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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

‘We told the truth’: Sandy Hook families win $1 billion from Alex Jones

Alex Jones outside Superior Court in Waterbury, Conn., on Sept. 22, 2022. Jones and Infowars’ parent company, Free Speech Systems, must pay close to $1 billion to the family members of eight victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and an FBI agent who responded to the scene of the 2012 massacre, which killed 20 first graders and six educators.

By Elizabeth Willamson

The families of eight Sandy Hook shooting victims Wednesday won nearly $1 billion in damages from Infowars fabulist Alex Jones, a devastating blow against his empire and a message from the jury that his lies and those of his followers have crippling consequences.

Jones, who for years said the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting that killed 20 first graders and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut, was a government hoax, now faces financial ruin. But it is unclear how much money the families will ultimately collect.

The families and their lawyers sat in stunned silence as the court clerk read one by one the sums awarded to each of 15 plaintiffs in the case. After court was adjourned, they hugged one another quietly, weeping.

The largest award went to Robbie Parker, who received $120 million. For years on his Infowars show and website, Jones singled out Parker, whose daughter Emilie died at Sandy Hook, as an actor whose televised tribute to Emilie a day after her death was “disgusting.”

Parker, who has endured online abuse, harassment and death threats since, formed the centerpiece of the Connecticut case. “Every day in that courtroom, we got up on the stand, and we told the truth,” he said. “Telling the truth shouldn’t be so hard, and it shouldn’t be so scary.”

Parker added, in a nod to Jones’ followers, “For anybody that still chooses to listen to that man, just ask yourself, what has he ever given you?”

In all likelihood Jones does not have the money to pay Wednesday’s award. In August a forensic economist estimated that Jones’ empire was worth a maximum of $270 million, but that same month Jones put his parent company, Free Speech Systems, into bankruptcy. Jones claimed that a debt of $54 million — owed to a company he controls — had made him insolvent.

But Jones’ annual revenues have topped $50 million in recent years from hawking diet supplements, survivalist gear and gun paraphernalia on his broadcasts. He has also used the Connecticut trial as well as a trial this past summer in Texas — in which he was ordered to pay two Sandy Hook parents about $50 million — to solicit donations to his legal fund and boost his product sales.

The Sandy Hook families have challenged the bankruptcy in court, saying the filing is an effort to avoid paying what are mounting damages awards.

Jones, unrepentant, livestreamed the jury’s verdict Wednesday on his Infowars show. “They covered up what really happened, and now I’m the devil,” he said. “I’m actually proud to be under this level of attack.”

Wednesday’s award was divided among the 15 plaintiffs in the Connecticut case, which included parents, siblings, children and spouses of eight victims, and an FBI agent who was implicated in the bogus theories, which falsely claimed that the families were actors in a government plot to enact gun control and that the massacre never happened.

Over two weeks of testimony in the Connecticut trial, the families showed how Jones ignored years of pleas and demands that he stop airing Sandy Hook falsehoods because they boosted Infowars’ product sales. In court, the witnesses shared wrenching stories of harassment by conspiracy theorists who believed Jones’ lies — including death and rape threats, confrontations and messages threatening to defile and dig up the victims’ graves. The jury also heard Jones’ explosive and evasive testimony and saw data demonstrating the theories’ extensive online reach.

During his testimony, Parker described a 2016 episode in which he was accosted in Seattle — four years and thousands of miles away from the massacre — by a man who launched a profanity-laced tirade, asking Parker how much money he had made from the government for faking his daughter’s death at Sandy Hook.

In mid-2018, the families of 10 victims filed four separate defamation lawsuits against Jones, later combined into three. Beyond stopping Jones, the families said the lawsuits aimed to draw attention to an explosion of harmful disinformation and false narratives spread by people with powerful social media platforms who were seldom held to account.

Once an obscure conspiracy broadcaster in Austin, Texas, Jones garnered national attention in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, when his explosive defense of the Second Amendment brought him mainstream media coverage.

His staunch support for former President Donald Trump, who appeared on Jones’ show while a candidate for president, ushered Jones from the extremist fringe to the center of Trump-era Republican politics.

He has had a role in spreading virtually every incendiary lie to dominate headlines over the past decade, including Pizzagate, the false claim that Democrats trafficked children from a Washington pizzeria; the “great replacement theory” that ignited deadly neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia; COVID-19 vaccine lies; and the 2020 presidential election falsehoods that brought a violent mob to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Today, nearly one-fifth of Americans believe high-profile mass shootings have been staged, usually by the government.

Jones is now under scrutiny by the Justice Department and the House Jan. 6 committee for his role in planning events adjacent to the Capitol insurrection, which he broadcast live.

Jones for years refused to supply analytical data, business records or testimony ordered by the courts in the lawsuits, which were filed in Texas, where Infowars is based, and the current one in Connecticut. Late last year judges in both states ruled him liable by default, granting the families a sweeping victory that set the current damages trials in motion.

“Just to get to a trial in front of a jury is a huge accomplishment, given the extreme measures Alex Jones has taken to try to avoid that,” said Alinor Sterling, a lawyer on the families’ legal team. “His attack on these families has been a dehumanizing attack, and one of the ways to restore a sense of balance and community and humanity is to try this case in front of a jury.”

A third and final damages trial — in a defamation case brought by Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, whose son Noah Pozner was killed at Sandy Hook — is tentatively scheduled for late this year, but the date has not been set.

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