Parents of Sandy Hook victims finally got to face Alex Jones in court this week after he spent years claiming their children never existed—that they were actors in an elaborate plot to take away America’s guns. Jones has built a media empire on stories like this, earning him tens of millions. Now, with a $4 million verdict so far for two of the parents, and with punitive damages and several other trials still to come, he’s facing some kind of consequences. [Update, 6:08 p.m.: The jury awarded an additional $45.2 million in punitive damages to two parents on Friday, though under Texas law, the final payout is likely to be much lower.]
Will it matter? How much trouble is Jones really in? Dan Friesen, the co-host of the podcast Knowledge Fight, a play on Jones’s Infowars, has been in court in Austin and watched the trial unfold. On his podcast, he spends hours upon hours chronicling Jones’ show and public statements, creating a dizzying ledger of what America’s foremost conspiracist is pumping out to his audience. He started the show in 2017 because he wanted to get inside Jones’ mind; five years and hundreds of episodes later, Friesen watched what Jones was doing in court with clearer eyes than most. Over the phone, he described what it’s been like in the court room, what he noticed that others have overlooked, and whether or not these trials will have a real impact on Jones’ empire. Our conversation has been condensed and edited.
Aymann Ismail: You watch Alex Jones full time, everything he does. How exceptional has this week been?
Dan Friesen: These two weeks have been pretty big for Alex. But I think it’s important to contextualize this trial as a part of all of the cases against him. He has the Lafferty case in Connecticut, the Pozner case in Texas. I might be forgetting one or two, but for all of these cases, he’s stonewalled and refused to cooperate in any way with discovery, which is dragging this process out forever.
This week, he heard the first part of the jury verdict on damages. And there’s a real sense that this is a moment that didn’t feel like it was ever going to come. Alex probably isn’t happy it’s come. There are side issues too, like the text messages being accidentally sent to the plaintiff’s attorneys. This is going to be very significant in his life, I think.
So far he has to pay $4.1 million, with punitive damages to come. How significant is that to him?
That is low for what many expected. There’s still the punitive damages portion that hasn’t come yet, and he has a number of suits, so you’ve got to multiply this by a few. But it’s a little bit depressing because he just got that $8 million donation in Bitcoin. So this is half of that. It doesn’t seem like that meaningful of an amount for him.
Do these trials in general pose a real threat to Jones’ empire?
His financial circumstances are mysterious even to folks like myself who really try to understand him. $2 million would obviously be not fun for Alex to pay. But some anonymous person gave him that $8 million in Bitcoin. This anonymous multimillion dollar donor he has raises the question of how much access Alex has other mega-donors who might be able to keep him afloat. Obviously, there is the possibility that these cases as a whole could put him in trouble. But I don’t think anybody really fully knows what he may or may not have access to in terms of resources.
Do you think the lawsuit did what it set out to do, then?
I think it’s more important to understand this case more from the plaintiffs’ perspective than Alex’s. Even if this doesn’t end up completely destroying Alex, there’s something to [Sandy Hook parents] Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin’s culmination of what they’ve gone through to Alex’s face in court. Ms. Lewis in particular testified while Alex was in court. It was very meaningful for her to express some things to him there. We’re talking about years and years of suffering. How do you put a value on being able to speak your piece to someone who has caused you years and years of pain? Whatever letdown anybody has about the number not being high enough to destroy Alex is, I don’t want to say missing the point, but is projecting a hope that maybe isn’t what the plaintiffs fully were looking for.
From my sense, I don’t think that Lewis and Heslin were setting out to bankrupt Alex and make sure he can never work again. On the stand, Heslin said that he hoped that Alex would be able to stay in business. Their hope was to create enough of a consequence that he wouldn’t do this sort of thing again to anybody else. Unfortunately, as someone who studies him, I can say that no amount of money, short of him going out of business, will ever teach him a lesson. But that’s me, as opposed to what I believe the plaintiffs feel.
What have you noticed in watching Alex Jones on the stand that someone who isn’t as familiar with him wouldn’t have?
When his lawyers were asking him questions, I think he was putting on an act. He wanted to look like a normal and rational person. But when he was being questioned by the judge, he would answer questions that weren’t being asked, and the judge would have to tell him to stop. That’s really how he works. If you listen or watch his show, you’ll notice it’s almost impossible to focus on what he’s saying if you’re not paying close attention. He goes off in tangents constantly. On the stand, you could see that. That’s just how he is.
But that torn larynx and coughing thing I don’t think was real. I think that was a ploy to avoid subjects that were hyper uncomfortable for him. He would have some coughs or say “excuse me a minute” to control the pace of questions that he didn’t know how to handle.
Jones was forced to admit that he was wrong and that the Sandy Hook massacre was “100% real.” Were you surprised to see that?
Not at all. He said that trying to cover his ass before. That’s not really that groundbreaking. It’s somewhat meaningless in terms of the central question of the case, because great, you figured it out eventually, but the damage that you did was done. It also certainly doesn’t qualify as a sincere apology, given that his behavior has not really changed.
Alex can present whatever he wants on his show without legal consequences. When he did his deposition in December, he said he believed it was fake for a bit, then came around and realized that it all happened. Then he got on his show the day after and was said, “Now going through all this, maybe I was right.” He can say what he wants in court, and it won’t have as much of an impact on his influence or his audience that someone might think.
Is Alex Jones’ lawyer as bad as he seems to be?
I don’t believe his lawyer is that bad. He is a highly qualified lawyer. He was appointed to a position by Eric Holder. He isn’t somebody who’s like fresh out of law school. But he showed witnesses something he hadn’t shown the plaintiff’s lawyers, which you can’t do. He got chastised for it, and it happened again. There are a couple reasons why he would make those kinds of mistakes, and none really make sense. Alex could be telling him what to do, and he is doing it. That’s a possibility. Sloppiness maybe is a possibility. I think the most likely reason is that he was attempting to get a mistrial by poisoning the jury so they can’t give a fair verdict. I think that’s saner than most other options, because I’ve been experiencing this entire process throughout the case. Alex has had like 10 lawyers, and the only thing he’s done with his legal team is try to delay and derail the processes.
What has the energy been like in the courtroom?
Honestly, I’m impressed with how respectful it’s been. When I headed down to Austin, I was really worried about it turning into a zoo. I had seen Alex events before and the type of folks who come out and yell “Infowars.com!” and what have you. It’s an open court, so anybody can come. Legitimately, there were more fans of my podcast than Infowars that came to the actual trial. There wasn’t a swarm of media, either, a few local outlets at most.
There wasn’t any media blitz or the sense that this was some kind of a huge event that Alex could exploit for promotional value. I thought that was really, really good. Everyone in the courtroom was confused by a lot of Alex, his behavior, but more importantly, I think everybody was deeply moved by the testimonies that were delivered by Neil and Scarlet. I think the vibe was pretty reverent, and my sense was this is as good as it could be for an Alex Jones trial.
The day that Alex and Neil and Scarlet were to testify, the judge said that if at any point things seemed like they were performances more for the media than the case, then she would shut down the livestream and take all media out of the room. We can’t pretend that this isn’t something of interest, but that interest is secondary to giving these people their day in court.
Alex Jones is still producing his show while in court. Has his show changed as the trial intensified?
I haven’t watched all of it because it would just not be humanly possible to be taking in the trial and his show, but I’ve seen bits. I watched like an hour here. It doesn’t feel that different to me. He’s asking for money and lying about things. It’s standard. The day he testified, while Neil Heslin was testifying, Alex was on his show suggesting that he and Scarlett were both being used in some sort of a nefarious legal conspiracy against him. He also talked about how pride parades are full of people eating poop on the streets and giving each other monkeypox. So, he’s doing what he always does. I didn’t see any change in behavior.
You’ve talked about how powerful the testimony was. Do you think any words from the family got through to him?
He doesn’t care. I think that it’s hard for people to understand because we care. But he doesn’t care at all. He doesn’t care that these people were hurt. He’s rewritten his own history in his mind like a child might, in order to absolve himself of any blame for any of his actions. He can abstractly maybe think like, “Oh no. Their kid died. That’s real sad. That doesn’t have anything to do with me. I was just asking questions!” and go about his life. It sucks, but in my experience, he does not care at all. I don’t know how to put it any more bluntly than that.