Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Nearly $1 Billion Verdict Against Alex Jones Is Excessive

Controversial internet streamer Alex Jones was nailed by a Connecticut jury over his claims that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax and the victims were crisis actors who faked the incident. Jones was ordered to pay at least $965 million in damages.

Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay at least $965 million in damages to numerous families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting for falsely claiming they were actors who faked the tragedy, a Connecticut jury said on Wednesday.

The verdict, which came after three weeks of testimony in a state court in Waterbury, Connecticut, far outstripped the $49 million Jones was ordered to pay in August by a Texas jury in a similar case brought by two other Sandy Hook parents.

The Connecticut verdict applies to both Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems LLC, the owner of Jones’ Infowars website. FSS filed for bankruptcy in July.

The plaintiffs in the Connecticut case included more than a dozen relatives of 20 children and six staff members who were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. Jones claimed for years that the massacre was staged as part of a government plot to take away Americans’ guns.

In addition, the jury found that Jones owed the plaintiff’s lawyers attorneys’ fees. Those will be calculated and awarded in November.

There is no defense for Jones’s comments. Alleging that the Sandy Hook school victims were crisis actors who were faking the shooting is a disgusting lie. Jones clearly owed these people some money. Defamation is not a protected category of speech.

But the nearly $1 billion in damages is way too excessive. I cannot support the awarding of outrageous sums of money that are clearly used to shut down journalists and independent media. That is true even if it involves a truly contemptible person such as Alex Jones.

This verdict will likely be appealed and I would not be surprised if this verdict is reduced. In addition, Free Speech Systems, LLC, which is the parent company of InfoWars, has filed for bankruptcy protection. It is very likely these people will receive nothing from Jones.

Reducing this verdict on appeal is the just solution here. Yes, Jones should have to pay something but an excessive verdict, in this case, would stifle the freedom of the press.