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Explained: Who is Alex Jones, the American conspiracy theorist ordered to pay $45 million in the Sandy Hook trial?

This was the first time Jones was financially penalised in court for the repeated lies he has told his audience about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of 2012. Soon after the death of 26 people in 2012, of which 20 were young children, Jones had begun to claim that one of the deadliest school shootings in the United States was a hoax.

Alex Jones during trial at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Wednesday Aug. 3, 2022. (Briana Sanchez/Austin American-Statesman via AP, Pool)

A Texas jury decided on Friday (August 6) that well-known American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a six-year-old boy killed during the Sandy Hook massacre, on top of the $4.1 million in compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiffs on Thursday.

This was the first time Jones was financially penalised in court for the repeated lies he has told his audience about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of 2012. Soon after the death of 26 people in 2012, of which 20 were young children, Jones had begun to claim that one of the deadliest school shootings in the United States was a hoax.

Jones had portrayed the lawsuit against him as an assault on his freedom of speech, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US constitution. He had previously described the proceedings as a “Constitution-destroying, absolute, total and complete travesty.” The parents who successfully sued him said his statements were so malicious that they fell outside the bounds of speech protected by the constitution, reported the Associated Press.

Who is Alex Jones?

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Alex Jones, 48, is perhaps America’s biggest and most influential conspiracy theorist and has been spreading falsehoods for more than two decades on his popular website, Infowars. He also broadcasts ‘The Alex Jones Show’ to over 100 radio stations, reaching an audience of millions. He peddles unverified claims in his unique shouty style of delivery, along with growls and yells, occasionally rips off his shirt, and punches the table.

Jones had spread some bizarre conspiracy theories. One such theory is that the US government is putting chemicals in the water supply to turn people gay, and has even been able to “turn the friggin frogs gay”. He argued that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were not humans but demons from hell that smelled of sulphur. Jones has also been instrumental in the spread of the infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, that a pizzeria in Washington, DC, is a front for a child sex trafficking ring involving Hillary and Bill Clinton.

According to a profile published in German news organisation Der Spiegel in 2017, two-thirds of Jones’s revenue comes from selling the products often mentioned in his shows, like toothpaste, “brain pills”, bulletproof vests, and potency pills. As a result, his shows and product line have made him a very wealthy man. On August 5, a forensic economist testified in court that he estimated the combined net worth of Jones and his business entities was around $135 million and $270 million.

What was the Sandy Hook killing?

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In a mass shooting, 26 people were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2016. It took the shooter a few minutes, from around 9:35 am to 9:40 am, to massacre 20 children aged between six and seven years old and six adult staff members, before he turned the gun on himself and took his own life.

The 20-year-old shooter, Adam Lanzer, had commenced the killing at his home when he shot his mother four times with a .22-calibre rifle. He then drove her car to the elementary school, where more than 400 children ranging from kindergarteners to class four students were present.

Lanzer was armed with four guns that had been legally purchased by his mother – one 0.22 AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle, two semi-automatic pistols, a shotgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Investigators found the shooter used the AR-15 as his primary weapon. The sheer magnitude of the violence, and the fact that the majority of the victims were small children, renewed the age-old American debate on gun control, with proponents advocating for a ban on certain kinds of semi-automatic weapons.

What did Alex Jones do?

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Disinformation campaigns are deliberate attempts to spread false information, unlike misinformation, which simply means wrong information being conveyed without the intention to do so. Alex Jones became a leading figure in spreading disinformation, a lot of which began to surface very soon after the massacre took place.

Jones spread a conspiracy theory, saying the killings never even took place. For years he has been arguing on his show that the mass shooting in Sandy Hook was a “giant hoax” and “false flag” perpetrated by the US government so that it could take away guns from the American public. He also claimed that no one died at the event and accused the parents of being “crisis actors” to sway public opinion.

However, during his testimony as part of the defamation lawsuit on Wednesday (August 3), Jones said he now believes that the massacre was “100 per cent real”, especially after he met the parents of the victims.

Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the separated parents of a six-year-old victim named Jesse Lewis, told jurors that for years they faced harassment and death threats by people that were convinced by Jones’s conspiracy theories aired on Infowars. “I can’t even describe the last nine-and-a-half years, the living hell that I and others have had to endure, because of the recklessness and negligence of Alex Jones,” Heslin said in court on Tuesday (August 2). Earlier that day, Jones had continued his usual diatribe on his broadcast program and told his audience that Heslin was “slow” and was manipulated by bad bad people, as reported by the Associated Press.

Who brought the case against Alex Jones?

In 2018, Jones was sued for defamation by 10 families of Sandy Hook victims in four different lawsuits. The New York Times reported Jones was found liable by default in every case because he did not provide his financial records and other documents over the years, despite being ordered by the courts.

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The case decided this week in a Texas court was brought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis to determine the amount of damages Jones had to pay them for his falsehoods, as he had already been found liable in September last year.

While the combined $49.3 million was below the $150 million sought by the parents, it still marked a significant victory for them, and likely provides a glimmer of hope to other families, whose similar defamation lawsuits against Jones are scheduled for September.

First published on: 06-08-2022 at 08:32:04 pm
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