On Dec. 14, 2021, 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, CT, where he killed 20 first graders and six educators. After the shooting, he killed himself. In the aftermath of a horrific event, people began doubting whether these events even occurred. One such denier was Alex Jones. Since then, his conspiracy theories about Sandy Hook have attracted an audience of like-minded conspiracy theorists. Many believe Jones when he claimed the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax. Recently Jones recanted his statements, acknowledging that Sandy Hook was 100% real.
Civil Lawsuits Filed Against Jones
The parents of Jesse Lewis, a student killed at Sandy Hook, sued Jones and his company Free Speech Systems. Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis accuse Jones of years of harassment, abuse, and threats resulting from Jones’ repeated claims that the school shooting didn’t happen and was a hoax. During opening statements, plaintiff attorney Mark Bankston shared that Jones created a “massive campaign of lies” and recruited “wild extremists from the fringes of the internet…..who were as cruel as Mr. Jones wanted them to be” to the families of six educators and families of the 20 first-graders killed in this school shooting. The plaintiffs are asking for $150 million in reputation damage and emotional distress in addition to punitive damages.
Jones’s lawyer Andino Reynal delivered his opening statements, claiming that Jones had already been punished enough for his remarks about Sandy Hook. Reynal was referring to the fact that Jones has been kicked off Twitter, Spotify, YouTube and Facebook for violating their hate speech policies. At multiple times, Jones and his attorney have referred to this case, and its contents are about the right to free speech. Reynal called on the jury to limit the damages awarded to Heslin and Lewis to just $1.
On August 4, Jones was ordered to pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages to the parents of Jesse Lewis for mental anguish caused by Jones’ claims that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax. A day later, the jury determined Jones must pay $45.2 million in punitive damages.
Other courts have also found Jones liable for defamation. In December, a Texas judge ordered Jones to pay $100,000 in legal fees and refused to dismiss a lawsuit that targets Jones for using his Infowars show to promote falsehoods. Jones’s defense team “intentionally disregarded” an order to produce witnesses earlier in that court proceeding.
In July, Jones’s company Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy protection – a move that has now impacted civil proceedings in a separate defamation case in Connecticut.
Other Sandy Hook Lawsuits
Parents of other children killed in the Sandy Hook mass shooting have pursued legal action against those who denied that the Newton, CT school shooting took place. At present, there are at least nine cases filed against deniers. Lenny Pozner, the father of Noah, who died in the shooting, won a defamation lawsuit against the authors of a book that alleged that the shooting was a hoax. Authors Fetzer and Palacek claim that Noah’s death certificate had been faked. Pozner is the lead plaintiff in several of the nine cases against those claiming the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax.
As many family members of those killed in the Newton, CT school shooting have begun to seek legal action, the question is raised – why now? After years of being called ‘crisis actors’ and being defamed publicly, many family members are exhausted and sought relief from the civil legal system. Several families moved from Connecticut to other states hoping that deniers and the targeted harassment would cease. Unfortunately for many, the deniers, threats and harassment continued. There are still several lawsuits of this nature before the courts in several states.
In addition to the defamation lawsuits, Sandy Hook victims’ families filed a lawsuit against Remington, the manufacturer of the weapon used in the school shooting in 2015. Instead of going to trial, Remington settled for $73 million in February 2022. This is the first case wherein an American gunmaker settled a mass shooting-related lawsuit. The case alleged that Remington marketed the semi-automatic weapon to young and at-risk men with its suggestive advertising and product placement in popular violent video games. The Connecticut case successfully used a state statute known as the Unfair Trade Practices Act to work around the 2005 federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). The PLCAA offers almost complete immunity for liability for gun manufacturers whose products were used to commit crimes.