A court has ordered US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay over $70 million for claiming the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax. The punitive damages and compensatory damages were for defamation.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis sued Jones for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress after he claimed the mourning parents were lying about their 6-year-old son’s death.
Sandy Hook Massacre
A gunman killed twenty children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012.
Haslin and Lewis’ six-year-old son Jesse Lewis died in the massacre.
The sheer magnitude of the violence, and the age of the victims, renewed the debate on gun control in America.
Misinformation age and conspiracy theories
Host of ‘InfoWars’ Alex Jones pushed a conspiracy theory that the massacre was a hoax.
Jones is a prominent figure in right-wing circles. He is a proud supporter of former President Donald Trump.
Jones called the Sandy Hook massacre a hoax. He claimed that the US Government staged it using crisis actors as a pretext for taking away Americans’ guns.
Jones has always been a proponent of conspiracy theories. He publicly stated that the US Government is putting chemicals in the water to turn people, and frogs, gay. He also states that President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were demons from hell that smelled of sulphur.
Despite what might seem like ludicrous statements, Jones has an extremely large and passionate following.
As at November 2016, Infowars was receiving approximately 10 million visits per month. His radio show has syndication to 129 stations with a daily audience of 5 million people. His video streams top 80 million viewers in a single month.
Grieving parents sue conspiracy theorist for defamation
Heslin and Lewis sued Jones’ for defamation for stating that they were faking their son’s death in order to push an agenda for gun control.
The parents testified that his followers harassed them and sent them death threats for years in the false belief that they were lying about their son’s death.
Jones’ profited off the conspiracy, according to an expert economist who testified at the trial.
Forensic Economist Bernard Pettingill testified on Friday on behalf of Lewis’ parents that Jones “promulgated some hate speech and some misinformation” and “made a lot of money”. Jones and Infowars are worth between $US135 million and $US270 million combined, Pettingill said.
Punitive damages awarded for defamation
A Texas jury decided on the damages following a two-week defamation trial hosted in Austin, Texas. The verdict was already in the parent’s favour on a default judgement after Jones’ failed to defend the claim.
The parents sought $US145.9 million in punitive damages and $US150 million in compensatory damages. Compensatory damages cover a plaintiff’s suffering and losses. Courts award punitive damages to punish a defendant’s actions.
They received $US45.2 million in punitive damages on top of $US4.1 million in compensatory damages.
If you have suffered from defamation contact our lawyers today. We have won some of Australia’s biggest amounts in compensation for people who experience libel and slander.