AUSTIN, Texas ― Alex Jones may act like an unhinged conspiracy theorist when he’s at work hosting his popular Infowars radio show, but he’s nothing like the character he has created when he gets home to his family, his lawyers say.
The jury trial in his contentious child custody battled kicked off Tuesday, with his ex-wife’s lawyers hoping to focus the proceedings on the outrageous claims, spiteful comments and public drunkenness they say he displays on air. But at the risk of undermining the public persona Jones has crafted, his lawyers in the heated battle continued to insist the bombastic personality that made him a cult figure among some on the political right is nothing more than “satire.”
The spectacle of parading Jones’ provocative comments to a jury charged with deciding the fate of his children has added further intrigue to the custody trial, but it’s unclear whether the legal strategy will discredit him as a father. Attorneys for Jones’ ex-wife had only middling success using the provocateur’s on-air persona against him.
Travis County Judge Orlinda Naranjo refused to admit as evidence a recording of Jones lobbing darts at a picture of Hillary Clinton in the presence of his teenage son, arguing that Jones’ ideology shouldn’t be used to measure his ability as a parent. For the same reason, Naranjo denied the admittance of other clips or ordered Kelly’s lawyers to cut out sections with political commentary or offensive comments about women.
“I’m not going to make this case about his political views,” Naranjo said.
The jury, however, will hear several examples of Jones’ work that the judge viewed as relevant to his parenting, including a clip in which his son appeared on the show and another of Jones bragging about how much whiskey he could drink without being affected.
“I’m gonna piss on some tree or something,” an apparently drunk Jones says in one recording that will be presented at trial. “The age of fake bullshit is over. The return of man is here. Get ready because it’s going to run your ass over!”
The judge did not consider the “return of man” comment political speech because she did not know what it meant.
In another video, Jones strips to his underwear while ranting about the FBI. His ex-wife’s attorneys argued the video corroborated an ongoing problem with stripping that also affects Jones off the air.
“He just takes his clothes off,” attorney Bobby Newman said, adding that Jones once removed his shirt during a family therapy session with his children.
A recording of Jones questioning whether former President Barack Obama is the legitimate father of Malia and Sasha Obama, broadcast on Infowars Friday, may also make its way into the trial.
“I’m gonna piss on some tree or something.”
Lawyers for Jones’ ex-wife, Kelly, argue that Jones’ role on the show is emblematic of paranoiac tendencies that define him as a father. He “intends to enmesh the children” in his show, Newman said during his opening statement. “That’s his plan for them.”
And while Kelly home-schooled the kids for years, then located an elite academy to enroll them in, Jones struggled to remember basic details about their teachers or studies in depositions, in one instance saying a large bowl of chili had clouded his memory, Newman said.
But Jones’ lawyers played down the relevance of Jones’ ranting on Infowars, describing it as little more than “political satire” that has no effect on him when his work day is done.
“He has a message,” David Minton, one of Jones’ attorneys, told the jury. “He has done it with humor. He has done it with sarcasm. He has done done it with wit. That is what he does for a living … . This case is about ― and only about ― three precious, beautiful, wonderful children.”
Kelly Jones’ legal team will have to do more than prove Jones’ on-air offensiveness to win custody of the children.
Alex and Kelly Jones divorced in 2015. They signed an agreement granting primary custody to the father and limiting the mother to supervised visits. Her restricted access to their kids stemmed partly from an outburst, recorded by one of the children, that therapists viewed as abusive. She currently receives supervised visits every other Saturday and on Tuesday afternoons. “You’re going to come to understand why,” Minton told the jury.
The jury heard a chilling five-minute recording in which Kelly Jones yelled repeatedly at her young children, while one of her daughters, noticeably frightened, tried to tell her she loved her.
Adding to the case’s complexity, Allison Wilcox ― the guardian ad litem, who represented the interests of the kids at court during the divorce proceedings ― said she asked the children to record their mother at the request of one of several therapists who were treating them. Wilcox said it was unusual to ask kids to record their parents without their knowledge and denied that Alex Jones had put them up to it.
Nevertheless, Wilcox described Kelly Jones’ outburst as emotionally abusive and filed a report after hearing the recording with Child Protective Services. Another recording of a conversation with her kids that Kelly made herself raised similar concerns and led to another CPS report.
Wilcox did say Alex Jones had in some instances bad-mouthed his kids’ mother in front of them. She said he had exhibited narcissistic and paranoid “tendencies,” though he had never received a full-blown diagnosis of a mental disorder. And he was subjected several times to random alcohol testing during the course of the divorce proceedings, all of which he passed, Wilcox said.
But despite repeated probing from Kelly Jones’ lawyers, Wilcox did not describe what Jones did as “abusive” ― a damning label that she did apply to his ex-wife’s behavior.
Known for his bombastic and aggressive style, Alex Jones struggled to contain himself when his ex-wife’s legal team spoke. “Judge, can you tell Mr. Jones to stop making faces and shaking his head?” Newman said as he delivered his opening statement. The judge twice told him to stop or risk getting tossed out of the courtroom.
The trial will continue for the following two weeks, with several therapists and the children’s school principal expected to testify. Alex Jones himself has yet to take the stand.