Criminal Conspiracy

The enormous amount of damages awarded by a jury against the far-right broadcaster places needed limits on the hoaxes that poison public debate.

A Connecticut jury ordered radio host and media leader of the paranoid far-right in the United States Alex Jones to pay $965 million in damages on Oct. 12 to the families of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A former student shot and killed 20 six and seven-year-old children, as well as six teachers at the school in December 2012. Jones, a radio host who preached to the fringe elements of the internet at the time, spread the theory that the massacre was fake, that the parents and children were actors and that it was all staged by the Deep State as a way to justify gun control. Jones stood by this nonsense for a decade, and it has made him rich. Along the way, he has cruelly attacked victims’ families from his pulpit, people trying to overcome unimaginable pain. The parents received death threats and verbal abuse from Jones’ followers, and were systematically humiliated in the extreme right-wing universe of the internet.

Jones must pay damages to 14 families and an FBI agent, all victims of unfounded rumors about the shooting. This award follows additional damage awards in the amount of $45 million and $4.1 million against Jones and his InfoWars media company. The award will be appealed, but it has the potential to ruin Jones, who placed his company in bankruptcy last summer in an effort to insulate it from liability. Jones has fueled every toxic conspiracy in the United States (he is also under investigation for the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol) and has built an audience that in turn provided sponsors and a sales channel, which he used to amass an estimated fortune of $135 million to $270 million.

Jones claims that he is being targeted by dark forces who seek to set a precedent by curtailing free speech in the U.S. It is true that defamation actions test the broad freedom that American citizens enjoy, but in this case, there is a convergence of aggravating circumstances. Jones knew he was lying and spread it repeatedly, profited from it and caused material damage to the people who fell victim to his vile behavior.

Jones’ cruelty is not that different from that inflicted on the victims of 3/11* in Spain who had to repel the self-serving lies that media outlets were using to build their audience. In the age of social media, the damages against Jones is an important precedent that should discourage the irresponsible spread of hoaxes which, disguised as opinions, deny reality and antagonize society for the benefit of the people who create them. There are no alternative facts. These are called lies. And when they cause real damage, they deserve real punishment.

*Editor’s note: 3/11 is a reference to the Madrid train bombings on Mar. 11, 2004 in a terrorist attack that killed 193 people and injured approximately 2,000 others.

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