Infowars founder Alex Jones lashed out when he testified in a tense Connecticut courtroom on Thursday as part of a defamation lawsuit that will determine how much he should pay the relatives of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre.
The far-right conspiracy theorist and broadcaster, known for emotional outbursts during his shows, appeared frustrated on several counts and said he would not apologize further for popularizing the false claim that the shooting in Newtown, Conn., was a hoax.
“Is this a battle session? Are we in China?” Jones asked, referring to Maoist gatherings where people were publicly humiliated after plaintiffs’ attorney Chris Mattei pointed out the victims’ relatives in court. “I’ve said I’m sorry hundreds of times, and I’m done saying I’m sorry.”
The deadly shooting of 26 people, including 20 children, made headlines for years on Infowars and other fringe websites promoting the baseless claim that the victims’ relatives were “crisis actors” involved in a government “false flag operation” that was to the Second Amendment rights. Jones went on to acknowledge that the massacre was “100 percent real” and that it was irresponsible to say otherwise.
Jones was convicted in a separate lawsuit in Texas in August to pay more than $45 million in damages to parents of a Sandy Hook victim. He lost the Connecticut lawsuit after Judge Barbara Bellis ruled in November that he defaulted on liability after refusing to hand over financial records and other court-ordered documents. Infowars and its parent company, Free Speech Systems LLC, filed for bankruptcy protection this year as the Sandy Hook families filed for civil suit.
Though Jones was equanimous for much of his testimony, sometimes verbal joust with Mattei. His own lawyer also struggled to stop him from giving elaborate answers when he woke up.
Bellis repeatedly asked the jurors to leave the courtroom so that the scope of Jones’ answers could be discussed with the attorneys. The frequency of their departure led her to joke that they were getting their exercise for the day.
During the hour-long session, Jones used one of Mattei’s questions to enter the address of a website that accepts cryptocurrency contributions. He also answered “no” when asked if his credibility was most important to his audience, stressing that his focus was on “crushing the globalists”.
“Alex Jones is probably the most unsympathetic litigant I’ve seen in a long time,” said Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University.
“This is a case of punishment, deterrence and healing people,” she said.
An Infowars representative was not immediately available at the beginning of Friday.
How the right Alex Jones built up – even after his Sandy Hook comments
In one exchange, Mattei accused Jones of putting targets on the backs of Sandy Hook parents, in a clear reference to his claim that they were crisis actors. The lawyer referred to parents in court, calling them “real people,” to which Jones replied, “Just like all the Iraqis you, liberals, have killed and loved.”
“You’re incredible. You turn emotions on, on and off, whenever you want. You’re just chasing an ambulance,” Jones added.
The size and scope of the damages awarded by the jury will be closely monitored at a time of heightened concern about online misinformation and misinformation.
“It matters what these statements are because it tells us how much we think people are harmed by this kind of speech,” Levinson said. “It tells us that this could be an effective way to try and take out the Alex Joneses of the world.”
Details of the case — such as whether the jury is convinced Jones’ false statements were deliberate lies — will help determine the type and extent of the damage, said Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California in Los Angeles.
“If you want to convince the jury of punitive damages, you have to show that it is more than just an honest mistake,” said Volokh, a free speech expert.
A Jones attorney had argued that damage should be limited and that the victims’ relatives had exaggerated the damage caused by his client’s false claims, the Associated Press reported.
Several relatives of the Sandy Hook victims took a 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 who falsely claimed the shooting was a hoax.
Jennifer Hensel, whose daughter Avielle was killed in the shooting and whose husband committed suicide in 2019, testified that some conspiracy theorists said they believed she staged the tragedy and that her child was still alive.
“God, if it were, wouldn’t that be great?” she said, her voice breaking.
The trial resumes Friday and Jones will continue to testify.