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Alex Jones Testifies in Sandy Hook Damages Trial

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Alex Jones exiting the courthouse in Waterbury, Conn., on Thursday.Credit...Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

In a mostly slow-burning then suddenly explosive day of testimony, the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones took the stand on Thursday in a trial that will determine how much he and his company must pay in damages to people he defamed after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Even before Mr. Jones erupted in a rant in the final hour, the day's proceedings in a Connecticut courtroom had been contentious and frequently interrupted. The stoppages were so common that Judge Barbara Bellis told jurors they would get their fill of exercise after being asked repeatedly to leave the courtroom so that she could speak privately with the lawyers.

Now in its second week, the trial stems from a case brought by eight families and an F.B.I. agent who responded to the attack in 2012. They sued Mr. Jones after being subjected to years of harassment and threats from people who believed the Infowars fabulist's claims that the massacre was a hoax and that the relatives of the 20 first graders and six educators who died were "crisis actors."

Here's what to know about Thursday's testimony:

Judge Bellis frequently stopped the proceedings to review with Mr. Jones and lawyers for both sides what they could and could not say.

Before Mr. Jones took the stand, the judge had prohibited all parties from discussing several topics, in hopes of avoiding "unpleasantness," she said. Those hands-off issues included the First Amendment, the amount of the jury's award in a similar case against Mr. Jones last month and Mr. Jones's bankruptcy filing for Infowars' parent company.

A ban on political statements — put in place in part to prevent Mr. Jones from claiming that the case was a plot by his enemies to silence him — was a frequent sticking point. Mr. Jones cited the prohibition several times to not answer questions, and his lawyer used it to raise objections.

When Chris Mattei, a lawyer for the families, asked Mr. Jones whether his credibility with his audience was the most important attribute, Mr. Jones first declined to answer and then said that his priority was "crushing globalists."

After Mr. Mattei used those same words, Norm Pattis, Mr. Jones's lawyer, objected, saying that the response would open the door for the families to inject politics into the trial.

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Mr. Jones testifying during the trial in Connecticut Superior Court in Waterbury on Thursday.Credit...Pool photo by Tyler Sizemore

From the moment he took the stand, Mr. Jones's testimony was a combative affair.

Mr. Jones at times struggled to follow the judge's rules, breaking off into forbidden topics and often speaking over his own lawyer's objections.

Mr. Jones described the trial as "a deep state situation," though he conceded after some questioning that the Federal Bureau of Investigation wasn't "officially" suing him. At one point, he mockingly characterized Mr. Mattei's argument as "conservatives who put up stickers are bad" and "we all need to go to prison."

During a sidebar with the judge, Mr. Jones's lawyer alluded to his hostile frame of mind: "He thinks this trial reflects the efforts of tyrants to silence him including George Soros, Hillary Clinton."

Then, shortly after Mr. Mattei said he would need only about 20 minutes to finish his questioning, the session became chaotic.

Mr. Mattei played a video of a tearful statement from a father of one of the murdered students and said that Mr. Jones had put a "target" on him and other parents. Mr. Jones erupted, saying that "liberals" like Mr. Mattei are "unbelievable, you switch on emotions on and off when you want, you're ambulance chasing."

Mr. Mattei chided Mr. Jones, reminding him that people in the courtroom had lost family members.

"Is this a struggle session? Are we in China? I've already said I'm sorry, and I'm done saying I'm sorry," Mr. Jones responded, as his lawyer shouted objections.

Finally, Judge Bellis rebuked Mr. Jones. "This is not a press conference, this is not your show," she said. "You have to respect the process."

After the jury was excused for the day, Judge Bellis threatened Mr. Jones and his lawyer with a contempt hearing if the outbursts recurred in the trial.

Throughout the day, Mr. Jones said he could not recall specific things he had said about the Sandy Hook shooting and demurred when asked about former associates. Mr. Mattei countered with footage from the "Alex Jones Show," on which he spread lies about the 2012 shooting and mocked the lawsuits against him.

Mr. Jones said he could not recall accusing parents of "fake crying" before Mr. Mattei played footage of him doing just that and calling the shooting as "phony as a $3 bill."

He also denied knowing Matthew Mills, who interrupted a Super Bowl postgame interview in 2014 and later disrupted a memorial run planned by the family of a Sandy Hook victim. A video was then played of Mr. Jones interviewing Mr. Mills, praising him as a "stand-up guy" and offering to hire him.

Mr. Jones could not remember whether he commended, on air, people who plastered Infowars stickers on a street sign in front of the courthouse. Mr. Mattei then played a clip from a recent episode of the host telling those people "we commend you."

And he said he could not recollect details concerning Dan Bidondi, a freelance cameraman who worked for Infowars and made several trips to Newtown, home to the Sandy Hook school, to confront residents and survivors. According to one recording played in court, Mr. Jones described sending the cameraman on assignment as akin to "releasing the Kraken."

Mr. Jones, who earlier in his testimony had said he had a "pretty good memory," answered one question about Mr. Bidondi by saying, "I don't remember what happened two weeks ago on my show."

Mr. Mattei explored how Mr. Jones made money, including by advertising diet supplements and other products.

It's a crucial element of the case: Last year, Mr. Jones was found liable for violating the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act by selling products against false claims about Sandy Hook. In Connecticut, there is no cap on punitive damages awarded in cases involving that law.

Mr. Mattei suggested that Mr. Jones — whose Infowars site promoted the trial against him as a "Kangaroo Court" — was using the trial as a marketing opportunity to his followers.

Sept. 22, 2022, 4:43 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 4:43 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

After a day of testimony that was tense but comparatively restrained, the last few minutes of the session erupted into shouting. It began after the families' lawyer, Chris Mattei, played the tearful statement of a parent, Robbie Parker, the night after his daughter was killed at Sandy Hook. Jones lashed out at Mattei, as his own lawyer, Norm Pattis, attempted to raise objections.

Sept. 22, 2022, 4:43 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 4:43 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

The judge spoke sternly to Jones and Pattis after things calmed down. After the court closed for the day, Jones could be heard shouting and laughing in an adjacent room. As Pattis followed him out of the courthouse, he could be heard muttering, "I'm not my client's keeper."

Sept. 22, 2022, 4:01 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 4:01 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

The judge said she'll have a zero-tolerence policy, telling Jones and his lawyer that they either obey the rules about politics and these outbursts, or face a contempt hearing.

Sept. 22, 2022, 4:01 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 4:01 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

We're adjourned for the day.

Sept. 22, 2022, 4:01 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 4:01 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

The judge asks Jones's lawyer, "Do you want me to stop your client from speaking? Physically, do you want me to stop him from speaking?"

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:57 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:57 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

The lawyer for the families has clearly gotten under Jones's skin, and we are ending for the day. The judge is remaining on the record. "How are we going to avoid this problem tomorrow?" She asks Norm Pattis, Jones's lawyer.

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:56 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:56 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Lots of objections from Jones's lawyer during an intense exchange, and the judge tells Jones that he's not performing for the media in this court.

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:54 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:54 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

The families' lawyer plays the video of a tearful statement by Robbie Parker about his daughter Emilie the night after the shooting, and Jones blows up, asking "Is this a struggle session? Are we in China?" He asserts that he's not apologizing and that "you liberals" can turn emotions on and off.

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:34 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:34 p.m. ET

Tiffany Hsu

Another sidebar in a day full of them. The judge has allowed the sidebar, an area near her bench where lawyers can speak to her out of the jury's earshot, to be livestreamed. Cathy Russon, an executive producer at Law & Crime Trial Network, wrote on Twitter that this first trial she's covered that made online viewers privy to such discussions.

REMINDER: This is the first trial I've covered that a judge is allowing us to live stream the sidebars. Jury cannot hear but we can. #AlexJones #SandyHook

— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) September 22, 2022

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:33 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:33 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Court is back in session. Chris Mattei, the lawyer for the families, just said he expected to finish questioning Jones in about 20 minutes.

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:15 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:15 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Afternoon recess, 15 minutes.

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:15 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:15 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Jones did what he's known for, but was warned against doing in court: He erupted in a politically charged rant. Jones said he knew the families' lawyer believed that "conservatives" like him should be "in prison."

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:09 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 3:09 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Another of Jones's strategies is to say he kept notorious conspiracy theorists at arm's length and didn't mention families directly. The lawyer for the families has shown a video in which Jones invited Matthew Mills onto his show, and alluding to disrupting events. Mills was later arrested after he disrupted a memorial 5k run planned by the family of a Sandy Hook teacher, Vicki Soto.

Sept. 22, 2022, 2:47 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 2:47 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Since the Sandy Hook lawsuits were filed in 2018, Jones has worked to distance himself from the broadcasts. He's said he was only repeating others' claims, and has consistently testified that others put together or posted the defamatory Sandy Hook content. But Infowars employees have testified under oath that he calls all the shots.

Sept. 22, 2022, 2:40 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 2:40 p.m. ET

Tiffany Hsu

Jones, who earlier in his testimony said he has a "pretty good memory," is now saying that he remembers little of what he's being asked about Bidondi, including whether Infowars allowed Bidondi to livestream his badgering of Llodra. "I don't remember what happened two weeks ago on my show," Jones says.

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Credit...Pool photo by Tyler Sizemore

Sept. 22, 2022, 2:36 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 2:36 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

The families' lawyer just played a video of Bidondi badgering Pat Llodra, Newtown's first selectman (equivalent to mayor) after the Sandy Hook massacre. Llodra is sitting in the courtroom, as she has most days.

Sept. 22, 2022, 2:35 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 2:35 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Jones is being questioned about Infowars' employment of Dan Bidondi, a freelance cameraman who made several trips to Newtown to confront residents and survivors. Jones joked in one recording played in court that sending Bidondi was like "releasing the Kraken." Jones has tried to distance himself from Bidondi in this litigation.

Sept. 22, 2022, 2:20 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 2:20 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Chris Mattei, a lawyer for the Sandy Hook families, is reviewing Jones's April 2022 deposition, in which he acknowledges that he called the shooting "fake," "synthetic," "with actors," and a "total hoax." Jones protested that the deposition video was "highly edited."

Sept. 22, 2022, 2:16 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 2:16 p.m. ET

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Judge Barbara Bellis has blocked testimony on several topics in the damages trial of Alex Jones.Credit...Pool photo by Christian Abraham

Testimony by Alex Jones so far in his damages trial in a Connecticut defamation case brought by families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting has involved repeated — and often heated — back-and-forth about what he is and is not allowed to say.

Before the proceedings began, Judge Barbara Bellis blocked testimony on several topics, ranging from the First Amendment to other settlements related to the 2012 shooting that did not involve Mr. Jones.

Some topics are prohibited because Mr. Jones has already lost the defamation case and the current trial is focused on determining how much he owes the plaintiffs. The families sued Mr. Jones in 2018 and won after saying that he defamed them with claims that the massacre was a hoax and they were actors.

The size of the award — nearly $50 million — in a separate damages trial against him last month in Texas is also among the forbidden topics.

Other prohibited topics are related to financial maneuvers Mr. Jones has made. Claims that he is bankrupt are forbidden; Mr. Jones put Free Speech Systems, the parent company of his Infowars media platform, into bankruptcy in July and that case is ongoing.

Mr. Jones is also prohibited from saying that PQPR Holdings, an entity that names him as a manager, is separate from Infowars. A financial expert in the Texas case testified that PQPR is a shell company that Mr. Jones used as a conduit to shuffle money from his various holdings.

Politics is also off-limits, in part to prevent Mr. Jones from bringing up work by some of the families on gun control advocacy and Democratic initiatives — activity that he has said helped prove that the case is a plot by his enemies to silence him.

Blocking discussion of political figures, electoral issues and presidential politics proved tricky on Thursday. Norm Pattis, the attorney for Mr. Jones, repeatedly raised objections to questions, saying that they could lead Mr. Jones into prohibited topics, while Mr. Jones claimed several times that he could not provide answers because he had been "barred" from doing so.

Judge Bellis was forced to frequently excuse the jury so she could review the rules with Mr. Jones and lawyers for both sides.

Before Mr. Jones took the stand, Judge Bellis asked him if he understood the rules.

"I don't want to have any unpleasantness," she said. He replied: "I understand as long as they don't ask those questions."

Sept. 22, 2022, 2:07 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 2:07 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

The jury has returned from lunch and court is back in session.

Sept. 22, 2022, 1:41 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 1:41 p.m. ET

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Alex Jones speaking to reporters on Tuesday in Waterbury, Conn., during his second damages trial over his defamatory Sandy Hook claims.Credit...Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters

Alex Jones, 48, got his start in the early 1990s, with conspiracy-minded broadcasts airing simultaneously on KJFK radio and the community access TV station in Austin, Texas. He built deep ties to militia groups like the Oathkeepers, whose founder, Stewart Rhodes, has been a regular on his show.

Mr. Jones has focused on provocative events for years. Early in his career, Mr. Jones raised more than $90,000 and assembled a team of volunteers to rebuild the church at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, convinced that, contrary to the evidence, the group led by David Koresh was an unarmed, peaceful religious group persecuted by the government. (In 1993, more than 80 members of the sect, many of them children, and several F.B.I. agents perished in a fire at the compound, after a nearly two-month standoff with the federal government.)

Mr. Jones falsely claimed on his show that the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City — which was perpetrated by the domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh, who was angered by the Branch Davidian siege — was an "inside job" by the government. Mr. Jones likewise claimed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were plotted by the government.

Mr. Jones was initially seen by people in his home base of Austin as a mostly harmless crank. But his theories grew increasingly darker. His fixation on the Sandy Hook shooting coincided with Infowars's entry into the supplements business, a tremendous boon to his income. Jones reaps revenues of more than $50 million annually by selling supplements, survivalist gear and other merchandise during his broadcasts.

Within hours after a gunman killed 20 first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012, Jones falsely claimed that the massacre was planned by the government as a pretext for confiscating Americans' firearms. He singled out several victims' families by name, saying they were "actors" complicit in the plot.

Jones is a steadfast supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, who appeared on Infowars in late 2015. Trump frequently echoed Jones's bogus claims about Hillary Clinton, immigrants and the Sept. 11 attacks. After Mr. Trump exhorted his followers on Twitter to converge on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to protest what he falsely claimed was a stolen 2020 presidential election, saying "be there, will be wild!" Jones chimed in, calling the coming event "the most important call to action on domestic soil since Paul Revere and his ride in 1776." Mr. Jones is under scrutiny by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack for organizing events around the riot, including a rally on the eve of the attack, and his role in raising money to organize Trump's speech shortly before the violence.

Sept. 22, 2022, 1:17 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 1:17 p.m. ET

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Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The original school building was torn down after the 2012 mass shooting, and this new building reopened in 2016.Credit...Yehyun Kim for The New York Times

Alex Jones began lying about the Sandy Hook shooting within hours after it occurred and continued until he was sued. But because Mr. Jones was removed from virtually all major social media platforms in 2018 and refused to provide evidence in the Sandy Hook litigation, lawyers for the families had to dig deep to show the jury what he actually said about the shooting on his radio and online show.

Some of the clips existed on other social media accounts; some were retrieved from an old Infowars feed unearthed by Dan Friesen and Jordan Holmes, whose comedy podcast, "Knowledge Fight," analyzes Jones's mendacious broadcasts and his role in American conspiracy theories.

Mr. Jones's Sandy Hook commentary went on for years. Here is a small sampling of what he said:

After Robbie Parker, whose daughter Emilie died at Sandy Hook, gave a news conference the night after the shooting, Mr. Jones said:

Sept. 22, 2022, 1:00 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 1:00 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

We're on lunch break for one hour.

Sept. 22, 2022, 1:00 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 1:00 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

The lawyer for the families is reviewing Jones's deposition in April 2022, when his lawyers told the court he was having a medical emergency at the same time that Jones was broadcasting his show.

Sept. 22, 2022, 12:52 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 12:52 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

And the jury is back again. Mattei has turned to Jones's repeated attacks on the Sandy Hook families as "actors." Jones says he doesn't recall, so Mattei played part of an Infowars broadcast video in which Jones does just that. Asked whether that helped him remember, Jones says, "Yes it does."

Sept. 22, 2022, 12:45 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 12:45 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

One factor in these repeated disputes during testimony is the fact that Jones is unaccustomed to any public forum that he does not control. On his show, he interrupts his guests. In his courthouse press conferences, he shouts down those who disagree with him. Trial testimony has for years proven a challenge for him.

Sept. 22, 2022, 12:35 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 12:35 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Mattei, the families' lawyer, is exploring how Jones sued to stop a factually-wrong attack on him on Twitter that drew 20 retweets and 37 likes. Mattei compares that with testimony earlier by a social media expert who estimated that Jones's Sandy Hook lies reached a minimum audience of 550 million over six years.

Sept. 22, 2022, 12:33 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 12:33 p.m. ET

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Alex Jones enters the courthouse on Thursday.Credit...Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

The first hour or so of Alex Jones's testimony on Thursday in the damages case against him didn't have much testimony, proceeding in fits and starts as both sides haggled over the phrasing of questions and what can and cannot be brought up in court.

One stoppage was to hash out an incident from several years ago that involved the lawyers for Mr. Jones and the families who successfully sued him for defamation over his statements about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

In May 2019, a dozen emails in a cache of material Infowars submitted during discovery included attachments containing child sexual abuse. The lawyers for the families turned the material over to the F.B.I., which determined that the material didn't originate inside Infowars and that the attachments hadn't been opened.

Mr. Jones asserted he'd been framed, and attacked the lawyer for the families, Chris Mattei, on his show. With his lawyer, Norm Pattis, by his side, Jones offered $1 million for information on Mr. Mattei's role in the alleged plot and said he wanted the attorney's "head on a pike."

Since then, Mr. Jones has repeatedly claimed, falsely, that Mr. Mattei, a former federal prosecutor, is part of an effort by his enemies to silence him. It is one of many beefs and disputes that keep leaking into the testimony.

Mr. Mattei was trying to use the episode to show that Mr. Jones — who brought a defamation suit of his own related to the incident — was upset by false information circulating about him, much like the Sandy Hook families who are taking action against Mr. Jones.

Sept. 22, 2022, 12:18 p.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 12:18 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

And the jury is back.

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:54 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:54 a.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

We are in recess for 15 minutes.

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:52 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:52 a.m. ET

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FBI agent William Aldenberg tries to compose himself while testifying at Waterbury Superior Court, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, in Waterbury, Conn.Credit...Pool photo by H John Voorhees Iii

The damages trial involving the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones continued in Connecticut on Thursday without one of its interactive features: open comments accompanying the livestreamed coverage.

The Law & Crime Network's YouTube channel, which has livestreamed the current trial as well as an earlier damages trial in Texas, noted on Tuesday morning that, for the first time ever, it had turned off the chat function "due to threatening comments toward victims' families."

Throughout the trials that determine how much Mr. Jones must pay to the people he defamed in the aftermath of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, viewers have peppered the livestream forum with armchair legal analysis, emojis, jokes and a deluge of conspiracy theories and harassment.

Last week, during the testimony of an F.B.I. agent and plaintiff who responded to the shooting and was later targeted by conspiracy theorists, commenters on the Law & Crime livestream mocked his tears and accused him of faking them. Many claimed that he had posed for photos taken at the campus, or that he was actually another man whose son died in the attack — lies that the agent, William Aldenberg, debunked on the stand.

Carlee Soto Parisi, a sister of a first-grade teacher murdered in the massacre testified last week about the emotional toll of becoming the subject of online rumors and falsehoods: "It's hurtful. It's devastating. It's crippling."

Rachel Stockman, the president of Law & Crime, said in a statement that its YouTube channel has "a robust and engaged comments section" with thousands of commenters on a daily basis. But the threatening comments on the Alex Jones trial footage, which included harassment of the victims' families, came from "a disturbing number of commenters," sparking the decision to disable comments, she said.

"Despite having covered many controversial cases, we have never before taken such a drastic measure," Ms. Stockman said. "It also was not a tough call here."

The judge has allowed the sidebar, an area near her bench where lawyers can speak to her out of the jury's earshot, to be livestreamed. Cathy Russon, an executive producer at Law & Crime Trial Network, wrote on Twitter that this trial was the first she had covered where online viewers were privy to such discussions.

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:50 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:50 a.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Some background on the no-politics rule: Jones would like to point to some of the families' work on gun control and/or Democratic politics to bolster his view that the case is an effort by his political opponents to silence him. The families say they sued Jones because he defamed them, and won. So the judge has barred both sides from mentioning politics and political figures.

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:39 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:39 a.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Jones is finding it really tough to keep his answers to a "yes," "no," or "I don't know," as instructed by the judge.

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:38 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:38 a.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

That was another procedural dispute. The jury has been summoned again. There will likely be many of these breaks, as both sides haggle over what's allowed in Jones's testimony.

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:34 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:34 a.m. ET

Tiffany Hsu

The judge excused the jury again: "You're going to get your exercise today, for those of you who wear Fitbits."

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:34 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:34 a.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Mattei, the lawyer for the families, was delving into Jones's business model: selling diet supplements and other merchandise on his conspiracy-laden broadcasts. This is key to the case: It's already been established that Jones violated Connecticut's Unfair Trade Practices Act by using lies to sell products. There's no limit on damages under the Act, and this is the damages trial.

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:31 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:31 a.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

The jury is back and testimony has resumed.

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:27 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:27 a.m. ET

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Francine and David Wheeler, whose son Ben died in the Sandy Hook shooting, arriving at the courthouse in Waterbury, Conn. Mr. Wheeler testified Wednesday.Credit...Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters

The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012, killed 20 first graders and six educators, devastating 26 families in all. Ten of those families sued Infowars fabulist Alex Jones, who for years spread lies about the shooting, including that it was a government-planned pretext for confiscating Americans' firearms and that the families were "actors" complicit in the plot.

Years of online abuse, confrontation, vandalism and death threats were directed at the families by people who believed these lies.

The 10 families filed four separate defamation suits over the statements on Mr. Jones's radio and online broadcasts. Mr. Jones lost all of them last year after he refused to comply with discovery orders and judges found him liable by default. That set the stage for three trials for damages, of which the current trial in Connecticut is the second.

Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, whose son Noah Pozner was the youngest Sandy Hook victim, and Neil Heslin, father of Jesse Lewis, 6, who also perished in the shooting, were the first to sue Mr. Jones. They filed lawsuits in the conspiracy theorist's home state of Texas. Scarlett Lewis, Jesse's mother, later filed a separate lawsuit in Texas.

Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis's suits were combined, and theirs was the first trial for damages. In August, a jury awarded them $50 million. The damages trial stemming from Mr. Pozner and Ms. De La Rosa's lawsuit is not yet scheduled, but tentatively slated for later this year.

The current damages trial in Connecticut involves eight Sandy Hook families and an F.B.I. agent who responded to the shooting. In alphabetical order, they are:

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:23 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:23 a.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Asked by the families' lawyer whether his credibility with his audience is the most important thing to him, Jones first declined to answer, then said "crushing globalists" is the most important. Amid a flurry of objections, the judge has excused the jury for five minutes to hash through the rules of his testimony.

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:33 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:33 a.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Jones's lawyer, Norm Pattis, suggested that Jones's answer about "crushing globalists" opened the door to the families injecting politics into the trial, which the judge has forbidden either side to do.

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:14 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:14 a.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

This is, not surprisingly, a tumultuous session. Jones is talking over his own lawyer's objections even when sustained, the judge tells Jones: "He won, and you keep going."

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:09 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:09 a.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Jones often maligns the trial, judge and proceedings on his show, while failing to show up. After his first damages trial in Austin, one juror said afterward that this angered the panel, because it signaled to them his contempt for the justice system.

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:00 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 11:00 a.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Though we are at the end of the second week of this trial, this is Jones's first appearance in court -- he's been talking to the media outside, Chris Mattei, a lawyer for the Sandy Hook families pointed out. He added that Infowars, Jones's site, created a blog called "Kangaroo Court," about the trial.

Image

Credit...Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

Sept. 22, 2022, 10:54 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 10:54 a.m. ET

Elizabeth Williamson

Reporting from the courtroom

Alex Jones has been sworn in, and is on the stand.

Sept. 22, 2022, 10:54 a.m. ET

Sept. 22, 2022, 10:54 a.m. ET

The Infowars fabulist Alex Jones began to testify Thursday in a trial to determine how much he and his company must pay in damages after he lost defamation lawsuits brought by some families of Sandy Hook shooting victims.

Mr. Jones spread lies for years about the Sandy Hook school shooting, saying it was staged by the government and that the families of the 20 first graders and six educators killed were complicit in the hoax. This second of three trials comes after the families of 10 victims won defamation lawsuits against Mr. Jones last year, when judges ruled him liable by default for repeatedly failing to provide court-ordered documents and testimony. These proceedings in Waterbury, Conn., are in their second week and are taking place about 20 miles from the site of the 2012 massacre.

In the first trial in August, a jury awarded Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of Jesse Lewis, 6, who died at Sandy Hook, nearly $50 million in compensatory and punitive damages, though laws in Texas, where the case was decided, may ultimately cap the total. In Connecticut, the families have the potential for a higher judgment because there is no limit on damages for violating a Connecticut trade law that is key to the families' case in the state.

The families assert that Mr. Jones profited from spreading lies about Sandy Hook on his Infowars online and radio broadcast. Infowars reaps more than $50 million in annual revenues by hawking diet supplements, survivalist gear and gun paraphernalia on Mr. Jones's broadcast. Last week, lawyers for the families spent several days showing how traffic to the Infowars website surged when Jones spoke about Sandy Hook.

People who believe Mr. Jones's Sandy Hook lies have tormented the families online, confronted them on the street and threatened their lives. Some victims' family members who are part of the case testified just before Mr. Jones appeared, and more were expected to speak afterward, adding to the emotional descriptions of the damage his bogus claims have done.

The Sandy Hook families say the trials are about much more than money: They want society's verdict on a culture in which widely disseminated lies disrupt lives and destroy reputations, yet the people who spread them are seldom held accountable.

Sept. 13, 2022, 2:39 p.m. ET

Sept. 13, 2022, 2:39 p.m. ET

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An infowars.com sticker on a traffic sign outside the courthouse in Waterbury, Conn., on Tuesday.Credit...Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters

Alex Jones's business model and income is taking center stage early in the trial to determine how much he owes in damages after defaming family members of children killed during the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.

Chris Mattei, a lawyer for the families, focused much of his opening statement on the profit-making infrastructure constructed by Mr. Jones around Infowars, his media outlet. The lawyer drew a direct line between the misinformation frequently spread by Mr. Jones — conspiracy theories that the government was trying to lower the population's sex drive or create food shortages or increase radiation levels — and the fear he stoked in his audience.

That fear, Mr. Mattei said, led listeners and viewers to buy the "vitality" drugs, "storable" food and iodine products that Mr. Jones sold on the Infowars store, which he advertises widely across his various platforms.

Alex Jones's father, David Jones, was key to his son's success, Mr. Mattei said. The successful former dentist financed Infowars as a start-up and guided the younger Mr. Jones into the high-margin diet supplements business. The lawyer said that jurors would hear the elder Mr. Jones testify about how Free Speech Systems, Infowars' parent company, connected its news coverage to the products it was selling.

Mr. Mattei also laid out how Mr. Jones grew his influence, expanding beyond his early career in radio to capitalize on the internet with multiple websites and shows, eventually making inroads abroad and setting up a retail presence on Amazon and eBay. He dove into social media, where his online segments could be easily spliced "into little segments, little digestible videos," Mr. Mattei said.

"Alex Jones was perfectly positioned to take advantage of exponential growth that social media would allow, because he had a ready-made audience that was buying into his stuff, he had the type of medium that was most easily spread and engaged with," Mr. Mattei said.

Norm Pattis, a lawyer for Mr. Jones, urged the jury in his own opening statement to "listen carefully to what will be said about money in this case," stressing that the families' lawyers have "transformed money into a political weapon in this trial, and we're going to ask you to disarm that."

"This isn't a casino," Mr. Pattis said to jurors of the families' quest for compensation. "You're not clerks at a grocery story selling quick-pick tickets."

Mr. Mattei showed the jury a slide with traffic data from December 2012, the month of the shooting, showing that Infowars drew more than 4.6 million users and 24.9 million page views.

A report on Infowars published in September 2014, claiming falsely that the F.B.I. said that no one was killed at Sandy Hook, attracted 2.9 million viewers and was the second-most-popular article published on the site between January 2013 and June 2019. The day the article was published, Infowars earned $48,230 in revenue. The next day, the site earned $232,825, then $128,855 the next. That year, his content drew 2.2 billion impressions on social media.

Mr. Jones has claimed that his legal troubles have left him struggling financially, a characterization disputed by the families' lawyers, who say that he has siphoned funds from his businesses and manipulated the bankruptcy system to hide the full scope of his assets. A forensic economist who testified during the prior damages trial in Texas estimated that Mr. Jones and Free Speech Systems were worth as much as $270 million together and that Infowars earned more than $64 million last year.

On his show on Infowars during the trial on Tuesday, Mr. Jones urged his viewers to give him financial support and buy collectible coins he was selling.

Sept. 13, 2022, 1:31 p.m. ET

Sept. 13, 2022, 1:31 p.m. ET

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Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, N.C., as he surrendered to police in Washington in 2016. Welch said he was investigating a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a pizza place.Credit...Sathi Soma, via Associated Press

The Sandy Hook lawsuits are the highest profile and potentially most costly in a string of legal actions taken against Alex Jones in recent years by people harmed by his conspiracy lies. Here are a few of them.

Sept. 13, 2022, 11:35 a.m. ET

Sept. 13, 2022, 11:35 a.m. ET

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Alex Jones wore tape over his mouth reading "Save the 1st" outside his trial in July in Austin, Texas.Credit...Pool photo by Briana Sanchez

The conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his supporters have repeatedly characterized the defamation lawsuits against him after he spread lies about the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook as an assault on his free speech rights.

But in four separate lawsuits in Connecticut and Texas, Mr. Jones lost the opportunity to mount a First Amendment defense as he and his lawyers repeatedly failed to turn over documents, including financial records, ordered by the court. As a result, he was found liable in all four cases by default.

"We don't know whether that First Amendment defense would have been successful in this case because Jones didn't present it (other than by bloviating about free speech); he lost the case by default when he refused to participate in the legal proceedings," Timothy Zick, a constitutional law professor at the William & Mary Law School, told New York University's First Amendment Watch news site.

Since 2018, when some parents whose children were killed at the elementary school first filed defamation lawsuits against Mr. Jones, the Infowars host sought repeatedly — and unsuccessfully — to have the lawsuits dismissed on free speech grounds.

First Amendment scholars rejected Mr. Jones's free speech defense in a separate defamation case brought against him in 2018 by a Democratic Party activist. Mr. Jones had argued that his conspiracy theories about the activist amounted to opinion, not statements of fact. The scholars retorted that freedom of speech protections do not extend to defamatory speech.

"The Supreme Court has never endorsed the view that knowingly false statements causing direct, legally cognizable harm to another should be protected," they wrote.

Sept. 13, 2022, 10:50 a.m. ET

Sept. 13, 2022, 10:50 a.m. ET

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Judge Barbara N. Bellis in Bridgeport, Conn., in 2016.Credit...Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP, Pool

Judge Barbara N. Bellis of Connecticut Superior Court, who is presiding over Alex Jones's defamation trial on Tuesday, has been dealing with the case — and grappling with Mr. Jones and his lawyers — for years.

In November, Judge Bellis found Mr. Jones liable by default in a Sandy Hook defamation lawsuit after he and his lawyers refused to hand over financial records and other materials that the court had repeatedly ordered.

Before that ruling — one of several legal victories for Sandy Hook families over Mr. Jones — his lawyers filed a motion seeking the judge's recusal from the case, saying she had "demonstrated a constant bias against the defendants in the decision-making process."

Judge Bellis has sanctioned Mr. Jones before, including after he went on his Infowars show with his lawyer and offered $1 million for the head of the Connecticut families' lawyer "on a pike."

This spring, the judge found him to be in contempt of court for failing to comply with orders to submit pretrial testimony and imposed escalating financial sanctions against him. (Mr. Jones had defied the orders, saying he was too ill to sit for a deposition.)

In response, Mr. Jones lashed out on his Infowars show, calling Judge Bellis a liar and a "thing."

The judge opened an investigation this month into Mr. Jones's lawyers over a release of medical records of Sandy Hook parents; the files were included in an apparently inadvertent leak of materials from his defense team.

Judge Bellis was appointed to the bench in 2003 by John Grosvenor Rowland, the Republican governor at the time. Last month, she was named the state's chief administrative judge for civil matters, effective Sept. 6.

Judge Bellis also oversaw the Sandy Hook families' lawsuit against Remington, which manufactures the rifle that was used in the shooting. That case settled in February for $73 million.

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."

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