Parents who lost their 6-year-old son in the Sandy Hook massacre confronted right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in a courthouse Tuesday, saying his claims that the deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history was a “giant hoax” created a “living hell” for them.
Heslin, who took the stand before Jones arrived at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin on Tuesday, spoke of his grief — compounded with death threats and abuse from strangers that led the parents to fear for their own lives. “I can’t even describe the last nine and a half years, the living hell that I and others have had to endure because of the recklessness and negligence of Alex Jones,” Heslin told the jury.
Twenty-six people were killed in the shooting, 20 of them young children. Jones had told his audiences that it was a “false flag” operation carried out by “crisis actors.”
“My son existed,” Jesse’s tearful mother said, directing her testimony toward Jones. “There’s records of Jesse’s birth.”
Jurors in Austin, where Infowars is headquartered, will not hear evidence about the defamation claims because Judge Maya Guerra Gamble entered a rare default judgment against Jones after he refused to turn over documents to the parents’ lawyers. Instead, the jury will determine how much in compensatory and punitive damages Jones must pay.
Infowars’ parent company, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy last week, according to Jones’s attorney, who said the firm would not interfere with the defamation lawsuit.
Lewis stressed that she was not part of any “deep state” conspiracy theory. “I know you know that. That’s the problem … and you keep saying it, why? For money?” she asked. Jones shook his head.
“It seems so incredible to me that we have to do this — that we have to implore you … to get you to stop lying,” Lewis said. “I am so glad this day is here. I’m actually relieved … that I got to say all this to you.”
Heslin testified that it was unclear whether the conspiracy theory had started with Jones but said it was Jones who “lit the match and started the fire,” reaching millions with his Infowars platform.
A forensic psychologist who testified said Heslin and Lewis suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Jones has previously acknowledged that the shooting took place and blamed his false claims on “a form of psychosis.” He testified Tuesday that he had been waiting to apologize and that his comments had been taken out of context.
“I never intentionally tried to hurt you. I never even said your name until this came to court — I didn’t know who you were until this came up,” Jones said. “The internet had questions. I had questions.”
Lewis asked Jones bluntly during her testimony: “Do you think I’m an actor?”
He replied: “No, I don’t think you’re an actor.”
Jones, 48, has been banned from major social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Spotify for violating their hate-speech policies. Judges in Connecticut and Texas have also found Jones liable for damages in lawsuits stemming from his false claims.
Jones described the legal proceedings as a “witch hunt” and a “show trial” in a tirade to reporters last month.
Timothy Bella contributed to this report.