American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been ordered to pay $49.3m (£41m) in damages after falsely claiming the 2012 school shooting was a hoax.
A jury in Texas ruled that the radio host would have to pay $45.2m in punitive damages, in addition to the $4.1m in compensatory damages they paid the day before.
The parents of a child killed in the attack filed a two-week defamation suit. Twenty children and six adults were killed in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin filed a lawsuit against the estranged parents of six-year-old Jesse Lewis, who died in an elementary school shooting.
The plaintiffs said they had endured harassment and emotional distress caused by misinformation by the founder of Infowars and demanded $150m.
The compensatory damages released Thursday were meant to cover the actual cost to the family from Jones’ defamation, such as the personal security he hired during trial for fear of attack from a Jones supporter.
The punitive damages are meant to act as a deterrent and to stop Jones from repeating his offence.
“We ask that you send a very, very simple message, and that is: Stop Alex Jones,” a lawyer for the parents said in court on Friday. “Stop the monetisation of misinformation and lies. Please.”
Earlier on Friday, an economist hired by the parents testified that Jones, his media brand Infowars and parent company Free Speech Systems are worth up to $270m. Bernard Pettingill told the court that records indicate Jones withdrew $62m for himself from his company in 2021 as his legal troubles grew.
“That number represents, in my opinion, a value of a net worth,” Mr Pettingill said. “He’s got money put in a bank account somewhere.”
Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy protection in the first two-week trial. The trial heard that Jones’ business had earned about $800,000 in a single day selling diet supplements, gun paraphernalia and survivalist equipment.
Lawyers for the parents accused Jones of trying to hide evidence and argued that he had committed perjury when he denied having sent any messages about the Sandy Hook attack.
Earlier this week, an attorney for the plaintiffs revealed that Jones’ legal representative had accidentally sent them two years of the radio host’s telephone texts.
After the verdict on Friday, he posted a video where he claimed his net worth to be a fraction of what was said in court, and condemned the trial as “beyond any kangaroo-rigged court ever”.
Jones – a popular figure in US fringe conservative commentary – has repeatedly argued that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax orchestrated by the government to strip Americans of gun rights, and that the parents of the dead children were “crisis actors”.
His lawyer had cited US constitutional free speech protections and asked for leniency in the trial, saying the jury had already sent a message to all radio hosts “that their standard of care has changed”.