WASHINGTON, Aug 6 — A Texas jury ordered US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones yesterday to pay US$45.2 million (RM201.4 million) in punitive damages for falsely claiming that the deadly 2012 Sandy Hook elementary shooting was a “hoax.” The verdict came a day after the same jury awarded a couple whose child died at Sandy Hook US$4.1 million in compensatory damages for the emotional stress caused by Jones broadcasting falsehoods for years on his InfoWars online and radio talk shows.
The huge sum ordered from Jones, who for years gathered a sizable following for his often outlandish conspiracy claims, vindicated the lawsuits against him by families of some of the 20 schoolchildren and six adults killed by a 20-year-old man in one of the country’s deadliest school shootings.
The US$49.3 million total judgement was awarded to the plaintiffs in the Texas case, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of six-year-old son Jesse.
Jones, a vocal supporter of former president Donald Trump, claimed for years on InfoWars that the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, was “staged” by gun control activists.
He has since acknowledged it was “100 per cent real,” but the Sandy Hook families maintained that his denialism, coupled with his ability to influence the beliefs of thousands of followers, caused real emotional trauma.
He also was accused of pulling in massive profits from harmful lies and disinformation.
The judgement is not likely the end of legal woes for the 48-year-old Jones.
He has been found liable in multiple defamation lawsuits brought by parents of the Sandy Hook victims, and the Texas case was the first to reach the damages phase.
He is also under scrutiny for his participation in the January 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol by Trump supporters.
During the hearing ahead of the decision yesterday, Wesley Ball, attorney for the parents who brought the case, urged the jury to take a stand against misinformation.
“You have the ability to send a message for everyone in this country and perhaps this world to hear,” he said.
“And that is stop Alex Jones. Stop the monetisation of misinformation and lies,” he added.
“Stopping Alex Jones stops the root of his message and the root of his message is fear and hate.” The US$45.2 million was close to the maximum allowed in relation to the original compensatory damages.
InfoWars declared bankruptcy in April and another company owned by Jones, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy last week. — AFP