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Jury in Alex Jones Trial Awards $45 Million More to Sandy Hook Parents

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Testimony on Friday indicated that Alex Jones and a company he controls were worth $135 million to $270 million.Credit...Pool photo by Briana Sanchez

AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas jury ordered the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Friday to pay the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting $45.2 million in punitive damages for spreading the lie that they helped stage the massacre.

The jury announced its decision a day after awarding the parents more than $4 million in compensatory damages and after testimony on Friday that Mr. Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of his misinformation-peddling media outlet, Infowars, were worth $135 million to $270 million.

Mr. Jones was found liable last year for defaming the victims' families while spreading bogus theories that the shooting had been part of a government plot to confiscate Americans' firearms and that the victims' families had been complicit in the scheme.

This week's trial was the first of three to determine how much Mr. Jones owes the families for the suffering he has caused, and the size of the award is sure to be contested. Jurors deliberated for about four hours before reaching Friday's verdict.

Compensatory damages are based on proven harm, loss or injury, and are often calculated based on the fair market value of damaged property, lost wages and expenses, according to Cornell Law School. Punitive damages are intended to punish especially harmful behavior and tend to be granted at the court's discretion, and are sometimes many multiples of a compensatory award.

The case decided this week was brought by Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, died in the attack in Newtown, Conn. It was the first to arise from several lawsuits filed by victims' parents in 2018.

"This is an important day for truth, for justice, and I couldn't be happier," Ms. Lewis said in the courtroom after the verdict.

Before the jurors began deliberating about the punitive damages, Wesley Todd Ball, a lawyer for the family, told the jury that it had "the ability to send a message for everyone in this country and perhaps this world to hear."

"We ask that you send a very, very simple message, and that is: Stop Alex Jones," he said. "Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies. Please."

Mr. Ball had asked the jury for punitive damages of about $146 million, in addition to the $4 million in compensatory damages awarded on Thursday.

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F. Andino Reynal, left, a lawyer for Mr. Jones, and Wesley Todd Ball, a lawyer for the Sandy Hook family, in court on Friday. Mr. Reynal contended that the punitive award would ultimately be reduced to $1.5 million.Credit...Pool photo by Briana Sanchez

How much Mr. Jones will actually have to pay in punitive damages is certain to be the subject of further litigation. Texas law caps punitive damages at two times the compensatory damages plus $750,000.

But Mark Bankston, a lawyer for Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis, told reporters on Thursday that the issue is likely to end up before the Texas Supreme Court, and legal experts said there were disagreements about the constitutionality of the cap.

Mr. Jones's lawyer, F. Andino Reynal, said the punitive award would ultimately be reduced to $1.5 million.

Mr. Jones believes "the First Amendment is under siege, and he looks forward to continuing the fight," Mr. Reynal said after the verdict.

After the jury award, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble also cleared the way for another step that could prove problematic for Mr. Jones.

The lawyers for the family had disclosed during the trial that Mr. Jones's team had sent them, apparently inadvertently, a huge cache of data from Mr. Jones's cellphone, and on Friday Judge Gamble said she would not stand in the way of the lawyers for Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis providing the messages to law enforcement and the House Jan. 6 committee.

The committee has subpoenaed Mr. Jones in its investigation over his role in helping plan the pro-Trump rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, that preceded the attack on the Capitol.

In the Sandy Hook defamation cases, a trial for damages in another of the suits is scheduled to begin next month in Connecticut, but it could be delayed because of a bankruptcy filing last week by Free Speech Systems. Lawyers for the families criticized the move as another attempt by Mr. Jones to shield his wealth and evade judgment.

The Texas case allowed the plaintiffs to introduce testimony about Mr. Jones's wealth and the operations of his companies, which in addition to carrying his broadcasts make money by selling merchandise.

Bernard Pettingill Jr., a forensic economist and former economics professor at the Florida Institute of Technology, testified as a witness for Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis on Friday that Mr. Jones "is a very successful man."

Infowars averaged $53.2 million in annual revenue between September 2015 and December 2018, Mr. Pettingill said. Since then, there has been a "nice healthy increase" in the company's revenue, including from sales of survivalist merchandise and supplements, and it brought in nearly $65 million last year, he said.

At one point, Mr. Jones was paying himself an average of $6 million a year, Mr. Pettingill said.

In its bankruptcy filing, Free Speech Systems reported $14.3 million in assets as of May 31, with $1.9 million in net income and nearly $11 million in product sales. Free Speech Systems also had nearly $79.2 million in debts, 68 percent of it in the form of a note to PQPR Holdings, an entity that names Mr. Jones as a manager.

Last year, after Mr. Jones was ruled liable by default in the Sandy Hook cases, he began funneling $11,000 per day into PQPR, Mr. Pettingill said.

The "gigantic" loan from PQPR, a shell company without any employees, is actually Mr. Jones "using that note as a clawback to pay himself back," Mr. Pettingill said, although Mr. Jones's lawyer insisted that PQPR is a real company. Another note is set to mature when Mr. Jones is 74 (he is now 48).

Mr. Pettingill said he had managed to track nine private Jones-associated companies, but had to cobble together information in part because Mr. Jones's team resisted discovery orders.

"We can't really put a finger on what he does for a living, how he actually makes his money," he said.

"His organization chart is an inverted T, which means everything flows to Alex Jones. Alex Jones made all the major decisions, and I think Alex Jones knows where the money is," Mr. Pettingill said. "He can say he's broke, he has no money, but we know that's not correct."

Mr. Reynal, the lawyer for Mr. Jones, said in his closing statement on Friday that "we didn't get any evidence as to what Alex Jones actually has today, we didn't get any of what F.S.S. has today, what money they have, what assets they have to pay."

Mr. Jones and associates such as the Genesis Communications Network, which helped syndicate his show for decades, have claimed to be down to the financial wire, using the defamation cases as an opportunity to beg fans for donations.

Mr. Jones has complained that his revenue plunged after he was barred from major social media platforms in 2018. Mr. Bankston pushed back in court on Wednesday: "Well, after your deplatforming, your numbers keep getting better," he said.

After the verdict on Friday, Ms. Lewis stressed the importance of her having gotten an opportunity during the trial to confront Mr. Jones directly in the courtroom earlier in the week.

"I got to look into his eyes and I got to tell him the impact his actions had on me and my family and not just us — all the other Sandy Hook families, all the people that live in Sandy Hook and then the ripple effect that that had throughout the world," she said. "That was a cathartic moment for me."

It was also important, she said, that Mr. Jones saw a video, presented in court, of Jesse alive, running through a field. "I think he's been punished," she said of Mr. Jones. "I think he's been held accountable, and I'm hoping he really takes this to heart because in the end love is a choice, and what he's putting out there — lies, hatred — that's a choice, too."

Elizabeth Williamson reported from Austin, Tiffany Hsu from San Francisco and Michael Levenson from New York.

Aug. 5, 2022, 8:51 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 8:51 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Mark Bankston, lawyer for the families, placed Friday's verdict in the context of the pending damages trials. The next trials were scheduled for next month in Texas and Connecticut, but are on hold after Mr. Jones put the Infowars parent company, Free Speech Systems, into Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week, halting all pending litigation. "What I think people need to understand about this verdict today, it's the end of the beginning," Mr. Bankston said. "This is the battering ram through the door of the Infowars fortress."

Aug. 5, 2022, 8:28 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 8:28 p.m. ET

Tiffany Hsu

Mr. Jones posted an Infowars video on Friday evening on the social network Gab complaining about the video coverage of the courtroom, mocking the judge and a plaintiffs' witness and calling the proceedings "beyond any kangaroo-rigged court ever." He claimed that his personal net worth was below $5 million (an economist testified on Friday that the total net worth of Mr. Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of Infowars, was likely between $135 million and $270 million).

Aug. 5, 2022, 7:21 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 7:21 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Addressing the other Sandy Hook families after the verdict, Scarlett Lewis said: "I hope I did well for you and I look forward to supporting you through your part of this trial," she said. "I truly do hope and believe that this will usher in a new era of having a greater awareness of the importance of truth in our media."

Aug. 5, 2022, 7:16 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 7:16 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Scarlett Lewis, speaking after the verdict, described her courtroom confrontation with Alex Jones. "I got to look into his eyes and I got to tell him the impact his actions had on me and my family. And not just us — all the other Sandy Hook families, all the people that live in Sandy Hook and then the ripple effect that that had throughout the world. That was a cathartic moment for me."

Aug. 5, 2022, 7:11 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 7:11 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

"This is an important day for truth, for justice, and I couldn't be happier," Scarlett Lewis, the mother of the Sandy Hook victim Jesse Lewis, said in the courtroom after the verdict. "This has been a long battle, a long time spent — 10 years — and to have the result a strong message to the world that literally, choosing love is what we need to do."

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Credit...Pool photo by Briana Sanchez

Aug. 5, 2022, 7:07 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 7:07 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Asked by Bridget Spencer, a television reporter for Fox 7 in Austin, for Mr. Jones's reaction, Mr. Reynal said, "His reaction was that he'd been found guilty before he ever had a chance to defend this case on the merits. The First Amendment is under siege, and he looks forward to continuing the fight."

Aug. 5, 2022, 7:03 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 7:03 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

"We are very pleased with the result. We think the jury seriously considered the issues. We think the verdict was too high," Mr. Jones's lawyer, F. Andino Reynal, said outside the courthouse. "Alex Jones will be on the air today, and he will be on the air next week. He's going to keep doing his job holding our power structure accountable."

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Credit...Pool photo by Briana Sanchez

Aug. 5, 2022, 6:21 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 6:21 p.m. ET

Tiffany Hsu

For context, the more than $49 million in total damages Jones has been ordered to pay is roughly 75 percent of the nearly $65 million Infowars had in revenue last year. Earlier this year, a jury in California ordered Bill Cosby to pay $500,000 in compensatory damages, but no punitive damages, to a woman he was found to have sexually assaulted decades earlier. In Virginia, a jury awarded Johnny Depp $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages (caps required by state law caused the total to drop to $10.35 million), while Amber Heard was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages in response to the ex-spouses' dueling defamation claims.

Aug. 5, 2022, 6:09 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 6:09 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

The judge just left, and Mark Bankston, lawyer for Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis, erupted: "I'll take it!" The parents are standing for photos in front of the bench, lawyers hugging them. Ms. Lewis, for the photo, forms a heart with her hands.

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Credit...Pool photo by Briana Sanchez

Aug. 5, 2022, 6:07 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 6:07 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

The judge informs the parties that another damages trial against Mr. Jones is set for Sept. 14. Plaintiffs in that trial are Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, parents of Noah Pozner, the youngest Sandy Hook victim.

Aug. 5, 2022, 6:01 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 6:01 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Judge says she thought the lawyers had already surrendered the contents of Alex Jones's phone to the authorities.

Aug. 5, 2022, 6:01 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 6:01 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

This is important: The judge says she is not preventing the Sandy Hook lawyers from giving Jones's text messages to law enforcement and the Jan. 6 House committee.

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Credit...Pool photo by Briana Sanchez

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:55 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:55 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

The judge acknowledges Reynal's objection, adding that in Texas the laws capping punitive damages imply that "we don't trust our juries."

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:53 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:53 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Jones's lawyer is objecting, saying that the verdict does not comply with the law, which in Texas limits the actual award to $750,000 per plaintiff, so a total of $1.5 million for Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis.

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:50 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:50 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Total punitive damages: $45.2 million. A big number.

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CreditCredit...Associated Press

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:49 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:49 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

The chair is relaying the verdict to Judge Maya Guerra Gamble.

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:46 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:46 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

The jury is back.

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:45 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:45 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Worth bearing in mind: This is the first of three trials for damages against Mr. Jones. Two more are scheduled for next month — one in Texas, and one brought by the families of eight victims in Connecticut, where laws governing damages favor the plaintiffs more than in Texas. And of course, Connecticut is where the shooting occurred.

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:31 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:31 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Punitive damages are designed as a deterrent and, as the name implies, punishment of Jones for defaming Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, parents of Jesse Lewis, 6, killed at Sandy Hook. Yesterday's damages were compensatory, meant to compensate the family for actual costs incurred as a result of Jones's defamatory claims.

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:28 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:28 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Ten-minute warning here in the Austin courtroom — the jury has reached a decision on punitive damages.

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:21 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 5:21 p.m. ET

Tiffany Hsu

On Thursday, the jury deliberated for roughly seven hours over compensatory damages, returning to the courtroom around 4:15 p.m. Now weighing possible punitive damages, the jury has been out for nearly four hours.

Aug. 5, 2022, 4:59 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 4:59 p.m. ET

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Alex Jones, who has for years spread lies about the Sandy Hook massacre and its victims' families through his media platform Infowars, was held financially responsible this week for the first time.Credit...Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Hours after a jury in Austin, Texas, ordered Alex Jones to pay more than $4 million in compensatory damages to the parents of a child who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, the conspiracy theorist took to Infowars to paint the result as a victory despite continuing to slam the proceeding as a "kangaroo trial."

In a video clip posted shortly after the jury's decision in the defamation case on Thursday, Mr. Jones asserted that he had succeeded in convincing the jury and the parents of Jesse Lewis, one of the children who was killed in the 2012 massacre, that they had been manipulated into thinking that Mr. Jones had slandered their family on Infowars.

"This is still a major victory for truth," Mr. Jones said, claiming that Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, the parents of Jesse Lewis, had thanked him for acknowledging that their son had died. "The families came over and shook my hand and hugged me and really woke up to the fact that they've been manipulated."

Those claims were a far cry from the atmosphere in court on Tuesday, when Ms. Lewis confronted Mr. Jones face to face with the havoc she said he had wrought on her family and on the national discourse with his lies about the mass shooting that killed her son.

Mr. Jones admitted in testimony this week that the rampage that killed 20 first graders and six educators was "100 percent real," after years of using his Infowars platform to spread claims that it had been staged as part of a government-led plot to confiscate Americans' firearms and that the victims' families had been "actors" in the scheme.

Last year, courts determined Mr. Jones was liable in defamation suits brought by Sandy Hook families. This week's trial was the first of three that will decide how much Mr. Jones must pay the relatives of 10 victims.

Mr. Jones also said in an Infowars video on Thursday that he wanted to "take care" of the families and would "try to make restitution" because he knew they were experiencing pain. But he wavered over his role in inflicting that pain, at one point admitting, "What I did to those families was wrong," but later claiming he wasn't responsible.

In another video, Mr. Jones also backtracked on whether he would pay the damages, claiming neither he nor Infowars had the money to do so and saying he would file an appeal.

Mr. Jones has claimed that his long-running legal battles are a farce organized by his enemies — including the Democratic Party, the corporate media and globalists.

"The forces of Satan are trying to shut down this broadcast," Mr. Jones said in a fund-raising plea. "Any day can be our last."

He has repeatedly told his audience that Infowars is on the verge of bankruptcy, pleading for financial support and soliciting donations in cryptocurrency while also pushing listeners to buy various Infowars products. He has also incorporated the trial into his fund-raising push.

"If you don't fund us," Mr. Jones said in an advertisement that aired Friday during his show, "we will shut down. It's your decision, just like the jury had a decision."

But an expert witness who took the stand on Friday painted a different picture of Infowars' finances. Bernard Pettingill Jr., a forensic economic expert, estimated that Mr. Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of Infowars, are worth between $135 million and $270 million. Furthermore, he testified that Mr. Jones had begun shoveling $11,000 a day into a shell company after being found liable in the defamation cases last year.

The judge chastised Mr. Jones on Tuesday for telling the jury that he was bankrupt when his bankruptcy filing last week has yet to be adjudicated; the families' lawyers say it is his latest attempt to delay the upcoming damages trials. A federal bankruptcy court in Texas ruled that the current trial could proceed, but the others are delayed for now.

Mr. Jones's pleas to be saved from bankruptcy continued into his Friday show, which aired live as jurors gathered in court to hear Mr. Pettingill's testimony.

In recent remarks posted to Infowars, Mr. Jones also said multiple times that he would extend an invitation to Ms. Lewis to appear on his show, saying he supported her nonprofit organization, Choose Love, which promotes a social-emotional development curriculum for children. Mr. Jones said he would help raise money for the organization on top of the damages decided by the jury because "she's a real lady, she lost her child."

"I'm not going to let these people misrepresent what I said and did anymore, and claim that I'm the Sandy Hook man," Mr. Jones said.

Aug. 5, 2022, 4:28 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 4:28 p.m. ET

Michael Levenson

Jurors have been deliberating for about three hours over the punitive damages that Alex Jones must pay to the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. No sign of whether they will reach a decision on Friday.

Aug. 5, 2022, 2:56 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 2:56 p.m. ET

The trial this week for damages that the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay to the parents of a child killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School has revealed interesting details about Mr. Jones and his Infowars media company, which he used to spread lies about the shooting.

The jury in Austin, Texas, awarded more than $4 million in compensatory damages on Thursday and was deliberating punitive damages on Friday.

Mr. Jones was found liable last year of defaming the victims' families after he spread bogus theories that the shooting had been part of a government plot to confiscate Americans' firearms and that the victims' families had been complicit in the scheme. This week's trial is the first of three that will determine how much Mr. Jones owes the families for the suffering he has caused.

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Alex Jones, who has for years spread lies about the Sandy Hook massacre and its victims' families through his media platform Infowars, was held financially responsible this week for the first time.Credit...Pool photo by Briana Sanchez

Here are several key takeaways from the closely watched trial.

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The conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was presented with text messages from his cellphone that his lawyers appeared to have accidentally sent to the lawyers for parents of Sandy Hook victims, indicating that he withheld evidence in defamation lawsuits.CreditCredit...Pool photo by Briana Sanchez

Aug. 5, 2022, 2:17 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 2:17 p.m. ET

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Mark Bankston, a lawyer for the parents of one of the Sandy Hook victims, presented financial records for Infowars in court this week.Credit...Briana Sanchez/Austin American-Statesman, via Associated Press

Alex Jones's attempts to shield his fortune from legal threats drew a warning this week from a Texas judge and new revelations about the finances of his misinformation operation.

On Thursday, a jury in Austin decided that Mr. Jones must pay more than $4 million in compensatory damages in the first of several defamation cases brought by parents of Sandy Hook victims. Days earlier, the conspiracy theorist initiated Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in Houston for Free Speech Systems, the parent company of his Infowars media network.

Lawyers for the victims' families, who said they faced years of harassment after Mr. Jones falsely portrayed them as actors participating in a hoax, described the bankruptcy filing last week as a diversion tactic to delay other damages trials.

A lawyer for Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis died in the 2012 attack, presented records on Wednesday showing that Infowars made more than $800,000 a day at one point in 2018 (Mr. Jones said the amount stemmed from a particularly lucrative period during the Conservative Political Action Conference).

Bernard Pettingill, Jr., a forensic economist and former economics professor at the Florida Institute of Technology, testified on Friday that Mr. Jones "is a very successful man" and that his and Free Speech Systems' combined net worth likely fell between $135 million and $270 million.

Mr. Jones's lawyer, J. Federico Andino Reynal, said in his closing statement on Friday that "we didn't get any evidence as to what Alex Jones actually has today, we didn't get any of what F.S.S. has today, what money they have, what assets they have to pay."

But Mr. Pettingill's testimony on Friday, as well as the Free Speech Systems bankruptcy filing, yielded several key observations about Mr. Jones's finances, including:

The "gigantic" loan from PQPR, a shell company without any employees, is actually Mr. Jones "using that note as a clawback to pay himself back," Mr. Pettingill said, although Mr. Jones's lawyer insisted that PQPR is a real company. Another note is set to mature when Mr. Jones is 74 years old (he is now 48).

Mr. Pettingill said he had managed to track nine private Jones-associated companies, but had to cobble together information in part because Mr. Jones's team resisted discovery orders.

"We can't really put a finger on what he does for a living, how he actually makes his money," he said.

"His organization chart is an inverted T, which means everything flows to Alex Jones. Alex Jones made all the major decisions, and I think Alex Jones knows where the money is," Mr. Pettingill said. "He can say he's broke, he has no money, but we know that's not correct."

The judge in the Austin case, Maya Guerra Gamble, chastised Mr. Jones in court on Wednesday for claiming under oath that he was bankrupt when the issue had yet to be adjudicated.

"You may not tell this jury that you are bankrupt — that is also not true," Ms. Gamble told Mr. Jones after admonishing him for lying that he had complied with discovery requirements.

Mr. Jones and associates such as the Genesis Communications Network, which helped syndicate his show for decades, have claimed to be down to the financial wire, using the defamation cases as an opportunity to beg fans for donations.

Mr. Jones has complained that his revenue plunged after he was barred from major social media platforms in 2018. Mark Bankston, a lawyer for the families, pushed back in court on Wednesday: "Well, after your deplatforming, your numbers keep getting better," he said.

Mr. Pettingill concurred on Friday, saying that Mr. Jones's "rabid" fans had helped keep his revenue constant even after he was removed from the platforms, in part through donation drives and merchandise sales during the Covid-19 pandemic. Wesley Ball, a lawyer for the family, noted later in his closing statement that his legal team had come across a text message showing that Mr. Jones had "made almost $4 million in one week, years after he was kicked off his platforms."

Aug. 5, 2022, 1:28 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 1:28 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

The jurors have left the courtroom to decide on the amount of punitive damages, if any, that Jones must pay Lewis and Heslin for defaming them with his Infowars broadcasts denying the truth of the shooting and implying on his show that Heslin was lying when he spoke publicly about cradling his son's body after the shooting. The jury is now deliberating. We are awaiting their verdict.

Aug. 5, 2022, 1:19 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 1:19 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

"They said they had no text messages, and they also are saying they have no money," Ball says. He displays one of Jones's text messages from 2020, when a staffer warned him he was about to post a coronavirus false claim, warning him "it makes us look ridiculous ... Sandy Hook all over again."

Aug. 5, 2022, 1:16 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 1:16 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

The jury is back. The family's attorney, Wes Ball, is delivering his rebuttal to Jones's lawyer.

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Credit...Pool photo by Briana Sanchez

Aug. 5, 2022, 1:01 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 1:01 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reynal recommends that the jury take the gross sum Jones earns per hour, $14,000, and multiply it by the number of minutes that Jones spent defaming the family. By his calculation, that would give the family a grand total of $270,000. The jury is taking a break before hearing the rebuttal by the family's legal team.

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:55 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:55 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Summing up, Reynal brings up Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. "It is repression that breeds hate," he says. The family's lawyer objects, saying the law does not protect hate speech or defamatory speech. The objection is sustained.

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:49 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:49 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

"Alex Jones was absolutely reckless," Reynal says. "It was wrong and he admits it. Now, when you look at the degree of culpability of Alex Jones, keep in mind the national conversation. Keep in mind the truthers who were online and have been online."

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:34 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:34 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Alex Jones's lawyer, J. Federico Andino Reynal, also opens by thanking the jury. "Mr. Ball brought a lot of emotion to his closing remarks," he says. "I'm going to ask you once more to look at the facts and to look at the law, and I'm also going to ask you to think about what justice really means."

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:30 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:30 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Ball is asking for $150 million, less the $4.1 million already awarded to Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin as compensatory damages.

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:26 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:26 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

"Your $4.1 million verdict, we are incredibly grateful for ... it's gonna change Scarlett and Neil's lives forever," Ball says, referring to Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, whose son was killed at Sandy Hook. But "it doesn't affect Alex Jones's life one bit ... we're talking less than two percent of what we know" of his wealth, Ball adds.

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:19 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:19 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

"I ask that with your verdict you not only take Alex Jones's platform away, you make certain he will not rebuild this platform," Ball says. "Make sure he cannot do it again. That is punishment. That is deterrence."

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:09 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:09 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

The jury has two jobs still remaining in this trial: to punish Jones and to deter him and others from defaming others in future, Ball tells them. "You have the ability today to stop this man from ever doing this again, from continuing to tear the fabric of our society apart for monetary gain," he continues. "Speech is free — lies, you pay for."

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:09 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:09 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Ball added: "With your voice in this trial, you have the ability to send a message for everyone in this country and perhaps this world to hear. We ask that you send a very very simple message and that is: Stop Alex Jones. Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies. Please."

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:04 p.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 12:04 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Wes Ball, a lawyer for the family, rises for a final statement to the jurors. He expresses gratitude to them on behalf of the families and legal team. "With your verdict you have restored Jesse's name, you have restored Jesse's honor. We are grateful."

Aug. 5, 2022, 11:55 a.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 11:55 a.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

The judge is back and instructing the jury. These instructions can be pivotal in shaping the jurors' perception of the law. That's why the lawyers for both sides vet, argue and ultimately agree to them well in advance.

Aug. 5, 2022, 11:47 a.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 11:47 a.m. ET

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Bernard Pettingill Jr., a forensic economist, answered jurors' questions about Alex Jones's finances in court on Friday.Credit...Pool photo by Briana Sanchez

Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of the Travis County District Court employed an unusual practice during the Alex Jones defamation trial: She allowed the jury to ask written questions of all witnesses.

This is part of a movement among trial lawyers and judges to keep juries engaged and prevent them from doing their own research on the internet, which could prejudice them.

The questions jurors have asked during the trial have been revealing.

After Mr. Jones cast jurors on his broadcast as ignorant "blue-collar" people handpicked by his political enemies, they asked for his definition of "blue collar" and whether he's aware that they are "16 intelligent, fair-minded people."

On Friday, Bernard Pettingill Jr., a forensic economist, was asked several questions by jurors, including if he had ever watched a complete Infowars show; if he had compared the revenue of Infowars before and after the show was forced off social media; if he could explain the definition of a liquidated asset and the difference between the net worth of Mr. Jones and Infowars; and how common it is for business executives to give themselves loans.

The judge didn't allow some of the questions, including whether Mr. Pettingill had ever watched Infowars. But she did allow Mr. Pettingill to answer that the show's revenues did not suffer after he was removed from social media.

Jurors have asked some provocative questions of other witnesses, too. One even asked Becca Lewis, an internet communications expert who testified about Mr. Jones's online reach, whether she could swear before the jury that she is not a "lizard person." Mr. Jones has in the past echoed British conspiracy theorist David Icke's assertion that lizard people control the world, dressed in the flesh of recognizable political leaders.

Aug. 5, 2022, 11:37 a.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 11:37 a.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Pettingill is asked how the loan would be satisfied if Infowars was sold. He says it would be embedded in the sale price. Juror questions are over; the judge is presenting the charge and instructing the jury.

Aug. 5, 2022, 11:36 a.m. ET

Aug. 5, 2022, 11:36 a.m. ET

Tiffany Hsu

Pettingill compares Jones to Leonardo DiCaprio's con man character in "Catch Me If You Can" and says, seemingly with admiration, "You cannot separate Alex Jones from the companies. He monetized his shtick, his methodology. He was first to the game."

Aug. 4, 2022, 7:04 p.m. ET

Aug. 4, 2022, 7:04 p.m. ET

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Alex Jones met with New York Times reporter Elizabeth Williamson in 2018.Credit...Tom Brenner for The New York Times

I met Mr. Jones in family court in Austin, Tex., in 2018 after a custody hearing with his ex-wife, Kelly Jones.

YouTube had a few days before removed four of Mr. Jones's videos from its platform for violating its child endangerment and hate speech standards. (Mr. Jones has since had his content eliminated by most major social media companies.)

In the hallway outside the courtroom, Mr. Jones told me he blamed the mainstream news media for bringing him within "minutes of losing my kids." He then did what few actually believed he would: He agreed to an interview with The New York Times.

When we met for the interview, Mr. Jones was holding a printout of a story I had written. The article included his demand, in court documents, for more than $100,000 in court costs from the parents of Noah Pozner, who died at Sandy Hook.

He jabbed his finger at me. "You have a responsibility. You wrote the blueprint article everybody else picked up where they said, 'Alex Jones is the scum of the earth … People need to go after Alex Jones, people need to bankrupt Alex Jones, people need to kill Alex Jones,'" he said, "'because he sends people to these parents' houses and he won't stop doing it.'"

Aug. 4, 2022, 6:30 p.m. ET

Aug. 4, 2022, 6:30 p.m. ET

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Mark Bankston, left, a lawyer for plaintiffs suing Alex Jones, right, questioned Mr. Jones about text messages his lawyer apparently shared inadvertently with Mr. Bankston.Credit...Pool photo by Briana Sanchez

Where Alex Jones goes, strangeness tends to follow. A sequence that came during his cross-examination in a Texas courtroom on Wednesday was, for legal observers and laypeople alike, a perfect example.

Mr. Jones was testifying at a trial that will determine how much he should pay the parents of a child who died in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. He had already lost the case by default after failing to produce documents and testimony related to his spreading of conspiracy theories about the shooting.

In the midst of cross-examination, a lawyer for the parents, Mark Bankston, sprung a surprise: Twelve days earlier, lawyers for Mr. Jones had sent data from his iPhone, including two years' worth of text messages, to the plaintiffs.

The revelation prompted Mr. Bankston to suggest Mr. Jones had committed perjury in previous depositions. It also raised questions about how, exactly, the phone data had been shared.

Here is what legal experts thought of the moment when Mr. Jones was confronted with his phone data.

Attorney Mark Bankston told #AlexJones that his attorney messed up and sent him Jones' entire cell phone history. "Did you know that your lawyers messed up and sent me your entire cell phone texting history 12 days ago?" Bankston asked. "You know what perjury is right?" pic.twitter.com/IfIiP5UTIg

— Law&Crime Network (@LawCrimeNetwork) August 3, 2022

Yes.

"It's wild," said Ellen Yaroshefsky, a distinguished professor in legal ethics at Hofstra University. "It's really wild. It's a wild situation in a wild case with a wild person."

The exchange was eye-opening for several reasons. Information pertinent to such litigation is typically handed over before trial, in a process called discovery.

Bruce Green, a law professor at Fordham, where he directs a center for law and ethics, said that Mr. Bankston, as part of that process, had almost certainly requested texts and emails Mr. Jones had sent pertaining to Sandy Hook.

Even if Mr. Jones's lawyers wanted to withhold certain of his communications as privileged, they would have had to supply a list of those documents to the plaintiffs' lawyers, who could then have tried to gain access to the documents by appealing to the judge.

Steven Goode, a professor at the University of Texas law school who specializes in trial and appellate law, said in an interview that if what Mr. Bankston said on Wednesday was accurate and that Mr. Jones's lawyers had failed to take action after they learned what they had done, "I would find that stunning."

Mr. Green said Mr. Bankston was almost certainly telling the truth about how he had come into possession of the phone records, for two reasons. First, lawyers for Mr. Jones did not contest his presentation in court, which allowed the records to be admitted as evidence. Second, it would be a disciplinary violation for Mr. Bankston to lie to the judge.

In most states, ethics rules require plaintiffs' lawyers to notify their defense counterparts of inadvertent disclosure. Texas, however, does not have such a rule. Still, Mr. Bankston said in court on Wednesday that he had informed Mr. Jones's team of the disclosure, saying, that "when informed," the lawyers "did not take any steps to identify it as privileged or protect it in any way."

Professor Goode said that if Mr. Bankston's description was accurate, he had given a lawyer for Mr. Jones the opportunity to assert privilege over the material in a more generous way than was required.

On Thursday, a lawyer for Mr. Jones, F. Andino Reynal, filed an emergency motion requesting that a judge order Mr. Bankston to return all hard copies of the documents produced from the cellphone records, to seal those already entered into evidence and to give his team a chance to provide replacement copies of relevant evidence.

At a hearing on the motion, Mr. Reynal also called for a mistrial, based on Mr. Bankston's use of the cellphone records. He said that after the documents had been turned over inadvertently, he had asked Mr. Bankston to disregard the link he had been sent and had expected the request to be honored.

Mr. Bankston, in response, said that the words "please disregard" had created "no legal duty on me whatsoever," adding that he had been no under obligation not to look at the documents. He called the motion "frivolous." (He also clarified that the link to the records had been sent by Mr. Reynal's legal assistant.)

The judge, Maya Guerra Gamble, denied the mistrial request and the motion.

Experts said it was unclear whether Mr. Jones would face perjury charges. Under Texas law, a person can be charged with perjury, a misdemeanor, if he makes a false statement under oath, or if, while under oath, he swears to the truth of a statement previously made, with a clear understanding of the statement and the intent to deceive. The person can be charged with aggravated perjury, a felony, if the false statement is made in connection with an official proceeding and could have affected the outcome of the case.

If investigators with the Travis County district attorney's office investigate the case and find that Mr. Jones committed perjury, he could be charged with a crime. The office did not respond to a request for comment.

"At one point the judge actually said to Jones, you believe anything that comes out of your mouth at the time you say it," Professor Goode said. "I don't know what he believes or doesn't believe, so I have no idea whether the Travis County prosecutors would be in any way interested in prosecuting or whether or not they'd actually be able to make out a case."

Aug. 4, 2022, 5:54 p.m. ET

Aug. 4, 2022, 5:54 p.m. ET

The jury's decision on compensatory damages for Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of Jesse Lewis, a Sandy Hook school shooting victim, was divided into awards for each of eight counts related to defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Here's the breakdown:

Aug. 4, 2022, 5:27 p.m. ET

Aug. 4, 2022, 5:27 p.m. ET

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Alex Jones in the control room of his Infowars.com studio in Austin, Texas. The site billed itself as a media company, but much of its revenue came from the sale of health-enhancement and survivalist products.Credit...Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Alex Jones likes to portray his digital channel, Infowars, as a media outlet, and he is quick to wrap himself in the First Amendment. But in business terms, it is more accurate to describe Infowars as an online store that uses Mr. Jones's commentary to move merchandise. Its revenue comes primarily from the sale of a grab-bag of health-enhancement and survivalist products that Mr. Jones hawks constantly.

A close look at his career shows that he has been as much a canny if unconventional entrepreneur as an ideological agitator. He has adapted to — and profited from — changes in both the political climate and the media business even as he has tested, and regularly crossed, the boundaries of acceptable public discourse.

For more than two decades, Mr. Jones, who is 44, has built a substantial following appealing to an angry, largely white, majority male audience that can choose simply to be entertained or to internalize his rendering of their worst fears: that the government and other big institutions are out to get them, that some form of apocalypse is frighteningly close and that they must become more virile, and better-armed, to survive.

Aug. 4, 2022, 5:18 p.m. ET

Aug. 4, 2022, 5:18 p.m. ET

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Alex Jones was convicted of defaming the families of Sandy Hook victims last year, and now faces a series of trials to determine damages.Credit...Pool photo by Briana Sanchez

AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas jury on Thursday awarded the parents of a child killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School more than $4 million in compensatory damages from the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the first time he has been held financially liable for defaming the victims' parents by spreading lies that they were complicit in a government plot to stage the shooting as a pretext for gun control.

The decision was the first in a series of potential awards against Mr. Jones. On Friday the jury will consider evidence of Mr. Jones's net worth to determine how much, if anything, to award the parents, Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, in punitive damages.

Two other trials by Sandy Hook parents seeking damages from Mr. Jones have been scheduled for next month, though they may be delayed because his company filed for bankruptcy last week.

Mr. Jones has become increasingly emblematic of how misinformation and false narratives have gained traction in American society. He has played a role in spreading some of recent history's most pernicious conspiracy theories, such as Pizzagate — in which an Infowars video helped inspire a gunman to attack a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. — as well as coronavirus myths and "Stop the Steal" falsehoods about election fraud before the Capitol assault on Jan. 6, 2021.

The verdict came after several days of emotional testimony, including 90 minutes on Tuesday when Ms. Lewis personally addressed Mr. Jones, asking him why he knowingly spread lies about the death of her child, Jesse, 6, who died along with 19 other first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

"Jesse was a real boy. And I am a real mom," Ms. Lewis told Mr. Jones. Later she admonished him: "Alex, I want you to hear this. We're more polarized than ever as a country. Some of that is because of you."

But the most explosive revelation came Wednesday, when the family's lawyer, Mark Bankston, revealed that Mr. Jones's legal team had mistakenly sent him the entire contents of Mr. Jones's cellphone, including at least two years' worth of incriminating text messages now of interest to the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. The committee is scrutinizing Mr. Jones's role in planning events surrounding the insurrection, and Mr. Bankston is now seeking the judge's approval to deliver the text records to prosecutors and the Jan. 6 committee.

Ms. Lewis and Mr. Heslin had requested $150 million in damages, and Mr. Bankston said he was optimistic about what the jury would award on Friday. "You can probably imagine that if a jury returns a verdict exceeding $4 million for these plaintiffs in compensatory damages, I think punishment is probably going to be in that range or higher," Mr. Bankston said. "I think it's perfectly expected that we're going to see an over nine-figure judgment against Mr. Jones."

He added: "It's been a long journey, and it's really, really nice to able to turn and look at my clients, and say 'he can't get off scot-free for this. He can't. You had a defendant who went into that courtroom and said, 'I think I should have to pay them a dollar.' And this jury said no."

Mr. Jones said in his bankruptcy filing that he had paid $15 million so far in legal costs for the Sandy Hook litigation. Citing the damages that Ms. Lewis and Mr. Heslin had requested, Mr. Jones called the award a "major victory" in a video posted on Infowars on Thursday night, even as he urged viewers to buy products from his website to stave off what he portrayed as financial ruin.

"I admitted I was wrong," he said. "I admitted it was a mistake. I admitted that I followed disinformation but not on purpose. I apologized to the families. And the jury understood that."

Mr. Jones lost a series of Sandy Hook defamation suits by default last year after repeatedly failing to provide court-ordered documents and testimony. Those rulings set the stage for the trial this summer.

More important than money, the Sandy Hook families have said, is society's verdict on a culture in which viral misinformation damages lives and destroys reputations.

"Speech is free, but lies you have to pay for," Mr. Bankston told the jury last week. "This is a case about creating change."

At the heart of the trial was a June 2017 episode of NBC's "Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly" that profiled Mr. Jones. In the broadcast, Mr. Heslin protested Mr. Jones's denial of the shooting. He recalled his last moments with Jesse, saying, "I held my son with a bullet hole through his head."

Afterward, Mr. Jones and Owen Shroyer, an Infowars host, aired shows implying that Mr. Heslin had lied.

"Will there be a clarification from Heslin or Megyn Kelly?" Mr. Shroyer said on Infowars. "I wouldn't hold your breath."

During the trial, Mr. Jones's lawyer, F. Andino Reynal, said that Mr. Jones was essentially running his own defense. After much uncertainty about whether the conspiracy broadcaster would testify, he was adamant that he would appear as the sole witness in his defense.

Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis deployed a variety of experts. The trial opened with testimony from Dan Jewiss, a retired Connecticut State Police investigator who led the Sandy Hook case; a forensic psychiatrist and the psychologist who treated Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis; and several Infowars employees, whose dubious statements allowed the family's lawyers to submit evidence that was damaging to Mr. Jones, including a televised version of the full interview with Ms. Kelly, in which Mr. Jones advanced incendiary false claims.

Mr. Jones's audience and corresponding revenues have risen sharply, to more than $50 million annually, in the decade since Sandy Hook.

His defense of the Second Amendment after the mass shooting brought attention from mainstream news organizations. But it was Mr. Jones's alliance with former President Donald J. Trump, who appeared on Infowars in December 2015, that moved him from the far-right fringes to the center of Republican Party populism.

Mr. Jones and Mr. Trump have often echoed the same incendiary false claims, including the racist "birther" lie that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States; that Muslims in the New York area "celebrated" the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and the 2020 election falsehoods that brought violence to the Capitol last year.

Aug. 4, 2022, 2:15 p.m. ET

Aug. 4, 2022, 2:15 p.m. ET

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Text messages from Alex Jones, center, could soon be turned over to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.Credit...Briana Sanchez/Austin American-Statesman, via Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The lawyer for plaintiffs who are suing the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones said Thursday that he plans to turn over two years of text messages from Mr. Jones's phone to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The lawyer, Mark Bankston, who represents Sandy Hook parents suing Mr. Jones in defamation lawsuits for lies he had spread about the 2012 school shooting, said in court in Austin, Texas, that he planned to turn over the texts unless a judge instructed him not to do so.

"I certainly intend to do that, unless you tell me not to," Mr. Bankston told the judge, Maya Guerra Gamble, who appeared unsympathetic to requests from Mr. Jones's lawyers that Mr. Bankston return the materials to them.

When lawyers raised the possibility that the texts could be subpoenaed by the committee, the judge replied, "They're going to now. They know about them."

A person familiar with the House committee's work said the panel had been in touch with the plaintiffs' lawyers about obtaining materials from Mr. Jones's phone.

Mr. Bankston said in court that Mr. Jones's lawyers mistakenly sent him text messages from Mr. Jones, as they attempted to defend him in court for broadcasting conspiracy theories that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax and that the families were actors.

Mr. Bankston said they included texts with the political operative Roger J. Stone Jr. Mr. Bankston said he had heard from "various federal agencies and law enforcement" about the material.

"Things like Mr. Jones and his intimate messages with Roger Stone are not confidential. They are not trade secrets," Mr. Bankston said.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has been pushing to obtain Mr. Jones's texts for months, saying they could be relevant to understanding Mr. Jones's role in helping organize the rally at the Ellipse near the White House before the riot. In November, the panel filed subpoenas to compel Mr. Jones's testimony and communications related to Jan. 6, including his phone records.

The committee also issued a subpoena for the communications of Timothy D. Enlow, who was working as Mr. Jones's bodyguard on Jan. 6.

In response, Mr. Jones and Mr. Enlow sued in an attempt to block the committee's subpoenas. Mr. Jones eventually appeared before the panel in January and afterward said he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination nearly 100 times.

"I just had a very intense experience being interrogated by the Jan. 6 committee lawyers," he said at the time. "They were polite, but they were dogged."

Even though Mr. Jones refused to share information with the committee, he said the investigators seemed to have found ways around his lack of cooperation. He said the committee had already obtained text messages from him.

"They have everything that's already on my phones and things," he said. "I saw my text messages" with political organizers tied to the Jan. 6 rally.

According to the Jan. 6 committee, Mr. Jones facilitated a donation from Julie Jenkins Fancelli, the heiress to the Publix Super Markets fortune, to provide what he described as "80 percent" of the funding for the Jan. 6 rally and indicated that White House officials told him that he was to lead a march to the Capitol, where Mr. Trump would speak.

Mr. Jones and Mr. Stone were among the group of Trump allies meeting in and around, or staying at, the Willard Intercontinental Hotel, which some Trump advisers treated as a war room for their efforts to get members of Congress to object to the Electoral College certification, which was taking place when the riot swamped the building.

Mr. Jones conducted an interview with Michael T. Flynn, who served briefly as national security adviser to Mr. Trump, from the Willard on Jan. 5 in which the men spread the false narrative of a stolen election.

Mr. Jones was then seen among the crowd of Mr. Trump's supporters the next day, amplifying false claims but also at times urging the crowd to be peaceful. Among those who marched alongside him to the Capitol was Ali Alexander, a promoter of the "Stop the Steal" effort who has also been issued a subpoena.

"The White House told me three days before, 'We're going to have you lead the march,'" Mr. Jones said on his internet show the day after the riot. "Trump will tell people, 'Go, and I'm going to meet you at the Capitol.'"

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