Alex Jones Sandy Hook Trial: Jury Awards Families Nearly $1 Billion in Damages

The conspiracy theorist had been found liable for defamation over his false claims that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax.

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7 min read
Alex Jones at an anti-COVID lockdown protest in 2020.

Alex Jones in 2020.

Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Alex Jones must pay nearly $1 billion in damages to family members of eight victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, as well as an FBI agent who was a first responder, a Connecticut jury decided Wednesday.

The Connecticut trial was one of three trials that have found Jones liable for defamation for using his InfoWars show to make false and baseless claims on multiple occasions that the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax.

Wednesday's decision comes a little more than two months after a Texas jury decided Jones should pay nearly $50 million in punitive damages to the family of a Sandy Hook victim. Damages in the third trial haven't yet been decided.

Jones watched Wednesday's verdict read live on InfoWars, claiming he was bankrupt and that the families wouldn't see any of the money. He went on to tell his audience to buy products from his store to pay for his appeal of the verdict. During the Connecticut trial, Jones was found liable of violating the state's Unfair Trade Practices Act, by using lies about the Sandy Hook shooting to sell things on Infowars, The New York Times reported. And earlier this year, one of the Sandy Hook families filed a lawsuit accusing Jones of hiding assets and other financial maneuvers.

Here's everything you need to know about the legal actions.

Who is Jones and what was Sandy Hook?

Alex Jones, 48, is an extremist, avid conspiracy theorist and media personality most famous for his radio and YouTube show InfoWars. Jones, who is based in Austin, Texas, has pushed conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate, the bogus idea that a Washington, DC, pizzeria was involved in a child-sex-trafficking ring patronized by high-ranking Democrats, and, more recently, the disproven claim that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Jones was found to have helped fund pro-Trump rallies on Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, that precipitated the attack on the US Capitol.

A recurring theme of Jones' claims is the concept of a "false flag" operation -- an event staged to provoke political action. Jones said, without evidence, that the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was a false flag operation "to try to bring down Trump." Jones falsely accused Jason Kessler, who organized the white nationalist and neo-Nazi rally, of being a federal agent. A local resident, Heather Heyer, was killed when a man plowed his car into a group of counter-protesters.   

In the Sandy Hook massacre, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 27 people. Lanza first shot and killed his mother at home, then moved to the school where he massacred 20 children and six adult staff members before committing suicide. 

Amid the outlandish conspiracies Jones traffics in, he has enjoyed large and influential audiences. Former President Donald Trump appeared on his show in 2015 when he was a presidential candidate. The YouTube channel for InfoWars had 2 million subscribers before it was kicked off the platform in 2018. (In April, InfoWars filed for bankruptcy, though the reasons for that may have ties to the current defamation lawsuits.) 

InfoWars generated over $165 million in revenue over a three-year period, InfoWars producer Daria Karpova said in court on July 29. Much of that money was through products sold on its website, including health supplements and survival gear.

What did Jones say about Sandy Hook?

Of all the extreme conspiracy theories espoused by Jones, the claim that Sandy Hook was a "hoax" is the most infamous. Jones at one point argued that the massacre was a false flag operation on the part of the Obama administration, designed to precipitate stricter gun laws.

"My gut is, with the timing and everything that happened, this is staged," Jones said on the day of the massacre. He compared the shooting to Adolf Hitler's 1933 scheme to gain complete power by burning Germany's parliament and declaring martial law. "Why did Hitler blow up the Reichstag? To get control," he said on the show. "Why do governments stage these things? To get our guns!" 

Jones began questioning the legitimacy of parents whose children were killed at Sandy Hook. Before speaking to the media about his daughter's death the day after the shooting, a grieving Robbie Parker was seen holding a folded sheet of paper. Jones claimed without evidence that the paper was proof of a conspiracy involving the media or the government.

Jones later falsely claimed on InfoWars that several of the parents were laughing before giving interviews with media where they promptly burst into tears.

Crucial in Jones' defamation case in the Texas trial were statements made on Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly in 2017 and on a subsequent episode of InfoWars. Owen Shroyer, an InfoWars presenter, had implied that Sandy Hook parent Neil Heslin had fabricated some or all of the story. 

"I lost my son, I buried my son, I held my son with a bullet hole through his head," Heslin said during the Texas trial of his first-grader, who died in the shooting. Heslin and his wife, Scartett Lewis, were the plaintiffs in the case.

Testifying in the Texas courtroom on July 28 and 29, Shroyer admitted to not properly fact-checking the report that informed his comments about Heslin. 

Why do Sandy Hook parents get death threats?

Several parents of children killed at the Sandy Hook massacre have reported receiving persistent abuse and death threats from people who falsely believe they were actors in a staged event.

"Alex lit the flame that started the fire," Heslin said during his testimony in the Texas trial. "Other people brought some wood to add to it."

One such perpetrator was a 57-year-old woman who in 2017 was jailed for sending a voicemail to a mourning parent saying, "You gonna die, death is coming to you real soon." Another man was jailed for approaching the sister of Victoria Soto, a teacher who was killed in the massacre, and falsely and "angrily charging" that Sandy Hook didn't take place and that Soto "never existed."

Heslin told a Texas jury in August he suffered abuse online and on the street, and that his home and car had been shot at. 

"My life has been threatened," he said in court. "I fear for my life, I fear for my safety." 

Lenny Pozner, another father of a Sandy Hook victim, told Now This News in 2018 that his family had relocated seven times in the previous six years due to security concerns. 

"Alex Jones is like the [WWE] of news," said Pozner, who won a defamation suit against Jones last year. "Some people enjoy it, they can suspend their disbelief and enjoy what they're hearing. Some people look at it and they think it's real."  

Jones has defended himself by saying he never actively incited violence. "I never said go to people's houses," Jones said on the Joe Rogan Experience in 2019.

What's at stake in the defamation trials?

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have struggled to deal with misinformation, finding it difficult to strike a balance between preserving free speech and curbing harmful misinformation. Jones has been a central figure in this struggle, being among the first high-profile accounts to get kicked off big media and social-media platforms in 2018

Jones' ongoing legal battles will determine whether US courts are an effective recourse for victims of harmful misinformation. "Speech is free, but lies you have to pay for," Heslin's lawyer, Mark Bankston, said in his opening statement to the jury in the Texas trial in July. 

For his part, Jones attempted to recast the Texas trial as a debate over free speech. When he arrived at the court on July 26, he came with tape across his mouth with the phrase "save the 1st" written across it, in reference to the First Amendment. 

"If questioning public events and free speech is banned because it might hurt somebody's feelings, we are not in America anymore," Jones said in his deposition. 

The First Amendment, though, addresses government efforts to restrict speech. It does not apply to individuals or businesses, and defamation cases by definition are about the harms caused by bogus or malicious statements.

Jones continued to broadcast episodes of InfoWars, where he decried the Texas case as a "show trial" and a "distraction."

What happened in the Texas trial? 

Jones' trial in Texas was to determine how much in damages he could be required to pay. On Aug. 4, a Texas Jury decided Jones must pay $49.3 million to the parents of a Sandy Hook victim, which consisted of $4.1 million in compensatory damages and $45.2 in punitive damages. Due to a 1995 Texas law, however, the amount ordered could be reduced to slightly less than $5 million. 

This decision came after a whirlwind of a trial with Jones creating multiple outlandish incidents including doing impromptu press conferences during court breaks, leaving court to film his InfoWars show and, on one of his shows, falsely accusing the Texas judge of being involved with child trafficking while calling the jury "extremely blue collar." 

One of the most shocking moments came when the attorney for the family revealed that Jones' lawyer accidentally sent him the entire texting history of Jones' phone. This evidence went against Jones' sworn testimony that he didn't have texts regarding Sandy Hook. The Jan. 6 House select committee reportedly obtained these texts as part of its investigation.

When Jones was on the stand, he said any amount over $2 million would "sink us." However, Jones did confirm that at one point his show was making $800,000 a day.