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Will Alex Jones Cases Set Precedent For Damages Over Viral Lies?

When viral lies harm private people, are the courts their best remedy? A trial to decide how much conspiracy broadcaster Alex Jones must pay a Sandy Hook family for defaming them may help answer that question. Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of Jesse, 6, who died at Sandy Hook in 2012, are requesting $150 million in compensatory damages for years of torment and threats they endured in the aftermath of Jones’s lies about them on Infowars, his Austin-based website and broadcast. They are suing him in the first of three trials in which juries will decide how much he must pay relatives of 10 people killed in mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., for spreading lies that they were actors in a “false flag” operation, planned by the government as a pretext for gun control.


Last year Jones lost a series of Sandy Hook defamation cases by default, setting the stage for the damages trials, reports the New York Times. Heslin, Lewis and J.T. Lewis, Jesse’s brother, will testify this week. More important than money, the parents said, is society’s verdict on a culture in which viral misinformation damages lives and destroys reputations, yet those who spread it are seldom held accountable. “Speech is free, but lies you have to pay for,” Mark Bankston, the parents’ lawyer, told the jury last week. “This is a case about creating change.” The trial demonstrates how difficult it is to counter the views of conspiracy theorists. Last week, Daria Karpova, Infowars’ corporate representative, advanced bogus claims, refusing even to rule out the possibility that the trial itself was a staged event. She cast Jones as the victim, worrying over his health and saying the Sandy Hook lawsuits have cost him “millions.” That claim allowed the families’ lawyers to share records with the jury showing that Infowars received revenues of $50 million annually in recent years. Lawyers say the three trials hold lessons for other cases against conspiracy-minded defendants, from the Jan. 6 rioters to Trump allies sued for falsely claiming that voting machine manufacturers helped “steal” the 2020 election.