Alex Jones, the far-right conspiracy theorist who used his Infowars media company to spread lies about the Sandy Hook school shooting, has already been found liable for defaming the victims’ families. This week, a trial was held to determine how much money he must pay them.
The long-running legal battle has been an unusual spectacle, including the revelation on Wednesday that Mr. Jones’s lawyer accidentally sent two years’ worth of text messages to the families’ lawyers. The material suggested that Mr. Jones had failed to produce court-ordered documents and appeared to contradict claims that he had made under oath about his finances.
For those who haven’t followed along, here is a guide to the trials and Mr. Jones’s legal battles.
What did Mr. Jones say about Sandy Hook?
Mr. Jones said on his show and in interviews that the attack in 2012, in which 20 first graders and six educators were killed, was a hoax and that the victims’ families were actors. Just a few hours after the shooting, he began calling it a “false flag,” a secretive plot planned by the government as a pretext for taking away Americans’ guns.
What effect did his statements have on the families?
The parents say Mr. Jones’s lies have added to their devastation and his followers have continued to harass them, threatening their safety nearly a decade since the shooting.
Understand the Cases Against Alex Jones
A united front. Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist, is the focus of a long-running legal battle waged by families of victims of a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. Here is what to know:
Defamation lawsuits. The families of 10 Sandy Hook victims sued Mr. Jones in four separate lawsuits. The cases never made it to a jury; Mr. Jones was found liable by default in all of them because he refused to turn over documents, including financial records, ordered by the courts over four years of litigation.
Mr. Jones’s line of defense. The Infowars host has claimed that his right to free speech protected him, even though the outcome of the cases was due to the fact that he failed to provide the necessary documents and testify.
Three new trials. A trial in Austin, Texas this July was the first of three that will determine how much Mr. Jones must pay the families of the Sandy Hook victims. The other two are scheduled for September, but are on hold after Mr. Jones put the Infowars parent company, Free Speech Systems, into Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week, halting all pending litigation.
Compensatory and punitive damages. On Aug. 4, a jury in the Texas trial awarded the parents of a child killed in the mass shooting more than $4 million in compensatory damages, which are based on proven harm, loss or injury. A day later, jurors returned to court to consider punitive damages, which aim to punish especially harmful behavior and tend to be granted at the court’s discretion.
Veronique De La Rosa, the mother of Noah Pozner, the youngest victim, said in an interview in 2018 that she had moved nearly 10 times since the shooting and lived in hiding. Each time the family moved, conspiracists would rapidly publish the new home address, she said.
“I would love to go see my son’s grave, and I don’t get to do that,” Ms. De La Rosa said.
What happened in the defamation lawsuits?
The families of 10 Sandy Hook victims sued Mr. Jones in four separate lawsuits. The cases never made it to a jury; Mr. Jones was found liable by default in all of them because he refused to turn over documents, including financial records, ordered by the courts over four years of litigation. The courts were in Connecticut and Texas.
If he was already found liable, what is this trial about?
This week’s trial in Austin, Texas, is the first of three that will determine how much Mr. Jones must pay the families. The other two are scheduled for September, but are on hold after Mr. Jones put the Infowars parent company, Free Speech Systems, into Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week, halting all pending litigation.
Lawyers for the families say the bankruptcy filing is intended to delay the other trials.
How has Mr. Jones defended himself?
The Infowars host has claimed that his right to free speech protected him, even though he lost each of the cases because he failed to provide the necessary documents and testify.
Last week, Mr. Jones’s lawyers argued that the national discourse had become so polluted by disinformation that it was difficult to discern truth from fiction.
“He had seen what he perceived as so many lies and so many cover-ups and so much hand-washing of the facts that he had become biased,” said F. Andino Reynal, his lawyer. “He was looking at the world through dirty glasses. And if you look at the world through dirty glasses, everything you see is dirty.”
Mr. Jones called the proceedings a “show trial” and deemed them a “Constitution-destroying, absolute, total and complete travesty.”
What happened with the text messages?
Mr. Jones’s legal team apparently sent two years’ worth of text messages to the families’ lawyers by accident, and they appeared to catch the Infowars host in a number of contradictions.
Mr. Jones had said for years that he had searched his phone for texts about the Sandy Hook cases and found none, but the families’ lawyers saw many. The lawyers also presented financial records that contradicted Mr. Jones’s claim that he was bankrupt.