WATERBURY, Conn. — Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones took the stand Thursday at his defamation trial in Connecticut as he tries to limit the damages he must pay for promoting the lie that the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax.
More than a dozen family members of some of the 20 children and six educators killed in the shooting also showed up to observe his testimony in Waterbury Superior Court, which is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Newtown, where the shooting occurred.
Plaintiffs attorney Christopher Mattei showed a video from Jones' Infowars web show in which he called the mass shooting "phony as a three-dollar bill" and called the parents of the victims "crisis actors."
"Mr. Jones, if someone were to falsely claim that a group of families who had lost loved ones were actors and had faked the deaths of their loved ones, that would be a horrible thing to say, correct?" Mattei asked Jones before showing the video.
"In the context, it could be, yes," Jones replied.
Jones was found liable last year by default for damages to plaintiffs without a trial, as punishment for what the judge called his repeated failures to turn over documents to their lawyers. The six-member jury is now deciding how much Jones and Free Speech Systems, Infowars' parent company, should pay the families for defaming them and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.
In often emotional testimony, family members have described enduring death threats, in-person harassment and abusive comments on social media. Some moved to avoid the abuse.
Outside the courthouse, Jones calls his trial a "kangaroo court"
Jones has been in Connecticut this week in preparation for his appearance. He held a news conference Wednesday outside the courthouse, bashing the proceedings — as he has on his Infowars show — as a "travesty of justice" and calling the judge a "tyrant." He made similar comments on his way into the courthouse Thursday.
"This is not really a trial," he said. "This is a show trial, a literal kangaroo court."
The plaintiffs attorneys began by asking Jones whether he believed Judge Barbara Bellis was a tyrant and whether he calls a lot of people tyrants.
"Only when they act like it," he said.
Jones also was asked about a page on his Infowars site that called the trial a "kangaroo court" and advertisements on that page. He said the page was created by his staff, but called it a "good report." He also was asked about daily profit reports. Jones said he could not answer that question, but denied he saw the trial as a marketing opportunity.
On his show, he has called the trial an attack on free speech and when asked Thursday how important he felt the proceeding was, he answered, "I think this is historic."
Jones also said that credibility with his audience is not the most important thing to him. "It's crushing the globalists," he said.
Bellis began the day by going over the topics that Jones could not mention in his testimony: free speech rights; the Sandy Hook families' $73 million settlement this year with gun-maker Remington (the company made the Bushmaster rifle used to kill the victims at Sandy Hook); the percentage of Jones' shows that discussed Sandy Hook; and whether he profited from those shows or a similar case in Texas.
"This is not the appropriate forum for you to offer that testimony," Bellis said. Jones indicated that he understood.
But the jury had to be sent out of the courtroom several times while attorneys argued about the scope of Jones' answers.
"You're going to get your exercise today, for those of you who wear Fitbits," the judge told jurors.
Jones expresses regret but says his comments have been misrepresented
During the lunch break, Jones again complained to reporters about not being able to testify that he is "innocent," but said he does have some regrets about the content of his broadcasts dealing with Sandy Hook.
"I've said things I probably shouldn't have said," he added. "I didn't realize the power I had. And I've seen the families, I've met some of the families. I think they're real people. But it's the media and the lawyers that keep bringing it up and misrepresenting what I said and what I did."
Jones also has been found liable by default in two similar lawsuits over the hoax lies in his hometown of Austin, Texas, where a jury in one of the trials ordered Jones last month to pay nearly $50 million in damages to the parents of one of the children killed. A third trial in Texas is expected to begin near the end of the year.
When Jones faced the Texas jury last month and testified under oath, he toned down his rhetoric. He said he realized the hoax lies were irresponsible and the school shooting was "100% real."
Jones' shows had portrayed the Sandy Hook shooting as staged by crisis actors as part of gun control efforts.
Testimony at the current trial also has focused on website analytics data run by Infowars employees showing how its sales of dietary supplements, food, clothing and other items spiked around the time Jones talked about the Sandy Hook shooting.
Evidence, including internal Infowars emails and depositions, also shows dissention within the company about pushing the hoax lies.
Jones' lawyer Norman Pattis is arguing that any damages should be limited and accused the victims' relatives of exaggerating the harm the lies caused them.