Jones — a prominent conspiracy theorist and far-right broadcaster known primarily in connection with the fake news website InfoWars and its namesake talk series — lost multiple defamation lawsuits last year brought by the families of Sandy Hook victims, who alleged thatclaiming the tragedy was a “giant hoax” caused them undue emotional distress, mainly by way of serious harassment from his followers.
The damages trial that has taken place in Austin, Texas, where Jones’ media conglomerate and the parent company of InfoWars, Free Speech Systems, is headquartered, over the last two weeks marks the final phase of a defamation suit that Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis originally filed against him and his corporation in 2018.
Heslin and Lewis, the parents of a 6-year-old named Jesse who was among the 20 children and six adults fatally shot in the Sandy Hook massacre, are seeking at least $150 million in compensatory damages. After determining how much of that sum they will actually be awarded, the Texas jury will vote again to decide whether Heslin and Lewis are awarded additional punitive damages.
These hearings are the first of several damages trials that Jones will face in the coming months. The others pertain to separate defamation cases brought by the families of victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. One, filed in Texas by Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, the parents of another child killed at the Connecticut elementary school, seeks damages from Jones for his repeated suggestions that the massacre did not happen.
Another, filed in Connecticut, involves almost a dozen different families whose loved ones were killed in the shooting. Those families similarly sued Jones for defamation, and alleged that he pedaled falsehoods about the tragedy with intent “to increase his audience and his sales.”
They have also accused Jones of surreptitiously moving funds out of Free Speech Systems prior to the company’s. Although Jones claimed to be bankrupt before jurors during the damages trial in Heslin and Lewis’ case, he was reprimanded outright by the presiding Judge Maya Guerra Gamble, who said the bankruptcy status had yet to be determined.
Jones has already lost each suit brought by the families of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the damages trials taking place this year are only meant to determine the dollar amounts he is ordered to pay each plaintiff. Last September, District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble handed down rare default judgments that found him liable for defamation and emotional distress in the Texas cases, citing his history of “bad faith and callous disregard” for court procedures throughout the time the lawsuits were underway. Judge Barbara Bellis followed suit with a similar default judgment in the Connecticut case that November.
As the founder and public-facing head of InfoWars, Jones infamously uses his platform to fuel factually inaccurate beliefs about extreme national tragedies, like the 9/11 attacks and other mass shootings in addition to Sandy Hook. For years he published digital and video content claiming the Sandy Hook massacre was a government “hoax,” and a “false flag” concocted by the “deep state” in an effort to increase gun control across the U.S. He suggested the shooting and subsequent media attention was “staged” and described grieving families as government “actors” who worked on behalf of whomever supposedly orchestrated the scheme.
Giving testimony in court this week, Heslin and Lewis said Jones’ lies and the resulting emotional and physical threats from his followers made their lives “a living hell,” and recalled instances where people who believed his false claims sent them threatening emails and shot at their home and car. In his own testimony to the family in court on Tuesday, Jones admitted that he knew the Sandy Hook massacre
“Especially since I’ve met the parents. It’s 100% real,” he said, and replied in the affirmative when his attorney asked if he understood that it was “absolutely irresponsible” to push false claims about the shooting. “They (the media) won’t let me take it back,” Jones said.