Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been ordered to pay $4.1m (£3.3m) in damages after falsely claiming the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax. The parents of a victim have sought at least $150m in a Texas defamation lawsuit against the founder of Infowars.
She said she faced harassment and emotional distress because of misinformation from the right-wing host. Twenty children and six adults were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
On Thursday, a jury in the City of Austin ruled compensatory damages and is still to determine any punitive damages.
Jones – who was not in court when the outcome was announced – has repeatedly argued that the shooting was a hoax organised by the government to strip Americans of gun ownership rights and that the parents of the dead children were “crisis actors”.
He has already lost a series of defamation cases brought by parents of the victims by default after failing to produce documents and testimony.
But this is the first in which a jury agreed upon financial damages.
Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin brought the case, the separated parents of six-year-old Jesse Lewis, who died in the school shooting. Ahead of Thursday’s decision, a lawyer for the plaintiffs revealed that Jones’ lawyer had inadvertently sent him two years of texts from his client’s phone.
The attorney said a congressional panel investigating last year’s US Capitol riot had already requested access to the messages. The committee has said Jones helped organise a rally that took place just before the riot.
Despite retracting his claims about Sandy Hook, Jones has continued to use his platform to attack jurors and the judge in this case.
He also claimed he was bankrupt despite evidence that his companies earned about 800,000 dollars daily selling diet supplements, gun paraphernalia and survivalist equipment.
During the emotionally charged two-week trial, Jones portrayed the case as an attack on his free speech rights under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
“Speech is free but lies you have to pay for,” lawyers for the families countered in their opening arguments. Testifying on Wednesday, Jones acknowledged the Sandy Hook attack was “100% real” and apologised for ” hurting these people’s feelings”.
But in her testimony, Mrs Lewis addressed Jones in court, saying: “Jesse was real… I’m a real mom.”
She said it is “incredible to me that we have to do this”. “That we have to implore you – not just implore you, punish you – to get you to stop lying,” she continued, adding: “It is surreal what is going on in here.”
Mr Heslin said that Jones’ lies “tarnished the honour and legacy” of his son, adding that he had gone through nearly 10 years of “hell” since the attack. According to lawyers for the parents, they were forced to hire private security for the trial out of concern that followers of Jones could seek to harm them