Members Only | August 11, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Alex Jones’ many-splendored phone
Norm Pattis, Connecticut trial lawyer, burned his client.
A Texas jury awarded $45.2 million dollars in punitive damages Friday in a defamation suit brought by the parents of a murdered Sandy Hook elementary school student whom extremist conspiracy media baron Alex Jones smeared as a “crisis actor.”
This is on top of $4.1 million in compensatory damages awarded by the same jury for Jones’ relentless campaign against a dead 6-year-old and his family.
Jones is liable for intentionally inflicting emotional distress upon Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, the parents of Jesse Lewis, who was gunned down alongside 19 of his fellow students and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Jones and his staff at InfoWars waged a relentless campaign of lies against the Sandy Hook parents, calling the shooting a “hoax” and insinuating that the victims were crisis actors hired by the government as a pretext to tighten gun laws.
The J6 committee is well aware that Alex Jones was Trump’s insurrectionary pied piper. He hyped the “wild protest” on his show, exhorting his audience to show up and stop the certification of the election.
During the trial, the plaintiffs’ lawyers exposed Jones’ lies and his predatory business model: Jones breaks his viewers down with terrifying lies about the New World Order, reptilians, the Illuminati and the parents of murdered children.
Then he soothes them with pitches for untested boner pills, tactical gear and freeze-dried mystery meals in buckets – everything the discerning conspiracy buff needs to handle the apocalypse that is always just around the corner.
Jones draws in viewers by hundreds of millions, sells advertising on their traffic and then has the audacity to milk the rubes for donations by promising them that only he dares to tell them the truth.
It turns out, gullibility, anxiety and vanity are infinitely monetizable.
A forensic economist hired by the plaintiffs estimated that Jones is worth somewhere between $135 million and $270 million. Despite being hired by the plaintiffs, the economist couldn’t hide his admiration for Jones’ success, likening the QAnon-friendly vitamin hustler to Genghis Khan. “He promulgated some hate speech and some misinformation, but he made a lot of money,” Bernard Pettingill told the jury.
God bless America!
On Wednesday, plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Bankston confronted a stunned Jones with text messages and other data from Jones’ phone.
“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?” he asked.
In an epic blunder, Jones’ Connecticut lawyer Norm Pattis inadvertently shared 300 gigabytes of data with Bankston.
Bankston warned the opposition that there had been some kind of mistake, but no one acted to cordon off any of the material as privileged within the 10-day deadline. So, Bankston got to use some of it in court to prove Jones had perjured himself.
The phone data proved that Jones was lying under oath when he claimed that a $2 million judgment would put him out of business and that he’d never texted about Sandy Hook.
But that’s just beginning.
Within minutes of these revelations being live-streamed, lawyers for the J6 committee sprang into action to subpoena the dumped data.
At a hearing the following day, Bankston said he intended to hand everything over to the J6 committee immediately unless Judge Maya Guerra Gamble intervened to stop him. She did not stand in his way.
On the contrary, the judge wryly predicted that the J6 committee would get those gigabytes whether Bankston cooperated or not.
The exact contents of the data leak are still unclear, but we already know that it’s not all from Alex Jones’ phone, indeed some of the records were part of an unrelated case.
The trove is huge and neither Jones’ defense lawyer, the plaintiffs’ attorneys, nor Judge Gamble seemed to know its full contents as of Thursday’s hearing.
About 2.3 gigabytes of the haul comes from Jones’ phone, including what Bankston described to the court as “intimate messages” between Jones and longtime Trump confidante Roger Stone, another person of great interest to the J6 committee. (Bankston later revealed that Jones had texted a nude photo of his wife to Stone, apparently without her consent – which may have been illegal.)
Jones met with the J6 committee in January. He claims to have asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination over 100 times.
The committee is well aware that Alex Jones was Trump’s insurrectionary pied piper. Jones hyped the “wild protest” on his show, exhorting his audience to show up and stop the certification of the election.
The committee also knows that Jones played a key role in fundraising to put on the rally at the Ellipse, the stage from which Trump set the mob upon the Capitol.
A particularly rabid Jones fangirl, a 72-year-old supermarket heiress named Janice Fancinelli wired $650,000 to stage the fateful rally at the Ellipse, a display of largesse that some of her concerned family members and other insiders ascribed to “her enthusiasm for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.”
The donation was handled by elite GOP fundraiser Caroline Wren, who insisted that only putting Jones on the podium alongside Trump would satisfy the InfoWars superfan.
Wren reportedly pushed so hard that someone called the park police about a potential “disorderly.” In the end, Jones attended the rally but not in a speaking role. As the president’s inflammatory speech wound down, staffers escorted Jones out so that he could lead the crowd to the Capitol.
Photos show Jones inside the restricted area. Two InfoWars staffers entered the Capitol itself and are now facing criminal charges.
Jones’ former employee, Joe Biggs, is a Proud Boy who is facing charges of seditious conspiracy for his role in the J6 riot.
Biggs is represented by none other than Connecticut lawyer and tech wizard Norm Pattis.
The texts are now in the hands of the January 6 committee and while they appear to predate the insurrection, they may still shed light on Jones’ connections to Trumpworld and the Proud Boys. Jones claims that he already gave the committee these texts in response to an earlier subpoena, so it will be interesting to see if the leaked version squares with what Jones offered up. If not, Jones’ habit of withholding information may again come back to bite him.
We don’t know what else was on Jones’ phone or whether Bankston shared the whole enchilada with the J6 committee, but if I were Joe Biggs I’d be worried.
As the name suggests, punitive damages are a punishment for particularly reprehensible behavior, above and beyond the compensation owed to a defendant’s victims.
Punitive damages are a jury’s opportunity to send a message to society. The award will probably be capped under Texas law, but the jury sent a clear message about the acceptability of lying about dead kids for money.
However, Jones’ biggest punishment may still be coming – at the hands of the January 6 committee or the criminal justice system.
Lindsay Beyerstein covers legal affairs, health care and politics for the Editorial Board. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, she’s a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Find her @beyerstein.