Alex Jones’s second defamation trial brought by the families of Sandy Hook victims began in a Connecticut court Tuesday morning. The longtime talk show host and influential far-right conspiracy theorist repeatedly asserted over years to his listeners that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, where 26 people, including 20 children under the age of 8, were killed, did not happen.
“We’re all here because of one man,” Chris Mattei, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said in his opening remarks this morning as he introduced the families of survivors of the shooting.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs and Alex Jones have both made their opening statements in the trial this morning. Mattei, who is representing the families of eight victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting and an FBI agent who worked in the aftermath, went first.
“I want you to think about what it has to have millions of fear-stricken people” who “believe that they’re having their rights taken away” mobilized against the survivors’ families, he said, referring to his argument that in the hours after the shooting, Jones began to allege that the shooting was a false flag operation, a term for the belief that events are fabricated to justify the government taking citizens’ guns away.
“Days after the shooting, Alex Jones’s listeners latched onto this,” Mattei said, noting that within hours of the shooting, the Infowars homepage blared the headline “Looks Like a False Flag.”
Mattei argued that in December 2012, the month of the shooting, Infowars had 24.9 million page views, “up 43%.” “Funerals [of the victims] had to have security.” Infowars, he said, “knew about the harassment that was happening, but the lie was too valuable.” That audience, he said, “meant dollar signs to Alex Jones. You’ll see that over the years, Alex Jones had to keep the lie going.”
Mattei focused on Jones’s allegedly huge financial motive for continuing to broadcast about Sandy Hook for years because this case is to determine damages, which have the potential to be very large.
Jones’s attorney, Norman Pattis, chose to center his argument on the victims’ families bringing the suit, saying, “they’re exaggerating their claims for ulterior motives,” and “money is their weapon,” calling them politically motivated, while downplaying Alex Jones’s influence in the world.
“Chemicals in the water might be turning frogs gay,” Pattis said, referencing another outlandish theory that Jones has focused on over the years, seeming to suggest that Jones’s words shouldn’t be taken seriously.
“They’ve made a scapegoat of Alex Jones,” Pattis said of the victim’s families, ending on the ominous question, “First they came for Alex Jones. Who’s next?”
The court went into a brief recess after the judge noted that she had bounced someone from the room after they recorded some part of the proceedings and posted it to Twitter. “I’m not playing around,” she said, before dismissing the jury.
At the time of the opening remarks, Jones was broadcasting live on Infowars.
Jones’s damages in this trial will be decided by a six-member jury. In August, a jury in Texas awarded the parents of a 6-year-old child killed at Sandy Hook more than $48 million in damages for the same reason — defamation — in a trial that saw Jones admit, publicly for the first time, that the shooting did happen. In that trial as well, parents testified to the harassment and threats they had faced in the wake of Jones’s repeated assertions that Sandy Hook was a “false flag” operation and that the children, teachers, and first responders were “crisis actors.”
The family members of the victims are present in court today — including Alissa and Robbie Parker, the parents of 6-year-old Emilie Parker, who was killed; Nicole and Ian Hockley, whose 6-year-old son Dylan was killed; Francine and David Wheeler, whose 6-year-old son Ben was killed; Jennifer Hensel, mother of 6-year-old Avielle Richman, who was killed, and whose husband Jeremy Richman, Avielle’s father, died by suicide in 2019; Erica Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Hochsprung Lafferty, principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, who was killed in a confrontation with the shooter; and the family of Vicki Soto, a first-grade teacher who was killed. Thus far, Alex Jones is not present in person. His lawyer, Pattis, is in court representing him.
Jones is most infamous for his repeated defamation of Sandy Hook families, but he has a long résumé filled with other passion projects: He was involved in the “Stop the Steal” campaign that asserted Donald Trump actually won the 2020 presidential election, and he helped to raise funds for the protest that became the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Jones also promoted — and then later back-pedaled on — “Pizzagate,” the far-right conspiracy theory that a Washington, DC, pizza restaurant was a front for a child sex trafficking ring involving the Clintons.
Jones has tried to delay his trials on many occasions, and this trial will only determine damages: He was found liable for defamation by default last November for failing to comply with requests for cooperation and information. He also tried recently to argue in Connecticut bankruptcy court that he and his company, Free Speech Systems, which runs his show Infowars, were out of money. Those claims failed, and Jones will now likely be held accountable financially for his defamation counts. In January of this year, a HuffPost investigation found that Jones had made more than $165 million over three years via his Infowars web store, which sells Jones’s videos, health and wellness supplements such as “DNA Force Plus” and doomsday prepper gear.
The trial is expected to be similar to the one in Texas, which featured emotional and lengthy testament from the victims’ families, who described their experiences in the aftermath of the shooting, as well as their experiences at the hands of Jones’s minions, who, bolstered by his repeated on-air nonsense, allegedly did things such as dox personal information, filmed them when they left their homes, and stalked survivors. In 2017, one of Jones’s followers, Lucy Richards, was sentenced to five months in prison for sending threats to Lenny Pozner, the father of 6-year-old Noah Pozner, who was the youngest victim of the shooting. Pozner was the focus of many Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists’ anger partly because he has relentlessly pursued and publicly called out his harassers.
Today’s trial could be even more significant, for several reasons. This trial is being brought by 15 plaintiffs, so it is a larger scope, and more victims are likely to testify, in addition to Jones himself. The plaintiffs include family members of eight victims, and an FBI agent who have alleged various experiences, including having to move, enduring harassment both online and in life, and having death threats lodged against them and their families.
Connecticut, unlike Texas, does not cap punitive damage awards, either, so the potential is for a very large award for the victims from Jones, who has already been found liable by default of the charges by Judge Barbara Bellis, who will now oversee the damages portion of the trial, which is expected to last for one month. Bellis is also the judge who previously presided over the case brought by Sandy Hook families against Remington, the gunmaker that made the AR-15-style weapon the killer used in the shooting. That case was an unprecedented and very rare win against a gun manufacturer, resulting in a $73 million settlement for the families. Remington, which later filed for bankruptcy, argued unsuccessfully that the firearm was manufactured legally and that the gunman, not the maker, was responsible for the shooting.
There is a third defamation trial to follow.