Sandy Hook Parents Tie Years of Threats and Vitriol to Alex Jones
WATERBURY, Conn. — For nearly a decade, Robbie and Alissa Parker stayed mum about the damage Alex Jones’s lies about their daughter Emilie’s death at Sandy Hook Elementary had done to their family.
This week they ended their silence in a Connecticut courtroom, delivering a wrenching and angry rebuke to Mr. Jones, who for years on his Infowars show and website replayed Mr. Parker’s televised tribute to his daughter the night after her death in the 2012 shooting, calling him an “actor” and his presentation about Emilie “disgusting.”
“I’d been taught that you don’t engage with a bully,” Mr. Parker told a jury on Thursday. But he decided to sue Mr. Jones for defamation because “I already felt like I failed Emilie when she was alive because I sent her to school.” By not fighting back against the false theories, “I was starting to feel like I was failing her in her death.”
Mr. Parker is a key witness in the Connecticut damages case, which families of eight Sandy Hook victims and an F.B.I. agent implicated in the conspiracy theories won by default. The jury will decide how much Mr. Jones and Infowars must pay in damages.
Mr. Jones aired video of Mr. Parker’s remarks on the night after his daughter’s murder, labeling him a liar in attacks that continued for years. In so doing Mr. Jones made Mr. Parker the face of his bogus claims that the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting that killed 20 first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was staged by the government as a pretext for gun control, and the families were complicit in the plot.
Understand the Cases Against Alex Jones
A united front. Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist, is the focus of a long-running legal battle waged by families of victims of a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. Here is what to know:
Pushing misinformation. Mr. Jones used his Infowars media company to spread lies about Sandy Hook, claiming that the attack in 2012, in which 20 first graders and six educators were killed, was a hoax. The families of the victims say Mr. Jones’s lies have added to their devastation and his followers have harassed them, threatening their safety.
Defamation lawsuits. The families of 10 Sandy Hook victims sued Mr. Jones in four separate lawsuits. The cases never made it to a jury; Mr. Jones was found liable by default in all of them because he refused to turn over documents, including financial records, ordered by the courts over four years of litigation.
Mr. Jones’s line of defense. The Infowars host has claimed that his right to free speech protected him, even though the outcome of the cases was due to the fact that he failed to provide the necessary documents and testify.
Three trials. There will be three trials in total to determine how much Mr. Jones must pay the families of the Sandy Hook victims. The first happened in Austin, Texas, and a second trial is currently underway in Connecticut. The third trial is tentatively scheduled for later this year in Austin, but a date has not yet been set.
Compensatory and punitive damages. On Aug. 4, a jury in the Texas trial awarded the parents of one of the children killed in the mass shooting more than $4 million in compensatory damages and another $45.2 million in punitive damages. The current trial in Connecticut could be financially ruinous for Mr. Jones because of what is allowed by state law.
Mr. Parker had not known he was the first Sandy Hook relative to speak publicly when he agreed to meet what he thought would be one reporter in front of his church in Newtown. Faced with a sea of cameras and reporters, he gave a short, nervous laugh before launching into an emotional reminiscence of Emilie as a big sister, proficient artist and empathetic 6-year-old who drew pictures and cards for people she sensed were upset. Mr. Jones seized on that laugh to attack Mr. Parker as an actor, in multiple broadcasts over the years, excerpts from which were aired for the jury.
On Wednesday, Alissa Parker testified that the vicious comments and threats from believers in the hoax on a memorial Facebook page honoring Emilie so terrified her that she could not remember much of her daughter’s funeral. Mr. Parker testified that five minutes before the services, he found Mrs. Parker hiding in a coat closet, afraid to attend the funeral.
Grief should be “sacred,” Mr. Parker said Thursday, but he said Mr. Jones and his followers had stolen that from him.
Mr. Parker’s testimony was his first opportunity to address Mr. Jones with what he has endured. The Infowars fabulist was not in court on Thursday; he has skipped most of the trial except for one day of testimony last week, when he loudly declared he was “done” apologizing for defaming the eight victims’ families with his lies about the 2012 shooting and their suffering.
In testimony on Wednesday and Thursday, Mr. and Mrs. Parker demonstrated to the jury how Mr. Jones’s words — and the virtual siege that followed — terrified them, disrupted Emilie’s funeral and ignited online abuse, death threats and a confrontation on the street with a man who verbally attacked Mr. Parker, followed him for blocks and asked him how much he had earned from the government for lying about the shooting.
Mr. Parker told the jury on Thursday that he could tell without watching Infowars when Mr. Jones had mentioned him on his show because threats to his family surged. But the family members did not fight back until this lawsuit, Mr. Parker said, because they were afraid that engaging with the conspiracy theorists would ratchet up the attacks.
Late last year, Mr. Jones lost four separate defamation lawsuits filed by the families of 10 Sandy Hook victims. The families’ sweeping victory set in motion three trials for juries to decide how much Mr. Jones should pay the families in compensatory and punitive damages.
In the first trial earlier this summer, a jury in Austin, Texas, awarded Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, parents of Jesse Lewis, who died at Sandy Hook, nearly $50 million, though that total may be revised because Texas law caps verdicts at far less.
The Connecticut trial is the second of the three, with testimony scheduled to conclude late next week. Connecticut law allows for a potentially ruinous financial verdict against Mr. Jones, who was found to have violated a state law prohibiting the use of lies to sell products.
Mr. Jones has reaped more than $50 million in revenues annually in recent years by selling diet supplements, gun paraphernalia and survivalist gear on his broadcasts.
In excerpts from a videotaped deposition shown to the jury after Mr. Parker’s testimony on Thursday, David Jones, Mr. Jones’s father and the Infowars employee who got him into the supplements business, testified that Mr. Jones’s broadcasts used “puffery” to capitalize on viewers’ fears and sell products.
“Our customers are so loyal to us,” David Jones said, “that if we say something is good and good for you, they’re going to buy it, and buy a lot of it.”