WATERBURY, Conn. — An attorney for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s Infowars empire admitted on the witness stand Wednesday that the show and website were spreading falsehoods about the Sandy Hook shooting.
“I don’t think we agree that false statements have been made,” Brittany Paz testified during a civil trial where Jones claimed the deadliest school shooting in the country was staged as a pretext to tighten gun rules. .
Paz said she believed Jones did not personally investigate the massacre. Nevertheless, he and Infowars repeatedly and incorrectly said it was a hoax propped up by actors posing as grieving parents. Multiple Infowars videos feature what Paz called the “crisis actor theory.”
“You mean ‘lying’?” Prosecutors’ attorney Christopher Mattei said of Jones’ attorney’s objections.
“They are not actors. That’s right,” Paz finally replied.
Shortly after the murders, Jones spread the idea that the father of a murdered child was reading a script devised by the government or the media to shape public opinion, and Jones said the allegation “needs to be investigated.”
Later, the father of another young victim told Infowars in an email that the families were distraught at being harassed over the lies about the alleged hoax and crisis actors. An Infowars employee replied that the company has distanced itself from the claims. But another Infowars employee continued to develop the theory, Paz testified.
The jury’s only job is to determine what Jones should pay the families of eight victims and an FBI agent — a judge has already held the Infowars host liable for damages by default. She made that decision after he failed to hand over the documents as ordered during the trial.
Jones is expected to eventually testify, but has not attended the trial so far. On his Infowars web show Wednesday, he called the proceedings a “show process” designed to quell dissent. He has raised the case as part of a dark campaign against him, his public and Americans’ freedom of speech under the First Amendment.
“We knew they used 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 murdered in Sandy Hook.
Jones’ attorney Norm Pattis has urged the Connecticut jury to keep damage to a minimum, arguing that the families are making exaggerated claims for damages.
The families say the emotional and psychological damage was extensive and persistent. Relatives say they were subjected to social media bullying, death threats, strangers filming them and their children, and the surreal pain of being told they faked their loss.
“It is painful. It’s devastating. It’s crippling. You cannot grieve well because you are constantly defending yourself and your family and your loved ones,” Carlee Soto Parisi said on Tuesday.
Her sister, teacher Vicki Soto, was one of 26 people killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Twenty victims were children.
Soto Parisi described seeing comments on social media claiming she was a crisis actor, that her sister was not shot or non-existent, and that the massacre never happened. She testified about getting ominous social media posts with gun emojis and finding a note on her door from a stranger telling her to go to church.
And one time, she said, a conspiracy theorist showed up and yelled, “This never happened!” at a fundraiser the family is holding in honor of Vicki Soto.
The families allege that Jones traded lies to encourage his audience and, therefore, customers for Infowars merchandise. Data shown in court on Wednesday charted spurts among people who viewed his websites and social media accounts after he started talking about Sandy Hook.
In 2016, Jones’ show aired on 150 affiliated radio stations, and the Infowars website gained 40 million page views per month, according to statistics the company used to pitch to advertisers. Paz, who was hired by the defense to testify about the operation of the company, said she believes Jones has made hundreds of millions of dollars in the decade since the Sandy Hook massacres.
Jones now admits that the shooting was real. At the Texas trial, he testified that he realizes what he said was irresponsible, and he apologized.
However, he insists that his comments were protected free speech.
“I make no apologies for questioning it,” he said on his show on Wednesday. “I apologize if, out of context, I hurt anyone’s feelings.”
Peltz was reporting from New York.