By: Josie Jasmin

“Speech is free . . . but lies you have to pay for.”[1]As a result of conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, falsely claiming that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax, the parents of 6-year-old victim, Jesse Lewis, commenced suit against him in 2018, alleging defamation.[2] On August 4, 2022, after a nine-day trial, a 12-member Texas jury awarded Lewis’s parents $4.1 million in compensatory damages. [3] A day later, the jurors determined that an additional $45.2 million dollars in punitive damages was sufficient to punish Jones’s actions.[4]

Following the fatal 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which devasted Americans across the country and invariably altered the livelihoods of the victims and their families, Alex Jones commenced a misinformation campaign via his conspiracy website, Infowars.[5] On his Infowars web show as well as in various interviews, Jones erroneously deemed the Sandy Hook shooting a “secretive plot planned by the government as a pretext for taking away Americans’ guns.”[6] Furthermore, Jones claimed that the twenty students and six school staff members who were murdered during the shooting did not actually die and that the grieving families were merely “crisis actors.”[7] These callous and distorted statements enabled Jones to amass hundreds of millions of dollars in merchandise and product sales[8] and induced Jones’s followers to harass and send death threats to multiple victims’ family members, including Jesse Lewis’s parents.[9] Consequently, Lewis’s parents brought suit against Jones for his misleading and defamatory statements.[10]

Although the First Amendment’s protections are vast, they do not protect speech characterized as defamatory.[11] U.S. courts consistently hold that “defamatory statements—falsehoods damaging the reputation of a person or a business—are not protected as free speech,” but deceit regarding other subjects, such as the government, is.[12]

During Jones’s trial, both his lawyers as well as the plaintiffs’ lawyers emphasized the significance of the case in light of the First Amendment’s right to free speech.[13] Jones further stressed this sentiment in a deposition, stating, “[i]f questioning public events and free speech is banned because it might hurt somebody’s feelings, we are not in America anymore.”[14] However, because Jones failed to comply with discovery orders mandating that he hand over critical evidence pertaining to the veracity of his statements, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble entered a default judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor.[15] As a result, the jurors never made a determination as to whether Jones’s speech was defamatory and only rendered a decision regarding the compensatory and punitive damages.[16]

Although the defamation issue was determined by default judgment, this suit addresses an issue that is growing increasingly more prevalent: news media outlets promulgating false and misleading information while presenting it as unadulterated fact.[17] Prior to deliberation, the plaintiffs’ lawyer informed the jury that it had “the ability to send a message for everyone in this country and perhaps this world to hear . . . [s]top Alex Jones . . . [s]top the monetization of misinformation and lies.”[18] It certainly appears that the jurors contemplated this motive when determining the sizeable $45.2 million in punitive damages,[19] thus signaling that free speech is not absolute and that lies are costly.

[1] Michael Tarm, Associated Press, EXPLAINER: Is Alex Jones’ Trial About Free Speech Rights?, U.S. News & World Rep. (Aug. 3, 2022),

[2] See id.; Jack Queen, Jury Awards $45.2 Million In Punitive Damages in Alex Jones Sandy Hook Trial, REUTERS (Aug. 6, 2022, 2:50 PM),

[3] See Queen, supra note 2.

[4] See id.; Daniel Victor, What to Know About the Alex Jones Defamation Case,N.Y. Times(Aug. 5, 2022),

[5] Victor, supra note 4.

[6] Id.

[7] Max Chafkin, Being Thrown Off Social Media Was Supposed to End Alex Jones’s Career. It Made Him Even Richer, Bloomberg (Aug. 5, 2022, 3:00 AM),

[8] Id.

[9] See Queen, supra note 2.

[10] Id.

[11] See Tarm, supra note 1; Michael R. Sisak,Associated Press, Alex Jones’ $49.3M Verdict and The Future of Misinformation, abc NEWS (Aug. 6, 2022, 3:39 PM),

[12] Sisak, supra note 11.

[13] See Tarm, supra note 1.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] See Queen, supra note 2.

[17] See Sisak, supra note 11.

[18] Elizabeth Williamson, et al., Jury Orders Alex Jones to Pay $45.2 Million in Sandy Hook Case,N.Y. Times(Aug. 5, 2022),

[19] Id.