© 2022
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Amid lawsuits over Sandy Hook shooting denial, InfoWars files for bankruptcy

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The far-right conspiracy broadcaster Alex Jones is seeking bankruptcy protection for three of his companies. Jones lied about the Sandy Hook school shooting, an attack in which 20 children and six school employees were killed in Newtown, Conn. He is the target of several defamation lawsuits from victims' families who say his hoaxes endangered them. NPR's John Burnett reports.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: The embattled conspiracy-monger is trying to save his broadcast and online business, InfoWars, as more courts find him liable for defaming the families of dead schoolchildren. Jones' latest move seeks to suspend civil lawsuits while he reorganizes his debts. In a bankruptcy filing, Jones indicated that InfoWars' liabilities could be as much as $10 million, far outstripping assets of no more than $50,000. The 49 creditors listed are the parents who are suing him. Their children were among 26 victims massacred by a deranged gunman who burst into an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., nearly a decade ago. Jones falsely claimed on air that it never happened, that the federal government staged the mass shooting, though he later recanted.

Plaintiffs' attorney Mark Bankston.

MARK BANKSTON: None of Mr. Jones' ridiculous tricks have worked in the past. This one will fare no better.

BURNETT: The pugnacious radio personality has been booted off Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other mainstream platforms for promoting hate speech and lies, but InfoWars is still broadcast on a hundred radio stations, as well as his website. A new book about Sandy Hook from New York Times journalist Elizabeth Williamson states that the InfoWars online store brought in $50 million in revenue in a single year in its heyday during the administration of Donald Trump, who is a fan. The store's extensive offerings include expensive alternative medicines, freeze-dried food and survivalist gear. Says Williamson...

ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON: These traditionally have all been his kinds of products that cater to this distrust of the federal government and established science.

BURNETT: For his part, Jones contends the defamation lawsuits are violating his First Amendment rights. Here he is on a broadcast earlier this month.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEX JONES: ...The attacks. And we're still there because of you keeping us on the air. And they want to bully all of us. They want to control all of us. As we warned you, first it's Alex Jones, then it's everybody else. Well, now...

BURNETT: Jury selection was supposed to begin next Monday in Austin, where InfoWars is based, in the first case to come to trial. A state judge issued a default judgment against Jones for ignoring the court's orders. And if the trial goes forward, a jury will determine monetary damages for two Sandy Hook families. It's unclear whether the bankruptcy filings will delay this and other civil lawsuits against Alex Jones.

John Burnett, NPR News, Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.