The first Sandy Hook defamation suit against agitprop podcaster Alex Jones is underway in Austin, Texas this week. After years of harassment by Jones’s rabid fans convinced that the shooting of their 6-year-old son Jesse and 21 others was a hoax, plaintiffs Neil Heslin and Scarlet Lewis are finally getting their day in court.
Team Jones has mounted what could generously be described as a shitshow dumpster fire performance before Travis County District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble. The other day Jones’s attorney Andino Reynal actually flipped off opposing counsel Mark Bankston in the courtroom — although outside the presence of the judge and jury. And somehow yesterday was worse.
For reasons unclear, Jones’s company decided that producer Daria Karpova was the best person to represent Infowars on the witness stand. And so she spent yesterday and today unsuccessfully attempting to bob and weave around Bankston’s questions. In a truly spectacular own goal, Karpova characterized a 2017 interview Jones did with Megyn Kelly, then of NBC, as being almost entirely about the Sandy Hook shooting.
For purposes of impeachment, the plaintiffs were then allowed to play the entire 17-minute segment in open court, including a sizzle reel that included Jones calling victims of the 2017 suicide bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester “liberals and trendies,” opining that the videos of kids fleeing Sandy Hook “looked like a drill,” admitting that his “research” consists of pulling up articles on the internet and discussing them with his producers, and refusing to apologize for any of it. And that was before Kelly interviewed Heslin about holding his dead son in his arms to say goodbye.
Karpova further ingratiated herself with the jury by remarking sympathetically that it’s very stressful being Alex Jones because people tell horrible lies about him. This prompted an incredulous outburst from the plaintiffs’ lawyer, who wondered if she understood how “ironic” it was to say such a thing in the room with people whose son was murdered and who then found themselves swept up in a maelstrom of lies by a huckster who flogs supplements online.
At the conclusion of her questioning, Karpova was ushered out into the hall while the jury propounded written questions for her. (Apparently it’s a Texas thing?) In an ominous sign for the defendant, the questions were all of the “when did you stop beating your wife” variety. And yet, counselor Reynal failed to object until Karpova was back on the stand, at which point, realizing his mistake, he attempted to interrupt. Too late!
Does the Infowars staff do research? Kind of.
Was the Infowars segment “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed” literal or metaphorical? Metaphor.
Does the witness think this entire event is a staged show trial? Partially staged.
Can the witness compare Jones’s grief to the grief of the plaintiffs whose child was murdered? Alex has suffered, it’s hard to compare the two.
It was brutal. And yet Karpova was only the second worst witness of the day, because after her came Owen Shroyer. Shroyer is an Infowars host who pushed the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, called for former President Barack Obama to be lynched, and is currently charged with unlawfully entering the Capitol on January 6, 2021, an action he likens to those of Jesus Christ and the Dalai Lama.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Kyle Farrar got the ball rolling by getting Shroyer to agree that deceptively editing videos is bad. Also airing unvetted stories and videos from random sources, because people can get hurt, and that, too, is bad.
Golly, wherever could this line of questioning be going?
Surprise! It was going to Shroyer using a deceptively edited video from some rando on the internet without doing a single moment of vetting in an apparent effort to smear Heslin and get back at Megyn Kelly.
In a spectacular act of cruelty, Shroyer took a “story” from an anonymous internet source to suggest that Heslin was lying when he told Kelly he’d held his dead son in his arms. Based on a snippet of video from the coroner explaining that the bodies were so riddled with machine gun fire that he’d opted to allow the parents to identify their children by photograph rather than in-person, Shroyer inferred that the state had confiscated the bodies and never returned them to the parents at all.
“You would remember if you held your dad kid in your hands with a bullet hole, that’s not something you forget,” Shroyer said gleefully in the broadcast, played multiple times for the jury.
“I could have done a better job,” Shroyer conceded.
“You could have done a job,” Farrar shot back.
When Shroyer protested that he was live on air when the story came to him and didn’t have time to check it, Farrar pounced
“Is ‘I didn’t have time’ an excuse for defamation?” he demanded.
Shroyer conceded it was not.
Farrar managed to tie Shroyer’s lies to the drive to flog supplements, weaving in questions about the company’s ads — “Is this the toothpaste you guys claimed cures COVID?” — and got Shroyer to admit that Infowars’s vetting of products like “Insta-Hard” pills is as rigorous as its factchecking — “We test our products on ourselves.”
Then he played the tape of Shroyer’s segment on Neil Heslin, which segued directly into an ad for “Z shield” supplements.
“I had four minutes left to break,” Shroyer spluttered, when asked why he didn’t fact check the false claims about the state of Connecticut confiscating children’s bodies.
“Four minutes ’til it was time to sell metal ion pills?” Farrar responded.
And like Karpova, Shroyer seemed intent on making himself as unlikable to the jury as possible, conceding that the plaintiffs must have been hurt by his broadcast, but rationalizing that the trial was probably prolonging the pain.
“I’m very upset that this continues and I hope that this can end sometime,” he said. Yes, really.
And still, there was room for it to get even worse!
After Shroyer’s testimony, Judge Gamble dismissed the jury and engaged in a colloquy with the witness about his broadcasts this week. Because, although Reynal had warned the jurors during his opening statement that his client had a “medical condition” and might not be able to be present in court during the trial, in fact Jones was absenting himself from the hearing for his regularly scheduled podcast. (Don’t worry, Farrar managed to get that part in before the jury left.)
The judge already admonished Jones for his antics in the hall Tuesday, where he shouted at reporters that this was a “kangaroo court” and a “witch trial.” And still Shroyer and Jones both discussed the case on air for their millions of fans.
“Didn’t Mr. Reynal inform you that you are under the rule,” queried a visibly furious Judge Gamble.
Shroyer’s answer was non-committal, as was his attorney’s.
“Enough with the aw shucks act. You’re not a brand new lawyer,” she lashed out at Reynal, promising to verify compliance and review the damage from yesterday’s broadcast.
How can it possibly get worse when court resumes today? Dunno, but it’s a safe bet that it will!
Liz Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.