Alex Jones v Sandy Hook: Why the false flag conspiracist is being sued by the victims’ families

Far-right conspiracy theorist claimed that the mass shooting that killed 26 young children and staff at a Connecticut school never happened

Judge scolds Alex Jones for lying under oath

Hours after 26 people were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Alex Jones began spouting false claims that the massacre wasn’t real.

More than 10 years later, the far-right conspiracy theorist’s inflammatory comments have continued to haunt him as families of the shooting victims – 20 of which were young children – hold him accountable in court.

Following multiple attempts from the Infowars host to delay and derail justice, his time is finally up.

On 26 July 2022, the first of three defamation damages trials targeting Mr Jones finally began in a Texas courtroom, with a 12-person jury and four alternates hearing testimony from people who worked on his show, the parents of a child who was killed and the Infowars host himself.

After a week of testimony, a jury ordered Mr Jones to pay $4.11m in compensatory damages to Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose six-year-old son Jesse was among the children killed in the massacre, for the harm his lies caused them. He was also ordered to pay $45.2m in punitive damages, which could later be capped by the court.

Mr Jones is still set to face trial in two other defamation damages cases - one in the same Travis County courtroom and another in Connecticut, however his lawyers have indicated they intend to pause those cases pending his company’s bankruptcy filing in late July.

The first trial came off the back of a dramatic few months where Mr Jones was held in contempt of court for failing to appear twice for a deposition and filed for bankruptcy to try to delay paying up.

Now, with the first trial concluded, here’s what you need to know about the years-long legal battle between the far-right personality and the families of the victims of one of the worst mass shootings in American history:

What happened at Sandy Hook?

On 14 December 2012, 26 people were shot and killed at  Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

That morning, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot dead his mother at their home and then drove her car to the public school for kindergarten through fourth grade students, armed with four firearms.

He murdered 20 students aged just six and seven years old and six staff members before turning a gun on himself.

The massacre - which remains the worst crime in modern Connecticut history nine years on - ignited calls for stricter gun controls in the US.

The hearse of Sandy Hook Elementary school victim Noah Pozner

What did Alex Jones do?

As the families were left to bury their small children, far-right conspiracy theorist Mr Jones pushed false claims that the mass shooting - and their murders - never even happened.

He even claimed the six and seven-year-olds being mourned never even existed.

Through his radio show and website Infowars, he claimed that the massacre was instead a “false flag” operation engineered by the government to bring about stricter gun control laws and take away Second Amendment rights.

He claimed that the event was “staged” and “completely fake”, carried out by “actors” as a “giant hoax”.

His conspiracy theories began less than two hours after the mass shooting took place on 14 December 2012.

“There is a reported school shooting in Connecticut - one of the states that has draconian restrictions on gun ownership… The media will hype the living daylights out of this,” he told his listeners.

“Why do governments stage these things? To get our guns!”

Months later, in April 2013, he claimed the evidence the massacre was staged was “overwhelming”.

For years he continued to push the false claims, sharing one video entitled “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed”, where he claimed that“they had porta potties being delivered an hour after it happened, for the big media event”.

A parent walks away from Sandy Hook Elementary School with her children following the shooting in 2012

He further doubled down on his comments in a controversial interview with Megyn Kelly in 2017.

In 2019, Mr Jones appeared to walk back his claims admitting in a deposition that he accepted that the massacre was real and blaming “a form of psychosis” for his ever questioning it.

However, he continued to insist there were “anomalies” in the account of events and that there had been a “cover-up”.

Impact on the families

Besides dealing with their unspeakable grief, Mr Jones’ lies took a heavy toll on the families of the victims.

Many were subjected to years of in-person and online harassment and threats from his followers, memorials were defaced and several families moved from the area to get away from the torment.

In 2014, Andrew David Truelove was arrested for stealing memorial signs for the dead children and telling the parents they shouldn’t care because their children didn’t exist in the first place.

In 2020, former Infowars contributor Wolfgang Halbig was finally arrested after spending years allegedly harassing the grieving families and members of the Newtown community, claiming their dead children were played by “crisis actors”.

Police said Mr Halbig repeatedly contacted several families including Leonard Pozner, whose son Noah was murdered in the mass shooting, released their personal information online and emailed them images claiming to be of their dead children.

Meanwhile, Mr Jones financially profited from spreading the lies through his Infowars show.

Daniel Barden was one of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting

The legal battles

In 2018, a total of 10 families of victims filed four defamation lawsuits in Texas - where Infowars is based - and Connecticut against Mr Jones and Infowars over his false claims.

Last year, judges in all four cases ruled that the families had won the defamation cases and that Mr Jones was guilty by default for failing to provide evidence.

Dodging deposition

Mr Jones was set to testify under oath on 23 and 24 March as part of the settlement proceedings.

His lawyers had made a last-ditch attempt to delay the questioning under oath, claiming he was too sick to attend due to unnamed “medical conditions” and that doctors had advised him to remain at home.

Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis turned down his requests to delay, in part because he was seemingly well enough to continue broadcasting his hours-long show - leaving his home on at least one occasion to travel to his studio to film it. He subsequently defied court orders by failing to show up for the depositions both days.

It later emerged that the doctor who advised him that he was too unwell to attend the deposition was the same doctor who appeared on his show on 21 March to attack the Covid-19 vaccines as “poison” and call the US’s top doctor Dr Anthony Fauci “the greatest mass murderer in the history of the world”.

After he missed the deposition for a second time, the attorneys representing the victims’ families urged the judge to find Mr Jones in contempt of court and have him arrested. Attorney Christopher Mattei called Mr Jones’ failure to appear a “cowardly attempt ... to escape accountability for the years he spent spreading lies about Sandy Hook” in a statement to The Independent.

Mr Jones defended himself against the plaintiffs’ efforts to have him arrested in a pre-recorded video on his Infowars website on 24 February - the same day he said he was too unwell to attend the second deposition date.

Titled “Sandy Hook mafia calls for Alex Jones’ arrest: Legendary talk show host responds”, he claimed he was being treated worse than death row prisoners.

“Somebody on death row is allowed to go get their medical treatment and hearings and things are postponed but I’m treated worse than somebody on death row,” he said.

He did not detail the nature of his health issues saying that they are “private”.

Lawyers for the far-right conspiracy theorist made their case for why Mr Jones should not be sanctioned in a court filing on 28 March, arguing that sitting for the deposition would cause him “significant stress” and accusing the plaintiffs of “blatantly” asking the judge to overrule his doctors.

Mr Jones’ attorney Norman Pattis cited the coronavirus pandemic in stressing the importance of trusting doctors - something Mr Jones has balked at in the past as he repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the virus and doubted the reliability of vaccines on his Infowars show.

Alex Jones during recording for one of his Infowars shows

Rejected settlement offer

The night before the contempt hearing on 31 March, Mr Jones’ legal team submitted a settlement proposal that would include a “heartfelt apology” and $120,000 payout per plaintiff.

“It’s time for the litigation to end,” Mr Pattis . “The shooting took place almost 10 years ago.”

Lawyers for the families quickly shut down the offer, calling it a “transparent and desperate attempt by Alex Jones to escape a public reckoning under oath with his deceitful, profit-driven campaign against the plaintiffs and the memory of their loved ones lost at Sandy Hook.”

Mr Jones then issued a statement attacking the families for refusing his offer.

“The Sandy Hook shootings are almost a decade behind us. It’s time to put this case behind us, too. Most of the families affected never joined the suits; those who have are no doubt weary of it. The world is on the cusp of war and all the ambulance chasers care about is hatred,” a section of the lengthy statement reads.

Contempt of court and fines

On 31 March, Judge Bellis granted the request to hold Mr Jones in contempt of court after doubling down on her finding that the evidence on his ailments was insufficient.

The judge said she would purge the contempt if he sat for the deposition by 10 April but said Mr Jones would be slapped with escalating fines starting at $25,000 for each day he failed to sit for the deposition.

Lawyers for the Infowars host filed a motion asking Judge Bellis to reconsider the fines in light of a newly-scheduled deposition on 11 April - arguing that it was unfair to require him to “pay fines totaling potentially $1.65 million for relying on a doctor’s note to not attend a deposition”.

While his attorneys argued against the fines in court, Mr Jones attacked the judge on his radio show calling her a liar and a “thing”.

Mr Jones then finally sat for his two-day deposition on 5 and 6 April.

On his Infowars website, he said he sat for 10 hours, claiming he was “demonised” in the process.

He paid $75,000 in fines for the delayed deposition — $25,000 on Friday 1 April and $50,000 on Monday 4 April, according to the court records.

However, on 14 April, Judge Bellis ordered that the money be returned to Mr Jones because he had showed up at his rescheduled deposition.

Bankruptcy

In another twist in the saga, Jones began what appeared to be his latest attempt to delay paying out for the defamation lawsuits when he filed for bankruptcy on 17 April for three entities he owns, including his radio show Infowars, claiming liabilities of as much as $10m each.

The far-right radio show – which he used as a mouthpiece for his lies about the mass shooting – filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the Southern District of Texas, according to court filings.

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy court filing listed Infowars’ estimated assets in the range of $0-$50,000 (£38,375), with estimated liabilities in the range of $1m to $10m (£767,400 to £7,674,150).

Chapter 11 bankruptcy procedures allow for a business to keep operating while they prepare a turnaround plan and additionally pause civil litigation.

The filings enables a business to keep operating while it prepares a turnaround plan – and also pauses civil litigation.

Jones made the filing just one week before jury selection was scheduled to begin in Austin.

Days later, District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble postponed his trial but vowed to set a new date “as soon as I possibly can”.

Attorneys for the families of the Sandy Hook victims accused the right-wing extremist of making the move in an attempt to try to hide millions of dollars in assets and avoid paying out for the torment he has put them through.

But Jones’ success in delaying the trial was short-lived as a federal judge in Texas tossed the bankruptcy protection case in June.

The dismissal came after attorneys for Jones and the Sandy Hook families reached a deal to drop his three companies from the defamation lawsuits in exchange for the suits continuing.

First trial

Mr Jones’ first defamation damages trial unfolded from 26 July to 5 August.

Some of the most compelling testimony came from Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose six-year-old son, Jesse, was among the 20 children and six adults massacred by the gunman.

Neil Heslin labelled Mr Jones a “psychopath” and called him “cowardly” for skipping the father’s testimony on 2 August. He also lambasted the talking head for his false claims about the mass shooting, saying they left his family living in a constant state of fear.

Mr Jones arrived to court in time to hear testimony from Scarlett Lewis, who directly confronted the defendant.

Ms Lewis said her son Jesse had led nine children to safety when the gunman’s assault rifle had jammed or run out of bullets, saving their lives.

“To come on and say that Jesse never existed, that is was a hoax. I know there are hoaxes out there but this was an incredibly real event, and I lived it.

“It is unbelievable that you would continue to say that it didn’t happen” she said.

“Do you think I’m an actress?”

In his own testimony, which began on the afternoon of 2 August and continued into the next day, Mr Jones sought to sway the jury by describing Infowars as a “self-help” program and bemoaning how his name had become inextricably linked to the shooting.

In a stand-out moment, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble admonished Mr Jones after plaintiff attorney Mark Bankston accused him of lying on the stand when he claimed that he was bankrupt and had complied with discovery in the case.

“Mr Jones, you may have filed for bankruptcy, I don’t know that but I’ve heard that. That doesn’t make a person or a company bankrupt. You’re already under oath to tell the truth. You’ve already violated that oath twice, today. This is not your show,” the judge said.

The Infowars host also raised eyebrows when he used his time on the stand to promote his supplements business.

However, the most dramatic moment came when plaintiffs’ lawyer Mark Bankston revealed that Mr Jones’ legal team had accidentally submitted two years of the Infowars host’s text messages and emails to the opposing side as part of discovery.

Mr Bankston then confronted Mr Jones with text messages about the shooting that he previously claimed he’d been unable to find on his phone.

Mr Jones insisted he didn’t lie, but the disclosure raised the possibility that he could be charged with perjury.

Meanwhile outside the court, reports emerged that Mr Jones’ text messages surrounding the 6 January 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol would be turned over to the House select committee investigating the riot.

Earlier testimony came from Infowars producer Daria Karpova, who revealed that Mr Jones didn’t personally verify stories he aired about the massacre, and Dr Roy Lubit, a forensic psychiatrist who spoke about the emotional fallout from the shooting.

Mr Jones missed much of the testimony - after his attorney warned the judge about a “medical issue” at the start of the trial. He continued to host his show on days that he skipped court.

After less than a day of deliberation, jurors awarded Mr Heslin and Ms Lewis $4.11m in compensatory damages - well below the $150m they had sought. Mr Jones described the judgment as a “victory for truth”.

The following day, after a forensic economist painted a detailed portrait of Mr Jones’ financial situation to the court, he was ordered to pay $45.2m in punitive damages.

Mr Jones is expected to appeal the punitive judgment under a Texas law capping punitive damages at $750,000 per plaintiff, which could lower the total sum to $1.5m. Lawyers for the plaintiffs expressed their intent to challenge any attempt to reduce the punitive damages.

What’s next?

Mr Jones is set to face yet another trial in Travis County, Texas, against another family of Noah Pozner, a six-year-old Sandy Hook shooting victim. A date for that trial has not been solidified, and on 5 August Mr Jones’ attorney said they intend to delay it pending his bankruptcy proceedings.

A separate trial brought by eight Sandy Hook families is scheduled to begin in Connecticut in September.

Following the first verdict, plaintiffs’ lawyer Mark Bankston predicted that damages awarded in the second two trials could weigh heavily on how much Mr Heslin and Ms Lewis receive.

“What this is heading towards is there is going to be a large set of plaintiffs who are going to be dividing up the corpse of Infowars in the bankruptcy state,” he said outside the courtroom Friday in a video shared on Twitter by KXAN reporter Avery Travis.

“Over the course of that process, that can get very, very dangerous for Mr Jones because there’s going to be a new level of financial scrutiny.”

What else?

His conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook massacre are far from Mr Jones’ only legal woes and controversies.

In January, Mr Jones appeared before the House Committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot that saw Donald Trump supporters storm the Capitol to try to overturn the election.

He had been subpoenaed to testify after the committee said it had evidence that he was involved in planning and funding Mr Trump’s rally prior to the insurrection and that he promoted the “wild” event on his show.

The committee said he had also led a crowd from the rally to the Capitol.

Mr Jones claimed after the riot that the Trump White House had asked him to “lead the march” from the rally to the Capitol that day. He also called January 6 a “historic day”.

Following his committee testimony, Mr Jones claimed on his show that he pleaded the fifth “100 times” during questioning.

Now his text messages pertaining to the insurrection have been turned over to the committee, potentially putting him and anyone he may have communicated with in legal jeopardy.

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