Updated with testimony from Brittany Paz, a corporate spokesperson for InfoWars, at 1:45 p.m.
Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist and InfoWars founder, is back in the courtroom for calling the Sandy Hook massacre a hoax, profiting off the tragedy, and causing severe psychological distress to family members of the victims.
The trial, which began on Tuesday in Connecticut and is expected to last four weeks, is the second of three trials to determine how much Jones must pay in damages to family members of Sandy Hook victims, as well as one FBI agent who helped respond to the attack. It comes about a month after a jury in Austin, Texas, ruled Jones must pay close to $50 million in damages to the parents of Jesse Lewis, one of 26 students and teachers killed in the 2012 shooting. This current trial is expected to result in a larger award, as it involves three lawsuits against Jones, from 15 plaintiffs, consolidated into one.
On Tuesday, one of the first witnesses to testify was Carlee Soto Parisi, sister of Victoria Soto, one of the teachers who was killed. Soto Parisi, a plaintiff in the case, said that immediately after the shooting in December 2012, as a result of the conspiracy theories widely popularized by Jones, she received “threatening emails and messages on all social media,” including messages “where they would use the gun emoji.”
The harassment bled into real life for Soto Parisi: In 2016, a 5K her family hosted to honor her sister’s memory was crashed by a Sandy Hook truther who waved a sign with a photo that read “this never happened.” She said Sandy Hook truthers “copied and pasted” and posted her address and personal information across the internet. A photo of her on the phone, crying outside the school after the massacre, went viral among conspiracy theorists who claimed her hair and arm positioning indicated the entire attack had been staged. “I spoke with cops in Connecticut and my husband ended up having to speak with cops in North Carolina, because we were scared for our lives,” Soto Parisi testified on Tuesday. For years now, families of Sandy Hook victims have said they’ve been stalked, threatened, harassed, and forced to move houses, and also suffered severe psychological harm from distress inflicted by Jones and his supporters.
FBI agent William Aldenberg, another plaintiff, also testified on Tuesday, calling the shooting that he responded to “one of the worst things that ever happened,” and decrying how Jones and InfoWars had profited off the tragedy: “And people want to say this didn’t happen? And then they want to get rich off of it? That’s the worst part.”
“You know, you can say whatever you want about me, I don’t care,” Aldenberg said. “But then they want to make profits, they want to make millions and millions of dollars. They want to destroy people’s lives.”
As the trial continued on Wednesday, Brittany Paz, a corporate spokesperson for InfoWars, testified that the cryptocurrency donations Jones solicits from listeners while on-air go to him, rather than the company.
The admission came as one of the lawyers for the Sandy Hook families questioned Paz about the ambiguity around where the crypto donations go. Amid his ongoing legal issues, Jones has increasingly pleaded with audiences for donations—despite evidence of his company’s significant profits—to keep InfoWars afloat. In May, Southern Poverty Law Center reported an anonymous donor gave Jones $8 million in Bitcoin.
InfoWars’ profit and business model have been a particular focus in the first two days of this trial. Also on Tuesday, the judge sanctioned Jones for neglecting to turn over analytic data about his website and the popularity of his show, ruling that because of this oversight, his lawyers can’t argue that Jones didn’t profit from his Sandy Hook remarks. Seeing as InfoWars conveniently filed for bankruptcy at the start of last month, it seems likely his legal team planned to claim Jones’ company didn’t profit from its viral Sandy Hook lies—despite how phone records from the previous trial revealed he once made $800,000 from product sales in a single day, which would add up to more than $300 million a year.
Jones hasn’t yet taken the stand in this trial, but addressed the trial during his talk show on Tuesday. Jones conceded that he now believes the trial is real, but argued that his comments denying the massacre for years were still protected free speech. “This is total tyranny,” he told listeners. “I’ll tell you this, we can appeal this for years. We can beat this.”
He’s set to take the stand at some point later on in the trial—and who can forget how that went for him last time?