HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – A judge on Thursday ordered Infowars host Alex Jones and his company to pay an additional $473 million for promoting false conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook school massacre, giving the entire judgment against him in a lawsuit filed by the families of the victims to a whopping $1.44 billion.
Judge Barabara Bellis of Connecticut awarded the punitive damages to the host of Infowars and Free Speech Systems. Jones repeatedly told his millions of followers about the massacre that killed 20 first-classmen and six educators was staged by “crisis activists” to enact more gun control.
“The record clearly supports plaintiffs’ contention that defendants’ conduct was intentional and malicious, and certain to cause harm because of their infrastructure, ability to disseminate content, and massive audience including the whistleblowers ,” wrote the judge in 45-. page control.
Christopher Mattei, a lawyer for Sandy Hook families, said he hopes the award will send a message to conspiracy theorists who exploit lies.
“The Court recognized the ‘intentional, malicious … and heinous’ conduct of Mr. Jones and his business entities,” Mattei said in a statement.
On his show Thursday, Jones called the award “stuff” and a “joke” and said he doesn’t have much money to pay the damages.
“Well, of course I’m laughing about it,” he said. “It would be like if you mailed me a billion dollar bill. Oh man, we got you. It’s all for psychological effect. It’s all the Wizard of Oz … when they’re well aware of the bankruptcy going on and the rest of it, it’s going to show what I’ve got and that’s it, and I’ve got next to nothing.”
Relatives of eight victims and an FBI agent testified during a month-long trial under threats and harassment for years by people who deny the shooting happened. Strangers showed up at some of their homes and confronted some of them in public. People have sent insulting comments to them on social media and in emails. And some of them received threats of death and rape.
Six jurors ordered Jones to pay $965 million to compensate the 15 plaintiffs for defamation, infliction of emotional distress and violations of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Jones said the trial was unfair and an attack on free speech rights. He says he will appeal the verdicts. He has also said he doesn’t have the money to pay such huge verdicts, as he has less than $2 million to his name – which was contradicted by testimony at a similar trial in Texas. Meanwhile, Free Speech Systems is seeking bankruptcy protection.
Jones said Thursday that he only has “a few hundred thousand dollars” in his savings account.
A message seeking comment was left for Jones’ lawyer, Norm Pattis.
Bellis found Jones and Infowars’ parent company liable for damages without trial last year, as a result of what she called her repeated failures to turn over numerous financial documents and other records to the plaintiffs. After the unusual “default” ruling, the jury was tasked only with deciding the amount of compensatory damages and whether punitive damages were warranted.
Jones says he turned over thousands of documents and the default ruling took away his right to present a defense against the lawsuit.
Punitive damages awarded by the judge include approximately $323 million for the plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees and costs and $150 million for violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act.
In Connecticut, punitive damages for defamation and emotional distress are usually limited to the plaintiffs’ legal fees. Lawyers for the Sandy Hook plaintiffs will receive one-third of the $965 million in compensatory damages under a retainer agreement — bringing their legal fees to $322 million.
But there is no limit on punitive damages for violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act. The plaintiffs did not ask for a specific amount of punitive damages, but under one hypothetical calculation they said such damages could be about $2.75 trillion under the unfair trade law.
In a similar trial in Texas in August, Jones was ordered to pay nearly $50 million to the parents of another child killed in the Sandy Hook shooting for calling the massacre a hoax. A forensic economist testified during that trial that Jones and Free Speech Systems have a combined net worth of as high as $270 million.
The third and final trial of Jones’ hoax claims is expected to begin around the end of the year in Texas. As in Connecticut, Jones was found liable for damages without a trial in both cases in Texas because he failed to provide many records to the plaintiffs.