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 began 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 showed that Mr. Jones had failed to produce court-ordered documents and contradicted claims that he had made under oath about his finances. The jury continued deliberating on damages late Wednesday.
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.
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.
The Sandy Hook School Massacre
“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 week’s 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 are the families seeking?
In the first damages trial this week, Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, the parents of Jesse Lewis, a first grader who died in the attack, are asking for $150 million in compensatory damages. They also say they see the case as a chance to highlight the harms of disinformation.
“I hope to accomplish an era of truth,” Ms. Lewis said on Tuesday.
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.