Legal Update: Alex Jones’ Sandy Hook Defamation Saga

Although Alex Jones was banned from Twitter and other social media platforms almost exactly 3 years ago (Sept. 18, 2018) for abusive speech, it has done little to slow the stream of conspiracy-mongering he is known for. Political scientist Rebekah Tromble has attributed Jones’ continued success to the fact that his Infowars platform is not dependent on other social media outlets and has its own existing infrastructure. Even though it appeared at first that his traffic had taken a hit after the social media bans, it seemed to recover rapidly, continuing to generate substantial revenue. Every settlement has increased exponentially as if it was a way to prove a point but the most recent amounts are astronomical high, making it seem almost impossible to pay.

On this past Wednesday, October 12, 2022, a jury in Connecticut decided that Jones was to pay the 15 plaintiffs a total of 965 million dollars in compensatory damages, that’s not taking punitive damages into account yet. The money will be divided among the 15 plaintiffs which include 14 relatives and an FBI agent who first responded to the incident. To put this in perspective, let’s use the time to count this exorbitant amount. A million seconds is amount to 11.5 days, a billion seconds on the other hand amounts to 31.7 years! 

How did the jury come to this amount, and isn’t this hurting free speech as we know it? Not really. Jones was found liable for violating Connecticut’s unfair Trade Practices Act. Basically, they found that he was using his show, Infowars, to monetize false information about the shooting and sell products. There is no cap on punitive damages under Connecticut law.

Alex Jones obviously did not take the news well. After doing an Oprah impression “you get a million you get a 100 million” to later  just lay out his game plan “We are not going away…literally for hundreds of thousands of dollars I can keep them in court for years I can appeal this stuff we can stand up against this travesty, against the millions of dollars they want, its a joke.”

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What is the background

Most of his claims have until recently had no repercussions beyond the social media bans. However, that has not been the case since 2018 when he was first sued. Defamation cases against him are now winding their way through the court system for his claim that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax perpetrated to garner support for stricter gun control laws. The parents and family members of several of the victims, as well as an FBI agent at the scene, have been fighting back against Jones, suing him after enduring years of what one parent described as aliving hell” of death threats, harassment, and ongoing trauma. 

So now, almost a decade after the Sandy Hook massacre, Jones is finding himself face-to-face in court with some of the parents and family members of those murdered. Two separate judges, one in Texas in September 2021 and one in Connecticut in November 2021—each entered default judgments finding Jones liable for defamation, in both cases for failure to comply with court orders. On August 5, 2022, after a two-week trial, a jury in the Texas case awarded the plaintiffs $49.3 million in damages,$4.1 million in compensatory damages, and $45.2 million in punitive damages. Soon after, on September 14, 2022, the trial in Connecticut began and is expected to last approximately 2 to 4 weeks. 

However, damages in the Connecticut defamation trial are subject to different rules than those in Texas. In an NBC report, first amendment specialist Kevin Goldberg notes that Connecticut really has one of the most stringent caps on punitive damages in defamation cases, even more than Texas, so that’s going to be limited to the attorneys fees the plaintiffs paid and also the expenses of litigation, and that’s really going to go nowhere near the $45 million in Texas for two plaintiffs.” He adds, however, that this case is a bit different from the Texas case since the Sandy Hook families and FBI agent also filed a claim under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, which does not cap punitive damages. This, he says, gives the court “discretion to decide on a separate award of punitive damages to serve the purpose of deterrence when it comes to the Unfair Trade Practices claim.

In addition to the Connecticut trial, Jones faces a third defamation trial in Texas to determine the number of damages to be awarded. Jones’s lawyers have indicated that they plan to appeal the first award in Texas on the basis that is far above what is allowed under Texas law, which specifies that punitive damages may be as much as two times the economic compensatory damages but no more than $750,000 for each individual plaintiff.

One might think that the $49.3 million damages awarded by the jury would give Jones pause to choose his words a bit more carefully, but Jones is not one to back down. Although Jones apologized to plaintiffs during the first Texas trial, in an interview soon after the damages were awarded, he angrily stated that he was “done apologizing” to Sandy Hook families. In August, just a few weeks after being found liable in the defamation lawsuit, Jones alleged that the government was going to stage mass shootings and other similar events before the midterm elections to damage the GOP and create an authoritarian state. 

 The price tag (so far) for his Sandy Hook “free speech” stands not too far from a Billion dollars. Although the plaintiffs’ attorney in the Texas case argued that only such a large sum would be enough to ‘take the bullhorn away’” from Jones, whether it ultimately has that effect remains to be seen.

Jones is still facing one more trial! It is scheduled for later this year around November.

If past behavior is the predictor of future behavior that it is said to be, it seems highly unlikely that Jones will abandon his Infowars persona given the revenue it generates as well as the power bestowed by the bullhorn. It is more likely that he will continue to push his right to free speech as he has before, which now seems like a line drawn in the sand, getting pushed to later come back down. 

Nevertheless, the court has provided a remedy to these Sandy Hook plaintiffs through a defamation suit that has allowed them to achieve not only significant damages but also an important moral victory for the families involved. 

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