AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones testified Wednesday that he now understands it was irresponsible of him to declare the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre a hoax and that he now believes it was “100% real.”
Speaking a day after the parents of a 6-year-old boy who was killed in the 2012 attack testified about the suffering, death threats and harassment they’ve endured because of what Jones has trumpeted on his media platforms, the Infowars host told a Texas courtroom that he definitely thinks the attack happened.
“Especially since I’ve met the parents. It’s 100% real,” Jones said at his trial to determine how much he and his media company, Free Speech Systems, owe for defaming Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis.
Their son Jesse Lewis was among the 20 students and six educators who were killed in the attack in Newtown, Connecticut, which was the deadliest school shooting in American history.
But Heslin and Lewis said Tuesday that an apology wouldn’t suffice and that Jones needed to be held accountable for repeatedly spreading falsehoods about the attack. They are seeking at least $150 million.
Closing arguments are expected to begin later Wednesday after more testimony from Jones, who has portrayed the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights.
Jones is the only person testifying in his own defense. His attorney asked him if he now understands it was “absolutely irresponsible” to push the false claims that the massacre didn’t happen and no one died.
Jones said he does, but added, “They [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.”
Jones’ testimony came a day after Heslin and Lewis told the courtroom in Austin, where Jones and his companies are based, that Jones and the false hoax claims he and Infowars pushed 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.
“I am a mother first and foremost and I know you are a father. My son existed,” Lewis said to Jones. “I am not deep state … I know you know that … And yet you’re going to leave this courthouse and say it again on your show.”
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 and Lewis are among several Sandy Hook families who have filed several lawsuits alleging that the Sandy Hook hoax claims pushed by Jones have led to years of abuse by him and his followers.
Heslin and Lewis both said they fear for their lives and have been confronted by strangers at home and on the street. Heslin said his home and car have been shot at. The jury heard a death threat sent via telephone message to another Sandy Hook family.
“I can’t even describe the last nine and a half years, the living hell that I and others have had to endure because of the recklessness and negligence of Alex Jones,” Heslin said.
Scarlett Lewis also described threatening emails that seemed to have uncovered deep details of her personal life.
“It’s fear for your life,” Scarlett Lewis said. “You don’t know what they were going to do.”
Heslin said he didn’t know if the Sandy Hook hoax conspiracy theory originated with Jones, but it was Jones who “lit the match and started the fire” with an online platform and broadcast that reached millions worldwide.
“What was said about me and Sandy Hook itself resonates around the world,” Heslin said. “As time went on, I truly realized how dangerous it was.”
Jones skipped Heslin’s Tuesday morning testimony while he was on his show — a move Heslin dismissed as “cowardly” — but arrived in the courtroom for part of Scarlett Lewis’ testimony. He was accompanied by several private security guards.
“Today is very important to me and it’s been a long time coming … to face Alex Jones for what he said and did to me. To restore the honor and legacy of my son,” Heslin said when Jones wasn’t there.
Heslin told the jury about holding his son with 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.
An apology from Jones wouldn’t be good enough, the parents said.
“Alex started this fight,” Heslin said, “and I’ll finish this fight.”
Jones later took the stand and was initially combative with the judge, who had asked him to answer his own attorney’s question. Jones testified he had long wanted to apologize to the plaintiffs.
Later, the judge sent the jury out of the room and strongly scolded Jones for telling the jury he had complied with pretrial evidence gathering even though he didn’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.
At stake in the trial is how much Jones will pay. The parents have asked the jury to award $150 million in compensation for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury will then consider whether Jones and his company will pay punitive damages.
Jones has already tried to protect Free Speech Systems financially. The company filed for federal bankruptcy protection last week. 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.