Infowars host Alex Jones has been ordered to pay $965 million to people who suffered from his lies about the Sandy Hook school massacre.
The jury in Waterbury, Connecticut had been asked to decide how much money Infowars host Alex Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, should pay for spreading a conspiracy theory that the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School never happened.
Twenty children and six educators were killed in the school shooting in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012.
Over nearly a decade since the tragedy, the parents and siblings of the people who died that day have been tormented and harassed by people who believe the shooting was a hoax.
They said they have received death and rape threats along with mail from conspiracy theorists that included photos of dead children. There have also been confrontations, in-person, with hoax believers, they said.
The 15 plaintiffs, who include relatives of eight victims who died and an FBI agent who responded to the shooting, sued Jones for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violating Connecticut’s unfair trade practices law by profiting off the hoax lies.
The plaintiffs testified about being harassed by people who say the shooting was staged in a plot for more gun control.
After the verdict, Jones’ lawyer Norm Pattis said they’ll be filing an appeal. He said the decision marks a “very, very dark day for Freedom of Speech.”
“It’s certainly more than we expected, that’s for sure,” Pattis said.
The trial began on Sept. 13 and the jury began to deliberate on Oct. 6. On the third full day of deliberations, the jury reached a verdict.
Jones, who lives in Austin, Texas, where his show and Infowars brand are based, was found liable for defaming the plaintiffs last year.
Judge Barbara Bellis, in an unusual ruling, said Jones had forfeited his right to a trial as a consequence of repeated violations of court orders and failures to turn over documents to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Jones now acknowledges his conspiracy theories about the shooting were wrong but said he isn’t to blame for the actions of people who harassed the families. His lawyers also said the plaintiffs have exaggerated stories about being subjected to threats and abuse.
Jones did take the stand during the trial, saying he was “done saying I’m sorry” for calling the school shooting a hoax. However, he declined to put on a defense and his lawyers rested without putting on evidence or witnesses.
Jones has bashed the trial as a “kangaroo court,” described it as an affront to free speech rights, and called the judge a “tyrant.” His lawyer told the jury that any damages awarded should be minimal.
The six-person jury was tasked with determining how much Jones should pay to the plaintiff’s victims’ families and the FBI agent for calling the massacre a hoax.
The jury was instructed to arrive at two compensatory damages amounts per plaintiff: one sum for defamation damages and another for emotional distress damages.
Jurors were also called upon to decide whether Jones should pay punitive damages. The judge will decide the amounts later.
Each compensatory damages amount had to be at least $1, but there is no cap.