“With Sandy Hook, it took me about a year to realize that everything was fake.” This is what radio host and conspiracy theory peddler Alex Jones said on his InfoWars show in 2014. Now, eight years later, Jones is on trial in a defamation case in which two parents of children who died in a 2012 school massacre are seeking $150. million compensation.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis are seeking damages not only for emotional harm caused by claims the massacre was a “false flag” attack designed to promote stricter gun control laws, but also for death threats from people who believed in the conspiracy theory Jones espoused. .
The defamation lawsuit centers on comments Hesley made during a 2017 television interview with Megan Kelly. “I caught my son with a bullet hole in the head,” Heslin said, recalling the day of the Sandy Hook shooting. Shortly after the interview aired, InfoWars host Owen Shroyer disputed Hesley’s claim, claiming that the timeline of events made it “impossible” for her to have cradled her child.
The Texas trial, which began on July 25, is the first of three trials against Jones over his claims about Sandy Hook. Jones has been found guilty of defamation in each case, and the courts are now deciding how much he should pay in damages. Here’s everything you need to know about the ongoing trial.
Who is Alex Jones and what was Sandy Hook?
Alex Jones is a media personality best known for his radio and YouTube show InfoWars. Jones, 48, is a conservative and an avid conspiracy theorist. Jones has championed conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate, the idea that a Washington pizzeria was involved in a child sex trafficking ring sponsored by several high-ranking Democrats, and the recently discredited theory that Donald Trump could win the 2020 election. Jones is known to have helped fund the pro-Trump rallies that led to the siege of the capital on January 5 and 6.
A recurring theme in Jones’s theories is the concept of a “false flag” operation—an event staged to precipitate political action. He said the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which left one person dead when white nationalists and neo-Nazis clashed with local counter-protesters, was a false flag operation to “try to take down Trump.” He accused Jason Kessler, the organizer of the right-wing rally, of being a federal agent.
Sandy Hook In 2012, there was a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. 20-year-old Adam saw Lanza shoot and kill 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.
Despite the strange conspiracies Jones carries out, he enjoys a large and influential audience. The YouTube channel for InfoWars had 2 million subscribers before the platform was launched in 2018. (.) Former President Donald Trump appeared on his show in 2015 when he was running for the presidency.
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 Alex Jones say about Sandy Hook?
Of all the 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 enforce 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. “Why did Hitler blow up the Reichstag? To gain control,” he said on the show, “why do governments stage this? To get our guns!”
Jones began to question the legitimacy of the parents whose children were killed in the massacre. A day after the shooting, angry parent Robbie Parker was seen holding a rolled-up sheet of paper before making a statement to the media about his daughter’s death. Jones claimed the paper was evidence of a conspiracy: “It appears that members of the media or government have given him a card and are telling him what to say in response to this incident,” Jones wrote in InfoWars.
Jones later claimed on InfoWars that several parents were laughing with joy before being interviewed by the media and immediately burst into tears.
“The whole thing was a giant hoax,” Jones said in 2014. “It took me about a year with Sandy Hook to realize it was all fake.”
Crucial to Jones’ defamation suit against Heslin and Lewis are statements he made on Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly in 2017 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 his six-year-old son, who died in the shooting. InfoWars host Owen Shroyer suggested that Heslin made up some or all of the story on the June 26, 2017 episode of InfoWars.
“This was reported by the fact checkers [it] 2018 may not be accurate according to court documents,” Shroyer said. “She claims she grabbed her son and saw a bullet hole in his head. This is his claim. Now, according to the timeline of events and the coroner’s testimony, this is impossible.”
Shroyer, who testified in court on July 28 and 29, admitted that he did not properly verify the report that contained his comments about Hesley’s allegations.
Why were the parents threatened with death?
Several parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre said they received abuse and death threats from people who believed they were actors in a staged incident. “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 are going to die, death will come very soon.” Another man was arrested after he approached the sister of slain teacher Victoria Soto and “furiously accused” 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 7 times in the past 6 years due to safety concerns. “Alex Jones looks like him [WWE] Posner, who also 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’s at stake with 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. Among the first high-profile accounts, Alex Jones played a crucial role in this balancing act..
Alex 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 lies.”
For his part, Jones is trying to recast the trial as a debate about free speech. When he appeared in court on July 26, he was covered in First Amendment tape with the words “Save 1” written on it. “If questioning public events and free speech are banned because they might hurt someone’s feelings, we are no longer in America,” Jones said in a statement last month.
Jones went on to air episodes of InfoWars in which he criticized the case as a “show trial” and a “distraction.”