When a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, Austin-based “Infowars” host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones described the shooting as “synthetic, completely fake with actors,” on his popular syndicated radio program.
Courts have found Jones responsible for defamation and intentionally inflicting emotional distress by default, because he didn’t present a defense or engage with the defense during his trials. But Jones has so far avoided paying anything to the Sandy Hook families. His latest attempt to skirt the eventual bill – total damages will be determined at jury trials starting next month – was to seek bankruptcy protection for some of his business entities, but that was denied.
Dan Solomon has been writing about this, and what he calls Alex Jones’s “legal meltdown,” for Texas Monthly. Listen to the interview above or read more in the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: How much have courts ordered Jones to pay the families of Sandy Hook?
Dan Solomon: So we don’t know yet. There’s about to be a trial. Normally, the trial would determine both whether he was responsible for defaming the families and intentionally inflicting emotional distress, and then, if so, what the damages would be. However, the courts, in this case, found that he was responsible for that by default because he didn’t present a defense or engage with the defense. And so the jury trial, which was supposed to begin in April but will now begin in July, will determine the damages. So we don’t know how much the damages will actually be.
But losing his bid for bankruptcy, presumably, would mean that whatever those damage calculations are, he’ll need to pay all of it?
Well, we don’t know yet. I mean, the damage calculations, they could be enormous. They could be nine figures. They could be six figures. We have no idea. Juries can be unpredictable. There will be four jury trials ultimately, because he was sued four times successfully. So there’s a lot to kind of parse here. But the gist of it is that four different juries are going to award damages.
It’s unlikely that he has enough money to pay all of the damages that are likely to be awarded. The bankruptcy bid wasn’t so much about trying to declare bankruptcy himself. It was an attempt to force the plaintiffs into a more favorable way to settle these damages. He didn’t declare bankruptcy; his primary business entity didn’t declare bankruptcy – it was a couple of sort of shell companies that he owns that declared bankruptcy. And that’s mostly why the gambit failed.
So these rulings against Jones – I think some people heard about the claims that were made by parents and thought, well, what about other conspiracy theories or false information that has been, at least in the past, protected by the First Amendment? I guess a lot of that back-and-forth went out the window when he didn’t show up for trial, right?
More or less, yeah. There were and still are, frankly, interesting First Amendment questions here. But Jones didn’t present a First Amendment defense to this. He didn’t present much of a defense at all. He would send corporate representatives who are required by law to have full knowledge of anything that a company would possess who hadn’t read any of the materials. And so they would just kind of improvise and guess their answers, which, you know, in a deposition is not how you do it. You know, so they didn’t really present a defense. So we don’t know if a First Amendment defense would have worked because he didn’t make one.
What has this, in the meantime, meant for Alex Jones and his media empire? Has he continued on as if it was happening on another planet, or what exactly? How has that manifested itself in his activities?
Well, he talks about it a lot on the air. He’s got a narrative around this that he might believe; he believes a lot of things. He might believe that he was railroaded here and that this is all a conspiracy by George Soros and Hillary Clinton, which is something that he says, to drive him off the air. But, yeah, he spends a lot of time talking about this. He’s trying to fundraise around it. He received a fairly sizable Bitcoin donation earlier in the year for his legal defense. That donation, of course, is worth about a third of what it was worth at the time he received it. But there, you know, this is something that he’s fundraising around. And part of sort of the narrative around, you know, him as the persecuted individual who’s just out there trying to bring you the stories the mainstream media doesn’t want you to hear.
Are his fans following him or has there been a drop-off in how many people continue to listen to his program?
It’s always been difficult to know really what his reach is, especially now that he’s not on the social media channels that’ll make it easy to track that. So we don’t really know what his audience thinks about any of this. It certainly seems likely that he’s got a committed base of listeners that aren’t going anywhere.