Conspiracy theorist and alt-right figure Alex Jones has admitted to saying that he believes the Sandy Hook school shooting is “100% real”, after years of claiming the attack was a hoax orchestrated by gun control advocates.
Jones and his media company, Free Speech Systems, have been taken to trial for defamation by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse Lewis was among the 26 killed in the massacre in the elementary school.
Closing arguments for the case were delivered on Wednesday (3 August) afternoon, with the jury now tasked with deliberating a verdict.
This is everything you need to know.
Who is Alex Jones?
Alex Jones is a far-right American radio show host who is known for perpetuating conspiracy theories on his show InfoWars.
Conspiracy theories that Jones has promoted include stating that the United States Government falsified the events of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 9/11 attacks and the 1969 Moon landing. A Trump supporter, Jones also supported the false claims of electoral fraud in the 2020 Presidential election.
He was born on 11 February 1974 in Dallas, Texas, and began his broadcasting career working at a call-in TV program in August. In 1996, he moved to radio, hosting a show called The Final Edition on KJFK - he was later fired.
After being fired from KJFK, Jones began airing his own show from his home and later founded InfoWars with his then-wife Kelly Jones in 1999.
Jones has been banned from a number of websites and social media platforms, including YouTube, Facebook and Spotify, for violating hate-speech policies. In 2018, Vimeo removed all of Jones’ videos due to “hateful content”, and his accounts were also removed from Pinterest, Mailchimp and LinkedIn.
The InfoWars app was removed from the Apple App Store in 2018 for “objectionable content” and he was also banned from using PayPal for business purposes for “hate or discriminatory intolerance against certain communities and religons”.
In 2020, the InfoWars app was also removed from the Google Play store due to Jones using his platform to spread misinformation about the Covid-19 virus and ensuing pandemic.
What happened at Sandy Hook?
In 2012, American elementary school Sandy Hook was the target of a shooting where 26 victims were killed, 20 of which were children aged between six and seven years old, and six adult staff members.
The attack was carried out by Adam Lanza, who was 20-years-old at the time. Prior to arriving at the school, Lanza shot and killed his own mother in their home in Newtown, Connecticut.
The incident is the deadliest mass shooting at an elementary school in US history, and the fourth overall deadliest mass shooting.
Charlotte Bacon, 6, Daniel Barden, 7, Olivia Engel, 6, Josephine Gay, 7, Dylan Hockley, 6, Madeleine Hsu, 6, Catherine Hubbard, 6, Chase Kowalski, 7, Jesse Lewis, 6, Ana Márquez-Greene, 6, James Mattioli, 6, Grace McDonnell, 7, Emilie Parker, 6, Jack Pinto, 6, Noah Pozner, 6, Caroline Previdi, 6, Jessica Rekos, 6, Avielle Richman, 6, Benjamin Wheeler, 6 and Allison Wyatt, 6, were all murdered.
The school personnel killed in the shooting were Rachel D’Avino, 29, behaviour therapist, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, principal, Anne Marie Murphy, 52, special education teacher, Lauren Rousseau, 30, teacher, Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist and Victoria Leigh Soto, 27, teacher.
The shooting began shortly after 9:35am and ended less than five minutes later, at 9:40am, when Lanza committed suicide by turning the gun on himself.
What has Alex Jones said about the Sandy Hook shooting?
Following the Sandy Hook attack, Jones spread the conspiracy theory that the shooting wasn’t real, and was instead a hoax created by gun control advocates to push for gun control.
He claimed that “no one died” in Sandy Hook, and that the incident was “completely fake with actors”. Jones said that the children who were killed were acting for the cameras, and that parents who lost their children had faked their deaths.
On his Infowars radio show, Jones said that the shooting was “staged” by the Government so that they could “go after our guns” and “start a civil war”.
The conspiracy theory led to the families of those connected to the Sandy Hook shooting to be harassed and to be sent death threats by people who believed the attack to be a hoax.
Jones later made similar claims about the Parkland shooting in 2018, just hours after the attack took place at Stoneman Douglas High School.
What’s the defamation trial about?
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of six-year-old Jesse Lewis, have sued Jones and his media company Free Speech Systems over the harassment and threats they and other parents say they have endured for years after Jones and his Infowars website claimed the 2012 attack was a hoax.
Mr Heslin told the court in Austin, Texas: “What was said about me and Sandy Hook itself resonates around the world.
“As time went on I truly realised how dangerous it was … My life has been threatened. I fear for my life, I fear for my safety.”
Mr Heslin and Ms Lewis suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that comes from constant trauma, similar to that endured by soldiers in war zones or child abuse victims, a forensic psychologist who studied their cases and met with them told the court.
This isn’t the first time Jones has been taken to trial over his comments about Sandy Hook.
A number of families affected by the attack have previously filed defamation suits against Jones, with courts in Texas and Connecticut having already found Jones liable for defamation for his portrayal of the Sandy Hook massacre.
In both states, judges have issued default judgments against Jones without trials because he failed to respond to court orders and turn over documents.
How much is he being sued for?
The parents have asked the jury to award $150 million dollars (£122 million) in compensation for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Jones has already tried to protect Free Speech Systems financially. The company filed for federal bankruptcy protection last week.
Sandy Hook families have separately sued Jones over his financial claims, arguing that the company is trying to protect millions owned by Jones and his family through shell entities.
Jones claimed in court records last year that he had a negative net worth of 20 million dollars (£16.6 million), but attorneys for Sandy Hook families have painted a different financial picture.
Court records show that Jones’ Infowars store, which sells nutritional supplements and survival gear, made more than 165 million dollars (£137 million) between 2015 and 2018.
Jones has also urged listeners on his Infowars programme to donate money.
What happened with Alex Jones’ text messages?
Attorneys for Jones “messed up” after they sent “every text message” that he has written in the past two years to his legal adversaries.
The mistake was revealed during an exchange between Jones and Mark Bankston, a Mr Heslin and Ms Lewis’ lawyer.
Bankston provided Jones with a copy of a text message he had written in which he mentioned his theory about the Sandy Hook shooting being fake - directly contradicting Jones’ sworn testimony in which said that he had no text messages that referenced Sandy Hook.
Bankston told Jones: “Do you know where I got this? Your attorney’s messed up and sent me a digital copy of your entire cellphone, with every text message you’ve sent for the past two years.”
Bankston also asked Jones if he knew what perjury was, which is the crime of lying under oath.
Did Alex Jones admit that the shooting was real?
Jones has since testified that he now understands it was irresponsible of him to declare the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre a hoax and that he now believes it was “100% real”.
Speaking the day after Jesse Lewis’ parents testified about the suffering, death threats and harassment they have endured because of what Jones has trumpeted on his media platforms, the Infowars host told a Texas courtroom that he definitely thinks the attack happened.
“Especially since I’ve met the parents. It’s 100% real,” Jones said at his trial to determine how much he and his media company, Free Speech Systems, owe for defaming Mr Heslin and Ms Lewis.
Mr Heslin and Ms Lewis said that an apology would not suffice and that Jones needed to be held accountable for repeatedly spreading falsehoods about the attack.
His lawyer asked him if he now understands it was “absolutely irresponsible” to push the false claims that the massacre did not happen and no-one died.
Jones said he does, but added: “[The media] won’t let me take it back.”
He also complained that he has been “typecast as someone that runs around talking about Sandy Hook, makes money off Sandy Hook, is obsessed by Sandy Hook”.
During a deposition in April, Jones insisted he wasn’t responsible for the suffering that Sandy Hook parents say they have endured because of the hoax conspiracy, including death threats and harassment by Jones’ followers.
“No, I don’t [accept] responsibility because I wasn’t trying to cause pain and suffering,” Jones said, according to the transcripts made public this month.
He continued: “They are being used and their children who can’t be brought back [are] being used to destroy the First Amendment.”