October 12, 2022
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.
This legal reckoning is a significant blow to Jones’s ability to continue spreading lies.
Meanwhile, the $1.6 billion lawsuit in which Dominion Voting Systems is suing the Fox News Corporation for its lies about Dominion’s voting machines in the 2020 election is moving forward. The FNC is apparently planning to argue that FNC personalities were simply expressing opinions when they said the machines were rigged, much as FNC has argued to defend host Tucker Carlson from lawsuits, saying that he was not reporting facts and that no “reasonable viewer” would take him seriously.
Dominion’s $1.3 billion lawsuit against Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, who was a leading figure in pushing the lies that the voting machines were rigged, is also moving forward, although in March she asked a federal judge to dismiss the case against her, saying that “no reasonable person would conclude that [her] statements were truly statements of fact.” On September 28, a federal judge dismissed her countersuit, in which Powell claimed Dominion was suing her “to punish and make an example of her.”
The clash between reality and image was in the news again tonight when Devlin Barrett and Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post reported that a Mar-a-Lago employee has placed Trump directly at the center of the retention of government documents in defiance of a subpoena. The employee told federal agents that Trump himself supervised the moving of boxes of documents, and that the shift happened after Trump’s team received a subpoena to return any documents bearing classified markings that were still at Mar-a-Lago.
Security camera footage backed up the employee's story.
Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich tried to spin the news by telling Barrett and Dawsey: “The Biden administration has weaponized law enforcement and fabricated a Document Hoax in a desperate attempt to retain political power,” but that narrative is running up against the rush of Trump’s lawyers to get away from this case.
Trump lawyer Christina Bobb, a former commentator on the right-wing One America News Network, signed a letter on June 3 certifying that Trump had returned all the records marked “classified,” “based upon the information that has been provided to me.” But the August 8 search of Mar-a-Lago turned up more than 100 more.
Bobb has hired a criminal defense attorney and is cooperating with the Department of Justice. She told investigators that Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran had drafted the letter and told her to sign it; she insisted on the disclaimer. Now Corcoran, too, has an incentive to work with the Department of Justice and to tell the truth, rather than doubling down on a lie.
Trump has ridden a false narrative in the past by managing to delay legal reckonings.
But today, New York federal judge Lewis A. Kaplan denied former president Donald Trump’s attempt to delay his deposition, set for October 19, in the defamation case brought against him by writer E. Jean Carroll.
Carroll has sued Trump for defaming her by claiming she lied when she said Trump raped her in the mid-1990s. Trump has appealed to substitute the United States for himself as the defendant in the case, since he was president when he said he had not committed the assault. A previous attempt on the part of Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr to substitute the U.S. for Trump failed, so, the judge pointed out, “this is a second bite at that apple.” Still, Trump wanted to pause the case while that appeal is pending.
“As this Court previously has observed,” Judge Kaplan wrote, “Mr. Trump has litigated this case since it began in 2019 with the effect and probably the purpose of delaying it.” He denied the attempt to stop Trump’s deposition, saying Trump “should not be permitted to run the clock out.”
The judge also pointed out that New York has recently passed the Adult Survivors Act, providing a one-year window for civil lawsuits based on sex crimes that are otherwise outside the statute of limitations, and that Carroll might want to sue Trump for damages under that law.
After Kaplan’s decision, Trump called the U.S. legal system a “broken disgrace,” claimed he had no idea who Carroll is, and called her story “a Hoax and a lie, just like all the other Hoaxes that have been played on me for the past seven years.” But he will have to testify.
Tomorrow, in yet another example of the power of reality, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol will hold another public hearing at 1:00 Eastern time.