HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Infowars host Alex Jones and his company were ordered by a judge on Thursday to pay an additional $473 million for promoting conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook school shooting, bringing the full judgment against him in the case filed by the victims’ families up to 1.44 billion dollars.
Connecticut Judge Barbara Bellis awarded punitive damages to the host of Infowars and Free Speech Systems. Jones often told his millions of followers about the massacre that killed 20 first graders and six teachers. it was created by “crisis actors” to create more gun control.
“The record clearly supports the plaintiffs’ contention that the defendants’ conduct was willful and malicious, and that it was likely to cause harm because of their facilities, broadcasting capabilities, and large audiences. including fighters,” the judge wrote on the 45- page control.
Christopher Mattei, an attorney for the Sandy Hook families, said he hopes the award sends a message to conspiracy theorists who profit from lies.
“The court recognized the ‘willful, malicious … and heinous’ conduct of Mr. Jones and his business entities,” Mattei said in a statement.
On his show Thursday, Jones called the award “ridiculous” and a “joke” and said he has little money to pay the damages.
“Of course, I’m laughing,” he said. It would be like sending me a billion dollar promissory note in the mail. Oh man, we got you. It’s all for the psychological effect. It’s all the Wizard of Oz… knowing full well that the collapse is going on and all that, that it’s going to show what I’ve got and that’s it, and I’ve got nothing.
Relatives of eight victims and an FBI agent testified during a month-long trial of years of intimidation and harassment by people who deny the shooting happened. Strangers came to some of their houses and confronted some of them in public. People were insulting them on social media and in emails. Some received death threats and rape.
Six jurors ordered Jones to pay $965 million settling 15 plaintiffs for defamation, emotional distress and violation of Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Jones, who lives and works in Austin, Texas, described the case as unfair and an attack on free speech rights. He says he will appeal the verdicts. He also said that he does not have the money to pay such large judgments, because he has less than $ 2 million in his name – which was contradicted by evidence in a similar case in Texas. Meanwhile, Free Speech Systems is seeking bankruptcy protection.
Jones said Thursday that he only had “a few thousand dollars” in his savings account.
Jones’s representative, Norm Pattis, wrote to The Associated Press in a phone message saying: “To paraphrase Karl Marx, the verdict was a disaster, this new verdict is not true. It makes our appeal work easier. ”
Bellis found Jones’ parent company and Infowars liable for the damages without trial last year, due to what he called his repeated failure to turn over numerous financial documents and other reports to prosecutors. After the unusual “default” decision, the jury was only tasked with deciding the amount of compensatory damages and whether punitive damages were appropriate.
Jones said he provided thousands of documents and that the default judgment deprived him of his right to defend himself against the trial.
The punitive damages include approximately $323 million for attorneys’ fees and costs and $150 million for violations of the Unfair Business Practices Act.
In Connecticut, punitive damages for defamation and emotional distress are usually charged only to the plaintiffs’ legal fees. Sandy Hook attorneys are to receive a third of the $965 million in compensatory damages under the settlement agreement.
But there is no penalty in terms of punitive damages for violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act. Prosecutors did not ask for a specific amount of punitive damages, but under one hypothetical count they said such damages would be $2.75 trillion under the law.
In a similar case in Texas in August, Jones was ordered to pay nearly $50 million in restitution to the parents of a child killed in the Sandy Hook shooting for calling the killing a hoax. A forensic economist testified during the trial that Jones and Free Speech Systems had a combined net worth of over $270 million.
Jones hawks nutritional supplements, health products and other products on his show, which appears on the Infowars website and on numerous radio stations. Evidence in the Connecticut case showed that his sales rose when he talked about the Sandy Hook shooting, which led the plaintiffs’ lawyers to say that he was profiting from the tragedy.
In documents recently filed in Free Speech Systems’ bankruptcy case in Texas, the company’s budget for Oct. 29 on Nov. 25 estimated product sales are about $2.5 million, while operating costs are about $740,000. Jones’ salary was listed at $20,000 every two weeks.
On Wednesday, Bellis, a Connecticut judge, ordered Jones not to move any of his assets out of the country, as the families want to combine his assets to get money for the costs. Meanwhile, Jones asked the judge to order a new trial or at least reduce the compensatory damages to a “specified amount”.
The third and final trial on Jones’ fraud charges is expected to begin later this year in Texas. As in Connecticut, Jones was found liable for damages without trial in two Texas cases because he failed to turn over numerous records to prosecutors.