UPDATE (Aug. 4, 2022, 5: 28 p.m. ET): On Thursday, a jury ruled Infowars host Alex Jones must pay $4.1 million to the family of a 6-year-old killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The family sued Jones for defamation and spreading lies about the massacre.
There is no true victory when it comes to a person like Alex Jones, who used his platform on Infowars to lie about murdered children and let his followers harass their grieving parents. But what we witnessed in court this week was something approaching vindication after his years of deception. It is still worth it to hear and see Jones, a man who perhaps does the impossible and gives conspiracy theorists an even worse name than they deserve, squirm and sweat and finally admit under oath that he lied and that facts are facts.
It should go without saying that monetary damages will never make these families whole. It is merely all that is left.
Jones is on trial to determine how much he will have to pay the parents of Jesse Heslin, who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. Jesse was one of 20 small children who were killed in the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school. His parents, Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, are one of the families who have lived with the wrath of Jones’ followers, who, on hearing his lies about their son’s murder, have fired gunshots at their home and made online and phone threats. Presumably Jones’ followers have engaged in this behavior because Jones told them that the mass murder at Sandy Hook was a hoax and claimed the grieving parents were actors. Jones now admits, after protracted litigation, and under oath, that the massacre was real.
Jesse’s parents sued Jones for two civil torts — defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Again, there is no winning when your children have been killed and someone with a large platform has lied about it and apparently caused his followers to harass you for years. But thanks to the apparent incompetence of Jones’ lawyers, there are small and gratifying successes.
In open court, the plaintiffs’ lawyer revealed that Jones’ lawyers mistakenly sent him years of Jones’ cellphone records which include his text messages. Earlier in the case, under oath, Jones claimed he had never texted about Sandy Hook. The records show that Jones did in fact text about Sandy Hook. In a deeply gratifying moment, the plaintiffs’ attorney, who had caught Jones in the lie, asked Jones, “Do you know what perjury is?”
Jones is of course left with no defense because the plaintiffs have already won a default judgment against him. This is not an isolated event; Jones has now, by default, lost four defamation cases including this one. In all cases he has refused to comply with court orders to offer testimony and produce evidence. As a result, he is barred from making his enraging claims that his conspiracy theories are protected by freedom of speech.
Because Jones has already been found to be liable here, a Texas jury is now determining not whether he actually engaged in defamation or intentional infliction of emotional distress, but rather how much he should pay for committing those torts. The lawyer for the families of the slain children has asked for $150 million in damages. It should go without saying that monetary damages will never make these families whole. It is merely all that is left.
Jones has stated that if the jury reached a verdict of more than $2 million it would “sink” him. If true, that’s good news and the jury should award much more. The best way to choke off people like Jones is to bankrupt them. Jones apparently grossed up to $800,000 in one day hawking products. He should not be a wealthy man. He should not be a comfortable man. He is already morally bankrupt. He should also be financially so.
There is no mechanism in the law to make people like Jones act with a semblance of humanity. But there the law does allow people like Jones to be financially punished for what he has said and done. Thank goodness for that. And thank goodness for the small legal wins in which, slithering under the threat of perjury, Jones must admit that he lied, over and over again.
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, is the host of the “Passing Judgment” podcast. She is also the director of the Public Service Institute at Loyola Law School, director of Loyola’s Journalist Law School and former president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.