Berliner Tageblatt - US court allows sale of conspiracy theorist's assets but spares business

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US court allows sale of conspiracy theorist's assets but spares business
US court allows sale of conspiracy theorist's assets but spares business / Photo: © AFP

US court allows sale of conspiracy theorist's assets but spares business

A US judge on Friday approved the liquidation of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' personal assets, setting the stage for the repayment of a fraction of the nearly $1.5 billion in damages he owes families whose loved ones were killed in a school shooting.

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But the bankruptcy judge in Houston spared Jones from liquidating the parent company of his far-right website InfoWars -- long notorious for peddling misinformation -- in a reprieve that will allow it to remain in business.

The serial provocateur had been ordered to pay the damages for calling a 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in the state of Connecticut –- which left 20 first graders and six adults dead -- a "hoax."

But Jones subsequently declared personal bankruptcy in Texas, his home state, in 2022, saying his liabilities far exceeded his private assets that the latest court filings show are worth around $9 million.

Free Speech Systems, the Texas-based parent company of InfoWars, also declared bankruptcy.

The judge on Friday allowed Jones to convert his personal bankruptcy case into a straightforward liquidation, which will yield only a small fraction of the damages awarded to the victims' families.

The ruling means many of Jones' personal assets -- including a Texas ranch worth about $2.8 million -- will be sold off to help pay the debts. Some assets, such as his home in the Austin area, are exempt from bankruptcy liquidation, reports said.

Jones would have lost control of the lucrative InfoWars business empire if the court had ordered the liquidation of the parent company.

Before the ruling, Jones had been warning his vast right-wing audience that his company was on the verge of being shut down.

Earlier Friday, one headline on his website read: "This could be THE LAST broadcast of Infowars! DO NOT miss this!"

But after the judge's decision, InfoWars hailed the "amazing victory" for the website in court, allowing it to "stay in business."

"We gotta celebrate the fact that we're not dead yet," Jones said.

- Misinformation profiteer -

There was no immediate reaction from the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Jones, widely branded as a misinformation profiteer, appears to have amassed a fortune by successfully merging the conspiracy theories with merchandise and dietary supplements from his InfoWars store.

The site hawked male vitality supplements and testosterone boosters, while claiming the government was feminizing men or turning them gay by using chemical pollutants.

His audience, he claimed, can survive various doomsday scenarios with other products that his store can supply -- storable food, body armor and even components for homemade guns.

In his latest posts on X, formerly Twitter, Jones urged his 2.3 million followers to support another website -- Dr. Jones' Naturals -- which offered similar products available on InfoWars.

The lucrative trade, misinformation experts say, highlights the financial incentive of content creators to push out conspiratorial material that has potential to go viral.

Experts say that showcases the challenge of curbing misinformation on the internet, where false and inflammatory content often spreads faster, generates more engagement -- and more revenue -– than the truth.

US citizens and pro-democracy groups are now increasingly using defamation lawsuits as a tool to hold misinformation spreaders accountable.

The families whose loved ones were killed in the Connecticut shooting say they have been harassed and threatened for years by Jones's fans, with strangers showing up at their homes to confront them and hurling abuse online.

Some even reported receiving rape and death threats.

C.Kovalenko--BTB