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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Sandy Hook parents to testify against Alex Jones, and a culture of lies

A makeshift memorial for Noah Pozner, the youngest victim of the shooting in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman took the lives of 26 people, including 20 children, in Fairfield, Conn., Dec. 17, 2012.

By Elizabeth Williamson

Far-right conspiracy broadcaster Alex Jones spread lies for years about the Sandy Hook school shooting, saying that it was staged by the government and that the families of the victims were complicit in the hoax. Juries will now decide in three separate trials how much Jones must pay for the suffering he caused.

The first trial began Tuesday in Austin, where Jones and his Infowars website are based. Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, parents of Jesse Lewis, 6, who died at Sandy Hook, were scheduled to testify to the torment they suffered after Jones implied on his show in 2017 that Heslin’s televised recollection of cradling Jesse’s body shortly after the shooting was false. The family has since endured years of accusations and threats.

Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, parents of Noah Pozner, the youngest Sandy Hook victim, are scheduled to testify at 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 defamation lawsuits against Jones last year, when judges ruled him liable by default for repeatedly failing to provide court-ordered documents and testimony. Those rulings set the stage for the upcoming trials, in which juries will award monetary damages to the families as a result of their victories.

Jones’ lawyers fear the awards could be potentially ruinous to his Austin-based Infowars empire, where he reaps revenues of more than $50 million a year peddling diet supplements, conspiracy videos and books, body armor, and doomsday prepper gear on his broadcasts.

The Sandy Hook families have a broader goal beyond damages for Jones: They want the trials to alert Americans to the mounting damage done to vulnerable people and civic life by viral political lies, whether bogus theories denying mass shootings or false claims of a “stolen” 2020 election that brought violence to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Jones is allied with former President Donald Trump, who appeared on Infowars during the 2016 campaign. Jones also has ties to extremist groups involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and is under scrutiny for his role in planning events preceding it.

“It’s very hard to fathom or relate to the danger of these online conspiracies and conspiracists, and the trial I think will definitely set a picture in people’s minds of how dangerous it is,” Heslin said in an interview. “I very much look forward to justice being served. It’s something that Jones started, and I’m going to finish it.”

Jones and his Texas lawyer, Federico Reynal, did not respond to requests for comment. On his show, Jones has been pleading with his fans to buy his products and contribute to his legal defense. “I’m not a quitter, and I can’t give up,” he said on his show Sunday. “I am working seven days a week to fight these bastards.”

Jones has spent years falsely claiming on his radio and online Infowars show that the December 2012 mass shooting that killed 20 first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was staged by the federal government as a pretext for confiscating Americans’ firearms.

Conspiracy theorists have accosted the families in public, defaced and stolen memorials to their loved ones, and threatened their lives. They have tormented the parents on social media, demanding they exhume their children’s bodies and “prove” they were murdered. Pozner and De La Rosa have moved a dozen times after conspiracy theorists posted their home addresses and other personal information.

In 2017, Heslin appeared on an NBC broadcast featuring Jones, hosted by Megyn Kelly, who had recently joined the network from Fox News. “I lost my son. I buried my son. I held my son with a bullet hole through his head,” Heslin told Kelly.

Afterward, Jones and Owen Shroyer, an Infowars sidekick, disputed Heslin’s account, implying he was lying in service to a government hoax aimed at gun control.

“It’s my right to say it. I can question big PR events like Sandy Hook, where there are major anomalies,” Jones said on his show. “They’re using Sandy Hook, and they’re using the victims and their families as a way to get rid of free speech in America. That’s the plan.”

Jones and a revolving cast of lawyers spent four years working to delay a courtroom reckoning for his Sandy Hook falsehoods. He and key staff members have failed to appear for depositions, stonewalled on providing court-ordered financial records and submitted what lawyers for the families say are falsified documents. Repeatedly rebuked by the courts, Jones responded by attacking the proceedings and the families’ lawyers on his show, calling at one point for one of their heads “on a pike.”

Citing Jones’ contempt for the judicial process, late last year judges in Texas and Connecticut ruled him liable by default in all the Sandy Hook cases, granting the families a sweeping victory. The trial juries will decide on how much to award the families in compensatory and punitive damages, after lawyers for the families provide them a detailed look at Jones’ business model, finances and net worth.

Last week a Texas appellate court rejected Jones’ request to delay payment of $1 million in sanctions resulting from his failure to show up for a deposition in the Connecticut case earlier this year. While Jones’ lawyers told Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara N. Bellis in a hearing that Jones was sick, he was broadcasting live from his studio, in an industrial park on Alvin Devane Boulevard here. Reynal, Jones’ lawyer, argued that the sanctions should wait until juries render their judgments, which Jones will almost certainly appeal. The court ordered Jones to pay the $1 million immediately.

It is not clear whether Jones will be called to testify in Texas, and if he does, whether he will appear in person or via video link. But his efforts to protect his livelihood have continued. Jones has reached out to the Justice Department, looking to share what he knows about the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot in exchange for immunity from prosecution. An immunity deal has not materialized and seems unlikely, two people familiar with Jones’ offer said at the time.

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