Hours after 26 people were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Alex Jones began spouting false claims that the massacre wasn’t real.
Nearly 10 years later, the far-right conspiracy theorist’s inflammatory comments have continued to haunt him as families of the shooting victims - 20 of which were young children - seek to hold him accountable in court.
The legal battle was thrust back into the spotlight last week, when he failed to appear twice for a deposition in a defamation lawsuit brought by the families.
Mr Jones had sought to delay the deposition, citing doctors who said he was too sick to attend despite the fact that he continued hosting his Infowars show.
A Connecticut judge denied his motions to delay, leading lawyers for the families to call for his arrest for contempt of court after he failed to show.
On Tuesday, 29 March, Mr Jones offered to settle the cases by giving a “heartfelt apology” and $120,000 payout per plaintiff. That offer was rejected by the families.
The following day, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis approved the plaintiffs’ motion to hold Mr Jones in contempt. He will now face fines of up to $75,000 for each day that passes without the deposition taking place.
Here’s what you need to know about the years-long legal battle between the far-right personality and the families of the victims of one of the worst mass shootings in American history:
What happened at Sandy Hook?
On 14 December 2012, 26 people were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
That morning, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot dead his mother at their home and then drove her car to the public school for kindergarten through fourth grade students, armed with four firearms.
He murdered 20 students aged just six and seven years old and six staff members before turning a gun on himself.
The massacre - which remains the worst crime in modern Connecticut history nine years on - ignited calls for stricter gun controls in the US.
What did Alex Jones do?
As the families were left to bury their small children, far-right conspiracy theorist Mr Jones pushed false claims that the mass shooting - and their murders - never even happened.
He even claimed the six and seven-year-olds being mourned never even existed.
Through his radio show and website Infowars, he claimed that the massacre was instead a “false flag” operation engineered by the government to bring about stricter gun control laws and take away Second Amendment rights.
He claimed that the event was “staged” and “completely fake”, carried out by “actors” as a “giant hoax”.
His conspiracy theories began less than two hours after the mass shooting took place on 14 December 2012.
“There is a reported school shooting in Connecticut - one of the states that has draconian restrictions on gun ownership… The media will hype the living daylights out of this,” he told his listeners.
“Why do governments stage these things? To get our guns!”
Months later, in April 2013, he claimed the evidence the massacre was staged was “overwhelming”.
For years he continued to push the false claims, sharing one video entitled “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed”, where he claimed that“they had porta potties being delivered an hour after it happened, for the big media event”.
He further doubled down on his comments in a controversial interview with Megyn Kelly in 2017.
In 2019, Mr Jones appeared to walk back his claims admitting in a deposition that he accepted that the massacre was real and blaming “a form of psychosis” for his ever questioning it.
However, he continued to insist there were “anomalies” in the account of events and that there had been a “cover-up”.
Impact on the families
Besides dealing with their unspeakable grief, Mr Jones’ lies took a heavy toll on the families of the victims.
Many were subjected to years of in-person and online harassment and threats from his followers, memorials were defaced and several families moved from the area to get away from the torment.
In 2014, Andrew David Truelove was arrested for stealing memorial signs for the dead children and telling the parents they shouldn’t care because their children didn’t exist in the first place.
In 2020, former Infowars contributor Wolfgang Halbig was finally arrested after spending years allegedly harassing the grieving families and members of the Newtown community, claiming their dead children were played by “crisis actors”.
Police said Mr Halbig repeatedly contacted several families including Leonard Pozner, whose son Noah was murdered in the mass shooting, released their personal information online and emailed them images claiming to be of their dead children.
Meanwhile, Mr Jones financially profited from spreading the lies through his Infowars show.
The legal battles
In 2018, a total of 10 families of victims filed four defamation lawsuits in Texas - where Infowars is based - and Connecticut against Mr Jones and Infowars over his false claims.
Last year, judges in all four cases ruled that the families had won the defamation cases and that Mr Jones was guilty by default for failing to provide evidence.
The cases will now go to juries to decide how much the conspiracy theorist must pay to the families in terms of damages and legal fees.
Mr Jones was set to testify under oath last week on 23 and 24 March as part of the settlement proceedings. His lawyers had made a last-ditch attempt to delay the questioning under oath, claiming he was too sick to attend due to unnamed “medical conditions” and that doctors had advised him to remain at home.
A judge turned down his requests to delay, in part because he was seemingly well enough to continue broadcasting his hours-long show - leaving his home on at least one occasion to travel to his studio to film it. He subsequently defied court orders by failing to show up for the depositions both days.
It later emerged that the doctor who advised him that he was too unwell to attend the deposition was the same doctor who appeared on his show on 21 March to attack the Covid-19 vaccines as “poison” and call the US’s top doctor Dr Anthony Fauci “the greatest mass murderer in the history of the world”.
After he missed the deposition for a second time, the attorneys representing the victims’ families urged the judge to find Mr Jones in contempt of court and have him arrested. Attorney Christopher Mattei called Mr Jones’ failure to appear a “cowardly attempt ... to escape accountability for the years he spent spreading lies about Sandy Hook” in a statement to The Independent.
Mr Jones defended himself against the plaintiffs’ efforts to have him arrested in a pre-recorded video on his Infowars website last Thursday - the same day he said he was too unwell to attend the second deposition date.
Titled “Sandy Hook mafia calls for Alex Jones’ arrest: Legendary talk show host responds”, he claimed he was being treated worse than death row prisoners.
“Somebody on death row is allowed to go get their medical treatment and hearings and things are postponed but I’m treated worse than somebody on death row,” he said.
He did not detail the nature of his health issues saying that they are “private”.
Lawyers for the far-right conspiracy theorist made their case for why Mr Jones should not be sanctioned in a court filing on 28 March, arguing that sitting for the deposition would cause him “significant stress” and accusing the plaintiffs of “blatantly” asking the judge to overrule his doctors.
Mr Jones’ attorney Norman Pattis cited the coronavirus pandemic in stressing the importance of trusting doctors - something Mr Jones has balked at in the past as he repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the virus and doubted the reliability of vaccines on his Infowars show.
Judge Bellis granted the request to hold Mr Jones in contempt at a hearing on 31 March after doubling down on her finding that the evidence on his ailments was insufficient.
The judge offered Mr Jones the opportunity to purge the contempt if he sits for a deposition by 10 April - but said he will face a fine of $25,000 should he fail to do so by this Friday, and the fine will increase to $75,000 per day on Monday.
Rejected settlement offer
The night before the contempt hearing, Mr Jones’ legal team submitted a settlement proposal that would include a “heartfelt apology” and $120,000 per plaintiff.
“It’s time for the litigation to end,” Mr Pattis told Law&Crime. “The shooting took place almost 10 years ago.”
Lawyers for the families quickly shut down the offer, telling the Associated Press on Tuesday the settlement was a “transparent and desperate attempt by Alex Jones to escape a public reckoning under oath with his deceitful, profit-driven campaign against the plaintiffs and the memory of their loved ones lost at Sandy Hook.”
Mr Jones then issued a statement attacking the families for refusing his offer.
“The Sandy Hook shootings are almost a decade behind us. It’s time to put this case behind us, too. Most of the families affected never joined the suits; those who have are no doubt weary of it. The world is on the cusp of war and all the ambulance chasers care about is hatred,” a section of the lengthy statement reads.
His conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook massacre are far from Mr Jones’ only legal woes and controversies.
In January, Mr Jones appeared before the House Committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot that saw Donald Trump supporters storm the Capitol to try to overturn the election.
He had been subpoenaed to testify after the committee said it had evidence that he was involved in planning and funding Mr Trump’s rally prior to the insurrection and that he promoted the “wild” event on his show.
The committee said he had also led a crowd from the rally to the Capitol.
Mr Jones claimed after the riot that the Trump White House had asked him to “lead the march” from the rally to the Capitol that day.
Following his committee testimony, Mr Jones claimed on his show that he pleaded the fifth “100 times” during questioning.