AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas jury on Thursday ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay more than $4 million in compensatory damages to the parents of a 6-year-old boy who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, marking the first time the Infowars host has been held financially liable for repeatedly claiming the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history was a hoax.
The Austin jury must still decide how much the Infowars host must pay in punitive damages to Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse Lewis was among the 20 children and six educators who were killed in the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut.
The parents had sought at least $150 million in compensation for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Jones’ attorney asked the jury to limit damages to $8 — one dollar for each of the compensation charges they are considering — and Jones himself said any award over $2 million “would sink us.”
It likely won’t be the last judgment against Jones — who was not in the courtroom — over his claims that the attack was staged in the interests of increasing gun controls. A Connecticut judge has ruled against him in a similar lawsuit brought by other victims’ families and an FBI agent who worked on the case.
Outside the courthouse Thursday, the plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Bankston insisted that the $4.11 million amount wasn’t a disappointment, noting it was only part of the damages Jones will have to pay.
The jury returns Friday to hear more evidence about Jones and his company’s finances.
“We aren’t done folks,” Bankston said. “We knew coming into this case it was necessary to shoot for the moon to get to understand we were serious and passionate. After tomorrow, he’s going to owe a lot more.”
The total amount awarded in this case could set a marker for the other lawsuits against Jones and underlines the financial threat he’s facing. It also raises new questions about the ability of Infowars — which has been banned from YouTube, Spotify and Twitter for hate speech — to continue operating, although the company’s finances remain unclear.
Jones, who has portrayed the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights, conceded during the trial that the attack was “100% real” and that he was wrong to have lied about it. But Heslin and Lewis told jurors that an apology wouldn’t suffice and called on them to make Jones pay for the years of suffering he has put them and other Sandy Hook families through.
The parents testified Tuesday about how they’ve endured a decade of trauma, inflicted first by the murder of their son and what followed: gun shots fired at a home, online and phone threats, and harassment on the street by strangers. They said the threats and harassment were all fueled by Jones and his conspiracy theory spread to his followers via his website Infowars.
A forensic psychiatrist testified that the parents suffer from “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” inflicted by ongoing trauma, similar to what might be experienced by a soldier at war or a child abuse victim.
At one point in her testimony, Lewis looked directly at Jones, who was sitting barely 10 feet away.
“It seems so incredible to me that we have to do this — that we have to implore you, to punish you — to get you to stop lying,” Lewis told Jones.
Jones was the only witness to testify in his defense. And he came under withering attack from the plaintiffs attorneys under cross-examination, as they reviewed Jones’ own video claims about Sandy Hook over the years, and accused him of lying and trying to hide evidence, including text messages and emails about the attack. It also included internal emails sent by an Infowars employee that said “this Sandy Hook stuff is killing us.”
At one point, Jones was told that his attorneys had mistakenly sent Bankston the last two years’ worth of texts from Jones’ cellphone. Bankston said in court Thursday that the U.S. House Jan. 6 committee investigating the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol has requested the records and that he intends to comply.
And shortly after Jones declared “I don’t use email,” Jones was shown one that came from his address, and another one from an Infowars business officer telling Jones that the company had earned $800,000 gross in selling its products in a single day, which would amount to nearly $300 million in a year.
Jones’ media company Free Speech Systems, which is Infowars’ parent company, filed for bankruptcy during the two-week trial.
3:07 p.m.: Sandy Hook lawyer says Jan. 6 panel asked for Alex Jones’ texts
An attorney for the parents of a child killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre who are suing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones over his false claims about the attack said Thursday that the U.S. House Jan. 6 committee has requested two years’ worth of records from Jones’ phone.
Attorney Mark Bankston told the Texas court where Jones is on trial to determine how much he owes for defaming the parents that the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has requested the digital records. He later said outside of court that he plans to comply with the request.
A spokesperson for the committee declined to comment Thursday.
As Jones testified at the trial on Wednesday, Bankston revealed that the Infowars host’s lead attorney, Andino Reynal, had mistakenly sent him the last two years’ worth of texts from Jones’ cellphone.
Reynal asked Judge Maya Guerra Gamble to declare a mistrial over the mistaken transfer of records and said they should have been returned and any copies destroyed. Gamble rejected the request.
Reynal also accused Bankston of trying to perform “for a national audience.” He said the material included a review copy of text messages over six months from late 2019 into the first quarter of 2020.
Bankston said his team followed Texas’ civil rules of evidence and that Jones’ attorneys missed their chance to properly request the return of the records.
“Mr. Reynal is using a fig leaf [to cover] for his own malpractice,” Bankston said.
He said the records mistakenly sent to him included some medical records of plaintiffs in other lawsuits against Jones.
“Mr. Jones and his intimate messages with Roger Stone are not protected,” Bankston said, referring to former President Donald Trump’s longtime ally.
Rolling Stone, quoting unnamed sources, reported Wednesday evening that the Jan. 6 committee was preparing to subpoena the data from the parents’ attorneys to assist in the investigation of the deadly riot.
Bankston said outside of court Thursday that the committee had requested the phone records, but hadn’t subpoenaed them. He also said he wasn’t familiar with everything that was in the records yet, including whether they include any information that the committee is seeking, because there was so much information in them.
“We don’t know [yet] the full scope and breadth,” of the material, Bankston said. “We certainly saw text messages from as far back as 2019. … In terms of what all is on that phone, it’s going to take a little while to figure that out.”
“The Jan. 6 committee doesn’t have any more information about what’s on that phone than I do. I don’t know if it even covers the time period they are interested in,” he said
Jones didn’t attend Thursday’s court proceedings. But on his Infowars show Thursday, he said the records were from a year before Jan. 6 and had “nothing to do with it.”
“And if anything, I say more radical things on air than I do on text messages. And the idea that there’s some type of criminal activity on there is preposterous,” he said.
The jury in Austin is deciding how much Jones should pay to the parents of a child killed in the 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, because of his and Infowars’ repeated false claims that the shooting was a hoax created by advocates for gun control. Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents suing Jones, are seeking at least $150 million in damages.
Last month, the Jan. 6 committee showed graphic and violent text messages and played videos of right-wing figures, including Jones, and others vowing that Jan. 6 would be the day they would fight for Trump.
The committee first subpoenaed Jones in November, demanding a deposition and documents related to his efforts to spread misinformation about the 2020 election and a rally on the day of the attack.
In the subpoena letter, Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chairman, said Jones helped organize the Jan. 6 rally at the Ellipse that preceded the insurrection. He also wrote that Jones repeatedly promoted Trump’s false claims of election fraud, urged his listeners to go to Washington for the rally, and march from the Ellipse to the Capitol. Thompson also wrote that Jones “made statements implying that you had knowledge about the plans of President Trump with respect to the rally.”
The nine-member panel was especially interested in what Jones said shortly after Trump’s now-infamous Dec. 19, 2020, tweet in which he told his supporters to “be there, will be wild!” on Jan. 6.
“You went on InfoWars that same day and called the tweet ‘One of the most historic events in American history,’” the letter continued.
In January, Jones was deposed by the committee during an hourslong, virtual meeting in which he said he exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination “almost 100 times.”