Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones took a stand Thursday at his Connecticut libel trial as he tried to limit the damages he had to pay for promoting the lie that the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax.
More than a dozen family members of some of the 20 children and six educators killed in the shooting also showed up to observe his testimony at Waterbury Superior Court, about 20 miles from Newtown, where the shooting took place.
One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Christopher Mattei, showed a video from Jones’ web program Infowars calling the mass shooting “bogus as a three dollar bill” and calling the victims’ parents “crisis actors”.
“Mr. Jones, if someone falsely claims that a group of families who have lost loved ones are actors and have faked the deaths of their loved ones, that would be a horrible thing to say, right?” Mattei asked Jones before showing the video.
“In context, it could be yes,” Jones replied.
Jones had portrayed the Sandy Hook shooting as staged by actors as part of gun control efforts.
On Wednesday he held a press conference outside the courtroom, crushing the proceedings, as he did on his Infowars program – as a “parody of justice”. He made similar comments on Thursday on his way to court, indicating that he could invoke his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination and not answer some questions.
“This isn’t really a process,” he said. “This is a show trial, a real kangaroo court.”
Judge Barbara Bellis held Jones accountable last year in absentia for damages to plaintiffs without trial, as punishment for what she called her repeated failure to deliver documents to their lawyers. Only the six-member jury will decide how much Jones and Free Speech Systems, Infowars’ parent company, should pay families for defaming them and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.
Bellis began the day by reviewing matters she cannot testify about with Jones. These included free speech rights, the Sandy Hook families’ $ 73 million US deal earlier this year with weapons manufacturer Remington – the company that produced the Bushmaster rifle used to kill victims in Sandy Hook – or the percentage of Jones shows that have discussed Sandy Hook.
“This is not the proper forum to offer that testimony,” Bellis said. Jones indicated that he understood.
Bellis said in court that she was prepared to handle any incendiary testimony from Jones, disregarding prosecution if necessary.
But Thursday’s first testimony began with Jones agreeing that her website had portrayed Bellis as an online “tyrant” this week, with a laser-edited image emanating from her eyes. Within the first hour, there were frequent breaks in the testimony and the jury was apologized twice as the respective legal teams confronted what could be said in the public hearing.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys asked Jones if he believed Bellis was a tyrant and if he called many people tyrants.
“Only when they do that,” he said.
Relatives witness massacres, great disinformation
Several relatives of the victims, meanwhile, emotionally testified during the trial that they were traumatized by people they called the shooting fake, including clashes in their homes and in public, and messages that included death threats and rape.
Plaintiffs include an FBI agent who responded to the shooting and relatives of eight of the victims.
The testimony earlier in the week focused on analytics data from websites run by Infowars employees showing how sales of dietary supplements, food, clothing and other items increased over the period Jones spoke about the Sandy shooting. Hook.
Evidence, including e-mails and Infowars internal depositions, also shows dissension within the company over the spread of hoax lies.
Jones’ attorney Norman Pattis argues that any harm should be limited and accused the relatives of the victims of exaggerating the harm the lies have caused them. Relatives of those killed have testified that they continue to fear for their safety because of what the false believers have done and could do.
Jennifer Hensel, whose six-year-old daughter Avielle Richman was among those killed, testified Wednesday that she continues to monitor her surroundings, including checking the back seat of her car, for safety reasons. She said that she is trying to protect her two children, ages seven and five, from lies. A juror cried during her testimony.
“They are so young,” he said of his children. “Their innocence is so beautiful right now. And at some point there is a horde of people out there who could harm them.”
Expensive Texas verdict
Jones was found liable for default in two similar lawsuits for the hoax located in his hometown of Austin, Texas, where a jury in one of the trials ordered Jones last month to pay nearly $ 50 million in damages. to the parents of one of the children killed, although state laws may limit the damage it ultimately pays.
A third trial in Texas is expected to begin later this year.
Jones acknowledged raising conspiracy claims about other mass tragedies, from the Oklahoma City and Boston Marathon bombings to mass shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida. In 2017, he apologized live for promoting the hoax that a Washington restaurant was a child trafficking site, the so-called Pizzagate case which led to a disturbing shooting incident.
Ideas54:00IDEAS from the trenches: the practice of conspiracy
Removed from social media platforms
Jones also immersed himself in politics on his show. He promoted stolen election demands after Donald Trump lost the 2020 election and was in Washington, DC, before the Capitol uprising.
“I don’t know how it will turn out, but if they want to fight, they better believe they have one,” Jones said at a demonstration in Washington on Jan. 5, in a widely shared video.
The then-candidate Trump said at the end of a 2015 appearance on the Jones show: “I just want to conclude by saying that your reputation is incredible.”
Since then, most major social media companies have removed Jones’ program, citing violations of the platform’s rules.