Can Jurors Hold Alex Jones Accountable?Roundup
tags: conspiracy theories, far right, guns, Sandy Hook, Alex Jones
Heather Cox Richardson teaches nineteenth-century American history at Boston College. Her early work focused on the transformation of political ideology from the Civil War to the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. It examined issues of race, economics, westward expansion, and the construction of the concept of an American middle class. Her history of the Republican Party, To Make Men Free (2014) examines the fundamental tensions in American politics from the time of the Northwest Ordinance to the present.
Today, a jury in a civil trial in Connecticut determined that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of his “InfoWars” network, must pay $965 million to the families of eight of those murdered at Sandy Hook and an FBI agent who responded to the shooting. A previous decision in a similar case left Jones with an order to pay almost $50 million to the parents of one of the other Sandy Hook victims, and a third Sandy Hook damages trial is pending.
Twenty first-graders and six educators died in the 2012 attack, but Jones insisted the massacre was a hoax and the victims’ families actors, all part of a plot to create an excuse for confiscating guns.
Jones’s followers have harassed the families ever since. Jones has admitted his theories were wrong and the massacre happened, but he says that he is not to blame for the actions of his followers and that the harassment was not as bad as the plaintiffs claim.
A judge earlier ruled that Jones is liable for defamation, invasion of privacy, inflicting emotional distress, and violating Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act by lying about the massacre to sell his products on InfoWars. A representative from Free Speech Systems testified that Jones and the company made at least $100 million in the last ten years.
Jones was not at the court today. He was broadcasting, making fun of the proceedings, and begging his followers for money, promising it would not go to pay the damages because he had declared bankruptcy and, in any case, he intended to appeal.
What we are seeing is what happens when the MAGA narrative meets a legal system that requires sworn testimony and recognizes perjury as a crime.
Jones and InfoWars pushed the lies that fueled the rise of today’s Republican extremists, and Jones is a prominent Trump supporter who was part of the events in Washington on January 5 and 6, 2021. Tonight, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) defended him, saying that “all he did was speak words,” and suggesting the case against him was “political persecution.” Like others on the right, Greene suggests this case is about free speech, when in fact, the First Amendment to the Constitution protects us only from the government silencing us. It does not stop legal responsibility for damage our words cause, for which Jones has been found liable. A jury—not the government—has assigned the $965 million award to those whose lives Jones harmed.
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