It’s the second week of the defamation trial against InfoWars founder and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and on Tuesday, parents of a child slain in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting took the stand to testify against Jones. They said that his claims and conspiracy theories that the shooting was a hoax—that their children weren’t actually killed—have not only had a devastating psychological toll, but placed them in physical danger and forced them to fear for their lives.
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, parents of Jesse Lewis, who was 6 when he was killed in the shooting, are seeking damages of up to $150 million from Jones and his company Free Speech Systems LLC. Heslin took the stand first. He said that initially, he tried to ignore the lies and harassment stemming from conspiracy theories—but it became impossible because “psychopaths like Alex Jones” just kept pushing and escalating their attacks. To this day, Heslin said that some people will see him in the streets and tell him his son is alive.
Jones’ conspiracy theories have exposed Heslin to frequent harassment and death threats, resulting in nightmares, panic attacks, and severe PTSD. A couple of years ago, a stranger fired shots at Heslin’s home and car. “I wake up at night with panic attacks. I ended up in hospital several weeks ago with chest pains. It was stress and anxiety that brought it up,” Heslin said.
“I can’t even describe the past nine-and-a-half years of hell I have had to endure because of the negligence and recklessness of Alex Jones and the propaganda he has peddled for his own profits and success,” he said.
Heslin, who described Jesse as “energetic” and eager to help people, said that speaking at the trial nearly a decade after losing his son “reopened wounds that have never really healed.” The judge at one point reminded Heslin that there were tissues available to him on the stand as he cried.
When Heslin’s lawyer, Wes Ball, asked whether an apology from Jones would suffice for the severe emotional damage and physical threats he’s been forced to endure, Heslin responded: “Alex Jones’ apologies are worthless, at this stage any apology would not be sincere, it’s gone too late…I don’t even know if Alex is capable of sincere apology.” The damages, Heslin says, aren’t about money, but accountability and protecting future parents or other victims from enduring this level of torment and re-traumatization: “I believe it’s only way to put a stop to it to prevent this from happening anymore...there’s got to be a strong deterrent to put a stop to what is being said.”
Despite Jones’ claims that he didn’t start the Sandy Hook lie that’s further ruined the lives of parents like Heslin, Heslin argued that Jones and his platform are still responsible: “[Jones] is the one who lit the match and started the fire.”
Lewis took the stand after Heslin. She recounted some of the worst threats and acts of bullying she’s faced, including being shown a cruel, fabricated photo of the children killed in Sandy Hook singing at the 2013 Super Bowl halftime show, and being stalked and photographed by a stranger outside her house on Christmas morning.
She also testified that she was “frightened” by InfoWars listener Lucy Richards’ 2017 death threats to another Sandy Hook parent, Lenny Pozner, in which Richards left a voice message for Pozner saying, “You’re a loser, you’re going to rot in hell. Death is coming to you real soon, motherfucker. You are going to die.” The audio was played for the jury, and Lewis said she “felt like it was directed to all the families,” and that she’s received similar voice messages. “It’s fear. Fear for your life, not necessarily fear for mine—it’s fear for my surviving son, it’s fear for the other people who have been brought into this.”
Jones did not attend the trial on Tuesday, which Heslin rightfully called “cowardly.” Rather, Jones spent his morning at the InfoWars studio, referring to Heslin and Lewis as “pawns” in the movement against free speech, and claiming Heslin was “on the spectrum” and being manipulated.
Separately, Jones filed for bankruptcy for his company over the weekend.