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Alex Jones to sell personal assets to pay families of Sandy Hook victims' families

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, HOST:

Online conspiracy theorist Alex Jones spread lies that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was staged. He said victims' families were actors as part of a government plot to seize Americans' guns. In 2022, the families won several defamation suits against Jones. And yesterday, a federal bankruptcy judge in Texas ruled Jones will have to sell off his personal assets to pay them. But the judge rejected a proposed liquidation of Jones' media company. Davis Dunavin of member station WSHU reports on the mixed outcome.

DAVIS DUNAVIN, BYLINE: Scarlett Lewis' son, Jesse, died in the 2012 shooting. Lewis took the stand two years ago in a defamation trial in Texas. She spoke directly to Alex Jones, looking him in the eye, and told him about Jesse.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCARLETT LEWIS: 'Cause I wanted you to know that I am a mother, first and foremost. And I know that you're a father. And my son existed. You're still on your show today trying to say that I'm an actress, that I'm deep state.

DUNAVIN: Lewis and the other families won their defamation cases against Jones, who has since acknowledged the shooting was real. Jones now owes the families $1.5 billion, a debt everyone agrees he's unlikely to repay. A judge ruled Friday Jones will have to liquidate his personal assets to pay off a tiny fraction of the debt, like his jewelry and his gun collection - in fact, everything but his primary home, which is protected by Texas law.

LEWIS: I think that I planted seeds on the stand.

DUNAVIN: Lewis says, for her, the Jones case has never been about money.

LEWIS: I just wanted to have Alex acknowledge that he was wrong. And I wanted to send a strong message to the rest of the world that there is a truth and that we must abide by it.

DUNAVIN: In dismissing the separate business bankruptcy case, federal Judge Chris Lopez said Friday it had dragged on and needed to stop incurring costs so victims' families could try to claim what they're owed through state courts. In reading his decision, Lopez was lengthy and sometimes emotional. He even noted he was making it shortly before Father's Day. For his part, Jones called the dismissal something of a victory for Free Speech Systems, the company behind Infowars.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEX JONES: It gives Free Speech Systems and the crew a roadmap and a future forward, to at least stay open three, four months.

DUNAVIN: Attorney Chris Mattei represents families in the Connecticut defamation case. He said in a statement, quote, "the court has authorized attorneys to move immediately to collect against all Infowars assets, and we intend to do just that." Jones has less than $10 million in assets, according to his bankruptcy petition.

LEWIS: I'm disappointed that it has come to this.

DUNAVIN: Scarlett Lewis says she doesn't want to see Jones lose his platform, but not all families of Sandy Hook victims share that view. Lewis drew headlines in 2022 when she said she forgave Jones for spreading lies about the death of her son.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEWIS: I did not want to have to take Alex Jones to court. That was the last thing that I wanted to do. In fact, it was the most painful thing that I had to do since my son, Jesse, was murdered.

DUNAVIN: Mattei, the attorney for the Connecticut families, said they will pursue any future income Jones may earn to satisfy what he owes the families.

For NPR News, I'm Davis Dunavin, in Connecticut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Davis Dunavin
Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He fell in love with sound-rich radio storytelling while working as an assistant reporter at KBIA public radio in Columbia, Missouri. Before coming back to radio, he worked in digital journalism as the editor of Newtown Patch. As a freelance reporter, his work for WSHU aired nationally on NPR. Davis is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism; he started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.