Infowars founder Alex Jones lashed out as he testified in a tense Connecticut courtroom Thursday as part of a defamation trial that will determine how much he should pay to the relatives of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre.
The far-right conspiracy theorist and host, known for emotional outbursts on his shows, appeared frustrated at several points and said he would not make further apologies for popularizing the false claim that the shooting in Newtown, Conn., was a hoax.
“Is this a struggle session? Are we in China?” Jones asked, referring to Maoist rallies where people were publicly humiliated, after an attorney for the plaintiffs, Chris Mattei, pointed out the victims’ family members in the courtroom. “I’ve already said I’m sorry hundreds of times, and I’m done saying I’m sorry.”
The fatal shooting of 26 people, including 20 children, sustained headlines for years on Infowars and other fringe websites that propagated the baseless assertion that the victims’ family members were “crisis actors” involved in a government “false-flag operation” designed to curtail Second Amendment rights. Jones has subsequently acknowledged that the massacre was “100 percent real” and that it was irresponsible to say otherwise.
Jones was ordered in August in a separate Texas trial to pay more than $45 million in damages to parents of a Sandy Hook victim. He lost the Connecticut trial after Judge Barbara Bellis ruled in November that he was liable by default after refusing to turn over financial records and other documents ordered by the court. Infowars and its parent company, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy protection this year as the Sandy Hook families pursued civil litigation.
Though Jones was even-tempered for much of his testimony, he sometimes verbally jousted with Mattei. His own lawyer also struggled to stop him from providing elaborate answers when roused.
Bellis repeatedly asked jurors to leave the courtroom so that the scope of Jones’s answers could be discussed with the lawyers. The frequency of their departures led her to joke that they were getting their exercise for the day.
In the hours-long session, Jones used one of Mattei’s questions to plug the address of a website accepting cryptocurrency contributions. He also answered “no” to the question of whether his credibility was the most important thing to his audience, insisting that his focus was on “crushing the globalists.”
“Alex Jones is probably the most unsympathetic litigant I’ve seen in quite a long period of time,” said Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University.
“This is a case about punishment, deterrence and making people whole,” she said.
A representative for Infowars could not be immediately reached early Friday.
In one exchange, Mattei accused Jones of putting targets on Sandy Hook parents’ backs, in an apparent reference to his claim that they were crisis actors. The attorney referenced parents in the courtroom, calling them “real people,” to which Jones responded: “Just like all the Iraqis you liberals killed and loved.”
“You’re unbelievable. You switch on emotions, on and off, when you want. You’re just ambulance chasing,” Jones added.
The size and scope of damages awarded by the jury will be closely watched at a time of heightened concern about online misinformation and disinformation.
“It matters what these verdicts are because it tells us how much we think people are harmed by this type of speech,” Levinson said. “It tells us that this might be an effective way to try to shut down the Alex Joneses of the world.”
Details of the case — such as whether the jury is convinced that Jones’s false statements were deliberate lies — will help determine the type and the size of damages, said Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“If you’re going to try to persuade the jury toward punitive damages, you’ve got to show that it’s more than just an honest mistake,” said Volokh, an expert on free-speech law.
An attorney for Jones had argued that damages should be limited and that the victims’ relatives had exaggerated the harm that his client’s false assertions had caused, the Associated Press reported.
Several relatives of the Sandy Hook victims took the stand this week to share stories of being forced to travel under false names for security purposes and being told they would go to hell by those falsely claiming the shooting was a hoax.
Jennifer Hensel, whose daughter Avielle was killed in the shooting and whose husband took his own life in 2019, testified that some conspiracy theorists said they believed that she helped fake the tragedy and that her child was still alive.
“God, if she were, wouldn’t that be amazing?” she said, her voice cracking.
The trial is set to resume Friday, and Jones is scheduled to continue testifying.