Loved ones of the Sandy Hook victims took the stand on the sixth day of the second libel trial against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Testifying in court in Waterbury, Connecticut on Wednesday, David Wheeler recounted how internet sleuths guided by Jones’ lies and claims that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax showed up at his door demanding to see his six year old son. who was among the 20 children and six educators killed in the attack.
Jones’ claims that the massacre was a government-orchestrated plan were broadcast to his millions of viewers. Wheeler said he learned of Jones’ false theories from a family friend, according to Well-informed person.
“Someone came to the house and knocked on the door. The person demanded to see Ben and said, ‘I know he’s here, I know he’s alive,’” Wheeler said. “I felt like he was underwater. He didn’t know which way he was up. To have someone publicly tell the world that it didn’t happen, that you are a fraud and a fraud is incredibly disorienting.”
Erica Lafferty, the daughter of Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was also killed, gave testimony eerily reminiscent of Wheeler’s. Lafferty described how she dealt with threats of violence and rape and with people telling her that she “should die and be buried next to my fake dead mother,” all while dealing with her grief.
“For 27 years of my life, that woman was my best friend,” said Lafferty, who has had to move five times since the conspiracy theories began. “For people to tell me that she didn’t exist, how do you let that happen?”
Wheeler testified how his days were consumed by relentless online messages accusing him of lying, saying that Ben never existed and that he was going to burn in hell for participating in the “cheating.”
Eventually the names and photos of him and his wife were posted on fake Twitter accounts. He was again called a liar, a crisis actor.
On two occasions, strangers came to her home demanding to see the son she had just buried and was actively grieving.
The situation became so dire that Mr. Wheeler had to sit down with his surviving son, Nate, and discuss the extent of the conspiracy theories: his son did not understand how the suffering that was so raw and undeniable to them could be questioned by strangers.
“It was degrading. He felt like being delegitimized in some way. He makes you feel like you don’t matter, that what you went through doesn’t matter,” Wheeler said.
Though Jones never mentioned him by name, Wheeler said his audience knew who he meant when the far-right Inforwar founder referred to the “crisis actor.”
“Every time he uttered the words crisis actor, I know he was talking about me and us,” Wheeler said.
Despite Mr. Wheeler’s initial reluctance to beef up his security, he eventually processed the scope of the situation and a Connecticut State Trooper was assigned to take the family.
Lafferty told the court that he was aware of Jones’ conspiracy theories about Sandy Hook early on.
“Things would be mailed to my house. There were threats of rape,” she said, adding that he had unsuccessfully tried to report the threats, but was told by police that nothing could be done about it. “They told me it wasn’t specific enough or they couldn’t trace it.”
She began to associate with Internet sleuths who had cast doubt on the massacre and sent her mother’s mages in a desperate attempt to prove that the devoted 47-year-old director had been real, that she had been violently murdered. Ms. Lafferty was also called a “crisis actress”.
As grieving families dealt with the aftermath of the tragedy and conspiracy theorists forced them to deal with their trauma, Jones’ audience grew exponentially and the company’s revenue increased dramatically, the defense argued.
Jones has already been found liable for claims he made after the 2012 massacre. Jurors will now decide how much to pay relatives of eight victims and an FBI agent who responded to the scene.
He is expected to testify on Thursday.