It’s been an expensive week in court for Infowars founder Alex Jones. After being ordered to pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages on Thursday to the parents of a Sandy Hook victim he defamed by claiming the attack was a hoax, a Texas jury ruled on Friday that he must also pay the parents $45.2 million in punitive damages. Jones still faces two more trials from other Sandy Hook parents.
Before members of the jury deliberated the punitive damages on Friday, they heard from an expert witness who provided more insight into Jones’s murky financial situation. According to forensic economist Bernard Pettingill, Jones began transferring $11,000 per day to a shell company under his control shortly after a judge found last year that he defamed the families of ten Sandy Hook victims by repeatedly claiming the horrific shooting was part of a conspiracy to undermine gun rights. Pettingill added that Jones took out a $53 million loan to himself designed to make it seem like he’s in financial duress and estimated that Infowars made $64 million last year alone.
The week before the trial, the parent company for Infowars declared bankruptcy, suggesting the company may be trying to obscure its true finances. Pettingill estimated the minimum valuation of Infowars — not including ad revenue — to be $130 million.
“Your $4.1 million verdict, we are incredibly grateful for,” said Wes Ball, the attorney for Sandy Hook parents Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin. However, Ball added that “it doesn’t affect Alex Jones’s life one bit … we’re talking less than 2 percent of what we know” of his total wealth. Compensatory damages, like the $4.1 million sum awarded on Thursday, are designed to compensate a plaintiff for their loss or injury. Punitive damages, which are rarer, are given out to punish the defendant for an egregious action. “I ask that with your verdict you not only take Alex Jones’s platform away, you make certain he will not rebuild this platform,” Ball told the jury on Friday. “Make sure he cannot do it again. That is punishment. That is deterrence.”
The parents’ attorneys asked for $146 million. Jones’s lawyer asked the jurors to award $270,000 in punitive damages, asking them to “never give up, never surrender your own firmly held voice” during deliberations.
The trial to determine how much the conspiracist broadcaster would pay Lewis and Heslin was dramatic to say the least. Jones compared the experience of listening to his show to realizing the confines of the Matrix, and at one point, the plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Bankston revealed that Jones’s legal team accidentally sent them the entire contents of his phone for the past two years. The data may haunt Jones beyond the Sandy Hook trials, the House committee investigating the Capitol riot is requesting that data as part of its inquiry. Two more trials determining Jones’s penalties for defaming Sandy Hook families are coming later this year.