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Back in 2012, a 20-year-old gunman shot 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Most people understandably saw it as a horrific tragedy and mourned the death of school children, teachers and staff. But not Alex Jones – he said the attack was staged.
Jones is a conspiracy theorist who runs Infowars, a conspiracy website and talk show in the US. Jones falsely claimed for years that the attack at Sandy Hook was staged by the government in an effort to take guns away from people. He also said the victims’ families were part of the hoax and it was all an act.
His content got more than 550 million impressions across different social media accounts in the six years after the attack, and families of the victims were harassed by people who believed Jones. One parent recounted a story about learning that people were urinating on and threatening to dig up the grave of his son who had died in the shooting.
On Wednesday, though, a jury ruled that Jones, along with the parent company of Infowars, was guilty of defamation for the false claims and would have to pay nearly US$1 billion in fines to the parents and families of the victims. The trial wasn’t a short one, nor was it Jones’ first to lose on this subject, but the amount of money makes it a big deal.
There are questions about whether or not Jones has the assets to pay up. On the one hand, his company, Free Speech Systems, has filed bankruptcy in what looks like an effort to avoid financial charges against him. But on the other hand, he and his lawyers flew to court in a private jet and stayed in a villa with a private pool and tennis court.
“You have to stand up to a bully, because bullies won’t stop, especially when being a bully makes them very, very rich,” said one of the lawyers for the victims’ families. He asked jurors to come back with a verdict “that makes Alex Jones realize just how devastating his conduct has been.”
It’s safe to say that, if only for him, the verdict was devastating.