An earlier version of this article, using information from media reports at the time, erroneously mentioned that Adam Lanza's mother was a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary. Those reports were later debunked. This article has been corrected to remove the mention.
Judge Barbara Bellis’s order comes nearly a month after a jury unanimously ordered Jones to pay $965 million in compensation to the families after a multiyear legal battle.
“The record also establishes that the defendants repeated the conduct and attacks on the plaintiffs for nearly a decade, including during the trial, wanton, malicious, and heinous conduct that caused harm to the plaintiffs,” Bellis wrote in assessing the punitive damages Thursday. “This depravity, and cruel, persistent course of conduct by the defendants establishes the highest degree of reprehensibility and blameworthiness.”
Jones, who has said he will appeal the verdict, was also ordered by the judge to not transfer his assets outside of the United States until further notice from the court. This is the first time a court has ordered Jones to freeze his assets.
“This is the first step in making sure that Jones personally will pay every penny he has to the families he spent years tormenting,” Chris Mattei, who represents the families in the case against Jones, said in a statement shared with The Washington Post.
Jones reacted to the news live Thursday while recording his “Infowars” podcast, calling the penalty “preposterous” and saying he doesn’t have the funds to pay it.
“If I weigh 260 pounds, they ask for a trillion pounds, I don’t have that much flesh,” he said.
Between 2016 and 2018, Infowars amassed $165 million, according to testimony from an earlier defamation trial. But the status of that money and exactly how much Jones has amassed since then is largely unknown.
Amid defamation lawsuits, Infowars and its parent company, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy protection this year.
Jones’s attorney, Norm Pattis, told Jones on the podcast that a bankruptcy court probably will try to mediate a settlement in accordance with Jones’s assets.
“They know what you have. People will be summoned to an effort to settle these cases. And if they don’t try to settle in good faith, it’ll be because their goal is to destroy you,” Pattis said.
“I think the goal is to try to pile you up with a judgment debt, the likes of which no one else has ever seen, no private person or non-corporation,” Pattis said, adding that he believes “this unprecedented verdict remains vulnerable.”
Pattis slammed Thursday’s order in a separate statement to The Post.
“This latest ruling is farce. It makes our work on appeal that much easier,” Pattis said.
In a separate defamation case in Texas, a jury awarded nearly $50 million to the parents of a victim in the Sandy Hook shooting, though the actual payout will be probably be lower because of state limits on tort claims.
On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza drove to Sandy Hook Elementary after fatally shooting his mother inside the home they shared. The 20-year-old gunman opened fire inside multiple classrooms before killing himself. Police did not fire any shots.
Hours after the 2012 elementary school shooting, Jones told his audience that it was staged as an excuse for confiscating guns. He also suggested that the parents of the victims were actors. Years later, he repeatedly referred to the massacre as a hoax.
The Infowars host has a history of spreading conspiracy theories. He has falsely claimed that elements of the U.S. government were responsible for bombing the Oklahoma City federal building and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In their suit, the families of the victims argued Jones’s false claims caused them years of additional suffering. During the trial, the families testified that conspiracy theorists who accused them of staging their children’s deaths repeatedly harassed and threatened them.
They shared they did not feel safe when home and felt they had to keep their guard up when in public. It got so bad, some of them testified, that they had no option but to move away from Newtown.
The $965 million penalty ordered by the jury in October covered compensation for reputational damage and emotional distress. But the families had also sued Jones for violations of Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act, which prohibits unfair competition and deceptive acts and can carry punitive damages.
In a brief last month, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the court should award $2.75 trillion in punitive damages for 550 million separate violations of the act by Jones. In oral arguments Monday, Pattis argued that the compensatory award was punitive in itself, according to the Hartford Courant.
Bellis decided to award $10 million to each plaintiff for violations of the act, totaling $150 million, and $323 million in common law punitive damages for attorney’s fees and costs.
Erica Lafferty, the daughter of principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, who was killed in the shooting, called Thursday’s ruling “JUSTICE” on Twitter.
“Sending deep thanks and gratitude to my stellar legal team and my eternal love to all of the other families,” Lafferty wrote.
Kim Bellware contributed to this report.