Jurors ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Wednesday to pay nearly $1 billion to Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims' relatives and an FBI agent, who said he turned their loss and trauma into years of torment by promoting the lie that the rampage was a hoax.
The $965 million verdict is the second big judgment against the Infowars host for spreading the myth that the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history never happened, and that the grieving families seen in news coverage were actors hired as part of a plot to take away Americans' guns.
The verdict came in a defamation lawsuit filed by some of the families of 26 people who were killed in the 2012 shooting, plus an FBI agent who was among the first responders. A Texas jury in August awarded nearly $50 million to the parents of another slain child.
Jones wasn't at court but reacted on his Infowars show.
As courtroom video showed the jury awards being read out, Jones said that he himself had never mentioned the plaintiffs' names.
"All made up. Hilarious," he said. "So this is what a show trial looks like. I mean, this is the left completely out of control."
Jones' lawyer, Norm Pattis, portrayed the trial as unfair and pledged to appeal.
The jury awarded various sums to the victims' relatives, who testified that they were threatened and harassed for years by people who believed the lies told on Jones' show. Strangers showed up at the families' homes to record them. People hurled abusive comments on social media.
Testifying during the trial, Jones acknowledged he had been wrong about Sandy Hook. The shooting was real, he said. But in the courtroom and on his show, he was defiant.
He called the proceedings a "kangaroo court," mocked the judge, called the plaintiffs' lawyer an ambulance chaser and labeled the case an affront to free speech rights. He claimed it was a conspiracy by Democrats and the media to silence him and put him out of business.
Twenty children and six adults died in the shooting on December 14, 2012; relatives of five children and three educators sued in Connecticut. The trial was held at a courthouse in Waterbury, about 32 kilometers from Newtown, where the attack took place.
The lawsuit accused Jones and Infowars' parent company, Free Speech Systems (FSS), of using the mass killing to build his audience and make millions of dollars. Experts testified that Jones' audience swelled, as did his revenue from product sales, when he made Sandy Hook a topic on the show.
In both the Texas and Connecticut lawsuits, judges found the company liable for damages by default after Jones failed to cooperate with court rules on sharing evidence, including failing to turn over records that might have showed whether Infowars had profited from knowingly spreading misinformation about mass killings.
Because he was already found liable, Jones was barred from mentioning free speech rights and other topics during his testimony.
Jones now faces a third trial, in Texas, in a lawsuit filed by the parents of another child killed in the shooting.
It is unclear how much of the verdicts Jones can afford to pay. During the trial in Texas, he testified he couldn't afford any judgment over $2 million. FSS has filed for bankruptcy protection.
Infowars' finances are not public, but according to trial testimony the site brought in revenue of $165 million between 2016 and 2018. An economist in the Texas case estimated that Jones is personally worth between $135 million and $270 million.
FSS's bankruptcy will limit the total money available to Sandy Hook families, but they could seek other assets from Jones if a judge rules his company deliberately harmed them, according to Brian Kabateck, a plaintiffs' attorney who was not involved in the case.