Far-right Alex Jones sentenced to pay 50 million for saying the Sandy Hook massacre was theater | International

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Cover of the Twitter account of the Alex Jones show.ERIC BARADAT (AFP)

The Texas justice system has put a price on disinformation, in a historic sentence that could set a precedent for future cases of manipulation, defamation and libel in the United States. The conspiracy theorist and conspicuous far-rightist Alex Jones has been sentenced this Friday to a fine of 45.2 million dollars for denying the massacre at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newton (Connecticut), which ten years ago claimed the lives of 26 people, mostly students. Jones, host and creator of the InfoWars podcast, maintained for years that it was all a hoax and that the fatalities were actors who simulated the massacre.

Denounced by the parents of one of the children, in the first of the cases seen for sentencing, a court in Austin (Texas) had already sentenced him this Thursday to pay compensation of 4.1 million to the couple. During the process, in addition, the concealment behind shell companies of Jones’s colossal fortune, valued between 135 and 270 million dollars and obtained thanks to the followers of disinformation and false news that he spread on his InfoWars channel, has been revealed. in his day one of the most active in the field of the alternative right.

A 12-person jury had sentenced Jones on Thursday to pay Neil Heslin and Scarlet Lewis, the parents of six-year-old Jesse Lewis, $4 million for spreading conspiracy theories about the murder of the 20 minors and six employees of the company. Sandy Hook Elementary School, perpetrated on December 14, 2012 by Adam Lanza, who had previously killed his mother to get rid of obstacles and who took his own life after the massacre.

The demonstration of the enormous fortune hoarded by Jones, as the court highlighted, pushed the jury to extend the sentence with the million-dollar penalty (in American legal terminology, the punitive damages announced today are equivalent to a fine or sanction, while the compensatory damages taxes yesterday try to compensate the victims, in this case the parents, for their loss or damage). The verdict ends a two-week fast-track trial in Austin, where Jones broadcast his radio show and Infowars website.

It was Heslin and Lewis who also requested the fine, not only the compensation of 4 million non-pecuniary damage for the loss of their son, although they claimed 150 million. The couple hired a financial expert to dismantle the web of partnerships behind which Jones hid his fortune. To avoid material redress, Jones’s company, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy last week, a very common procedure in the United States to avoid paying a fine or legal action, or both, see the cases of the National Rifle Association (RNA) or Purdue Pharma, the largest pharmaceutical company involved in the opioid crisis.

Heslin and Lewis testified during the trial that Jones supporters harassed them for years, convinced by the broadcaster that they were lying about their son’s death for political gain. Jones tried to distance himself from conspiracy theories when giving evidence, assuming, as he had been doing in recent months, and also as his main defense strategy, that what happened at the Sandy Hook school was “100% real”. His lawyer also assumed Wednesday before the jury that Infowars had reported “irresponsibly” on the massacre, but maintained as a defensive line that his client could not be held responsible for the actions of his followers. The attorney for the private prosecution blamed Jones for profiting from the boy’s death in terms of audience and income for his channel.

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The bankruptcy declaration is not only a maneuver to buy time, judging by the explicit purposes of Jones, who told his listeners during a live broadcast on Monday that the presentation of the file will allow the company to remain on the air while it appeals the decision of the Austin court. That is to say, not even a hint of purpose of amendment, despite the fact that the case against him instructed by Jesse’s parents is not the only one. The bankruptcy filing allowed him to stop a similar defamation lawsuit from the parents of another fatality, in Connecticut, where, as in Texas, Jones has been found liable for defamation.

In the midst of the primaries, with the wind in favor for many Republican candidates who once denied, and still deny in some cases, the electoral victory of Joe Biden in November 2020, the judicial setback for Jones may set a precedent or at least serve as a warning for unfounded theories such as the theater of Sandy Hook or the electoral theft of Donald Trump by his rival Biden. Or the crazy speech of the anti-vaccines, which Jones also helped to spread hard.

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