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Alex Jones' Infowars files for bankruptcy after Sandy Hook defamation lawsuits

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Three companies founded by conspiracy theorist and right-wing broadcaster Alex Jones filed for bankruptcy yesterday. Jones faces yet another defamation lawsuit set for next week in Texas. This is one of many civil suits filed by the families of victims of the Sandy Hook school shootings in 2012. NPR's John Burnett joins us from Austin, Texas, where Infowars is based. Hey, John.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Explain why Alex Jones has all these lawsuits against him.

BURNETT: Right. Jones has been advancing conspiracy plots for years now from the false claim that the attacks on 9/11 were an inside job to the recent lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. But his falsehoods about the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., really got personal. Remember; a deranged gunman massacred 20 children and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Jones claimed that it didn't really happen, that the kids were still alive, and the grieving parents were actually actors and that it was all just one big government plot to take your guns.

And so what happened is some of the show's followers swallowed this lie, and they started menacing some of the victims' families. Since then, 10 family members have sued Jones for defamation and emotional distress in Connecticut and here in Texas. And so far, judges have found Jones liable for default - by default for no-shows and not turning over evidence.

SHAPIRO: And how has he reacted to all these lawsuits?

BURNETT: Well, the Chapter 11 filings claim that his companies have spent over $10 million to defend himself. As for Alex Jones, he's recanted and said the killings did actually happen. Here he is on his radio show earlier this month.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "INFOWARS")

ALEX JONES: I could've done a better job on Sandy Hook. Some of the anomalies that we reported on were not accurate, and I admitted it years before I was sued. But the issue is this is all about them being holier than thou, and they're the ones that love you, and Alex Jones is the devil.

BURNETT: The court filings say the company has up to $50,000 in assets and as much as $10 million in liabilities.

SHAPIRO: Bankruptcy filing can be a strategy or a tactic. Is Alex Jones really bankrupt?

BURNETT: Exactly. I spoke with one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Mark Bankston, in Houston today. He says the bankruptcy filing is just another of Jones' stunts. It's a delaying tactic. And he says these bankrupt companies are basically shell entities, and Jones has his money stashed elsewhere, and he's far from broke.

SHAPIRO: What do we know about the source of his income?

BURNETT: Well, he's been selling merchandise from his online store for years. Here's an example from that same radio show.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "INFOWARS")

JONES: We have more than 60,000 T-shirts all being sold right now at cost at infowarsstore.com. It's our mega blowout sale.

BURNETT: The New York Times journalist Elizabeth Williamson has a new book out called "Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy And The Battle For Truth." She's been tracking Alex Jones for years. And she quotes court documents in which he revealed that Infowars brought in $50 million a year in its heyday. Williamson says that he makes his big money on things like survivalist gear, dietary supplements and components for ghost guns.

ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON: His business model is ingenious in that his products cater to the paranoia and the worries of his listeners.

BURNETT: She says his products stoke a distrust of the federal government.

SHAPIRO: That's a staggering figure - $50 million a Year. Well, Alex Jones has been called out by extremism watchdogs for his hate speech. What's the status of Infowars today?

BURNETT: So he's been banned from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, all the big platforms. And today he broadcasts from his website, and the show is heard on a hundred radio stations. And an analyst who tracks extremism says Alex Jones is living proof of where we are in America - that one man can make handsome profits by dividing us and stoking anger.

SHAPIRO: NPR's John Burnett. Thanks a lot.

BURNETT: You bet, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF LITTLE PEOPLE'S "ELECTRICKERY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.