Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been ordered to pay $4.11m (£3.38m) in compensatory damages to the family of a Sandy Hook victim.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose six-year-old son Jesse was among the 20 students and six adults killed in the mass shooting, sued Jones and his media company for the claims he has made that the massacre was a “false flag” operation and that the victims did not actually exist.
They had asked for $150m in compensatory damages and another trial to determine punitive damages is now expected to take place on Friday.
At the heart of the Alex Jones defamation case is a decade-long tragedy for the families who lost young children and loved ones in one of the worst school massacres in US history.
What happened at Sandy Hook and how did Alex Jones get involved?
Heavily-armed Adam Lanza, 20, walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 after shooting his mother dead and unleashed unimaginable carnage, which saw 20 children and six adults murdered.
Despite the human cost that has haunted the town of Newtown, Connecticut, within hours of the bloodshed, Alex Jones began to falsely claim that despite all evidence to the contrary a massacre that stunned the watching world was not real.
As the families were left to bury their small children in tiny coffins, Jones stated that the mass shooting and the murder of 20 children never happened.
And he even claimed that the six and seven-year-olds being mourned never even existed.
The Infowars host told his audience that the violence was in fact a “false flag” operation engineered by the government to bring about stricter gun control laws and take away Second Amendment rights.
He claimed that the event was “staged” and “completely fake”, carried out by “actors” as a “giant hoax”. His conspiracy theories began less than two hours after the mass shooting took place on 14 December 2012.
“There is a reported school shooting in Connecticut – one of the states that has draconian restrictions on gun ownership… The media will hype the living daylights out of this,” he told his listeners.
“Why do governments stage these things? To get our guns!”
And so he continued for the next decade, continually claiming that the shooting was “staged” and “completely fake”, carried out by “actors” as a “giant hoax”.
What happened after Alex Jones called Sandy Hook a “hoax”?
The families who had their world destroyed by Adam Lanza finally had enough.
In 2018, a total of 10 families of victims filed four defamation lawsuits in Texas – where Infowars is based – and Connecticut against Mr Jones and Infowars over his false claims.
And in 2021, judges in all the defamation cases ruled that Jones was guilty by default as he failed to provide the required evidence.
Jones was set to testify under oath in March as part of an effort to settle the case, but his layers tried to delay it, claiming he was too “sick” to participate.
Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis turned down his requests to delay, stating that he appeared well enough to film his Infowars show, and he defied court orders to show up.
The circus then moved to Austin, Texas, where a Travis County jury was asked to decide how much Jones will have to pay Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis.
Their six-year-old son, Jesse, was among the 20 children and six adults massacred by the gunman.
What happened during the defamation trial?
Jones avoided the testimony of Mr Heslin, but was confronted directly in court by Ms Lewis, who told the court her son had led nine children to safety before being shot through the head.
“Jesse was real,” Ms Lewis told Jones as he sat in the courtroom in Travis County, Texas, as she testified on Tuesday. “I am a real mom.”
She added: “I wanted to tell you, to your face, because I wanted you to know that I am a mother, first and foremost. I know that you’re a father,” Lewis told Jones.
“And my son existed. You’re still on your show, today, trying to say that I am – implying – that I’m an actress. That I’m ‘Deep State.’ You have. This week. And I don’t understand.
She went on to tell Jones that even he did not believe his own outrageous statements about the shooting.
“I am not deep state… I know you know that… I know you believe me, yet you’re going to leave this courtroom and say it again on your show,” she said. “Do you have the capacity to put yourself in my shoes? Do you have empathy?”
At one point, Ms Lewis asked Jones if he really thought she was an actress.
“Having a six-year-old son shot in his forehead in his classroom is unbearable. And then to have someone on top of that perpetuate a lie that it was a hoax, that it didn’t happen, that it was a false flag, that I was an actress – You think I’m an actress?”
“No, I don’t think you’re an actor,” he replied before the judge admonished him and told him to remain quiet.
What did Alex Jones say in his testimony?
During his own testimony, Jones promoted his supplement business while on the stand and boasted about the quality of the product he sold on Infowars.
He even told the jury that his company had made $165m from supplements on the site.
At the start of his testimony, Jones apologised to the parents. “I never intentionally tried to hurt you, I never even said your name until we came to court,” he said.
He was then scolded by the judge in the case for telling the jury that he had complied with pretrial evidence gathering even though he didn’t and that he is bankrupt, which has not yet been decided.
“This is not your show,” Judge Maya Guerra Gamble told Jones. “Your beliefs do not make something true. You are under oath.”
And during his testimony, he finally admitted that the massacre was “100 per cent real”.
“Especially since I’ve met the parents. It’s 100 per cent real,” Jones said.
During the final day of testimony, the lawyer for the family stunningly informed Jones that his own attorney had accidentally sent them two years of his text messages.
Jones had claimed during discovery that he could not find any text messages relating to Sandy Hook on his phone but denied that he had lied under oath.