Will Alex Jones really get socked for sending waves of lunatics to harass parents whose young children had been brutally killed based on false claims?
When viral lies harm private people, are the courts their best refuge? A trial to decide how much the conspiracy broadcaster Alex Jones must pay a Sandy Hook family for defaming them attempts to answer that question.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of Jesse Lewis, 6, who died at Sandy Hook, are requesting $150 million in compensatory damages for years of torment and threats they endured in the aftermath of Mr. Jones’s lies about them on Infowars, his Austin-based website and broadcast. They are suing him in the first of three trials in which juries will decide how much he must pay relatives of 10 people killed in the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., for spreading lies that they were actors in a “false flag” operation, planned by the government as a pretext for gun control.
Last year Mr. Jones lost a series of Sandy Hook defamation cases by default, setting the stage for the damages trials. Mr. Heslin, Ms. Lewis and J.T. Lewis, Jesse’s brother, will testify this week. More important than money, the parents said, is society’s verdict on a culture in which viral misinformation damages lives and destroys reputations, yet those who spread it are seldom held accountable. “Speech is free, but lies you have to pay for,” Mark Bankston, the parents’ lawyer, told the jury in his opening statement last week. “This is a case about creating change.”
This will be a landmark ruling either way, and I know who I’m rooting for.