(Headline USA) Jury selection is set for Monday in a trial that will determine for the first time how much Infowars host Alex Jones must pay Sandy Hook Elementary School parents for falsely telling his audience that the deadliest classroom shooting in U.S. history was a hoax.
The trial in Austin, Texas—where Jones lives and broadcasts his show—follows months of delays. Jones has racked up fines for ignoring court orders and he put Infowars into bankruptcy protection just before the trial was originally set to start in April.
At stake for Jones is another potentially major financial blow that could put his constellation of conservative businesses into deeper jeopardy. He has already been banned from YouTube, Facebook and Spotify over violating so-called hate-speech policies.
The trial involving the parents of two Sandy Hook families is only the start for Jones; damages have yet to be awarded in separate defamation cases for other families of the 2012 massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
The lawsuits do not ask jurors to award a specific dollar amount against Jones.
Courts in Texas and Connecticut have already found Jones liable for defamation for his portrayal of the Sandy Hook massacre as a hoax involving actors aimed at increasing gun control. In both states, judges have issued default judgements against Jones without trials because he failed to respond to court orders and turn over documents.
The 2012 shooting killed 20 first graders and six educators. Families of eight of the victims and an FBI agent who responded to the school are suing Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems.
Jones has since acknowledged that the shooting took place. During a deposition in April, Jones insisted he wasn’t responsible for the suffering that Sandy Hook parents say they have endured because of the hoax conspiracy, including death threats and harassment by Jones’s followers.
“No, I don’t [accept] responsibility because I wasn’t trying to cause pain and suffering,” Jones said, according to the transcripts made public this month. He continued: “They are being used and their children who can’t be brought back [are] being used to destroy the First Amendment.”
Intent can be a tricky standard to apply in such cases. While it is necessary for public figures to establish malicious intent in matters of defamation, a private citizen need only meet the bar of willful negligence—that a person should have known a statement was false.
But the alleged victims also must establish that there were material damages stemming from the statements.
Jones claimed in court records last year that he had a negative net worth of $20 million, but attorneys for Sandy Hook families have painted a different financial picture.
Court records show that Jones’ Infowars store, which sells nutritional supplements and survival gear, made more than $165 million between 2015 and 2018. Jones has also urged listeners on his Infowars program to donate money.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press