On multiple occasions, radio host and conspiracy theory peddler Alex Jones has used his InfoWars show to falsely and unsubstantiatedly claim that the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was fake. Jones took the stand Wednesday to determine damages in a defamation lawsuit filed by the parents of a child who died in a school shooting seeking $150 million in damages.
The Texas trial, which began on July 25, is one of three similar cases against Jones related to allegations related to the Sandy Hook massacre in Newton, Connecticut. Jones has been found guilty of defamation in each case, and the courts are now deciding how much he should pay in damages.
On Wednesday, Jones faced questions from the plaintiff and his defense team, as well as jurors. In response to questions from attorney Andino Renal, Jones said he understands it’s irresponsible to believe a mass shooting is fake, adding, “It’s 100% real.”
Mark Bankston, an attorney for the Sandy Hook parents, presented a segment on Jones’ InfoWars show that aired last week. made false claims About Judge Maya Guerra Gamble. Bankston also showed another clip from InfoWars in which Jones called the jury “extremely blue-collar” and said they didn’t know what planet they were on.
Then, in a move that surprised Jones, Bankston revealed that the defense had accidentally sent it to him The entire texting history of Jones’ phone. This evidence contradicts Jones’ sworn statement that he did not have the Sandy Hook texts. The Rolling Stone reported on Wednesday that it is preparing to subpoena those texts and emails.
After both the prosecution and the defense had no further questions, the jury wrote questions for Jones to read to the judge. One of the jurors asked what compensation would be appropriate for Jones’ parents. He said Any amount over $2 million will “sink us.” In earlier questions from the plaintiff, Jones confirmed that at one point his show was making $800,000 a day.
Both sides adjourned Wednesday, planning to make closing arguments later in the afternoon.
In that lawsuit, parents Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis are seeking $150 million in damages not only for emotional harm caused by false claims that the massacre was a “false flag” attack designed to promote stricter gun control laws, but also for receiving death threats. People who believe in the discredited conspiracy theory advocated by Jones.
“I can’t even begin to describe the hell that I and others have had to endure for the last nine and a half years, because of the recklessness and negligence of Alex Jones,” Heslin said in court Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.
The defamation lawsuit centers on comments made by Heslin during a 2017 television interview with broadcaster Megyn Kelly and how InfoWars interpreted her statements to fit its story. “I caught my son with a bullet hole in the head,” Heslin said of his 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, recalling the Sandy Hook shooting. Shortly after the interview aired, InfoWars host Owen Shroyer claimed, without any evidence, that the timeline made it “impossible” for her to hold her child.
Here’s everything you need to know about ongoing legal transactions.
Who is Jones and what was Sandy Hook?
Alex Jones, 48, is an extremist, avid conspiracy theorist, and media personality best known for his radio and YouTube show InfoWars. Jones, who lives in Austin, Texas, has promoted conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate, the hoax that a Washington pizzeria was involved in a child sex trafficking ring sponsored by senior Democrats. The debunked claim that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Jones is known to have helped fund the pro-Trump rallies that precipitated the attack on the US Capitol on January 5 and 6, 2021.
A recurring theme of Jones’ allegations is the concept of a “false flag” operation — an event staged to incite political action. Jones said, without evidence, that the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was a false flag operation to “try to take down Trump.” Jones falsely accused white nationalist and neo-Nazi rally organizer Jason Kessler of being a federal agent. Local resident Heather Heyer was killed when a man drove his car into a group of protesters.
In the Sandy Hook massacre, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot 27 people. Lanza first shot and killed his mother at home, then moved to the school and killed 20 children and six adult staff members before killing himself.
Among the strange conspiracies Jones carries out, he enjoys a large and influential audience. Former President Donald Trump appeared on the show in 2015 when he was running for the presidency. The YouTube channel for InfoWars had 2 million subscribers before the platform was launched in 2018. (In April,Although the reasons for this may be related to current defamation claims.)
InfoWars producer Daria Karpova said in court on July 29 that she earned more than $165 million over three years. Most of that money came from products sold on the website, including health supplements and survival tools.
What did Jones say about Sandy Hook?
Of all the extreme conspiracy theories espoused by Jones, the claim that Sandy Hook was a “hoax” is the most famous. Jones at one point argued that the massacre was a false flag operation designed by the Obama administration to regulate stricter gun laws.
“My opinion is that the timing and everything that happened was staged,” Jones said on the day of the massacre. He compared the shooting to Adolf Hitler’s 1933 plan to seize total power by burning down the German parliament and declaring martial law. He said in the program, “Why did Hitler blow up the Reichstag? To gain control.” “Why are governments staging this? To get our guns!”
Jones began to question the legitimacy of parents whose children were killed at Sandy Hook. A day after the shooting, a grieving Robbie Parker was seen holding a folded piece of paper before making a statement to the media about his daughter’s death. Jones claimed, without any evidence, that the paper was evidence of a conspiracy involving the media or the government.
Jones later falsely claimed on InfoWars that several parents were laughing before being interviewed by the media and immediately burst into tears.
Crucial to Jones’ defamation case are statements he made on a 2017 episode of Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly and a subsequent episode of InfoWars.
“I lost my son, I buried my son, I had my son with a bullet hole in the head,” Heslin said of the first-grader who died in the shooting. InfoWars host Owen Shroyer suggested that Heslin made up some or all of the story.
Shroyer, who testified in court on July 28 and 29, admitted that he did not properly verify the report that contained his comments about Heslin.
Why are Sandy Hook parents receiving death threats?
Several parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre said they received constant abuse and death threats from people they believed to be the actors in the act.
“Alex lit the fire that started the fire,” Heslin said in court Tuesday. “Other people brought some wood to add to it.”
One such criminal was a 57-year-old woman who was arrested in 2017 for sending a voice message to her grieving parent saying, “You’re going to die, death is coming very soon.” Another man has been arrested after he approached the sister of slain teacher Victoria Soto, falsely and “outragedly accusing” that Sandy Hook didn’t happen and that Soto “never existed.”
In testimony Tuesday, Heslin said he was bullied online and on the street, and that shots were fired at his home and car.
“My life is in danger,” he told the jury. “I fear for my life, I fear for my safety.”
Lenny Posner, another father of a Sandy Hook victim, told Now This News in 2018 that his family had moved seven times in the previous six years because of safety concerns.
“Alex Jones looks like him [WWE] Posner, who won a defamation lawsuit against Jones last year, said: “Some people enjoy it, they can suspend their disbelief and enjoy what they hear. “Some people look at it and think it’s real.”
Jones defended himself, saying he never actively incited violence. “I never said don’t go to people’s houses,” Jones said at the 2019 Joe Rogan Experience.
What is at stake in a defamation lawsuit?
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have struggled to deal with misinformation, striking a balance between protecting free speech and preventing harmful misinformation. Jones was a central figure in the fight, one of the first high-profile accounts.
Jones’ ongoing legal battles will determine whether US courts are an effective recourse for victims of harmful misinformation. Mark Bankston, a lawyer for Heslin and Lewis, told the jury: “Speech is free, but you have to pay for lying.”
For his part, Jones attempted to recast the trial as a debate about free speech. When he appeared in court on July 26, he appeared with a tape over his mouth that read “Save the 1st,” invoking the First Amendment.
“If questioning public events and free speech is banned because it might hurt someone’s feelings, we are no longer in America,” Jones said in a deposition last month.
The First Amendment does, however, address government efforts to restrict speech. It does not apply to individuals or businesses, and defamation cases by definition refer to damages caused by false or malicious statements.
Jones went on to air episodes of InfoWars, where he dismissed the case as a “show case” and a “distraction”.