Conspiracy Theorist Jones Ordered To Pay $45Mn| MENAFN.COM

Saturday, 20 August 2022 08:32 GMT

Conspiracy Theorist Jones Ordered To Pay $45Mn


(MENAFN- Gulf Times)

A Texas jury has ordered US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay $45.2mn in punitive damages for falsely claiming that the deadly 2012 Sandy Hook elementary shooting was a“hoax”.
The verdict came a day after the same jury awarded a couple whose child died at Sandy Hook $4.1mn in compensatory damages for the emotional stress caused by Jones broadcasting falsehoods for years on his InfoWars online and radio talk shows.
Compensatory damages are awarded to cover a plaintiff's suffering and losses.
Punitive damages are awarded to punish a defendant's actions.
The huge sum ordered from Jones, who for years gathered a sizeable following for his often outlandish conspiracy claims, vindicated the lawsuits against him by families of some of the 20 schoolchildren and six adults killed by a 20-year-old man in one of the country's deadliest school shootings.
The $49.3mn total judgment was far less than the $150mn sought by the plaintiffs in the Texas case, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose six-year-old son Jesse was killed.
Still, Lewis said that Jones had been“held accountable”.
“Today the jury proved that most of America is ready to choose love over fear and I'll be forever grateful to them,” Lewis tweeted.
Jones, a vocal supporter of former president Donald Trump, claimed for years on InfoWars that the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, was“staged” by gun control activists.
He has since acknowledged it was“100% real”, but the Sandy Hook families maintained that his denialism, coupled with his ability to influence the beliefs of thousands of followers, caused real emotional trauma.
He was also accused of pulling in massive profits from harmful lies and disinformation.
The judgment is not likely the end of legal woes for the 48-year-old Jones, who is also facing another defamation suit in Connecticut.
He has been found liable in multiple defamation cases brought by parents of the Sandy Hook victims, and the Texas case was the first to reach the damages phase.
He is also under scrutiny for his participation in the January 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol by Trump supporters.
During the hearing ahead of the decision on Friday, Wesley Ball, attorney for the parents who brought the case, urged the jury to take a stand against misinformation.
“You have the ability to send a message for everyone in this country and perhaps this world to hear,” he said.“And that is stop Alex Jones. Stop the monetisation of misinformation and lies.”
“Stopping Alex Jones stops the root of his message and the root of his message is fear and hate,” he added.
The $45.2mn was close to the maximum allowed in relation to the original compensatory damages.
An attorney for Jones, Federico Andino Reynal, had asked jurors to return a verdict of $270,000 in punitive damages based on the number of hours Infowars devoted to Sandy Hook coverage.
Outside the courthouse, Reynal told reporters the verdict was high but that Texas law caps punitive damages at $750,000 per plaintiff.
Reynal later told Reuters that he aimed to minimise compensatory damages throughout the trial, knowing there is a cap on punitive damages.
“We always knew that was going to be a backstop, so the strategy worked,” Reynal said, referring to the cap.
The judge admonished Jones during the trial for not telling the truth during his testimony about his bankruptcy and lack of compliance with requests for documents.
Attorney Doug Mirell, a defamation litigation expert not involved in the case, said that the question of Jones's truthfulness on the witness stand could have played a role in the jury's award of punitive damages, noting that it is unusual to award significantly more in punitive than compensatory damages.
“The jury may have simply latched on to their revulsion at the lies and decided Mr. Jones is truly a bad actor,” Mirell told Reuters.
Forensic economist Bernard Pettingill testified on Friday that Jones and Infowars are worth between $135mn and $270mn combined.
InfoWars declared bankruptcy in April and another company owned by Jones, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy last week.
Jones said during a Monday broadcast that the filing will help the company stay on the air while it appeals.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union, which represented the staff at Sandy Hook, praised Friday's verdict.
“Nothing will ever fix the pain of losing a child, or of watching that tragedy denied for political reasons,” she tweeted.“But I'm glad the parents of Sandy Hook have gotten some justice.”

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