According to documents shown to a jury Thursday, Infowars’ revenues and website viewership increased after Alex Jones claimed on his show in 2014 that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax.
Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, are on trial in Connecticut in a lawsuit brought by an FBI agent who responded to the shooting and the families of eight of the twenty first graders and six educators killed in the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre in December 2012. They claim Jones has caused them emotional and psychological harm, and that Jones’ followers have threatened and harassed them.
Jones has already been found liable for spreading the myth that the shooting did not occur, and a six-member jury in Waterbury will decide how much he and his company should pay in damages to the plaintiffs. The trial began on Tuesday and is scheduled to last a month.
A lawyer for the families, Christopher Mattei, showed internal Infowars documents detailing revenue and website-visit spikes around the time of an article on the Infowars website on Sept. 24, 2014, claiming no one died at Sandy Hook and Jones discussing the article on his show the next day.
According to the lawsuit, Jones used lies to increase his audience and sales of nutritional supplements, clothing, and other merchandise that he sells on the Infowars website and promotes on his web show. The shooting, according to Jones and guests on his show, was staged with crisis actors as part of gun control efforts.
The discussion of revenue and web viewership occurred on Thursday, as Mattei questioned Brittany Paz, a Connecticut lawyer hired by Jones to testify about the operations of his companies.
Paz was also questioned about Infowars videos in which Jones and guests claim the massacre was staged using lies and misinformation. She admitted that much of what was said was false.
Jones claims in the videos that the school shooting was a “huge hoax” and the “fakeest thing since the $3 bill.” He claimed that aerial images showed student actors running in circles in and out of the school, but the images were actually of a nearby firehouse where people gathered after the shooting. He also claimed that CNN was using green screens to stage interviews with Sandy Hook victims.
Mattei later displayed an email from a company executive demonstrating internal conflict within Infowars regarding the continuation of conspiracy theories about the school shooting.
Paz admitted that Infowars spread false information. She also admitted that Jones did not check the credentials of a guest who appeared on his show multiple times — a conspiracy theorist who claimed to be a school security expert who had investigated the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado — even though Jones boasted about his credentials and Infowars received emails questioning the guest’s credibility.
Paz testified that she believes Jones and his companies have made at least $100 million in the ten years since the massacre, and that Jones is now worth millions. Website traffic data reports generated by Infowars employees and presented at the trial show that by 2016, his show was broadcast on 150 affiliate radio stations and the Infowars website received 40 million page views per month.
Paz was shown internal Infowars emails between employees sharing Google Analytics data by Mattei. Paz previously testified that she was told by Infowars employees that they did not use Google Analytics to track website viewing data on a regular basis. After showing her the emails, Mattei asked if her testimony that Infowars didn’t use Google Analytics on a regular basis was still valid.
Jones now says he believes the shooting occurred, but he maintains that his comments were protected by free speech rights, which he will not be able to argue at trial because he has already been found liable for damages.
According to the families, the emotional and psychological harm was severe and long-lasting. Social media harassment, death threats, strangers videotaping them and their children, and the surreal pain of being told they were faking their loss, according to relatives.