A Connecticut judge ruled that conservative Infowars host Alex Jones was liable for damages in defamation lawsuits brought by the families of children murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting that Jones claimed was a hoax. The judge held that Jones refused to submit documents to the courts, a decision that determined the outcome. Jones will appeal. Jones’ lies about the shooting of 20 first graders and educators inspired his followers to abuse the families online, contact them at their homes and threaten their lives. The families contend that Jones profited from the lies. (The New York Times, November 15, 2021, by Elizabeth Williamson)
Since the ruling was based on default, key issues remain unaddressed. Given Times v. Sullivan and the families’ status as involuntary public figures, Jones’ lawyers contend they must show actual malice to prove defamation. Law professor Enrique Armijo, The Conversation, November 15, 2021, argues, “…making such individuals prove actual malice in their defamation suit against Jones – a much tougher standard to prove – would get the First Amendment backward. It would stifle important responses to disastrous events in individuals’ private lives.