Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones should not have been penalized for an angry outburst on his Infowars web show against an attorney for relatives of some of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, Jones' lawyer told the Connecticut Supreme Court on Thursday.
Lawyer Norman Pattis told the justices Jones was exercising his free speech rights during the tirade in June against attorney Christopher Mattei, one of the lawyers representing the families in a defamation lawsuit against Jones, Infowars and others for calling the school shooting a hoax.
A lower court judge cited the outburst when she sanctioned Jones by barring him from filing a motion to dismiss the families' lawsuit, which has also included contentious proceedings over Jones' delays in turning over documents to the relatives. Jones appealed the penalty to the Supreme Court, which did not issue a ruling Thursday.
The sanction came after Jones, on Infowars, accused Mattei of planting child pornography that was found in email metadata files that Jones turned over to the Sandy Hook families' lawyers. Pattis said the pornography was in emails sent to Jones that were never opened.
"You're trying to set me up with child porn," Jones said on the show. "One million dollars, you little gang members. One million dollars to put your head on a pike."
Jones mentioned Mattei by name and pounded on a picture of Mattei while saying, "I'm gonna kill ... Anyway I'm done. Total war. You want it, you got it."
Joshua Koskoff, a lawyer for the Sandy Hook families suing Jones, said there were safety concerns after Jones' comments.
"What happens if that call for action, that call for a head on pike, goes out to 10 million-plus people that the person on the other side of that threat does not know anything about?" Koskoff asked the seven justices. "There's clearly defamation. There's elements of incitement. And there's definitely true threat."
Pattis said Jones, who was not at Thursday's arguments, had good reason to be upset about the child porn, but his comments were not true threats and were protected by First Amendment free speech rights.
"From our perspective, Mr. Jones had every right to offer a million dollar reward to find out who did this," Pattis said. "He had every right to express rage."
Outside the Supreme Court with parents of some of the school shooting victims standing behind him, Mattei said Jones' comments prompted him and the law firm to take precautions.
"I was a federal prosecutor for eight years so I've dealt with threats before," Mattei said. "Whatever we've had to deal with ... pales in comparison to the abuse that he unleashed to the people standing behind me over a period of years."
Relatives who attended the hearing declined to comment.
The families of eight victims of the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and an FBI agent who responded to the massacre are suing Jones, Infowars and others for promoting a theory that the shooting was a hoax. A 20-year-old gunman killed 20 first-graders, six educators and himself at the school, after having killed his mother at their Newtown home.
The families said they have been subjected to harassment and death threats from Jones' followers because of the hoax conspiracy.
Jones has since said he believes the shooting occurred.