Attorney puts Infowars' profits, reckless coverage of Sandy Hook on display in Alex Jones' CT trial

Photo of Jesse Leavenworth

WATERBURY — The father of a slain Sandy Hook boy who last month was awarded about $49 million in damages from Alex Jones was in the spotlight again Friday at the conspiracy theorist's second defamation trial.

The fourth day of Jones' Connecticut trial included a clip from an Infowars broadcast questioning whether Neil Heslin, father of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, actually held his dead son in his arms.

Heslin said in an NBC interview in 2017 that he cradled his son's body "with a bullet hole through his head" after the massacre of 20 children and six adults in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012. Owen Shroyer, a host on "The Alex Jones Show," referred to an anonymously authored article on a site called Zero Hedge that he said showed Heslin's account was dubious.

Shroyer acknowledged in a separate defamation damages trial in Texas that ended last month with the award to Heslin and Jesse Lewis's mother that he never checked the article's credibility and did no background work before airing accompanying videos to the Infowars audience.

Jurors in state Superior Court in Waterbury are to determine how much Jones should pay to eight Sandy Hook families and an FBI agent he defamed.  The trial, which could last four to six weeks, began Tuesday with emotional testimony from the FBI agent and the sister of a Sandy Hook teacher killed in the massacre. Both testified that the shooting and the victims were "real," countering Jones' false claims that the tragedy was “staged,” “synthetic,” “manufactured,” “a giant hoax,” and “completely fake with actors.” This is the second of three similar trials being held in Texas and Connecticut.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Christopher Mattei had been questioning Brittany Paz, Jones's Free Speech Systems representative and a Connecticut attorney. Mattei has contended that Infowars carefully tracked visits to the Infowars website, which spiked with high-profile stories claiming Sandy Hook was a hoax, and used those numbers and listeners' fears of a government "gun grab" to boost advertising and rake profits from supplements, survival gear, nonperishable food and other items at its online stores.

The plaintiffs' lawyer has been painting Jones, who has touted Infowars as "The House of Truth," as a chronic fraud with little or no concerns about facts. On Friday, Mattei exhibited an Infowars article meant to show that even Jones's own employees have balked at his strategy,

The article was based on a TV report from April 2020 titled, “Staged? Video shows hospital using dummies in ER for coronavirus coverage.” Published as the pandemic surged, the article posed the question: "if hospitals truly are struggling with the influx of coronavirus patients, why would the media use footage of healthcare workers practicing on mannequins?"Mattei then showed the jury a message from Infowars employee Paul Watson to Jones saying that the article “makes us look ridiculous – Sandy Hook all over again.” Jones responded, “I get it,” according to the court exhibit of the exchange, but Infowars left the article up on the website, Mattei told the jury.

Mattei also showed internal emails from Infowars employees about sales from the online store. On Jan. 27, 2020 the company's business manager reported to Jones that $110,000 in sales of food had brought almost $70,000 "in pure profit." Another sales report from the same manager said the company "ended up at about $810,000 on one day," with food sales accounting for $650-$750,000 of that. Mattei maintained that Infowars' weekly revenue is about $1 million, but Paz said she did not know if that was right.

An expert witness testified in Texas that Jones’ net worth was between $135 million and $270 million, but Jones’ representatives say he has spent $10 million on attorney fees and has lost at least $20 million because of the Sandy Hook lawsuits.

When Jones' attorney Norm Pattis' turn came to question Paz, he was repeatedly stymied by Mattei's objections to hearsay evidence and Judge Barbara Bellis's rulings in the plaintiffs' favor. Sidebar discussions made clear that Pattis was trying to establish that Jones talked about many other topics besides Sandy Hook,  most notably Donald Trump, and that coverage also helped boost his ratings

In his opening statement and again Friday, Pattis labeled Jones "an angry populist." Mattei, he said, is trying to portray Jones as a merchandiser of fear, but Jones only reacts to fears people have, Pattis said. He contends that plaintiffs are exaggerating the case against Jones, who has recanted his statements about Sandy Hook being a hoax.

The trial is to resume on Tuesday and Jones is expected to testify some time next week.