AUSTIN, Texas — Lawyers for the parents of a child killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting told a jury here Tuesday that conspiracy broadcaster Alex Jones should pay them $150 million for claiming that ‘they were complicit in a government plot to fake the shooting as a pretext for gun control efforts.
The $150million figure, offered by parents’ attorney Mark Bankston, represents the first time the family of a Sandy Hook victim has put a dollar amount on the suffering of Mr Jones and his site Web and broadcast Austin-based Infowars caused by spreading lies about the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that killed 20 first-graders and six educators.
The dollar amount, while significant, was appropriate, Mr Bankston said, calling Mr Jones’ misrepresentations “the most despicable and vile campaign of libel and slander in American history”.
Mr Jones, who was in the courtroom for opening statements from both sides on Tuesday, was visibly pissed off by the price proposal. During a break, he exploded in anger in the hallway outside the courtroom, calling the proceedings a “show trial” and calling it “a destructive travesty of the Constitution, absolute, total and complete”.
Before the trial began, Mr. Jones momentarily placed a length of tape over his mouth bearing the Infowars.com logo and the words “Save the 1st,” a reference to the First Amendment. Mr Jones laid the tape with his slogan on the table in front of him during the opening statements, in full view of the jury, while shaking his head in disagreement with Mr Bankston’s remarks.
He was sitting a few feet away from Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of the child killed at Sandy Hook, 6-year-old Jesse Lewis.
The trial is the first of three in which juries will decide how much to award the victims’ families in damages. In this first trial, Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis must testify to the torment they have suffered since Mr. Jones hinted on his show in 2017 that Mr. Heslin’s televised memory of cradling Jesse’s body shortly after the shooting was wrong. The family has since endured years of accusations and threats.
Leonard Pozner and Véronique De La Rosa, the parents of Sandy Hook’s youngest victim Noah Pozner, are set to testify in a second trial in September in Austin. That same month, the families of eight other Sandy Hook victims will testify at the third trial, in Connecticut.
The trials come after the families of the 10 victims won libel suits against Mr Jones last year, when judges ruled he was liable by default for repeatedly failing to provide court-ordered documents and testimony. Those rulings set the stage for trials this summer, in which juries will award damages to families following their victories.
Mr. Jones’ lawyer, Federico Reynal, suggested during jury selection on Monday that he would ask jurors to award the parents a single dollar in damages, in part because the additional trauma caused by Mr. Jones paled so much over the death of their son.
Mr Bankston said in his statement on Tuesday that the $150million award symbolized one dollar for reputational damage to parents and one dollar for emotional damage for each of the one-quarter of Americans who said in a 2013 Fairleigh Dickinson University survey that they thought the Sandy Hook shooting was definitely or possibly faked.
“For 10 years, Mr. Jones deprived Neil and Scarlett of the time they needed to heal from the violent death of their son Jesse, because Mr. Jones wanted to sell more of his products,” he said. “It’s a huge verdict, of course, but it’s one that will do justice to the level of harm done in this case.”
Mr Reynal began his opening remarks by calling Mr Bankston’s presentation a “conspiracy of lies”.
“I am honored to represent Alex Jones” and his company, Mr. Reynal said. “He is one of the most polarizing figures in this nation”, who had been “cancelled, punished for statements related to this affair”.
Mr Reynal repeated Mr Jones’ long-standing claim that he was only echoing the false claims of others, including members of his Infowars audience. In fact, Mr. Jones spread false claims about the shooting on his show just hours after the event.
Mr Reynal also advanced a claim made by others who have been prosecuted for spreading political lies, including lies about the 2020 election: that a claim, no matter how inflammatory or savage, is not not defamatory if the person making it believes it to be true. , or, as Mr Jones claimed, they cannot tell right from wrong because they have been misled by what Mr Reynal called “mainstream media lies”.
Travis County District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble has repeatedly warned lawyers for Mr Jones that they are not challenging his First Amendment right to make false statements because he has already lost his right to trial in defamation suits.
The proposed price of $150 million would be for compensatory damages only, Mr Bankston said. The jury will also decide whether or not to award punitive damages. Mr Jones has made more than $50million a year in revenue in recent years, selling dietary supplements, conspiracy videos and books, bulletproof vests and doomsday preparedness gear during his broadcasts. Mr Bankston is aiming to present documents released by Infowars during the run-up to the trial, indicating that Mr Jones’ shows on Sandy Hook caused an increase in viewership and sales of Infowars products.
The Sandy Hook families say they have a bigger goal: They want the lawsuits to alert Americans to the growing harm to vulnerable people and civic life caused by viral political lies, whether false theories denying the shootings mass or false allegations of a stolen 2020 election that brought violence to the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
“This is a case of creating change,” Mr Bankston told the jury on Tuesday. “You have the power to prevent this from happening again.”
Mr. Jones, an ally of former President Donald J. Trump who broadcast the Jan. 6 attack live as it unfolded, is under scrutiny for his role in the planning of the events surrounding the riot.