How Alex Jones Lost the Sandy Hook Defamation Cases
Posted: December 20, 2021
In Newton, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza murdered his mother in their home and then drove to the Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he fatally shot 20 children and six adults before taking his own life. It has been deemed one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.
The majority of the victims were only six and seven years old. That, plus the scale of the massacre and the type of weapon and ammunition magazine that Lanza used, sparked a renewed debate on gun control and Second Amendment rights.
The Gun Control Debate
Legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in 1994 had banned some semi-automatic assault rifles and large-capacity magazines, but in 2004 that law had lapsed. Lanza’s use of an AR-15 and 30-round ammunition magazines gave proponents of gun control a visible example of why this legislation had been put into place and spurred calls to enact new restrictions.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, legislators pledged to introduce gun control legislation. Then-President Barack Obama made statements that he, as a parent, would do whatever he could, using the powers of his office to prevent future mass shootings.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) responded with an opposite stance, advocating to place armed guards in every school in America.
A month after the shootings, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 was introduced. This proposed federal legislation would ban the sale of more than 150 firearm models and magazines that hold more than ten rounds of ammunition. However, the bill was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 60–40.
Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones
As the gun control debate raged on, Alex Jones — a conspiracy theorist and far-right broadcaster who runs the Infowars media outlet — began publicly spreading false claims around the events of the shooting. Jones repeatedly stated that the tragedy was a hoax and that the children’s families were “crisis actors” who had faked the deaths of their relatives. He went on to suggest that the shooting was a “false flag” staged by the Obama administration to justify taking away Americans’ guns, thereby violating their rights.
Jones continued to spread these false claims until 2020 when families of some Sandy Hook victims responded to the ongoing rhetoric by suing both Jones and Infowars. Their suits asserted that some of Jones’ followers — who appear to have believed what Jones was saying to be true — were accosting the victims’ families on the street and at events that were being held to honor their slain family members, abusing them online, contacting them in their homes, sending death threats, and harassing them constantly.
The first people to sue Jones were the parents of Noah Pozner, Sandy’s Hook’s youngest victim. In a 2018 interview with The New York Times, Pozner’s mother, Veronique De La Rosa, said they have to live in hiding from the harassment and have been forced to move ten times since the shooting. She claimed Jones’ followers and other conspiracy theorists publish each new address “… with the speed of light … I would love to go see my son’s grave, and I don’t get to do that.”
Suing for Defamation
Attorney Chris Mattei, a lawyer hired to represent the plaintiffs, including the families of eight of the victims, sued Jones in Connecticut and Texas for defamation.
Legally speaking, the basic definition of defamation is “a false statement of fact that (1) is published; (2) damages or injures the reputation of another party; and (3) is made without legal excuse (defense or privilege).” While this definition then goes into further detail, the pertinent facts stand: a defamation suit essentially accuses the plaintiff of knowingly publishing false and injurious material.
Further, Mattei claimed Jones and his companies, such as Infowars and Free Speech Systems, violated court rules by failing to turn in documents showing how, and if, Jones had profited from talking about his conspiracy theories surrounding the shooting.
Jones broadcasts his conspiracy theories and content on the radio and online while selling his own line of dietary supplements. The families of the Sandy Hook victims maintain that while Jones is spreading misinformation about them and their murdered loved ones, he is also profiting off these lies.
While Jones continues to dispute these claims, his legal team has failed to produce sufficient records and proof to back him up. On November 15, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ruled that Jones was liable by default, stating that Jones’ team repeatedly ignored courtroom deadlines and failed to provide information demanded by the court. Her ruling cited Jones’s continual failure to produce financial records regarding his business operations and analytics to show how his Sandy Hook conspiracy claims affected traffic coming to his Infowars website and subsequent online store.
Jones’s lawyers deny violating court rules on document disclosure and have asked that Judge Bellis be removed from the case by alleging she is not impartial. However, Judge Bellis was not the only presiding justice, as Jones also lost two other cases in which he was sued for damages — again, both due to the failure to provide requested evidence and documents, including social media content, internal company emails, and transcripts and videos of his remarks about Sandy Hook and the victims’ families.
In Texas alone, Jones and his staff accumulated more than $100,000 in sanctions from the court, including failure to produce specific documents and failing to show up for scheduled depositions. Meanwhile, this latest decision in Connecticut means that Jones has officially lost all of the defamation lawsuits filed against him by the families of the Sandy Hook victims.
Mattei said, “If Mr. Jones’s conduct here were protected by the First Amendment, he would have had every opportunity to make that case. But he chose to default. He deliberately chose to prevent us from collecting evidence that would prove how his business works and why he engaged in this extended campaign against the families, and the relationship between that and his profitability.”
Hearings on damages have been ordered and juries in Texas and Connecticut will now have to decide how much Jones must pay the families in damages and court costs. The trials to determine how much Jones owes in damages are scheduled to begin next year.