The next question facing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in the face of the lawsuit from the families of the Sandy Hook victims: How much is Alex Jones really worth?
Jones and his media operation, Infowars, have for years falsely claimed that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged and that the victims and their families were actors. In a recent Texas case, a jury awarded nearly $50 million in damages to the parents of a Sandy Hook shooting victim. Now a The Connecticut jury will decide how much damages to award to several other parents of children who were killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.
The previous trial in Texas has already revealed new details about Jones’ empire, including what the families call a scheme to hide his wealth. An expert witness in that lawsuit says Jones’ empire was likely worth up to $270 million, but he began shifting funds out of his businesses and eventually declared bankruptcy after the families sued. defamation against him.
Observers told Grid there is a good chance the Connecticut case will result in larger damages for the plaintiffs than were awarded by the Texas jury in August.
While Connecticut has limits on punitive damages, experts say the state is generally more sympathetic to plaintiffs, and the Connecticut case includes more than a dozen plaintiffs claiming harm from the Infowars campaign, compared to the two Texas plaintiffs, perhaps justifying a higher award.
Jones claims that he and Infowars’ parent company, Free Speech Systems, cannot afford the rewards. Family lawyers and a court-appointed trustee have questioned this.
What to expect
Next week’s trial is scheduled to begin on Tuesday and consolidates three lawsuits against Jones and his companies. The lawsuit will determine how much Free Speech Systems owes nine families of Sandy Hook, the school principal’s daughter and a first responder to the shooting.
It is likely to shed light on the inner workings of Free Speech Systems, as well as a network of front companies controlled by Jones and his family members.
A Connecticut judge granted default judgment against Jones in November 2021 in part because Jones’ attorneys failed to comply with discovery requests. This means that next week’s trial will focus solely on damages to be awarded.
For years, Jones has used his radio and internet shows to promote a conspiracy theory that the 2012 mass shooting was a government-orchestrated “false flag” operation intended to be used as a pretext to confiscate guns from Americans. “Don’t ever think that the globalists who hijacked this country wouldn’t stage something like this,” Jones said on his show on the day of filming. “They kill little children all day, every day.”
Jones’ lies led to years of harassment and threats against parents of school-aged victims. A family has been forced to move nearly 10 times since the shooting.
Jones, who has since admitted the Sandy Hook shooting was real, made money from his operations throughout the period. Although his shows generated revenue, court filings indicate that much of his income came from a profitable supplement and doomsday prep business that he frequently advertises on his shows. It’s not uncommon for Jones to follow a segment about likely societal collapse or nuclear war with an ad for buckets of shelf-stable food or iodine pills to prevent radiation sickness. At one point in 2018, Infowars was grossing over $800,000 a day.
“Preparing for the End of the World” for Default Judgments
Sandy Hook’s parents allege that when judges began ruling against Jones and his companies, he devised a plan to protect his assets by transferring millions from his companies’ coffers and falsely claiming that several companies, including Free Speech Systems, had gone bankrupt.
“During the libel cases, debtors’ apocalypse Jones prepared for these eventual judgments by misappropriating assets,” the plaintiffs claimed in a filing. Jones’ attorneys disputed this characterization. None responded to Grid’s requests for comment.
About $70 million was transferred from Free Speech Systems to Jones’ own accounts, according to forensic economist Bernard Pettingill Jr., an expert witness called to stand in the Texas trial on behalf of the plaintiffs. Millions more have moved to separate companies with names such as PQPR Holdings Limited controlled by Jones and his parents, Pettingill said last month.
In a court filing, lawyers for PQPR argue that this conclusion is false, the result of a “misunderstanding of the difference between a balance sheet and an income statement”.
Separately, Free Speech Systems pointed to a massive debt to PQPR in the bankruptcy filings, which Jones’ lawyers said related to surcharges they allege PQPR had provided over the years and had never been paid. The debt was reported just three weeks after the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld sanctions against Jones in the case, prompting a default judgment, a time Sandy Hook’s attorneys say is suspicious. Pettingill called the debt a ruse.
“On the books, Alex Jones is carrying this gigantic $53 million note, when in reality he’s using that note as clawback to pay himself off,” Pettingill told the Texas jury. Pettingill was limited in the documents he was able to gather because Jones’ attorneys did not comply with the discovery, he testified. This testimony echoed that of another lawyer in the bankruptcy case.
Jones and company claimed after the first jury award that Infowars was running on empty. “We are so broke… I am worried about our bankruptcy to urgently stabilize Infowars, and we have a plan. But to do that, we need support,” Jones told his viewers the day before the jury awarded the parents an additional $45.2 million.
Outside experts contacted by Grid generally agreed with Pettingill. “Circumstances suggest that this claim was dreamed up relatively recently,” said Minor Myers, a law professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, “as a way to divert more value from the estate into friendly hands. “.
The Sandy Hook families argue in multiple lawsuits that Jones works to protect Free Speech Systems’ assets from damages by transferring money out of the company to family members. Grid reviewed financial documents made public in the case and found recent payments of $240,000 to a Nevada LLC controlled by Jones’ sister, Marleigh Jones Rivera. The payments occurred after the default judgments were entered. Jones’ sister was once an Infowars employee, but it’s unclear if she remains on the payroll. Rivera did not respond to requests for comment.
why is it important
The impact of these cases on Jones’ operations appears negligible, at least for now. He continues to produce shows promoting conspiracy theories, although he has acknowledged that Sandy Hook was not a false flag operation.
“Infowars hasn’t changed much” in recent weeks, even as libel suits have advanced, according to Michael Edison Hayden, senior investigative reporter at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Hayden followed Jones and Infowars closely and investigated the inner workings of the company. “He still does a lot of the things he used to do.”
After the mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, Jones “was about halfway there to suggest it was staged or part of an operation”, Hayden recounted. “[Jones] tries to dip his feet in the same kind of pool that made him so much money.
But the significance of Jones’ libel lawsuits goes beyond Sandy Hook and Jones himself, said Amanda J. Crawford, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut.
“[These cases] are the first really big, high-profile test of how we can hold people accountable for conspiracy theories in this moment of misinformation we find ourselves in,” said Crawford, who is writing a book about the links between the shootings of mass and misinformation. “The misinformation that followed Sandy Hook ushered in a new era of conspiracy theories. The year of the shoot was the first year that more than half of American adults were on social media.
Thanks to Lillian Barkley for writing this article.