The conspiracy website Infowars has filed for bankruptcy protection as founder Alex Jones faces multiple defamation lawsuits tied to his false claims that the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a “giant hoax.”
Jones is being sued by the families of several victims of the 2012 attack that left 26 people dead, including 20 young children, in Newtown, in western Connecticut. It remains the deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history. The 20-year-old gunman died by suicide.
But Jones falsely claimed the massacre was fabricated by gun control advocates and the mainstream media, who he said pursued a “false flag” operation staged by “crisis actors.”
The families accused him of grifting off those false claims while defaming their loved ones. Some said they were harassed and threatened after Jones ran online segments accusing them of being a part of a hoax, with one receiving hate mail referencing the Second Amendment, according to a 2018 CBS news segment. They rejected settlement offers from Jones.
Jones has since said in a sworn deposition that he believes the shootings occurred and claimed that he “almost had like a form of psychosis back in the past where I basically thought everything was staged, even though I’m now learning a lot of times things aren’t staged.”
Jones has been found liable in two separate cases, one in Texas, where he and Infowars are based, and another in Connecticut where the mass shooting occurred. Damages have not yet been decided in either case, but an initial amount of $725,000 has been paid into a bankruptcy trust managed by two retired judges, court records show, with an expected $2 million to be funded at a later date. The Texas court is expected to determine damages first, with jury selection scheduled for April 25.
Last year, a judge in the Connecticut case found Jones liable by default, citing his refusal to abide by court rulings or turn over evidence, according to the Associated Press. Jones cited undisclosed health reasons for preventing him from attending either hearing. A $75,000 fine Jones paid for failing to show up was eventually returned, according to the report.
According to the Chapter 11 filing, Infowars listed assets of less than $50,000 and liabilities from $1 million to $10 million. The filing cited 19 individuals with litigation claims against Jones, and one person with a potential copyright infringement lawsuit. Filings for the other two companies list 15 overlapping litigation creditors. A filing for Infowars Health listed assets of $500,000 to $1 million.
In his online broadcast Monday, Jones implored listeners to donate to Infowars, or maybe buy a shirt or some supplements, amid the run of legal judgments.
“We’re already totally maxed out, and I’m already expending my backup capital,” Jones said Monday. “And I’m very happy to do that, I’m honored to do that, but once it runs out that’ll be it, we’ll have to start laying off people and cutting stuff.”
Jones and his companies have spent more than $10 million in legal fees and expenses related to the Sandy Hook lawsuits, one filing states.
“Given the limited cash on hand available” to the debtors and Infowars, “there is a substantial likelihood that efforts to collect on a judgment of the Texas actions would result in leaving nothing left for the Connecticut Sandy Hook Plaintiffs or other creditors,” said a court filing signed by Kyung Lee, an attorney for Infowars.
The bankruptcy filing represents a sort of moment of reality for Jones, says Imran Ahmed, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate. Jones became a leading voice on the far right by reaching a massive audience on conventional social media channels, Ahmed said. He was banned from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in 2018 and now broadcasts primarily through the Infowars website.
“This is a guy who a few years ago was sitting atop a multimillion-dollar empire,” Ahmed said. “He’s another troll who has been exposed and held liable through the court system, but the people who benefited from the traffic generated from his lies, misinformation and hate are still sitting in their offices in San Francisco.”
Others expressed concern that bankruptcy could become a kind of escape route, allowing Jones to set aside the lawsuit while continuing to spread conspiracy theories online. Businesses undergoing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy usually continue to operate while they try to get their finances in order.
“Why are people celebrating Alex Jones filing for bankruptcy? Do you think that means he is broke? Far from it,” tweeted Ron Filipowski, a former federal prosecutor. “It’s a ploy to try and avoid paying current and future legal judgments against him. That is all.”
In between segments accusing the Ukrainian military of torturing Russians and a conspiracy theory involving Bill Gates trying to “depopulate” Africa, Jones devoted portions of his live show Monday morning to fundraising.
He urged his audience to purchase shirts bearing the phrase “Alex Jones was right,” and accused judges and the mainstream media of trying to shut him down. He also ran an advertisement in which Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of former president Donald Trump, pitched supplements. “I need your help to stay on air,” Jones said. “We’re in the critical part of the battle now.”
Late last year, Jones and Stone were subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the panel, wrote that Jones was considered a “person of interest” because of his coordination with two individuals who organized the rally preceding the attack on the Capitol and his promotion of Trump’s false claims of election fraud.