As the families were left to bury their small children, far-right conspiracy theorist Mr Jones pushed false claims that the mass shooting - and their murders - never even happened.

He even claimed the six and seven-year-olds being mourned never even existed.

Through his radio show and website Infowars, he claimed that the massacre was instead a “false flag” operation engineered by the government to bring about stricter gun control laws and take away Second Amendment rights.

He claimed that the event was “staged” and “completely fake”, carried out by “actors” as a “giant hoax”.

His conspiracy theories began less than two hours after the mass shooting took place on 14 December 2012.

“There is a reported school shooting in Connecticut - one of the states that has draconian restrictions on gun ownership… The media will hype the living daylights out of this,” he told his listeners.

“Why do governments stage these things? To get our guns!”

Months later, in April 2013, he claimed the evidence the massacre was staged was “overwhelming”.

For years he continued to push the false claims, sharing one video entitled “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed”, where he claimed that“they had porta potties being delivered an hour after it happened, for the big media event”.

A parent walks away from Sandy Hook Elementary School with her children following the shooting in 2012 (AP)
A parent walks away from Sandy Hook Elementary School with her children following the shooting in 2012 (AP)

He further doubled down on his comments in a controversial interview with Megyn Kelly in 2017.

In 2019, Mr Jones appeared to walk back his claims admitting in a deposition that he accepted that the massacre was real and blaming “a form of psychosis” for his ever questioning it.

However, he continued to insist there were “anomalies” in the account of events and that there had been a “cover-up”.

Impact on the families

Besides dealing with their unspeakable grief, Mr Jones’ lies took a heavy toll on the families of the victims.

Many were subjected to years of in-person and online harassment and threats from his followers, memorials were defaced and several families moved from the area to get away from the torment.

In 2014, Andrew David Truelove was arrested for stealing memorial signs for the dead children and telling the parents they shouldn’t care because their children didn’t exist in the first place.

In 2020, former Infowars contributor Wolfgang Halbig was finally arrested after spending years allegedly harassing the grieving families and members of the Newtown community, claiming their dead children were played by “crisis actors”.

Police said Mr Halbig repeatedly contacted several families including Leonard Pozner, whose son Noah was murdered in the mass shooting, released their personal information online and emailed them images claiming to be of their dead children.

Meanwhile, Mr Jones financially profited from spreading the lies through his Infowars show.

Daniel Barden was one of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting (Sandy Hook Promise/Facebook)
Daniel Barden was one of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting (Sandy Hook Promise/Facebook)

The legal battles

In 2018, a total of 10 families of victims filed four defamation lawsuits in Texas - where Infowars is based - and Connecticut against Mr Jones and Infowars over his false claims.

Last year, judges in all four cases ruled that the families had won the defamation cases and that Mr Jones was guilty by default for failing to provide evidence.

Dodging deposition

Mr Jones was set to testify under oath on 23 and 24 March as part of the settlement proceedings.

His lawyers had made a last-ditch attempt to delay the questioning under oath, claiming he was too sick to attend due to unnamed “medical conditions” and that doctors had advised him to remain at home.

Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis turned down his requests to delay, in part because he was seemingly well enough to continue broadcasting his hours-long show - leaving his home on at least one occasion to travel to his studio to film it. He subsequently defied court orders by failing to show up for the depositions both days.

It later emerged that the doctor who advised him that he was too unwell to attend the deposition was the same doctor who appeared on his show on 21 March to attack the Covid-19 vaccines as “poison” and call the US’s top doctor Dr Anthony Fauci “the greatest mass murderer in the history of the world”.

After he missed the deposition for a second time, the attorneys representing the victims’ families urged the judge to find Mr Jones in contempt of court and have him arrested. Attorney Christopher Mattei called Mr Jones’ failure to appear a “cowardly attempt ... to escape accountability for the years he spent spreading lies about Sandy Hook” in a statement to The Independent.

Mr Jones defended himself against the plaintiffs’ efforts to have him arrested in a pre-recorded video on his Infowars website on 24 February - the same day he said he was too unwell to attend the second deposition date.

Titled “Sandy Hook mafia calls for Alex Jones’ arrest: Legendary talk show host responds”, he claimed he was being treated worse than death row prisoners.

“Somebody on death row is allowed to go get their medical treatment and hearings and things are postponed but I’m treated worse than somebody on death row,” he said.

He did not detail the nature of his health issues saying that they are “private”.

Lawyers for the far-right conspiracy theorist made their case for why Mr Jones should not be sanctioned in a court filing on 28 March, arguing that sitting for the deposition would cause him “significant stress” and accusing the plaintiffs of “blatantly” asking the judge to overrule his doctors.

Mr Jones’ attorney Norman Pattis cited the coronavirus pandemic in stressing the importance of trusting doctors - something Mr Jones has balked at in the past as he repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the virus and doubted the reliability of vaccines on his Infowars show.

Alex Jones during recording for one of his Infowars shows (Infowars)
Alex Jones during recording for one of his Infowars shows (Infowars)

Rejected settlement offer

The night before the contempt hearing on 31 March, Mr Jones’ legal team submitted a settlement proposal that would include a “heartfelt apology” and $120,000 payout per plaintiff.

“It’s time for the litigation to end,” Mr Pattis told Law&Crime. “The shooting took place almost 10 years ago.”

Lawyers for the families quickly shut down the offer, calling it a “transparent and desperate attempt by Alex Jones to escape a public reckoning under oath with his deceitful, profit-driven campaign against the plaintiffs and the memory of their loved ones lost at Sandy Hook.”

Mr Jones then issued a statement attacking the families for refusing his offer.

“The Sandy Hook shootings are almost a decade behind us. It’s time to put this case behind us, too. Most of the families affected never joined the suits; those who have are no doubt weary of it. The world is on the cusp of war and all the ambulance chasers care about is hatred,” a section of the lengthy statement reads.

Contempt of court and fines

On 31 March, Judge Bellis granted the request to hold Mr Jones in contempt of court after doubling down on her finding that the evidence on his ailments was insufficient.

The judge said she would purge the contempt if he sat for the deposition by 10 April but said Mr Jones would be slapped with escalating fines starting at $25,000 for each day he failed to sit for the deposition.

Lawyers for the Infowars host filed a motion asking Judge Bellis to reconsider the fines in light of a newly-scheduled deposition on 11 April - arguing that it was unfair to require him to “pay fines totaling potentially $1.65 million for relying on a doctor’s note to not attend a deposition”.

While his attorneys argued against the fines in court, Mr Jones attacked the judge on his radio show calling her a liar and a “thing”.

Mr Jones then finally sat for his two-day deposition on 5 and 6 April.

On his Infowars website, he said he sat for 10 hours, claiming he was “demonised” in the process.

He paid $75,000 in fines for the delayed deposition — $25,000 on Friday 1 April and $50,000 on Monday 4 April, according to the court records.

However, on 14 April, Judge Bellis ordered that the money be returned to Mr Jones because he had showed up at his rescheduled deposition.

Bankruptcy

In another twist in the saga, Jones began what appeared to be his latest attempt to delay paying out for the defamation lawsuits when he filed for bankruptcy on 17 April for three entities he owns, including his radio show Infowars, claiming liabilities of as much as $10m each.

The far-right radio show – which he used as a mouthpiece for his lies about the mass shooting – filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the Southern District of Texas, according to court filings.

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy court filing listed Infowars’ estimated assets in the range of $0-$50,000 (£38,375), with estimated liabilities in the range of $1m to $10m (£767,400 to £7,674,150).

Chapter 11 bankruptcy procedures allow for a business to keep operating while they prepare a turnaround plan and additionally pause civil litigation.

The filings enables a business to keep operating while it prepares a turnaround plan – and also pauses civil litigation.

Jones made the filing just one week before jury selection was scheduled to begin in Austin.

Days later, District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble postponed his trial but vowed to set a new date “as soon as I possibly can”.

Attorneys for the families of the Sandy Hook victims accused the right-wing extremist of making the move in an attempt to try to hide millions of dollars in assets and avoid paying out for the torment he has put them through.

But Jones’ success in delaying the trial was short-lived as a federal judge in Texas tossed the bankruptcy protection case in June.

The dismissal came after attorneys for Jones and the Sandy Hook families reached a deal to drop his three companies from the defamation lawsuits in exchange for the suits continuing.

What’s next?

In Texas, the jury will now decide how much the conspiracy theorist must pay to the families in terms of damages and legal fees.

The trial is expected to last around two weeks and hear testimony from multiple witnesses including Daniel Jewiss, who was the Connecticut State Police lead investigator of Sandy Hook, and Daria Karpova, a producer at Infowars.

It is not clear if Jones plans to attend any of the trial. His attorney has claimed he has a “medical issue”.

Mark Bankston, attorney for the families suing Jones, said that they welcomed the trial finally starting.

“We’re very glad the day is here. We’re looking forward to telling our clients’ story,” he said.

Meanwhile, even after the Texas trial is over, Jones’ legal woes will continue with his Connecticut trial several months away from starting.

What else?

His conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook massacre are far from Mr Jones’ only legal woes and controversies.

In January, Mr Jones appeared before the House Committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot that saw Donald Trump supporters storm the Capitol to try to overturn the election.

He had been subpoenaed to testify after the committee said it had evidence that he was involved in planning and funding Mr Trump’s rally prior to the insurrection and that he promoted the “wild” event on his show.

The committee said he had also led a crowd from the rally to the Capitol.

Mr Jones claimed after the riot that the Trump White House had asked him to “lead the march” from the rally to the Capitol that day. He also called January 6 a “historic day”.

Following his committee testimony, Mr Jones claimed on his show that he pleaded the fifth “100 times” during questioning.