Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has passed the first of several trials against him that could decimate his personal fortune and media empire in his usual way: loud, aggressive and talking about conspiracies in and out of court.
It’s business as usual for the deep-voiced, broad-chested Jones. But by court standards, his erratic and sometimes disrespectful behavior is unusual — and potentially complicated for the legal process.
Jones and his media company, Free Speech Systems, were ordered Thursday to pay $4.11 million in compensatory damages to the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, who was killed with 19 other first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 2012. Newtown, Connecticut shootings. And significantly more may be on the way.
While the more than $4 million was significantly less than the $150 million in damages that Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis are seeking, the jury meets again on Friday to hear about Jones’ finances before deciding on punitive damages.
Jones faces two more Sandy Hook judgments to determine damages later this year: one for the parents of a 6-year-old boy in an Austin courthouse and one for eight families in Connecticut.
Heslin and Lewis testified that Jones’ constant pressure of false claims that the shooting was a hoax or staged has made the last decade a “hell” of death threats, online abuse and relentless trauma inflicted by Jones and his followers.
After years of false allegations, Jones admitted under oath that the shooting was “100% real” and even shook hands with the parents.
But the bombastic version of Jones was always lurking beneath the surface, or even on full display away from the courtroom.
During a break on the first day, he held an impromptu press conference a few feet from the courthouse doors, declaring the case a “kangaroo court” and a “show trial” reinforcing his struggle for free speech under the First Amendment. On the first day, he arrived in court with “Save the 1st” written in silver tape over his mouth.
When he came to court, it was always with a security team of three or four guards. Jones, who was not in court for the verdict, often skipped testimony to appear on his daily show Infowars, where attacks on the judge and jury continued. During a concert, Jones said the jury was drawn from a group of people who “don’t know what planet they live on.”
This clip was shown to the jury. As well as a snapshot from his Infowars website showing Judge Maya Guerra Gamble engulfed in flames. She laughed at this.
Jones was only slightly less combative in court. He was the only witness to testify in his defense and Gamble knew he had the potential to go off the rails. She warned Jones’ lawyers before it even started that if he tried to turn it into a performance, she would clean up the courtroom and end the live broadcast of the trial to the world.
When Jones arrived for Lewis’ deposition, Gamble asked if he was chewing gum, a violation of a strict rule in his courtroom. She has reprimanded her lawyer Andino Reynal several times.
This led to an angry exchange. Jones said he wasn’t chewing gum. Gamble said he could see her mouth moving. Jones opened wide and leaned over the defense table to show her a gap in her mouth where he’d extracted a tooth. Jones insisted he was just massaging the hole with his tongue.
“Don’t show me,” said the judge.
Some legal experts said they were surprised by Jones’ behavior and questioned whether it was a calculated risk to increase his appeal to fans.
“It’s the most bizarre behavior I’ve ever seen in a trial,” said Barry Covert, a First Amendment attorney from Buffalo, New York. “In my opinion, Jones is a big money-making giant – mad as a fox,” Covert said. “The bigger the show, the better.”
Kevin Goldberg, a First Amendment expert at the Maryland-based Freedom Forum, said he found it difficult to imagine what Jones might be thinking and what benefit he might derive from his behavior.
“I don’t know what he was designed to accomplish other than being on the Alex Jones brand,” Goldberg said. “This appears to be a man who has built his brand…by disregarding government institutions…and this courtroom.”
Defendants in the trial are often given some leeway because they have so much at stake — imprisonment in criminal cases and, in Jones’ civil trial, potential financial ruin. Monetary sanctions or even post-trial contempt charges are also a possibility.
Gamble had to be careful how she handled everything, Covert said.
“Jones’ bizarre behavior is putting the judge in a very difficult box,” Covert said. “She doesn’t want to show up to put her finger on the scales of justice.”
Jones skipped Heslin’s testimony when he described to the jury holding his dead son in his arms with a “bullet hole in the head”.
Heslin said he wanted to confront Jones face-to-face and called his absence that day “cowardly.” Jones was appearing on his daily broadcast.
Jones was in the room when Lewis testified, sitting just 10 feet away as she looked straight at him.
“My son existed. I am not ‘deep state’, she said of the conspiracy theory of a shadowy network of federal officials running the government.
“I know you know that,” Lewis said.
When Lewis asked Jones if he thought she was an actress, Jones replied “No”, but was interrupted by Gamble, who scolded him for speaking out of turn.
Later that day, Jones and her parents shook hands. Lewis even gave him a sip of water to help calm a persistent cough that Jones said was caused by a torn larynx. His attorney Wesley Ball quickly intervened to separate him.
“No,” Ball snapped to Jones, “You’re NOT doing that.”
Jones was the only witness in his defense. His testimony pushed court rules so often that plaintiffs openly questioned whether Jones and his lawyers were trying to sabotage the court and force a mistrial. They filed a sanctions motion against them after Jones claimed he was bankrupt, which lawyers dispute and was off-limits in depositions.
At one point, Jones appeared dumbfounded when the family’s lawyers announced that Jones’ legal team had mistakenly sent two years’ worth of data from his cell phone — a huge data dump that they said should have been produced on discovery, but didn’t. he was. They said this proved he was receiving texts and emails about Sandy Hook’s and his media company’s finances that he had not turned over by court order.
“This is your Perry Mason moment,” Jones snapped.
Plaintiff’s attorney, Mark Bankston, said Thursday that the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol had requested these materials and that he intended to deliver them.
The January 6 committee first subpoenaed Jones in November, demanding testimony and documents related to his efforts to spread disinformation about the 2020 election and a rally on the day of the attack.
During the trial, Jones often spoke out of turn, and was cut short when he became involved in conspiracies, from the 9/11 terrorist attacks being staged to a fake United Nations effort at world depopulation. He continued to question some of the most important events and government institutions in American life.
“This,” the judge told him, “is not your show.”
Tarm reported from Chicago.
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