- BBC News World
Spreading a conspiracy theory is going to cost Alex Jones, one of the most prominent voices of hard-line conservatism in the United States, a millionaire sum.
A jury found guilty to jones to defame to the parents of the victims of the 2012 school shooting Sandy Hookin which 20 children and 6 adults died.
Jones argued for years that the shooting was a hoax organized by the government to strip Americans of the right to own guns. He also falsely claimed that the parents of the deceased children were actually actors.
The presenter of the ultra-conservative channel Infowars channel must pay $4.1 million for defamation.
The parents of the victims were seeking a payment of at least $150 million at trial. They said they had been harassed and emotionally distressed because of the Jones conspiracy theory.
The jury in court in Austin, Texas, still must determine punitive damages.
Jones has already lost a series of defamation cases brought by the parents of the victims for not having documents or testimony in their favor. but this is the first in which damages were determined by a jury.
Despite retracting his claims about the Sandy Hook shooting, Jones has continued to use his Infowars platform to attack the jury and judge in this case.
During the emotionally charged trial, Jones described the case as an attack on their rights to freedom of expression under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Nevertheless, admitted that the murders in Sandy Hook were “100% real” and accused the media of not allowing him to retract his false claims.
He has also assured that he is in bankruptcydespite evidence that his companies made around $800,000 a day selling dietary supplements, gun paraphernalia and survival kits.
“Freedom of expression is free, but lies have to be paid for,” the families’ lawyers responded in their opening statements.
The case was originally brought by Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, the parents of Jesse Lewis, from 6 yearswho died in the school shooting.
In her testimony, Lewis addressed Jones directly, saying, “Jesse was real… I’m a real mom.”
He went on to say that it was “unbelievable” to have to go through such a process.
“We have to beg you, not just beg you, punish you, to stop lying,” he continued. “It’s surreal what’s going on here.”
Heslin said Jones’s lies “tarnished the honor and legacy” of her son and said it has been nearly 10 years of “hell” since the shooting.
According to the parents’ lawyers, they hired private security for the trial out of fear that Jones’s supporters might try to harm them.
Prior to the decision, attorneys for Lewis and Heslin revealed that Jones’ attorney had inadvertently sent them the 2 year message history text from the presenter’s phone.
The messages could be of interest to the congressional panel investigating Last year’s riots at the Capitol from the United States.
The committee believes that Jones helped organize a demonstration that took place just before the riots.
“You will pay a lot more”
A forensic psychiatrist testified that the parents suffered from a “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” similar to that suffered by soldiers who were in action or victims of child abuse.
Jones, who was not in the courtroom when the jury’s verdict was announced, was the only witness in his defense at trial.
Attorneys for the parents accused Jones of trying to hide evidence and argued that he had perjured himself when he denied sending messages related to the Sandy Hook attack.
Infowars’ parent company, Free Speech Systems LLC, filed for bankruptcy protection last week. The outlet has been banned by YouTube, Spotify and Twitter for spreading hate speech, but continues to operate.
Other conspiracies fueled by Jones say that the US government iscreating floods and tornadoes as “weather weapons” and that chemicals in drinking water are making frogs gay.
Attorney Mark Banston, who represented the parents in the case, said his clients were not disappointed with the amount awarded so far by the jury.
“We’re not done yet, folks”he pointed.
“We knew that going into this case it was necessary to aim for the moon so that the jury understood that we were serious and passionate. Starting tomorrow, he will pay much more“.
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