On a recent Friday afternoon, federal bankruptcy judge Christopher Lopez held a hearing in a case filed by Alex Jones, the Austin-based Infowars host who popularized conspiracy theories about Jade Helm, Pizzagate, and the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Everything about the filing had been curious. Jones himself wasn’t filing for bankruptcy—rather, it was a handful of business entities that he owns, none of which appear to do much real business or hold any significant assets. He even changed the name of the most important-sounding entity—InfoWars LLC—to “InfoW LLC” the week before the filing, apparently so that anyone who said that Infowars was going bankrupt would be technically incorrect. This was important, one his attorneys argued, because “Infowars is a prominent trademark in the conspiracy theory community,” and Jones’s name is “the Coca-Cola of the conspiracy theory community.”
Most curious of all was the timing of the bankruptcy bid. Jones announced the filing on his radio show on April 18, which was one week before the scheduled beginning of a civil court trial in Austin—the first of four such courtroom dramas that would determine how much he’d have to pay the families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. He had lost defamation lawsuits to those families several months earlier, after having asserted that their children’s deaths were faked. Those lawsuits had been a comedy of errors on the part of Jones, with enough lawyers to fill a clown car, hefty court fines for bad-faith behavior, and absurd depositions by the radio host and his representatives.
The result has been a series of losses for Jones, two of his cohosts, and his Free Speech Systems business entity—even before juries heard the cases against them. Two judges, one in Austin and one in Newtown, issued default judgments against the defense—finding that because Jones and his rotating cast of attorneys had failed over the course of three years to participate in the legal process in good faith, his liability would be accepted by the courts as a matter of fact. (Default judgments are highly uncommon, reserved for situations in which a judge has determined that one party’s lack of participation amounts to a failure to respond to the lawsuit.)
All that was left was for juries to decide the dollar amount of the damages Jones had inflicted upon the families. But by filing a bankruptcy that included one of the parties to the lawsuit—InfoWars LLC—Jones was able to score a rare, if brief, legal win. Federal law requires that all civil court proceedings pause when a party enters bankruptcy, and thus the trial scheduled to begin on April 25 was postponed. Given that none of the Jones entities that had filed for bankruptcy held any tangible assets, had any employees, or conducted any discernible business, it appeared that the filing was a legal maneuver intended to dodge the public trial the Sandy Hook families had spent years seeking.
The hearing in Lopez’s courtroom was slated to address several lingering questions about how the bankruptcy might affect the civil cases. Like many proceedings in the COVID era, it involved lawyers, spectators, and interested parties who attended both virtually and in person at the judge’s courtroom in the southeast Texas city of Victoria, 126 miles from the Austin studio where Jones tapes his show.
On the video feed, one could find a pair of former federal bankruptcy judges whom Jones’s attorneys proposed as trustees to oversee the bankruptcy process; plaintiffs’ attorneys representing Sandy Hook families whose cases were filed in Connecticut; a New York Times reporter who had recently published a book about Jones and Sandy Hook; and someone appearing under the name “Doom Room,” dressed as a wizard, sitting in front of what appeared to be a castle’s turret, with podcasting equipment in front of him. Occasionally, the Doom Room feed would replace the live image with a static one of Jones, shirtless and ruddy-faced, the kind the Infowars host has a long history of posting. In the text chat that ran along the feed, Kelly Jones—Alex’s ex-wife—continually posted messages alleging various shady business dealings by her former husband.
In the courtroom, meanwhile, one of the lawyers representing Jones’s interests claimed that the bankruptcy was necessary to prevent a “financial deplatforming” of Infowars. He depicted Jones as the victim of cancel culture, and randomly brought up Elon Musk to make a point that no one quite seemed to grasp. When the hearing ended, the status of the bankruptcy filing remained unresolved. One thing, however, was clear: the next phase of Alex Jones’s legal saga was going to be a circus.
The first of the civil cases against Jones and Infowars was filed in April 2018. The plaintiff in that case, Marcel Fontaine, didn’t have a claim related to Sandy Hook; he sued because Infowars web editor Kit Daniels had posted an article that included a photo misidentifying him as the shooter in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida. (Perhaps proving that Infowars had learned something from its lawsuits, when Jones repeated a false claim that the shooter in the May 24 Uvalde school shooting had been transgender, Jones’s site didn’t post a photo of a wrongly identified individual.)
After Fontaine filed suit, several parents of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School contacted his lawyer, Mark Bankston of Houston, seeking to sue Jones for statements in which he claimed (among other things) that the shooting had been fake, that their children hadn’t been killed, and that the children may never have existed at all. The Infowars host had described the shooting, which killed twenty elementary-school students and six staff members, as “synthetic, completely fake, with actors,” part of a “false flag” operation in which “no one died,” and claimed the alleged victims had actually been “child actors.” As more Sandy Hook families filed suit, the number of plaintiffs in Connecticut rose to six, and three separate suits were filed in Texas (two on behalf of Sandy Hook families, and the one for Fontaine).
Initially, it appeared as if the cases might present some compelling constitutional questions about whether Jones’s speech was protected under the First Amendment. As they progressed, though, it became clear that the civil court trials weren’t going to be instructive about much of anything other than the challenges Jones faced in mounting a defense. He burned through at least eleven lawyers and found himself repeatedly fined and sanctioned for failures to comply with the pretrial discovery process and various court orders. The depositions from Free Speech Systems Inc.—when it sent a representative at all—were bizarre affairs. One corporate representative argued that when Jones claimed Sandy Hook was a hoax, he did so out of compassion for the grieving families. The host, he said, was so bighearted that he preferred to believe that such a thing hadn’t happened. Jones himself was prone to making non sequitur proclamations when he showed up for questioning, including “Epstein didn’t kill himself!”
If Jones had a constitutional argument for why his claims about Parkland and Sandy Hook were protected by the First Amendment, he didn’t make it—and his procession of nonspecialist lawyers, who entered the courtroom with all the job security of a Spinal Tap drummer, didn’t allow for much continuity. Over the course of nearly four years, Jones was fined at least $150,000 in Texas alone, and the cases reached their legal conclusion with findings in both Texas and Connecticut that the defendants had, in fact, defamed and intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon Fontaine and the Sandy Hook families.
In the default judgment issued by Travis County district court judge Maya Guerra Gamble, she said the ruling was appropriate because of Jones’s “general bad faith approach to litigation.” The judge in the Connecticut cases made the same determination—which meant the final question was not whether Jones was responsible for damages to those he’d defamed, it was how much those damages would be. The behavior of juries is hard to predict, especially in complex cases, but observers of the Jones trials believe the juries could award multimillion-dollar damages that might make it difficult for Infowars to survive.
Jones’s bankruptcy filing was a last-ditch effort to avoid having a series of juries determine the damages he would have to pay. It came after Jones made an offer of individual settlements of $120,000 to each of the plaintiffs in late March—an offer they rejected, and one that’s likely to be dwarfed by the figure their attorneys will seek. It was an unusual maneuver. Jones himself didn’t file for bankruptcy protection. Nor did Free Speech Systems Inc., the business entity that operates both Infowars and Jones’s chief money-making endeavor: the sales of dietary supplements called Brain Force Plus and Super Male Vitality. Instead, the bankruptcy filing was made by a handful of holding companies Jones had set up years before—InfoHealth LLC, InfoW LLC, and Prison Planet TV LLC—none of which had any employees, revenue, or assets beyond, perhaps, some intellectual property Jones had assigned to one of the entities.
F. Andino Reynal, the latest attorney to represent Jones in his civil cases, told me that the goal of the bankruptcy was to move the question of damages out of the civil court system and into the bankruptcy system, where creditors—including those Jones had defamed—could each receive a share of assets put up by a trust that Jones would establish. The plan was for Jones to use his assets—somewhere between $2.75 million and $10 million—on behalf of his bankrupt shell companies, with the guidance of two former bankruptcy judges.
The maneuver was similar to one used by the Sackler family when its Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy. In that high-profile case, the family avoided bankruptcy but received protections from lawsuits by providing a trust for its company to draw upon in settling future cases. Jones’s bankruptcy team appeared to model its ambitions after the Sacklers, making the move a low-risk, high-reward roll of the dice.
As the damages trial in Austin hurtled toward jury selection in late April, the bankruptcy gambit served one concrete purpose: it slowed down the proceedings. At a hearing on April 19, Judge Gamble made it clear that she was unimpressed by the move, though she acknowledged that the law required her to send the case to Lopez’s bankruptcy court before she could proceed with the trial. “The bankruptcy laws are allowing Infowars to commit an injustice,” she declared as she called an end to the hearing, warning that she anticipated the reprieve to be short-lived and expected the case to be remanded back to her courtroom. “I will be resetting this case at the earliest date I can get one hundred jurors seated again,” she said.
Jones’s ploy was a fairly straightforward one. He had already lost the civil suits, so there was little more to lose, even if Gamble did consider the bankruptcy filing “an injustice.” At worst, the case would be remanded back to her courtroom and Jones would enjoy the Pyrrhic victory of having delayed the jury trial the plaintiffs sought. At best, the bankruptcy court might provide a clean slate and a more sympathetic judge. In what appeared to be an attempt to boost the chances of that outcome, the bankruptcy was filed not in deep blue Austin but rather in bright red Victoria, where Jones had rented an office that same month.
But Jones rolled snake eyes. By early May, it was clear that the bankruptcy bid was doomed to fail. The Sandy Hook plaintiffs removed InfoW LLC from the civil lawsuits, which meant that none of the entities that had declared bankruptcy were party to the suits—rendering the bankruptcies moot and requiring the cases to be remanded back to the Travis County and Connecticut courts. That left Jones—along with Free Speech Systems Inc. and the Infowars cohosts who had been named in a handful of the suits, Kit Daniels and Owen Shroyer—as the defendants about to face the juries.
Soon, the Alex Jones circus will head back to the Travis County courthouse. The first trial is scheduled to begin July 25, which should give Gamble enough time to find a jury pool of Travis County residents who don’t know much about Alex Jones. Assuming there’s not another curveball or disruption, we can get a sense of who the cast of characters might include. Kelly Jones, who demonstrated outside the courthouse holding signs opposing her ex-husband back at the first hearing in 2018, will probably be there. Jones will have some lawyer (or lawyers) present, though whether it’ll be the same one who appeared the last time the case was in Gamble’s courtroom is an open question. (Gamble, for her part, was skeptical at the April 20 hearing. “We’ll see,” she told Reynal when he said he’d see her if the case was remanded back to her courtroom. “I’ve heard that before.”)
Jones himself might appear, or he might not—his record of showing up for depositions has been spotty throughout the lawsuits, including most recently in Connecticut, where he was held in contempt of court for failing to appear, claiming an illness even while he continued to broadcast his show. Whether or not he’s there, there’s likely to be a heavy media presence. (At a hearing in March, a documentary filmmaker working on a film for HBO about Jones and Sandy Hook negotiated with Gamble over where he could place his camera without obstructing the view of either the jury or other spectators in the courtroom.)
No one can say whether Jones possesses the assets that will allow him to come close to paying what he ends up owing the families. His financial records are difficult to parse; he responded to one court order requiring that he provide a full accounting of Free Speech Systems’s assets by delivering a two-page bank statement, which was odd for a company with revenues that one of his attorneys estimated at $56 million for 2021. Free Speech Systems claims to be more than $50 million in debt to a holding company that Jones controls, while Jones claims to be indebted to himself to the tune of $23 million, because of negative equity in Free Speech Systems. Even if the jury in the first trial awards a small dollar amount, additional juries—there will be two more trials to come in Texas, as well as another in Connecticut—will have their say.
What everyone who logged on for the bankruptcy court hearing in April tuned in to watch wasn’t just a court case. It was quite possibly the beginning of the end of Alex Jones and Infowars, at least in their current form. Given the outsized influence Jones has had on the country’s political environment over the past decade, that will be something worth tuning into—whether at the courthouse or from home, or safely ensconced within the turrets of your Doom Room. He is, after all—as his various lawyers have argued, repeatedly, through the years—an entertainer.