Washington: Picture this. You’re the parents of a six-year-old child killed in the deadliest school shooting in US history.
Not long after the horrific incident, a far-right conspiracy theorist uses his online platform to lie about the murder, resulting in his followers harassing you while you grieve.
While it all seems too unconscionable, that’s exactly the kind of turmoil that Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin were forced to endure after Alex Jones – a Donald Trump loyalist who runs the lie-peddling website Infowars – told his audience that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax, and that the grieving parents of those who died were actors.
A decade later, a form of justice has finally been served. While nothing could ever take away the loss of a child, a jury in Texas today ordered Jones to pay the parents of Sandy Hook victim Jesse Lewis $US45.2 million in punitive damages – one day after issuing a $US4 million award for compensation for damages.
The payment was vindication for Jones’ years of deception. He had already been found guilty last year for defaming the victims’ families while spreading conspiracy theories that Sandy Hook – in which 20 children and six staff were killed – had been part of a government scheme to confiscate guns and that the victims’ families were complicit in the plot.
As a result of Jones’ lie, some of his followers fired gunshots at the home of Jesse’s parents. Others made phone threats or them online.
But Sandy Hook wasn’t his only fabrication: Jones has also claimed, among things, that the Pentagon was using chemical warfare to turn people gay; that COVID19 isn’t real; and that September 11 was an “inside job” perpetrated by the government.
And even this week’s trial itself – the first of three to determine how much Jones owes the victims’ families for the suffering he caused – was filled with falsehoods.