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Sandy Hook families' lawyer says he was given 2 years of Alex Jones' text messages


In an Austin courtroom today, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones admitted that the Sandy Hook school shooting - the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history - was, quote, "100% real." Some of the surviving Newtown parents are suing Jones for death threats and harassment that they have endured because of the lies he broadcast, and there were some shocking moments in this defamation trial today.

NPR's John Burnett is covering it from Austin. Hey, John.


SHAPIRO: Things are getting really intense in this trial. A lot of people here in the newsroom in D.C. were talking about it today. What happened this afternoon?

BURNETT: Whew - where do I start? Let's see. The attorney for the parents who are suing Jones for damages accused him of perjury. What happened was Alex Jones said earlier he didn't have any text messages that mentioned Sandy Hook. But the plaintiff's lawyer, Mark Bankston, said Jones's lawyers mistakenly turned over to him a large quantity of Jones's cell phone records, and there are lots of mentions of Sandy Hook.

SHAPIRO: Mistakenly turned over - didn't intend to - accidentally sent it to the...


SHAPIRO: ...Opposing lawyers?

BURNETT: So here's how it went down in court. The voice you'll hear is attorney Bankston, while Jones is on the stand looking flummoxed.


MARK BANKSTON: Mr. Jones, did you know that 12 days ago, your attorneys messed up and sent me an entire digital copy of your entire cell phone, with every text message you've sent for the past two years?

BURNETT: And Bankston concludes, and then you hear Jones.


BANKSTON: And that is how I know you lied to me when you said you didn't have text messages about Sandy Hook. Did you know that?

ALEX JONES: I - see, I told you the truth. This is your "Perry Mason" moment.

SHAPIRO: A "Perry Mason" moment - all right, what else did Alex Jones say when he took the stand under oath?

BURNETT: Well, Jones's attorney asked him if he now understands that it was, quote, "absolutely irresponsible" to say that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax staged by the federal government. Jones agreed that it was. He said he'd already conceded on his program that the massacre did happen, real children were killed. But he said, the mainstream media won't let me take it back.

SHAPIRO: Well, when he is not in the courtroom, what has Jones been saying on his Infowars program about this trial?

BURNETT: Yeah. Ari, instead of toning it down during the trial, Infowars seems to be going on the offensive. Jones wants to show his devoted followers that he won't back down. Today, the plaintiff's attorney played a video of a recent Infowars broadcast, and it seemed to attack the presiding judge, Maya Gamble. Before she was a judge, she was a lawyer for CPS - Texas Child Protective Services - which has had its share of problems.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Judge Maya Gamble comes from CPS, who has been exposed for human trafficking and working with pedophiles.

BURNETT: And one more thing, Ari - Jones also said on Infowars the jurors in his trial don't know what planet they're on. Let's see if that comes back to haunt him tomorrow.

SHAPIRO: And what's going to happen next in this trial?

BURNETT: Well, it goes to the jury tomorrow. Jones's whole defense has been that the First Amendment allows him to question not just the facts of Sandy Hook, but other major news events - from the September 11 attacks to the moon landing. But the attorney for the parents said, speech is free, but you have to pay for your lives - for the harm you've caused. He said Infowars has put profits over the well-being of the Sandy Hook parents, and those parents are seeking up to $150 million in damages for what the father said was 9 1/2 years of hell they lived through.

And here's a postscript to the newsy day, Ari. Rolling Stone reported today that the January 6 House committee is preparing to request the trove of Jones's text messages and emails that were revealed in this trial. Alex Jones was a huge Donald Trump supporter, and he was at the U.S. Capitol that day.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's John Burnett, covering that Alex Jones trial in Austin, Texas. Thanks, John.

BURNETT: You bet, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.
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