Sandy Hook Families Win Defamation Suit, Alex Jones Ordered to Pay $965 Million
A Connecticut jury ordered radio personality Alex Jones to pay nearly $1 billion in damages to the families of the Sandy Hook shooting victims. The families sued Jones for defamation because for years he insisted on his platforms that the deadliest elementary school shooting in the United States was a hoax.
The verdict was announced nearly 10 years after the deaths of 28 people, including 20 children and six adult staff members of the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
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Since the shooting, Jones perpetuated baseless conspiracy theories and lies about the incident—including saying it was a staged event where no one was killed, claiming that actors were hired and used, and that the “hoax” was orchestrated by Second Amendment opponents in an attempt to push for greater gun control.
Despite victims’ families’ repeated requests that Jones stop lying and promoting these conspiracy theories, Jones persisted.
“For years on his Infowars show and website, [Jones] singled out [Robbie] Parker, whose daughter Emilie died at Sandy Hook, as an actor whose televised tribute to Emilie a day after her death was ‘disgusting,’” the New York Times reported. “Parker, who has endured online abuse, harassment, and death threats since, formed the centerpiece of the Connecticut case.”
Some families were compelled to move away from the area or move multiple times to try to avoid such harassment from Jones’ followers. In court, Mark Barden, the father of Daniel, a 7-year-old boy who was killed in the 14 December 2012 attack, described that the death threats and vitriol that Jones’ followers posted on the family’s website and their social media accounts “was a horror beyond anything we could ever imagine,” according to Bloomberg.
Barden also testified that people believing the false conspiracy theories had harassed him and his family in real life, too. They chased Barden and accused him of lying and had even vandalized Daniel’s grave, according to NBC News.
Erica Lafferty, the daughter of the school’s slain principal, Dawn Hochsprung, testified that Jones’ supporters mailed rape threats to her home because of Jones’ continued insistence that the shooting was faked.
My statement from earlier 🧵:— Erica Leslie Lafferty (@ericalaff) October 13, 2022
My name is Erica, I am the daughter of Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, the principal of sandy hook school — and as I was testifying about the rape threats that were sent to me because of Alex Jones’ lies,
The prosecution demonstrated to the jury how Jones’ claims continued because they increased sales of products for his subsidiary, Infowars.
“Experts testified that Jones’ audience swelled, as did his revenue from product sales, when he made Sandy Hook a topic on the show,” the Associated Press (AP) reported. To support this, the prosecution also presented forensic analyses of Web traffic, Infowars internal communications, and data from Google Analytics, according to the Times.
In August, a forensic economist estimated that Jones and his parent company, Free Speech Systems, was worth up to $270 million, but Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy in that same month.
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Sandy Hook families are challenging the alleged bankruptcy, claiming the move was Jones attempting to shield himself from paying out damages. Jones was also sued for defamation in Texas, which resulted in a judge ordering Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of one of the slain children. He also faces a third trial back in Texas, filed by the family of another student killed at Sandy Hook.
Jones, who during the trial admitted that the shooting was real, has claimed that he will not be able to pay the huge damages to the families. After hearing the jury verdict on 12 October, news outlets reported that in a livestream he hosted, Jones showed no regret for his actions and instead apparently laughed at the verdict, according to The Washington Post.
Jurors ordered Alex Jones to pay nearly $1 billion to Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims’ relatives and an FBI agent.— The Associated Press (@AP) October 13, 2022
Robbie Parker, who lost his 6-year-old daughter, said that he was proud that “what we were able to accomplish was just to simply tell the truth.” pic.twitter.com/q5yXzMCAp0
“Testimony from an employee of Jones pegged his total earnings from the sale of dietary supplements, books, and survival gear at $100 million to $1 billion since the shooting, with $810,000 in sales on a single day in 2020. Jones was raising funds off the verdict Wednesday in real time, urging followers to buy his products to support his defense, according to clips of his show on Twitter,” Bloomberg reported.
During the trial and the verdict, Jones would broadcast himself watching court proceedings and asking his followers to donate to his company. He said that donated funds would not be used to pay his legal costs or the damages but would instead be used to “fight this fraud and it goes to stabilize the company,” according to BBC News.
Next month, as part of the Connecticut defamation case, a judge will announce the punitive damages that Jones must pay for violating a state law on deceptive marketing practices.
Jones’ lawyer said they will seek an appeal.
Parker was issued the largest award, $120 million. The second largest verdict of $90 million was awarded to William Aldenberg, an FBI agent who responded to the attack. Jones targeted Aldenberg for wearing an outdated vest during the scene at Sandy Hook on 14 December 2012. (Lafferty v. Jones, UWY-CV-18-6046436-S, Connecticut Superior Court, Waterbury District, 2022)
The Sandy Hook shooting marked a shift of the legal landscape for other organizations, specifically as to where blame for the incidents could be placed. A group of victims’ families sued gun maufacturer Remington for its involvement in the shooting, as the attacker used a Bushmaster AR-15-style firearm to kill his victims. The families reached a settlement with Remington for $73 million in February 2022, after the Connecticut Supreme Court decided that the company could not apply federal law in a lawsuit that asserted the company violated state consumer protection laws.
“The settlement marked some recognition of the potential for liability,” Megan Gates, senior editor for Security Management, wrote in August. For more on how the shooting and its subsequent litigation has impacted organizations and security, check out August’s Security Technology article, “Who’s Liable for an Active Shooter Incident? Expectations Are Changing.”
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