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Bill Ogden gives Scarlett Lewis, mother of 6-year-old Sandy Hook shooting victim Jesse Lewis, a hug after jurors return a punitive damages verdict of $45.2 million against Alex Jones at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas, U.S. August 5, 2022. This is in addition to the $4.1 million he was ordered to pay on August 4, 2022.POOL/Reuters

Shannon Proudfoot is an Ottawa-based journalist.

In the hours after the 20 children of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, were massacred by a gunman, the desperate families gathered in a firehouse as authorities sorted the living from the dead. The relatively fortunate were reunited with their traumatized children and went home together. When the remaining parents were told that if they were still waiting, it meant that their children were dead, reporters could hear their screaming from outside on the street.

Afterward, Veronique Pozner wanted to see her six-year-old son Noah’s body because she thought she owed it to him. “As a little boy, you have to go in the ground. If I am going to shut my eyes to that I am not his mother,” she said. “I had to bear it. I had to do it.”

She made sure that then-governor Dannel Malloy, when he came to the funeral home, saw Noah too, with his beautiful eyelashes spread out on his cheeks, just above a cloth covering the space where his jaw should have been. If the governor ever had to deal with gun control legislation, Ms. Pozner wanted him to know exactly what it meant.

Months later, the house where seven-year-old Daniel Barden had lived became a museum preserving the achingly tangible remnants of his presence: the foosball table untouched by anyone else because he had played it last, a sticky toy from a vending machine still on the ceiling where he threw it. “I’m always one minute farther away from my life with Daniel,” his father Mark wrote at one point. “The gulf keeps getting bigger.”

I list these details not to be lurid, but because that is the waking nightmare to which those families were sentenced on Dec. 14, 2012. For a fellow parent, their pain is quite literally unthinkable; you can try imagining yourself as them and their children as your own, but your brain will recoil out of sheer self-protection. To truly empathize with loss like theirs is like trying to gaze at the surface of the sun.

But Alex Jones – who is a parent himself – viewed their unfathomable grief with the eye of a boardwalk grifter. Mr. Jones has spent the decade since the shooting falsely braying to his large Infowars audience that the Sandy Hook massacre never happened – that these anguished parents were actors hired to perform a conspiracy pantomime and that their dead children were nothing more than scripted lies. He turned the murders of Noah, Daniel and their 18 classmates – and the obliterating pain of their families – into something no different from the snake oil supplements or bug-eyed survivalist gear that he flogs on his show: a product, a branding opportunity, a cash cow.

The Sandy Hook families endured a loss that surely levelled them to the ground, and then they had to pick themselves up to go on with their daily lives and raise their surviving children. But even while staggering under that weight, they’ve also somehow had to find the energy to deal with endless threats and accusations from Mr. Jones’s swarm of followers, forcing some families to move or go into hiding because of the screeching intensity of the harassment. That inhumanity was shovelled on top of their grief, even as Mr. Jones filled his pockets with Infowars money.

Some of the families also found the strength to endure the circus required to take Mr. Jones to court, which is how we arrived at the small and deeply imperfect measure of justice meted out late last week, when a jury ordered Mr. Jones to pay nearly US$50-million in damages.

In a sign of the sheer malice and madness at work here, one of the significant moments of the trial came when he acknowledged that the Sandy Hook massacre was “100 per cent real.” It was treated as a newsmaking concession for him to admit that the grief these parents have been buckling under – the worst thing that could ever happen to someone – was real. And then he turned his pockets inside out and mewed about how it would break him to pay for his lies.

It’s probably too much to hope for any real measure of contrition or enlightenment here; if Mr. Jones and his followers were capable of that, they would not have spent a decade hounding the parents of murdered children in the first place.

So perhaps the best available outcome is this: make Mr. Jones pay for his evil in the same cynical currency with which he profited from it. And then hope that it buys a little blessed silence and peace for these parents, still mourning the little children who should have been teenagers by now.

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