The Road to Justice: Alex Jones and the Sandy Hook Defamation

Written by Hanna Guidry

Edited by Sophia Niño, Hannah Fuchs, and Juliette Draper

Trigger warning: school shootings

The name “Alex Jones'' is one of great infamy in the modern American political sphere. Some believe he is the voice of truth in politics; others see him as only a conspiracy theorist who profits off fearmongering and media distrust. Regardless, it cannot be denied that he has a far-reaching platform and an uncanny ability to convince his audience of almost any conspiracy, no matter how blatantly untrue. However, over the past few years, the justice system has stopped him in his tracks and reminded him that freedom of speech is not unlimited if the content of said speech is defamatory. After facing defamation lawsuits for his claims that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax, Jones has been found liable by default due to an inability to produce evidence substantiating his claims and for past failures to comply with court orders.[1]

On December 14th, 2012, an armed gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and opened fire, which resulted in the deaths of 28 people, including 20 children and the gunman himself.[2] Only five days after this tragic event, Alex Jones began making claims on his alternative news platform InfoWars that this event was a staged hoax set up by people who wanted to garner more public support for Second Amendment restriction. He claimed that the students, teachers, and parents involved in this event were all crisis actors, and his viewers believed it. Followers of Jones’ show became strong adherents to his claims and spent the following years accusing the victims’ families of being actors, even going so far as to harass them in real life and accuse them of faking grief over the deaths of their children. In the spring and summer of 2018, after relatives of the victims realized the perpetuation of this conspiracy was unlikely to stop, eight families filed three separate defamation lawsuits against Alex Jones and InfoWars in both the state of Texas and the state of Connecticut.[3][4]

In an opinion piece penned by Neil Heslin, the father of one of the victims, Jones is said to be “profiting off the lies he tells” and says there is “no dispute” that Heslin’s son died in the Sandy Hook shooting.[5] Heslin stated that his reason for proceeding with the defamation suit is that he believes people who spread lies and conspiracies at the expense of others need to be held accountable. A few months later, Heslin’s counsel made a motion for sanctions against Jones for destruction of evidence.[6] They claimed that InfoWars removed online content relating to Sandy Hook, which was considered to be evidence in the defamation case. However, the first substantial legal victory occurred the following year, when a judge in Connecticut permitted the families access to many important financial documents belonging to InfoWars.[7]

Several other legal victories followed, but the next significant event in this case occurred on April 11th, 2019: in deposition videos clocking in at over three hours, Jones admitted that his statements were caused by psychosis.[8] A few months later, a judge imposed sanctions on him for threatening the plaintiffs’ lawyer on a stream. The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld said sanctions because they ruled that Jones’ threats were not protected under the First Amendment.[9] Simultaneously, in the Texas suits, Jones was ordered to pay over $126,000 in legal fees to Neil Heslin, including fees from earlier court orders that Jones and his team had previously refused to pay.[10] In April of 2021, Alex Jones appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court after losing the previous appeal in Connecticut, but the Supreme Court declined.[11] Finally, on September 27th, 2021, Jones lost by default for his failure to comply with discovery requests. The discovery orders included requests to see InfoWars’ documents and for Jones to provide proof for the statements he made in his defamatory broadcasts. According to the judge, the ruling was exacerbated by Jones’ failure to comply with many previous sanctions and court orders. She stated that she “rejects lesser sanctions because they have proven ineffective when previously ordered.”[12]

The judge’s decision on September 27th did not come as a surprise given the complicated history of the case. In fact, Judge Gamble stated in her decision that Jones’ behavioral history of noncompliance with the court throughout these cases and others gave her substantial reasons to make the decision that she did. According to the judgment, he has violated discovery orders in four of the other related Sandy Hook suits and another defamation lawsuit involving the 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Furthermore, in her decision, the judge stated that although she considered lesser sanctions, they would be “inadequate to cure the violation” of Jones’ numerous court orders.[13]

The decision made in this case is logically sound. Throughout the multiple years of these defamation suits, Alex Jones has not only shown a disregard for court orders but complete distrust of the court system itself. During his deposition, he even stated that the government and media fueled his period of psychosis that caused him to make defamatory statements.[14] In the judge’s decision, she even quotes him claiming the court system is made up of “show trials.”[15] Judge Gamble knew that further sanctions would not be effective in encouraging Jones to comply with discovery requests or past sanctions. Therefore, Jones’ loss by default exhibits an appropriate reaction to Jones’ inability to provide any evidence for his claims as well as his inability to comply with the orders of the court.



 


[1] Alex Jones is found liable over Sandy Hook hoax conspiracy, ɴᴘʀ.ᴏʀɢ (Oct. 1, 2021, 5:04 PM), https://www.npr.org/2021/10/01/1042423742/alex-jones-sandy-hook-hoax-conspiracy.

[2] Michael Ray, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, ʙʀɪᴛᴀɴɴɪᴄᴀ.ᴄᴏᴍ (Sept. 21, 2021), https://www.britannica.com/event/Sandy-Hook-Elementary-School-shooting.

[3] Sandy Hook parents sue radio host Alex Jones for defamation, ʙʙᴄ.ᴄᴏᴍ (Apr. 17, 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-43799449.

[4] Brady Zadrozny, Six more families sue Alex Jones over Sandy Hook conspiracy claims, ɴʙᴄɴᴇᴡꜱ.ᴄᴏᴍ (May 23, 2018, 3:12 PM), https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/six-more-families-sue-alex-jones-over-sandy-hook-conspiracy-n876881.

[5] Neil Heslin, Alex Jones has profited off the lies he told about me. He needs to face the consequences., ɴʙᴄɴᴇᴡꜱ.ᴄᴏᴍ (Apr. 23, 2018, 10:23 AM), https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/alex-jones-has-profited-lies-he-told-about-me-he-ncna867976.

[6] Pl’s. Mot. for Sanctions for Intentional Destruction of Evidence, Heslin v. Jones, No. D-1-GN-18-001835 (261st Dist. Ct., Tex.).

[7] Dave Altimari, Connecticut judge orders Alex Jones to turn over some Infowars financial documents to Sandy Hook families, ᴄᴏᴜʀᴀɴᴛ.ᴄᴏᴍ (Jan. 11, 2019), https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-news-sandy-hook-jones-lawsuit-20190111-xao67zxhmnbrfm2wjnz5xjchcu-story.html.

[8] Kaster Lynch Farrar & Ball LLP, ʏᴏᴜᴛᴜʙᴇ.ᴄᴏᴍ, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCeeCy2sW9BRXjlfsIOA5DgA.

[9] Rob Ryser, CT Supreme Court upholds sanctions for Alex Jones’ ‘blood on the streets’ rant, ɴᴇᴡꜱᴛɪᴍᴇꜱ.ᴄᴏᴍ (Jul. 23, 2020, 10:27 PM), https://www.newstimes.com/local/article/Supreme-Court-upholds-sanctions-for-Alex-Jones-15429879.php.

[10] Eliza Fawcett, Alex Jones and Infowars ordered to pay $100,000 in defamation lawsuit filed by Sandy Hook Elementary School family, ᴄᴏᴜʀᴀɴᴛ.ᴄᴏᴍ (Dec. 31, 2019), https://www.courant.com/breaking-news/hc-br-alex-jones-sandy-hook-legal-fees-20191231-wrj2xzoporh6lbk76bv7sdniue-story.html.

[11] Dave Collins, High court nixes Alex Jones’ appeal in Newtown shooting case, ᴀᴘɴᴇᴡꜱ.ᴄᴏᴍ (Apr. 5, 2021), https://apnews.com/article/connecticut-shootings-lawsuits-alex-jones-school-shootings-59360449ed878c5cdfcbb550291c90a2.

[12] Order on Pl’s Mot. to Compel and Mot. for Sanctions, Heslin v. Jones, No. D-1-GN-001842 (459th Dist. Ct.).

[13] Id.

[14] Kaster Lynch Farrar & Ball LLP, supra note 8

[15] Order on Pl’s Mot. to Compel and Mot. for Sanctions, supra note 12

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