Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones will face a jury of his peers for the first time next week in a defamation trial to determine how much he will have to pay the parents of a child killed in a school shooting after he spent years peddling lies that the tragic ordeal never happened.
On Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, and opened fire. He killed 20 children and six adults in a shooting that former President Barack Obama would later call the worst day of his presidency.
As the families of the dead mourned, the carnival-barker host of the conspiracy and disinformation outlet Infowars was working on his next big grift: convincing his listeners that the 6- and 7-year-old children who were killed, along with the adults who died trying to protect them, were part of an elaborate hoax.
It would mark the beginning of Jones’ many legal troubles to come.
From Lies To Real-World Threats
“Folks, we’ve got video of Anderson Cooper with clear blue-screen out there,” Jones said in a 2014 Infowars segment about the CNN anchor interviewing victims of the tragedy two years later.
“He’s not there in the town square,” Jones continued. “We got people clearly coming up and laughing and then doing the fake crying. We’ve clearly got people where it’s actors playing different parts for different people, the building bulldozed, covering up everything.”
In 2016, Jones repeated the lie that the parents of dead kids were acting.
“I’ve watched a lot of soap operas, and I’ve seen actors before. And I know when I’m watching a movie and when I’m watching something real,” Jones said on his program.
The following year, Jones was still spreading the lie that the shooting was faked.
“So here are these holier than thou people, when we question CNN, who is supposedly at the site of Sandy Hook, and they got in one shot leaves blowing, and the flowers that are around it, and you see the leaves blowing, and they go [gestures]. They glitch,” Jones said, according to a transcript quoted in a lawsuit against him and reviewed by HuffPost. “They’re recycling a green-screen behind them.”
Jones’ dangerous lies had real-life consequences for victims of the shooting. In 2017, Florida woman Lucy Richards was sentenced to five months in prison for sending threats to parent Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son, Noah, was killed in the shooting.
“You gonna die,” Richards told Pozner in one recorded voicemail message. “Death is coming to you real soon.”
As part of her sentence, Richards was ordered not to access Infowars.
The Families Fight Back
In 2018, parents of two children killed in the shooting filed the first defamation suits against Jones and Infowars, HuffPost was the first to report at the time. Neil Heslin, the father of 6-year-old Jesse, along with 6-year-old Noah’s parents, Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, alleged that Jones’ lies had led to death threats.
“I lost my son. I buried my son. I held my son with a bullet hole through his head,” Heslin told then-NBC News host Megyn Kelly in a June 2017 segment profiling Jones.
With the new lawsuit, Heslin finally had the chance to hold Jones accountable.
“Even after these folks had to experience this trauma, for the next five years they were tormented by Alex Jones with vicious lies about them,” attorney Mark Bankston of Houston law firm Farrar & Ball told HuffPost in 2018. “And these lies were meant to convince his audience that the Sandy Hook parents are frauds and have perpetrated a sinister lie on the American people.”
A jury will determine how much Jones will have to pay to the parents of a child who died at Sandy Hook, after Jones spent years peddling lies that the shooting was fake. (Photo: HuffPost Illustration/Reuters)
Later that year, six Sandy Hook families and an FBI agent filed their own defamation lawsuit against Jones in Connecticut. Josh Koskoff of the Bridgeport, Connecticut-based law firm Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder, told HuffPost at the time that the lawsuit would seek to hold Jones and “his financial network accountable.”
“He knew his claims were false but he made them anyway to further a simple but pathetic goal: to make money by tearing away at the families’ pain,” Koskoff told HuffPost at the time. “This lawsuit seeks to hold Alex Jones and his financial network accountable for those disgraceful actions.”
Alex Jones Loses Every Single Case
For the next several years, Jones repeatedly failed in court as he attempted to avoid accountability.
Jones cycled through lawyers as if they had an expiration date, but managed to retain attorney Norm Pattis, who most recently was seen at a comedy club with his pants down and saying the N-word during a stand-up set.
In a 2019 deposition about one of his several defamation lawsuits, Jones was unable to recall basic facts about the school shooting, including the date that it happened.
“I talk four hours a day, and I can’t remember what I talked about sometimes a week ago,” Jones said at the time.
Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson threw his boss under the bus in his own deposition when he admitted to warning Jones about the dangers of spreading lies about Sandy Hook, only to be ignored.
Ultimately, it was Jones’ refusal to provide court-ordered documents that led to his already shaky defense crumbling. In September, Jones lost two of his Sandy Hook defamation cases after Texas Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled for default judgments against Jones for not turning over documents. The ruling meant he and Infowars were found liable for all damages.
Later that same week, Gamble again ruled default judgment against Jones in the defamation case brought forward by Sandy Hook parent Heslin, adding to Jones’ third legal loss. And finally, just over a month after Gamble’s ruling, Connecticut Judge Barbara Bellis also ruled default judgment against Jones in the case brought forward by several Sandy Hook families.
Jones had lost his cases before they could see a jury. Now it was time to pay up.
Following the rulings against Jones, the Infowars host attempted to wriggle out of his responsibility to the parents of Sandy Hook by declaring bankruptcy just days before he was set to be put on trial in Austin, Texas, in April for one of his defamation cases.
The bankruptcy ploy worked in delaying the trial, but the law has once again caught up to Jones.
On Monday, a jury in Austin will be selected to determine how much Jones and Infowars will ultimately have to pay to parents Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, Jesse’s mother, for the pain he inflicted on them for more than half a decade after the death of their child.
Opening arguments start Tuesday at Travis County Court, and the trial will be open to the public.
The jury will look at two factors: How much Jones should pay for damages, and how much additional money he should pay based on his net worth. Jones has closely guarded his financial earnings for years, but there are clues that give a glimpse into how much his empire is worth.
For instance, HuffPost reported in January that the Infowars store ― which sells a hodgepodge of dietary supplements and survival gear ― sold $165 million in product from September 2015 to the end of 2018, according to court filings related to one of the defamation lawsuits Jones recently lost.
And in May, the SPLC reported that Jones had received nearly $8 million in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin from an anonymous donor.
Bankston, the attorney representing Heslin and Lewis, told HuffPost an expert witness will be called to testify about Jones’ finances.
Whatever Jones ends up having to pay, it won’t be the end of his financial bleeding. He’ll be back in a courtroom in September, this time in Connecticut, where a jury will determine how much he should pay to Sandy Hook families in a separate defamation lawsuit.
Bankston said that despite a decade of “tormenting” the Sandy Hook parents, Jones will soon face justice.
“After ten years of tormenting these parents, and after four years of trying to sabotage their lawsuit, Mr. Jones will finally face the long-awaited public reckoning for committing the most vile and despicable campaign of slander in American history,” Bankston told HuffPost in a statement. “We are eager to show this jury the previously hidden details of Mr. Jones’ monstrous acts of revenge against the parents who begged him to stop peddling his lies.”
Heslin is determined to get justice in court ― not just monetary compensation for the pain Jones inflicted on his family. Others seem to agree: Every Sandy Hook victim involved in the Connecticut lawsuit rejected Jones’ attempts to avoid a jury when he tried in March to settle the lawsuit by offering $120,000 per plaintiff.
“With me it was never about money – it was about principle,” Heslin told the News-Times in Connecticut at the time. “I’m not surprised Jones would try to settle before this goes to trial, but I am going to trial to fight him. I am going to argue the whole thing.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.