In 2015, Infowars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson warned his boss, Alex Jones, that Sandy Hook conspiracy theories were damaging the site’s reputation, making it harder for Infowars to garner the mainstream credibility that Jones sought.
“This Sandy Hook stuff is killing us,” Watson wrote to Jones on December 17, 2015, according to court documents filed this week. “It’s promoted by the most bat shit crazy people like [Jeff] Rense and [James] Fetzer who all hate us anyway. Plus it makes us look really bad to align with people who harass the parents of dead kids. It’s going to hurt us with Drudge and bringing bigger names into the show. Plus the event happened three years ago. Why even risk our reputation for it?”
The message was included as part of the discovery process in ongoing lawsuits against Jones and Infowars pursued by multiple people connected to the Sandy Hook school shooting, including the parents of children killed in the massacre. During a deposition, attorney Mark Bankston questioned Watson about Infowars’s reliance on “bat shit crazy” sources like conspiracy theorists Rense and Fetzer, who pushed the falsehood that the Sandy Hook massacre never occurred, and no children were killed—asking the Infowars editor to weigh in on whether his boss, too, was “bat shit crazy.”
“I would say the description of them as ‘bat shit crazy’ would also involve things that they’ve said in the past unrelated to Sandy Hook, maybe about UFOs or alien abduction or holograms on 911, which I think was Fetz’s [sic] big thing for a while,” Watson said. “So, you know, they had—they have a previous [sic] of engaging in very obscure conspiracy theories, which would contribute to that description of bat shit crazy.”
“Do you think that their history of doing that is any different than Alex Jones?” Bankston asked Watson.
“No,” Watson replied, adding, “They have the right to engage in that speech under the First Amendment.”
Jones is making First Amendment defenses in the four defamation suits, which have thus far survived attempts to dismiss the claims under a state law that grants journalists and other citizens broad protections for speech.
Jones, in a three-hour deposition, was cagey about whether he considers himself a journalist. He said that “journalism is a very small part of what we do,” drawing a distinction between “punditry and opinion” and a “journalistic report.” Most news outlets ensure that facts stated in opinion pieces and punditry are accurate, while Jones argued that even statements of fact that he makes are actually just his opinion. If he said something false on the air, it was just him acting as “as a talk show host,” not a journalist. Bankston asked him whether he would consider it a factual statement to say, as Jones had, that portable toilets were delivered to the school site an hour and a half after the shooting. “If I said the moon was made out of cheese, as an opinion, whether I’m on a radio show or on a street corner, I’m allowed to,” Jones argued during the deposition.
Jones’s legal team has argued in the past that most of the plaintiffs, which include three families of Sandy Hook victims and one man who was publicly (and incorrectly) identified by an Infowars employee as the shooter, are public figures. That would limit their ability to make their claims. Jones himself made that argument again in this deposition, saying that “when parents and others become public figures and go out with a political mission to restrict gun ownership, then they have stepped into the arena of politics.” When Bankston responded that a Texas appellate court had already rejected that argument, Jones challenged its legitimacy, insisting, “I know that that’s a Democratic court.”
Throughout the deposition, Jones was keen to invoke Jeffrey Epstein, the sexual predator and high-powered political donor who was found dead in a jail cell in August, bringing him up three times in the deposition without being asked about him. That seems to suggest a strategy to win over the sympathies of those who believe that Epstein’s death involved foul play (a view that a reported 45 percent of Americans hold) by making the argument that questioning official stories can lead to the truth coming out in other cases. (“I very rarely talk about Sandy Hook,” Jones testified, saying that he “barely covered” the incident, although his legal team found at least 54 videos in which he discussed it.) Jones argued that, while he no longer holds this conviction, his sincere belief at the time he made those videos was that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged “because so many things are staged,” before again invoking Epstein. “America thinks that Epstein did not kill himself. Are you going to sue all them?” “People don’t believe that he killed himself,” Jones argued. “The government says that he did kill himself. […] [The establishment] want to be able to sue you to make you believe the official story and not question it.”
When Jones talks about Epstein in the deposition, he seems to do so because he considers that to be an example of how his on-air speculating is sometimes accurate, or at least not as unpopular as it has been with the Sandy Hook case.
“I’m proud of the compendium of my work, not small clips taken out of context,” Jones declared. “And I’m a good person. And I pioneered exposing Epstein 13 years ago, said they’d fly around on aircraft with the Clintons and kidnap children and it’s been proven right. Everybody comes up and shakes my hand, apologizes in Austin now, the liberals do. They go, ‘Oh, we’re sorry and we were wrong about you,’ and a bunch of other stuff.”
“So in some ways you’re a victim?” Bankston asked him.
“Let’s just say time is running out for the establishment,” Jones responded, to conclude the deposition. “Epstein didn’t kill himself.”
The lawsuits against Jones and Infowars are ongoing.