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A judge orders Alex Jones to sell personal assets, but Infowars can continue for now

Infowars founder Alex Jones speaks to the media outside Waterbury Superior Court during his 2022 defamation trial in Waterbury, Conn.
Joe Buglewicz
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Getty Images North America
Infowars founder Alex Jones speaks to the media outside Waterbury Superior Court during his 2022 defamation trial in Waterbury, Conn.

Updated June 14, 2024 at 19:11 PM ET

Friday was a day of reckoning for Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and a long-awaited culmination for the Sandy Hook families who sued Jones for defamation. A federal bankruptcy judge in Texas has decided that Jones must sell off his personal assets through a Chapter 7 liquidation in order to pay families nearly $1.5 billion in damages for spreading lies that the 2012 school shooting never happened.

A trustee was appointed Friday afternoon to take over control of Jones’ personal estate. Liquidation means Jones' personal belongings — from his gun collection to his jewelry — will be auctioned to the highest bidder in something of a fire sale. He could even lose access to his account on X, where he currently has 2.3 million followers. However, Texas law allows him to keep his home, which is worth more than $2 million.

But the judge denied the request by some families to also put Jones’s company in the hands of a Chapter 7 trustee. The company, Free Speech Systems, which produces Jones’s Infowars show, filed for bankruptcy separately from Jones. Some families argued converting the FSS case to a Chapter 7 liquidation would ensure a more orderly and equitable distribution of proceeds from a sale of the company. But other families wanted the FSS case dismissed, arguing that would result in more money, more quickly. Dismissal is also what Jones wanted.

Ultimately, the judge ordered the company bankruptcy dismissed, clearly emotional at the prospect of Jones’s rants possibly causing the families more pain, especially so close to fathers’ Day, the judge noted. His decision allows FSS and Infowars to carry on for now, but they will be somewhat controlled by the trustee in Jones’s personal bankruptcy case; Since Jones owns FSS, his ownership share will eventually be sold off along with his other assets.

Chris Mattei, attorney for the Connecticut families who wanted the FSS decision to go the other way, said it was still “a good day.”

“Alex Jones has lost ownership of Infowars, the corrupt business he has used for years to attack the Connecticut families and so many others. The Court authorized us to move immediately to collect against all Infowars assets, and we intend to do exactly that,” Mattei said.

“Alex Jones is neither a martyr nor a victim. He is the perpetrator of the worst defamation in American history, Mattei continued, vowing Infowars would soon be defunct.

Avi Moshenberg, an attorney for the Texas families, says Jones' personal liquidation is "a victory in the sense that [Jones] is going to pay a heavy price" for what he did.

But ultimately, the plaintiffs are likely to collect only a tiny fraction of what they're owed, and bankruptcy is unlikely to silence Jones fully, as some families had hoped. "You can’t force him to shut up through a Chapter 7 liquidation," Moshenberg said. Jones had proposed a settlement with families that would have barred him from talking about the Sandy Hook shooting, but for various other reasons, that offer failed.

“There’s some frustration about that,” Moshenberg said.

For his part, Jones gloated Friday that the judge’s decision was a victory for the truth.” He said it would enable his crew to stay open for several months. “The bottom line is the attempts to hijack the company, the attempts to take it over, the judge looked right at the people that did that and said you do not have that authority.”

“I am the boss,” Jones continued. “The bizarre political attempts to hijack the operation have failed. This is historical.”

A court appointed trustee in the case this week called Jones’ behavior in recent broadcasts “much more erratic and unhinged than his typical rhetoric” and expressed concern about his “increasingly poisonous rhetoric” — including promoting new Sandy Hook conspiracies.

Grief, guilty verdicts and bankruptcy

Twenty people, mostly relatives of the 20 children and six staffers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, sued Jones for defamation in Connecticut and in Texas in 2018. Jones had told his followers that the family members were just actors, "fake crying" and "playing different parts of different people" as an elaborate plot meant to drum up support for gun control. As a result, the families testified, and Jones' followers stalked and tormented them for years. They were harassed online and in person, bombarded with death threats and relentlessly taunted by Jones' followers, who desecrated and threatened to dig up their loved ones' graves to prove it was all a hoax.

"We've been tortured, we've been abused. And the abuse that we have suffered over the last decade is just overwhelming," said Jen Hensel, whose daughter Avielle was killed at Sandy Hook, and whose husband, Jeremy Richman, later died by suicide after years of grieving. Jones also questioned Richman’s death. Speaking to NPR immediately following the 2022 jury verdict in one defamation case, Hensel said, "The idea behind all of this was to stop that abuse and to stop [Jones]. This is not OK to be doing this off the blood of innocent children who are murdered and their teachers."

During the trial, Jones acknowledged the shootings and deaths were real. But he has long maintained that his musings and rants are protected by the First Amendment. He showed up in court with tape over his mouth with the words "Save the 1st," and he said in a deposition, "If questioning public events and free speech is banned because it might hurt somebody’s feelings, we are not in America anymore."

But families rejected that notion. As one of their attorneys, Mark Bankston, told jurors: "Speech is free, but lies you have to pay for."

Ultimately the jurors in both cases concurred, and as their guilty verdicts rolled in, Jones filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for himself and his company, Free Speech Systems. Then last week, after years of refusing to cooperate with the process, Jones agreed to convert his case to a Chapter 7 liquidation. His lawyers declined to comment for this report, but in court papers they said that would mean fewer administrative expenses and would best serve the interest of all parties.

Little monies left after any liquidation

Meantime, court filings show Jones has continued to spend lavishly while in bankruptcy — spending on average about $100,000 a month — even as his assets have dwindled to just about $10 million. That means after his assets are liquidated and lawyers and expenses are paid, the leftover amount would total only about $200,000 per plaintiff. Before the families sued, Jones and FSS combined were estimated to be worth between $135 million and $270 million, according to expert testimony in the Texas trial.

Under Chapter 7 liquidation, a trustee also would dig around for any assets Jones might have hidden, something families have accused him of but Jones denies.

"I'm sure he's been doing some doomsday prepping," Moshenberg said.

For example, the families accuse Jones of using a shell company — partially owned and managed by Jones' father — to claw back money for himself. PQPR Holdings Limited, a supplier of the dietary supplements sold on the Infowars website, claims it’s owed more than $50 million in secured debt. If legitimate, that would entitle the Jones-related company to be paid ahead of the Sandy Hook families. Lawyers for the families call the debts bogus and are challenging them in court.

Families are also concerned that Jones might fudge any future earnings. Chapter 7 won’t bar Jones from reincarnating into a new company, and there are ways he could continue to work and structure his future pay so that it would be difficult for families to reach. Jones said on his show this week that he's had a lot of offers to go work for other people. But the bankruptcy trustee in Jones' case would have authority to continue chasing his assets forever. Unlike most cases where bankruptcy wipes out debts and offers debtors a fresh start, the judge has ruled that Jones is not entitled to a clean slate because his wrongdoing was malicious and intentional. That means families can keep hunting indefinitely not only for any money Jones may have hidden, but also for any future earnings.

"The point is, he is going to come out of this looking over his shoulder at those plaintiffs for the rest of his life," said Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law professor Bruce Markell.

An ironic twist for the Sandy Hook families

But Markell notes that families may find themselves in a somewhat awkward position, where their chances of collecting more of what Jones owes them depends on Jones continuing his brand of conspiracy-laden broadcasting that they sued him for.

"The irony here is that the people harmed by Jones' bile profit from the bile that he's going to spew afterwards," Markell said. "I mean that’s the only way they get paid."

Indeed, experts say, meting out what families may see as justice in a case like this, is far beyond the capacity of a bankruptcy court. "I sometimes say it's kind of like using a screwdriver to hammer in a nail," Markell quipped. "It’s not the best tool for what you want to achieve."

And despite families' hopes, Jones' experience might not actually serve as a deterrent to others. Instead, those with the biggest megaphones and deepest pockets may view even large defamation verdicts as just a cost of doing business, says First Amendment lawyer Kenneth P. White.

"Whether it's Alex Jones or a former president of the United States or whoever is prone to getting attention by making big claims and attacking people, unfortunately I think those are prices worth paying to some people, so long as it means they can keep riling up those crowds, getting those donors to political campaigns, getting those people to buy the snake oil advertised on their shows," White said. "And that's a grim realization."

Copyright 2024 NPR

Tovia Smith
Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.
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