Alex Jones concedes that Sandy Hook attack was ‘100% real’
For years, bombastic, far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones ranted to his millions of followers that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax, that children weren’t killed and that parents were crisis actors in an elaborate ruse to force gun control.
Under oath and facing a jury that could hit him with damages of $150 million or more for his false claims, Jones said Wednesday he now realizes his actions were irresponsible and believes that what happened in the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history was “100% real.”
Jones’ public contrition came on the final day of testimony in a two-week defamation lawsuit against him and his Austin-based media company, Free Speech Systems, brought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, a first-grader who was among the 20 students and six teachers killed Dec. 14, 2012, at the school in Newtown, Conn.
“I unintentionally took part in things that did hurt these people’s feelings,” said Jones, who also acknowledged raising conspiracy claims about other mass tragedies, from the Oklahoma City and Boston Marathon bombings to the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Fla., “and I’m sorry for that.”
But Heslin and Lewis said Tuesday that an apology wouldn’t suffice and that Jones needs to be held accountable for repeatedly spreading falsehoods about the attack.
Courts in Texas and Connecticut have already found Jones liable for defamation for his portrayal of the Sandy Hook massacre as a hoax.
Now, Heslin and Lewis are asking the jury in Austin for $150 million in compensation for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They will also ask the jury to assess additional punitive damages.
Infowars host Alex Jones has offered to pay $120,000 per plaintiff to resolve a lawsuit.
Jurors began considering damages Wednesday. Once they determine whether Jones should pay the parents compensation for defamation and emotional distress, they will decide if he must also pay punitive damages. That portion will involve a separate mini-trial, with Jones and economists testifying to his and his company’s net worth.
Jones’ attorney asked the jury to limit damages to $8 — one dollar for each of the compensation charges they are considering. Jones told the jury that any compensation above $2 million “will sink us,” but added, “I think it’s appropriate for whatever you decide what you want to do.”
Jones was the only person who testified in his own defense. His attorney asked him if he now understands that it was “absolutely irresponsible” to push the false claims that the massacre didn’t happen and that no one died.
Jones said he does, but added that the media “won’t let me take it back.”
He also complained that he’s been “typecast as someone that runs around talking about Sandy Hook, makes money off Sandy Hook, is obsessed by Sandy Hook.”
Under a withering cross-examination from attorney Mark Bankston, Jones acknowledged his history of raising conspiracy claims.
Bankston then went after Jones’ credibility, showing an Infowars video clip from last week when a host — not Jones — claimed that the trial was rigged and featuring a photo of the judge in flames. Then came another clip of Jones asking if the jury was selected from a group of people “who don’t know what planet” they live on. Jones said he didn’t mean that part literally.
Bankston said Jones hadn’t complied with court orders to provide text messages and emails for pretrial evidence gathering. Jones said, “I don’t use email,” then was shown a message gathered from another source that came from his email address. He replied: “I must have dictated that.”
At one point, Bankston informed Jones that his attorneys had mistakenly sent Bankston the last two years’ worth of texts from Jones’ cellphone.
The families of nine Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims sued Remington, a case that focused on the marketing of the Bushmaster rifle.
The attorney also showed the court an email from an Infowars business officer informing Jones that the company had grossed $800,000 in a single day, which would amount to nearly $300 million in a year. Jones said that was the company’s best day in sales.
Jones’ testimony came a day after Heslin and Lewis told the courtroom in Austin, where Jones and his companies are based, that the false hoax claims made their lives a “living hell” of death threats, online abuse and harassment.
They led a day of charged testimony Tuesday that included the judge scolding the bombastic Jones for not being truthful with some of what he said under oath. In a gripping exchange, Lewis spoke directly to Jones, who was sitting about 10 feet away. Earlier that day, Jones was on his broadcast program telling his audience that Heslin is “slow” and being manipulated by bad people.
At one point, Lewis asked Jones: “Do you think I’m an actor?”
“No, I don’t think you’re an actor,” Jones responded before the judge admonished him to be quiet until called to testify.
Heslin told the jury about holding his son who had a bullet hole through his head, even describing the extent of the damage to his son’s body. A key segment of the case is a 2017 Infowars broadcast that said Heslin didn’t hold his son.
The jury was shown a school picture of a smiling Jesse, taken two weeks before he was killed. The parents didn’t receive the photo until after the shooting. They described how Jesse was known for telling classmates to “run!” — which likely saved lives.
As Uvalde parents grieve, they join a growing group of those who lost kids to gun violence — at Aurora and Sandy Hook and Parkland and beyond.
Jones initially took the stand Tuesday. At one point, the judge sent the jury out of the courtroom and strongly scolded Jones for telling the jury he had complied with pretrial evidence-gathering, even though he hadn’t, and that he is bankrupt, which has not been determined. The plaintiffs’ attorneys were furious about Jones mentioning he is bankrupt, which they worry will taint the jury’s decisions about damages.
“This is not your show,” Judge Maya Guerra Gamble told Jones. “Your beliefs do not make something true. You are under oath.”
Last September, the judge admonished Jones in her default judgment over his failure to turn over documents requested by the Sandy Hook families. A court in Connecticut issued a similar default judgment against Jones for the same reasons in a separate lawsuit brought by other Sandy Hook parents.
Jones has already tried to protect Free Speech Systems financially. The company last week filed for federal bankruptcy protection. Sandy Hook families have separately sued Jones over his financial claims, arguing that the company is trying to protect millions owned by Jones and his family through shell entities.
Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber contributed to this report.
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