WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) — A lawyer for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars empire acknowledged on the witness stand Wednesday that the show and website spread falsehoods about the Sandy Hook school shooting.
“I don’t think that we disagree that there were false statements made,” Brittany Paz testified at a civil trial involving Jones’ claims that the nation’s deadliest school shooting was staged as a pretext to tighten gun regulations.
Paz said she believed Jones didn’t personally investigate the massacre. Nonetheless, he and Infowars repeatedly and falsely said it was a hoax, propped up by actors posing as grieving parents. Multiple Infowars videos featured what Paz called the “crisis actor theory.”
“You mean ‘lie’?” plaintiffs’ lawyer Christopher Mattei said, to objections from Jones’ attorney.
“They’re not actors. Correct,” Paz ultimately responded.
Soon after the killings, Jones disseminated the notion that one slain child’s father was reading a script devised by the government or media to shape public opinion, and Jones said the claim “needs to be looked into.”
Later on, another young victim’s father told Infowars in an email that the families were distraught at being harassed over the lies about the supposed hoax and crisis actors. An Infowars employee replied that the company was distancing itself from the claims. But another Infowars employee continued to develop the theory, Paz testified.
The jury is tasked only with determining what Jones has to pay to eight victims’ families and an FBI agent — a judge already found the Infowars host liable for damages, by default. She made that determination after he failed to turn over documents as ordered during the lawsuit.
Jones is expected to testify eventually but hasn’t attended the trial so far. On his Infowars web show Wednesday, he called the proceeding a “show trial” meant to squelch dissent. He has cast the case as part of a dark campaign against him, his audience and Americans’ free speech rights under the First Amendment.
“We knew they were using Sandy Hook to get the Second, but now they’re using it to kill the First,” he said. The trial comes about a month after a Texas jury ordered him to pay nearly $50 million to the parents of a child killed at Sandy Hook.
Jones’ lawyer, Norm Pattis, has urged the Connecticut jury to keep any damages minimal, arguing that the families are making overblown claims of harm.
The families say the emotional and psychological harm was profound and persistent. Relatives say they were subjected to social media harassment, death threats, strangers videotaping them and their children, and the surreal pain of being told that they were faking their loss.
“It’s hurtful. It’s devastating. It’s crippling. You can’t grieve properly because you’re constantly defending yourself and your family and your loved ones,” Carlee Soto Parisi testified Tuesday.
Her sister, teacher Vicki Soto, was among the 26 people killed on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty victims were children.
Soto Parisi described seeing social media comments claiming that she was a crisis actor, that her sister wasn’t shot or didn’t exist, and that the massacre never happened. She testified about getting ominous social media messages with gun emojis and finding a note on her door from a stranger saying she needed to go to church.
And one time, she said, a conspiracy theorist showed up and shouted, “This never happened!” at a fundraising run that the family holds in Vicki Soto’s honor.
The families argue that Jones trafficked in lies to boost his audience and, with it, customers for Infowars merchandise. Data shown in court Wednesday charted spurts in people viewing his websites and social media accounts after he started talking about Sandy Hook.
By 2016, Jones’ show aired on 150 affiliate radio stations, and the Infowars website got 40 million page views a month, according to statistics that the company used to pitch advertisers. Paz, whom the defense hired to testify on the company’s workings, said she believes Jones has made hundreds of millions of dollars in the decade since the Sandy Hook slayings.
Jones now acknowledges the shooting was real. At the Texas trial, he testified that he realizes what he said was irresponsible, and he apologized.
He insists, however, that his comments were protected free speech.
“I don’t apologize for questioning it,” he said on his show Wednesday. “I apologize if, out of context, I hurt somebody’s feelings.”
Peltz reported from New York.