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

Updated June 14, 2024 at 1:51 pm ET

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

The judge is still considering whether Jones’s media company, Free Speech Systems, should also be placed into Chapter 7 liquidation. The families who sued Jones are divided on whether that is the best solution. But either way, the company producing Jones’ show, Infowars, will also be sold – and then either closed down or reinvented by a new buyer – with the proceeds going to cover the families’ costs.

The written order is expected to be issued today and the trustee could take control of Jones’ estate within hours. The liquidation means Jones’ personal effects – from his gun collection to jewelry – will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. He could even lose access to his X account, where he currently has 2.3 million followers. However, Texas law allows him to keep the house worth more than $2 million.

The families declined to comment ahead of the court hearing, but one of their attorneys, Avi Moshenberg, said Jones’ personal liquidation would be “a victory in the sense that (Jones) will pay a high price” for what he did, adding: “It will be a big step towards eliminating (Jones’) ability to cause further harm to families.”

On the other hand, plaintiffs will likely recover only a small fraction of what they are owed, and bankruptcy likely won’t completely silence Jones as some families had hoped. “He cannot be forced to remain silent regarding a Chapter 7 liquidation,” Moshenberg said. Jones offered a settlement with the families that would have prevented him from talking about the Sandy Hook shooting, but for a variety of other reasons this offer fell through.

“There is some frustration there,” Moshenberg said.

Texas families want a judge to simply dismiss the Free Speech Systems bankruptcy case. They say this will help you get more money faster. Connecticut families, however, argue that Chapter 7 liquidation will provide a more orderly and equitable distribution of income. They also say it would prevent Jones from using Infowars to bolster a new company he could build, and that it would stop him from siphoning off the company’s value. Like telling his audience not to buy vitamin supplements from Infowars and instead buy them from a new company owned by Jones’ dad.

The court-appointed FSS trustee agrees with the Texas families that Jones’ company should also go into Chapter 7 liquidation. She called Jones’ behavior in recent shows “far more erratic and unsustainable than his typical rhetoric” and expressed concern that his ” “increasingly toxic rhetoric” – including promoting new Sandy Hook conspiracies – is reducing the value of his estate and the possible payout to his families.

Grief, convictions and bankruptcy

Twenty people, mostly relatives of 20 children and six staff members murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, sued Jones in 2018 for defamation in Connecticut and Texas. Jones told his followers that the family members were just actors “pretending to cry” and “having fun.” different parts of different people” as an elaborate plot to gain support for gun control. As a result, families testified and Jones’ supporters harassed and tormented them for years. They were harassed online and in person, bombarded with death threats, and mercilessly mocked by Jones’ supporters, who desecrated and threatened to dig up the graves of their loved ones to prove it was all a hoax.

“We were tortured, we were mistreated. And the abuse we have experienced over the last decade is just overwhelming,” said Jen Hensel, whose daughter Avielle was murdered at Sandy Hook and whose husband, Jeremy Richman, later died by suicide after years of mourning. Jones also questioned Richman’s death. Speaking to NPR immediately after the 2022 jury verdict in one defamation case, Hensel said: “The idea behind all of this was to stop this harassment and stop (Jones). It is not right to do this with the blood of innocent children. murdered and their teachers.”

During the trial, Jones admitted that the shootings and deaths were real. But he has long maintained that his musings and rants are protected by the First Amendment. He appeared in court with tape over his mouth and a sign saying “Save the First” and during his testimony he stated: “If questioning public events and free speech are banned because it might hurt someone’s feelings, then we are no longer in America. “

But the families rejected the idea. As one of their attorneys, Mark Bankston, told jurors, “Speech is free, but lies have a price.”

Tyler Sizemore/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP


Hearst Connecticut Media via AP

Families of Sandy Hook victims sit in the front row as Infowars founder Alex Jones testifies at the 2022 Sandy Hook defamation trial in Waterbury, Connecticut.

Ultimately, juries in both cases agreed, and when the guilty verdicts were returned, Jones filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for himself and his company, Free Speech Systems. Last week, after years of refusing to cooperate with the lawsuit, Jones agreed to convert his case into a Chapter 7 liquidation. His lawyers declined to comment on this report, but said in court documents that doing so would mean fewer administrative expenses and would best serve his interests. all pages.

There was little money left after liquidation

Meanwhile, court filings show that Jones continued to spend money lavishly during the bankruptcy period – an average of about $100,000 a month – even though his assets had dropped to only about $10 million. This means that after liquidating his estate and paying his lawyers and expenses, the remaining amount will only be about $200,000 per plaintiff. Before the families filed suit, Jones and FSS’s combined assets were estimated at between $135 million and $270 million, according to expert testimony in the Texas trial.

Under a Chapter 7 liquidation, the trustee would also look for assets that Jones may have hidden, something the families accuse him of doing, but Jones denies.

“I’m sure he was preparing for doomsday,” Moshenberg said.

For example, the families accuse Jones of using a shell company – partly owned and operated by Jones’ father – to recover money for himself. PQPR Holdings Limited, a supplier of dietary supplements sold on the Infowars website, says it has secured debt of more than $50 million. If substantiated, it would entitle a Jones-related company to be paid before Sandy Hook families. Family lawyers recognize these debts as fraudulent and challenge them in court.

Families also fear that Jones may be falsifying future earnings. Chapter 7 doesn’t prohibit Jones from reincarnating in a new company, but there are ways he can continue working and structure his future pay to make it difficult for families to get there. Jones said on his show this week that he has received numerous job offers for other people. However, the bankruptcy trustee in the Jones case would have the power to continue pursuing his assets indefinitely. Unlike most cases in which bankruptcy eliminates debts and gives debtors a fresh start, the judge ruled that Jones was not entitled to a clean slate because his misconduct was malicious and willful. This means families can endlessly hunt not only for the money Jones may have hidden, but also for future earnings.

“The idea is that he will come out of this and look over his shoulder for the rest of his life on these grounds,” said Bruce Markell, a professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law.

An ironic twist for Sandy Hook families

Markell notes, however, that the families may find themselves in a somewhat awkward position where their chances of recovering most of what Jones owes them depend on whether Jones continues with the brand of conspiracy-laden broadcasting they are suing him for.

“The irony is that the people harmed by Jones’s bile (would) benefit from the bile he then spews,” Markell said. “That means it’s the only way they get paid.”

In fact, experts say, bringing what families may consider justice in a case like this is far beyond the capacity of a bankruptcy court. “Sometimes I say it’s a bit like hammering a nail with a screwdriver,” Markell joked. “It’s not the best tool for what you want to achieve.”

And despite the families’ hopes, Jones’ experience may not actually act as a deterrent to others. Instead, those with the biggest megaphones and deepest pockets may view even large defamation judgments as merely a cost of doing business, argues First Amendment lawyer Kenneth P. White.

“Whether it’s Alex Jones, whether it’s the former president of the United States, or anyone else who has a penchant for gaining attention by making big claims and attacking people, unfortunately I think for some people these are prices that are worth it.” pay if it means they can continue to anger these crowds, soliciting donors for political campaigns, persuading people to buy the snake oil advertised on their shows,” White said. “And that is a grim realization.”

Copyright 2024 NPR