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Alex Jones Files for Bankruptcy

WASHINGTON — The Infowars fabulist Alex Jones filed for Chapter 11 personal bankruptcy Friday in the Southern District of Texas in Houston, citing nearly $1.5 billion in damages juries awarded this year to the families of Sandy Hook shooting victims, who won a series of defamation cases against Mr. Jones after he lied for years about the school shooting on his radio and online show.

The filing comes atop the bankruptcy filing by Free Speech Systems, Infowars’ parent company, in late July. The new filing could further delay payment of the damages to the families, who would need to seek payment through the bankruptcy courts alongside other creditors. But it could also force a greater degree of scrutiny on the finances of Mr. Jones’s empire.

For more than four years, Mr. Jones has stonewalled the courts on providing business records, financial information and other records in the Sandy Hook cases. In a separate lawsuit, the victims’ families have accused Mr. Jones of improperly siphoning assets from his business and channeling them to himself and his family. He will now ostensibly be required to reveal more about those assets.

“The bankruptcy system does not protect anyone who engages in intentional and egregious attacks on others, as Mr. Jones did,” said Chris Mattei, a lawyer for the families in the damages case in Connecticut. “The American judicial system will hold Alex Jones accountable, and we will never stop working to enforce the jury’s verdict.” In that case, in October, Mr. Jones was ordered to pay $1.4 billion. Two other cases were litigated in Texas.

Hours after the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting of 20 first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Jones began spreading lies that the massacre was planned by the government as a pretext for confiscating Americans’ firearms, and that the families were complicit in the plot. He continued lying about the shootings for years, exposing the families to online abuse, confrontation and death threats by people who believed the false claims.

Understand the Defamation Cases Against Alex Jones

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A united front. Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist, is the focus of a long-running legal battle waged by families of victims of a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. Here is what to know:

Pushing misinformation. Mr. Jones used his Infowars media company to spread lies about Sandy Hook, claiming that the attack in 2012, in which 20 first graders and six educators were killed, was a hoax. The families of the victims say Mr. Jones’s lies have added to their devastation and his followers have harassed them, threatening their safety.

Defamation lawsuits. The families of 10 Sandy Hook victims sued Mr. Jones in four separate lawsuits. The cases never made it to a jury; Mr. Jones was found liable by default in all of them because he refused to turn over documents, including financial records, ordered by the courts over four years of litigation.

Mr. Jones’s line of defense. The Infowars host has claimed that his right to free speech protected him, even though the outcome of the cases was due to the fact that he failed to provide the necessary documents and testify.

Three trials. There will be three trials in total to determine how much Mr. Jones must pay the families of the Sandy Hook victims. The first two trials were held in Austin, Texas, and Waterbury, Conn., while the third trial is tentatively scheduled for later this year in Austin, but a date has not yet been set.

The damages. On Oct. 12, the jury in Connecticut awarded nearly $1 billion in damages to the families of eight Sandy Hook victims and an F.B.I. agent who responded to the scene. A judge later added $473 million in fees to the award. The earlier trial in Texas ended with Mr. Jones being ordered to pay $4 million in compensatory damages and $45.2 million in punitive damages.

Mr. Jones earns up to $70 million a year selling products tailored to his audience’s distrust of government and established science, including diet supplements and quack cures, survivalist gear and gun paraphernalia. In mid-2018, the families of 10 Sandy Hook victims filed four separate defamation lawsuits, later combined into three, against Mr. Jones in Texas and Connecticut.

The litigation has been defined by Mr. Jones’s stonewalling, as he refused to submit relevant records and testimony. His intransigence prompted judges in Texas and Connecticut to rule Mr. Jones liable by default in all the Sandy Hook lawsuits late last year. The families’ sweeping victory set the stage for three trials for juries to decide how much he must pay the families in damages.

In the first trial this summer in Austin, where Infowars is based, a jury awarded nearly $50 million in damages to Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, parents of Jesse Lewis, a Sandy Hook victim. Shortly before that verdict Mr. Jones put Free Speech Systems into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In October, the families of eight Sandy Hook victims won more than $1.4 billion in damages from Mr. Jones. A third and final trial in the lawsuit brought by Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, whose son Noah Pozner was the youngest Sandy Hook victim, is scheduled to begin March 27.

Cordt Akers, a lawyer for the families who is challenging the bankruptcy filing in Texas, called Mr. Jones’s Chapter 11 filing “the latest in a long line of tricks by Alex Jones to keep the Sandy Hook families from the justice to which they are entitled.”

“It won’t work,” he added.

In the bare-bones filing, Mr. Jones estimated that he owed money to 50 to 99 creditors, a list topped by the names of the Sandy Hook relatives. His biggest creditor is Robert Parker, whose daughter Emilie died at Sandy Hook. Mr. Jones for years played a videotape on Infowars of Mr. Parker’s tearful news conference the night after his daughter’s murder, calling the grieving father an “actor” and the news conference “disgusting.” Conspiracy theorists who believed Mr. Jones’s lies tormented, threatened and personally confronted Mr. Parker and his family.

In October, the jury in Connecticut ordered Mr. Jones to pay Mr. Parker $120 million, as part of the $1.4 billion judgment.

Mr. Jones estimates his assets to be worth $1 million to $10 million in the filing. That number will almost certainly be challenged by the families, who said in their filing that Mr. Jones had siphoned nearly $62 million from his business into financial vehicles benefiting himself and his family beginning in 2018, when they first filed suit. In court in Texas this summer, a forensic economist, Bernard F. Pettingill Jr., estimated that Mr. Jones and his business were worth $130 million to $270 million.

At the core of his bankruptcy claim is Mr. Jones’s assertion that Free Speech Systems, which he owns, owed $54 million to PQPR Holdings, a company owned and operated directly and indirectly by Mr. Jones and his parents. The debt is fictional, the families’ lawyers said in Thursday’s filing, and “a centerpiece of Jones’s plan to avoid compensating the Sandy Hook families.”

Mr. Jones has become increasingly emblematic of how misinformation and false narratives have gained traction in American society. He has played a role in spreading some of recent history’s most pernicious conspiracy theories, such as Pizzagate — in which an Infowars video helped inspire a gunman to attack a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. — as well as coronavirus myths and “Stop the Steal” falsehoods about election fraud before the Capitol assault on Jan. 6, 2021.

Mr. Jones is under scrutiny by the House Jan. 6 committee and the Justice Department for his role in planning events around the attack on the Capitol, which he broadcast live.

Emily Steel contributed reporting from New York.

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