A Connecticut jury last month ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, to pay $965 million to families who suffered harm after he persuaded his audience that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 26 people was a hoax perpetrated by “crisis actors.”
Now, Jones faces the possibility of paying even more than the vast amount he already owes for repeatedly spreading conspiracy theories about the school shooting, as the punitive damages phase began Friday in a lawsuit filed by the victims’ families.
The amount of punitive damages should be awarded will be determined by Judge Barbara Bellis following the court hearing Friday and another one Monday, and will be added to the compensatory damages already ordered.
Friday’s hearing involved only the plaintiffs’ legal fees, but the dialogue suggested a huge additional penalty is possible for Jones.
Both sides agreed that the families’ contract calls for their attorneys to receive one-third of the amount of the compensatory damages — nearly $322 million.
If the judge approves punitive damages in the amount of the legal fees, she would increase what Jones and his company have to pay the families to $1.29 billion.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers have not asked for a specific amount but based on one hypothetical calculation they suggested punitive damages under the act could total $2.75 trillion.
The purposes of punitive damages are to punish a defendant and to deter similar acts in the future.
Jones, 48, is a far-right radio and web-streaming host from Texas who rose to national prominence in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, when he became one of former president Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters — and one of Hillary Clinton’s most vociferous critics.
Trump’s Jones, who operates the websites Infowars.com and Prisonplanet.com, from the realm of niche showman into the mainstream national political discourse.
Jones, America’s foremost purveyor of outlandish conspiracy theories, is the first person to be held accountable for what amount to innumerable lies and the Connecticut plaintiffs alleged in their lawsuit that Jones’ conduct violated Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act.
According to University of Connecticut law professor Sachin S. Pandya, punitive damages claims under the Unfair Trade Practices Act “are not limited to the expenses of bringing the legal action.”
Jones was hit with three separate defamation lawsuits for his lies about Sandy Hook.
A Texas jury in August ordered Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, the parents of a 6-year-old Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim, a day after deciding the Infowars host must pay them $4.1 million in compensatory damages for the suffering caused by his lies about the death of their son, Jesse, who was killed in the attack in Newtown, Connecticut.
Wesley Ball, an attorney for Lewis and Heslin, asked the Texas jury to award them $150 million, arguing that only such a large sum would be enough to “take the bullhorn away” from Jones.
A trial regarding the third lawsuit, filed in Texas by the parents of another shooting victim, is expected to begin this year.
In addition to his lie that the Newtown school shooting was a “hoax” involving child actors, Jones claimed that elements of the U.S. government were responsible for the September 11 attacks and for bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, the deadliest act of homegrown terrorism in U.S. history.
The September 11 attacks, commonly known as 9/11, were four coordinated suicide terrorist operations carried out by the militant Islamic extremist network al-Qaeda against the United States on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.