Why Alex Jones is facing trial again over his Sandy Hook ‘hoax’ lies – and what it could cost him

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Conspiracy theorist and conservative radio host Alex Jones is in the midst of his second defamation trial weeks after a judge ordered he pay nearly $50m for damages caused by his insistence that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax.

In the first trial in Texas, Jones was found liable for causing emotional and psychological harm to the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. Following the attack, he made numerous claims suggesting the shooting was a hoax intended to help justify a government-led confiscation of Americans' guns.

“Don’t ever think the globalists who hijacked this country wouldn’t stage something like this,” he said on his show the day of the shooting. “They kill little kids all day, every day.”

A judge ordered him to pay $49.3m to the parents of six-year-old Jesse Lewis, who was one of the 26 students killed in the 2012 shooting. Jones' lawyer said he plans to appeal the ruling.

In the meantime, Jones is now back in court, this time in Connecticut. The current case is a consolidation of three lawsuits brought by 15 plaintiffs. The relatives of eight victims and a former FBI agent who worked the shooting are bringing their case for damages against Jones.

Because the cases is a consolidation of three lawsuits it is possible that the damages Jones is forced to pay may significantly exceed the $49.3m he was previously ordered to pay.

Emotional Damages

According to the plaintiffs, Jones' conspiracy theories resulting in their harassment by his fans for years following the Sandy Hook shooting. That harassment includes death threats, social media harassment, and even strangers recording them and their surviving children.

The harassment was so bad that some of the families left Newtown, the city where Sandy Hook Elementary School is located, to escape Jones' followers. One family reportedly had to move 10 times over the years to avoid harassment.

Jones has been found in violation of the Unfair Trade Practices Act by using his platform to cause intentional emotional distress and defamation aimed at the plaintiffs, a judge ruled.

Jones’ Response

The conspiracy theorist has claimed that his company, Free Speech Systems, has gone bankrupt and cannot afford to pay the damages that have already been levied against it, nevermind any further damages that will be awarded in this case.

The attorneys representing the plaintiffs are sceptical of that claim, and it is likely the case will delve into the inner workings of Jones' company and his true financials. An expert witness in the previous trial suggested Jones is likely worth as much as $270m. However, Jones allegedly moved money out of his businesses and declared bankruptcy when the families filed defamation suits against him.

Expert witness Bernard Pettingill Jr, a forensic economist who testified during the previous trial, said nearly $70m was moved from Free Speech Systems to Jones' own bank accounts. Millions were also shifted to other companies controlled by Jones and his parents, he claimed.

Jones’ show at its height in 2018 was reportedly bringing in more than $800,000 per day, thanks in large part to advertising deals he had with doomsday preparation companies selling buckets of food and water purification tablets.

Despite this, Jones has tried to paint himself and his businesses as struggling to his viewers.

“We are so broke … I’m worried about our bankruptcy to emergency stabilize Infowars, and we have a plan. But to do that we need support,” he told his viewers the day before damages were announced in the Texas trial.

He told the judge in the Texas trial that any award over $2m would "sink us."

Jones has since admitted that the shootings were real, but has refused to accept responsibility for the harassment campaigns resulting from his false claims. He insists his conspiracy theories were protected free speech, and even accused the judge of conspiring to put him out of business.

Trial Expectations and Significance

The Connecticut trial, now in its third week, has thus far played out similarly to the Texas trial, including testimony from Jones himself.

As previously noted, Jones' financials are also likely to play a major role in determining whether or not his claims of near-financial collapse are legitimate, and whether or not they matter.

The trial is expected to last about four weeks.

Ultimately, Jones' trials may set precedent for individuals harmed by misinformation and conspiracy theories to hold the individuals spreading lies accountable.

“[These cases] are the first really big, high-profile test of how we can hold people accountable for conspiracy theories in this misinformation moment that we’re in,” Amanda Crawford, assistant professor at the University of Connecticut who’s writing a book on the connections between mass shootings and misinformation, told Grid.

“The misinformation that followed Sandy Hook was the beginning of a new era of conspiracy theories. The year of the shooting was the first year that over half of American adults were on social media.”