A Timeline Of Alex Jones' Legal Troubles

Reuters Institute's 2022 Digital News Report (in association with the University of Oxford) shows just how abysmal public trust in the media is across the world. The study sampled opinions about the mainstream media in 46 different nations, including Thailand, Nigeria, Peru, India, Colombia, and the United States. In nearly 50 percent of the countries studied, researchers found a nosedive in public trust in the media. America ranked drop dead last on the list, with only 26 percent of survey participants espousing trust in mainstream media outlets.

Long gone are the days of Americans tuning into their favorite nightly broadcast journalists (like Walter Cronkite or Tom Brokaw) to learn about the world's happenings. Of course, this begs the question: Where are Americans now going for their news? The social media revolution has ensured the answer to this question can no longer be painted with a broad brush, per Inquiries Journal. Nevertheless, a growing number of people now rely on alternative news sources; in particular, social media news personalities have exploded in popularity.

Among the most controversial of these figures remains Alex Jones, who took his business to the internet in 1999 with Infowars. By November 2016, the website received more than 10 million unique visitors per month, outpacing outlets like Newsweek and the Economist (via Vox). But Jones has also attracted a growing number of lawsuits set to cost him millions. Here's what you need to know about the biggest lawsuits ever brought against him.

Pizzagate

Alex Jones has attracted a massive fanbase over the years, according to NPR. He's built this following through bombastic, controversial, and, in some cases, potentially libelous on-air rants, per the PBS. By December 2016, more than 160 stations aired his radio show, and his YouTube channel accrued nearly 2 million subscribers. His brand capitalizes on salacious and scandalous stories, coupled with over-the-top rants.

Among the stories showcased repeatedly by Jones on his radio program and YouTube channel was the Pizzagate scandal (via CNN). At its center was James Alefantis, owner of Washington D.C.'s Comet Ping Pong pizza joint. According to rumors, Alefantis acted as the alleged frontman for a child sex trafficking ring involving big wigs like John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager. As the story further developed, finger-pointing led directly to Bill and Hillary Clinton. In one video (since removed by YouTube), Jones claimed that Hillary Clinton personally engaged in the rape and murder of children. 

At the height of the Pizzagate fury, Edgar Maddison Welch of North Carolina entered the pizza joint with an AR-15 to investigate the sex trafficking charges. In the face of a possible libel lawsuit, Jones issued a public apology, which Alefantis' lawyer, Michael Gottlieb, characterized as a "re-victimization" of his client (per CNN).

Charlottesville false flag rumors

During the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 (via the Constitutional Accountability Center), mayhem erupted when a car driven by James Fields Jr. smashed into counter-protestors attending the rally (via Gilmore v. Jones). Among their number was U.S. Foreign Service Officer Brennan Gilmore, who captured footage of the sickening moment. Gilmore later posted the video to Twitter, drawing media attention from many outlets, including Infowars.

Besides his Foreign Service employment, Gilmore had also worked for Tom Perriello, former congressman, as chief of staff (via NPR). These loose associations with the government sparked a firestorm of online harassment and death threats fueled by Alex Jones' rants. During an interview with Robin Young of "Here & Now," Gilmore explained (per WBUR), "They take vague data points from your bio — the fact I worked in government, the fact that I worked in Democratic politics — and then draw these fantastical lines that are an attempt to provoke fear and hatred among their listeners and completely obscure the truth about what happens in any given situation."

By March 2018, Gilmore filed litigation against Jones for alleging he was a government-backed operative participating in a false flag event organized by deep state players. Gilmore also provided evidence of death threats received as a result of these allegations. In the lawsuit settlement, Jones backtracked, issuing a liability admission, but he still shelled out $50,000 in damages to Gilmore, as reported by the Virginia Mercury.

Chobani child rape allegations

Click-bait headlines like "Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists" attract money-making views (via The New York Times). Such titles play on a lurid attraction to the unthinkable and outlandish, not unlike the scandal sheets and rag newspapers of old. But unlike tabloids, internet sites don't hold a place of infamy near grocery store checkout stands. The stories they publish can hurt real people and businesses, as Hamdi Ulukaya, owner of Chobani, found out firsthand.

A Kurdish-Turkish immigrant, Ulukaya opened his first yogurt plant in New York before expanding to Twin Falls, Idaho. As a part of his advocacy for refugees, Ulukaya hired hundreds of immigrants, attracting online harassment. But nothing beat the backlash the brand received after Infowars linked it to the sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl by three minors in 2016 in Idaho Falls. The minors involved pled guilty to charges of misdemeanor battery and sexual exploitation. One of the defendants came from Iraq, and the other two from Eritrea.

But Alex Jones elaborated on the story, making it unrecognizable. Infowars claimed the attack involved gang rape at knifepoint, urinating in the victim's mouth, and Syrians, per the Los Angeles Times. All untrue allegations. Jones also erroneously linked the refugees — and a tuberculosis outbreak — to Chobani. Public outrage ensued, although the allegations had no basis in fact, according to Grant Loeb, Twin Falls County prosecutor. Facing a lawsuit for damages in excess of $10,000, Jones retracted his original statements and settled.

Stoneman Douglas school shooting red flag allegations

Two men who survived the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, say they faced unfounded online allegations (via Newsweek and CBS News). Alex Jones and Infowars sit at the center of these allegations. 

The school shooting happened on February 14, 2018, resulting in 17 dead and 17 injured, per History. Nikolas Cruz, a disgruntled student who was expelled the previous year, soon confessed to the carnage. But Infowars took a different spin. Jones declared the tragedy a false flag event within hours. Next, he turned his focus on the first of the two men mentioned above, David Hogg, as reported by Fortune. Hogg survived the school shooting and was interviewed by the media afterward. Jones labeled him a crisis actor, releasing an incendiary (and since-removed) YouTube video, "David Hogg Can't Remember His Lines in TV Interview."

The second man, Marcel Fontaine, was misidentified by Alex Jones as the Parkland shooter in the wake of the tragedy. The 24-year-old claimed Infowars published a photo of him in several versions of the same article, declaring him the shooter. Fontaine's photo spread like wildfire across the internet, leading to online harassment and threats, even though he'd never even visited Parkland, per USA Today. Fontaine brought one of the first defamation lawsuits against Jones but died in a house fire in May 2022, leaving the case up in the air (via The Hour).

Sandy Hook shooting hoax rumors

Parkland wasn't Alex Jones' first treatment of an active shooting, per the BBC. But it took Marcel Fontaine's example to bring other victims of the Infowars treatment into the light, according to The Hour. Fontaine hired lawyer Bill Ogden to handle his defamation suit. This action inspired the families of two children killed in the Sandy Hook School shooting to file their own lawsuits through Ogden.

After declaring the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting a giant hoax, Jones accused the grieving families of the 26 first-graders and teachers murdered at Sandy Hook of being crisis actors (via NewsTimes). He also said one parent, Leonard Pozner, fabricated the death certificate of his 6-year-old son, Noah Pozner (per the BBC). Pozner endured such terrible online and in-person harassment due to these false news stories that he moved seven times in just five years (via The New York Times).

According to the Harvard Business Review, part of the problem lies in endemic media corruption. A "culture of lying" has infiltrated the industry because "journalists need crises to dramatize news ... [and] too often, the crises are not really crises but ... fabrications." What's more, the legal precedent for defamation cases dates to 1974, decades before the internet. But these lawsuits could prove groundbreaking in their exploration of free speech on the internet. Nevertheless, the judge in Pozner's lawsuit awarded him $450,000, per the BBC.

More Sandy Hook lawsuits emerge

Six of the Sandy Hook victims' families and one FBI agent sued Alex Jones and several of his colleagues for defamation in 2018, per CNN. Filed in the Connecticut Superior Court, the lawsuit alleges that "Jones is the chief amplifier for a group that has worked in concert to create and propagate loathsome, false narratives about the Sandy Hook shooting and its victims, and promote their harassment and abuse."

Besides naming individuals, the lawsuit targets six companies, including the Infowars website and Genesis Communications, its distributor. Other companies involved are the precious metal firm Midas Resources and a dietary supplement brand. A major tenet of the legal action is that Jones knew Sandy Hook was a real-life event. But that he, nonetheless, continued to broadcast defamatory claims to enhance his audience and sell products. As of 2018, this audience included 2.3 million subscribers to the "Alex Jones Show," carried by over 60 radio stations (via CNN).

The claims are damning and on track to cost the internet and radio personality millions of dollars, according to USA Today. Jones has asserted the lawsuits he now faces are direct attacks on his First Amendment rights (via Texas Monthly). But a summary judgment by Judge Maya Guerra Gamble has thrown the free speech aspect out in at least one of the cases (Heslin v. Jones) because Jones' legal team failed to comply with discovery and never mounted an effective First Amendment case.

Another Sandy Hook defamation lawsuit

A month after the six families and FBI agent filed their lawsuit, another legal challenge emerged. It was filed by William Sherlach, whose wife, school psychologist Mary Sherlach, died in the school shooting. Filing in Connecticut Superior Court, Sherlach's litigation targeted Jones and individuals and organizations associated with him. They include Prison Planet TV, Genesis Communications Network, Midas Resources, Wolfgang Halbig, and Cory Sklanka. Like previous lawsuits, the new case alleges, "As a result of Jones' campaign, the families and survivors of the Sandy Hook shooting have been forced to endure malicious and cruel abuse at the hands of ruthless and unscrupulous people." The case goes on to detail this abuse, with allegations of harassment, death threats, physical altercations, and unwarranted videotaping of the victim's family by so-called "strange individuals."

Besides the companies that sold products through the Jones media network, two individuals were named in Sherlach v. Jones. According to official court documents, both claimed to be journalists, and both worked overtime to propagate the idea that Sandy Hook never happened. The first of the two men, Wolfgang Halbig, ran two websites where he disseminated information supporting his theories and was even arrested in 2020 for unlawfully possessing the identification of one of the victims' family members, according to The Florida Times-Union. ABC News has described Cory Sklanka as an associate of Halbig, who also participated in some of the defamatory and privacy-violating activities associated with denouncing the official Sandy Hook school shooting narrative. 

Alex Jones filed a lawsuit against himself

In one of many bizarre twists in the Sandy Hook defamation cases, Alex Jones sued his own company, Free Speech Systems, per Law & Crime. Critics of the Infowars host argue that this legal action represents a desperate ploy by Jones to stall or derail the Sandy Hook defamation trials. According to court documents, Jones is suing Free Speech Systems on the grounds that it "has promised and guaranteed to indemnify and hold harmless Alex Emric Jones from any damages or other costs which may be assessed or entered against him in this litigation." Besides this lawsuit, a handful of companies associated with Alex Jones and Infowars have already declared bankruptcy, although Free Speech Systems was not one of them.

Plaintiffs of the various Sandy Hook cases quickly responded via their lawyers with an "emergency motion to strike," arguing that this latest crossclaim represents little more than an attempt to put off upcoming trials (via Law & Crime). The motion to strike also argues that Jones' lawsuit seeks to disrupt the upcoming legal trials, which have been years in the making.

Heslin v. Jones ends in millions awarded in damages

On August 5, 2022, officials announced the outcome of the first of the Sandy Hook lawsuits involving plaintiffs Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, died in the 2012 Newtown attack (via PBS). Heslin and Lewis faced the same online and in-person bullying and harassment chronicled by other families after Jones broadcast online allegations that Sandy Hook never happened.

The plaintiffs became the first to place a monetary figure on the alleged damages done by Jones. They asked for $150 million, a sizeable chunk of the up to $270 million Jones' media empire was valued at by one of the plaintiff's expert witnesses, an economist named Bernard Pettingill. One of the parents' attorneys, Wesley Ball, argued (via PBS), "You have the ability to stop this man from ever doing [this] again. Send the message to those who desire to do the same: Speech is free. Lies, you pay for."

Initially, the jury awarded the plaintiffs compensatory damages of $4.1 million (per PBS). But they later came back with a punitive damages figure of $45.2 million. Interestingly, Pettingill testified during the trial that Jones pulled $62 million out of his companies in 2021 following default judgments. He also alluded that the lines between Jones' finances and those of his companies appear quite fluid. In September, the next two Sandy Hook trials will take place, as reported by The New York Times.

Under investigation by the January 6 Committee

Because of his appearances at riots near the Capitol during the January 6 events, Alex Jones was also asked by the congressional panel investigating him to provide text messages, according to CNN. These were not forthcoming until a major slip-up by his attorneys. During Heslin v. Jones, Jones' defense attorneys accidentally sent two years of his text messages to the opposing attorney, Mark Bankston. In turn, Bankston forwarded the communications to the January 6 committee.

After realizing his mistake, Jones' attorney, Federico Andino Reynal, asked the judge to order the evidence be destroyed. In response, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble stated (via CNN), "I'm not standing between you and Congress. That is not my job. I'm not going to do that." Beyond what took place in court and Bankston's assertion about cooperating with investigations, little else is known about Jones' texts. Although the dates and content covered in the texts remain unknown, Bankston has clarified that they occurred in the months leading up to January 6.

After testifying before Congress months ago, Jones told his internet and radio audiences that he had taken the Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminating himself. As a result, it remains unclear what the addition of these text messages may mean to Congress' ongoing investigation.

Family court litigations

Other cracks have emerged when it comes to Alex Jones' relationship with his defense attorneys, as reported by Salon. During the Heslin v. Jones trial, his lawyers argued that Infowars amounts to little more than "performance art." Less than 24 hours, Jones railed against this characterization of his show (per Salon): "We're the most bona fide, hard-core, real McCoy thing there is — and everybody knows it, and we're delivering the goods." But Heslin v. Jones isn't the first time Alex Jones' lawyers have attempted to hide him behind the veil of a performance artist. 

He divorced his first wife, Kelly Jones, in March 2015. Two years later, Kelly Jones sued Alex Jones for custody of their children. She did so on the grounds that her ex-husband's behavior had grown increasingly erratic and dangerous. In response, Randall Wilhite, Jones' attorney, argued (via Salon) that he was merely "playing a character."