AUSTIN, Texas ― Critics deride Infowars provocateur Alex Jones as a vitriolic conspiracy theorist with an odd penchant for disrobing when he’s on air. But when he took the witness stand here on Wednesday, he was a calm, concerned parent with his shirt tightly buttoned.
The jury heard the cult radio star’s gravely voice for the first time in a child custody trial that attracted national media attention after his lawyers described his angry on-air persona as little more than “political satire.”
That argument, repeated multiple times in the courtroom, appeared to undermine his image as a bombastic flamethrower known for loudly peddling baseless conspiracies that sometimes make their way onto the Twitter feed of President Donald Trump. But it helps defend him against accusations from attorneys for his ex-wife Kelly that his venom-fueled tirades discredit him as a father.
It remains unclear whether the antics he’s known for on the radio will impact the jury’s view of his parenting. In questioning from Randall Wilhite, one of his lawyers, Jones recited all his children’s hobbies and described their performance in school and family life while joyful pictures of him and his children flashed from a projector. The images featured them rambling along the city’s hike-and-bike trail, making Christmas decorations and trekking atop Enchanted Rock, a nearby state park.
He described his son as more handsome and talented than himself, his daughters more intelligent and artistic. “All three of my children are the next level,” Jones said. “It’s a real blessing from God.”
Lawyers for his ex-wife have argued that bringing his teenage son on air for Infowars segments amounts to indoctrination into what they describe as an offensive and spiteful ideology that has already led to death threats against the son.
But Jones said his son pitched his own stories focusing on “PG-style topics,” like whether private space exploration is superior to government-run efforts, or the importance of not littering on the Greenbelt, a public hiking space that runs through the city of Austin, Texas. The young man only participates out of his own interest, Jones said.
“He’s done some great reports for us,” Jones said of his son. “That’s what he wants. He’s always saying it’s what he wants to do professionally.”
Jones confirmed the death threats and said he’s reported them to police, who he said told him he didn’t have a reason to fear for his kids. The children are protected by some of the same security personnel who have defended former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and former President George W. Bush, Jones said. He has held primary custody of the three children for the last 30 months.
Opposing lawyers lobbed accusations at Jones Wednesday ranging from attacks on his parenting to bizarre episodes that perhaps cast more doubt on his character and composure than his fathering skills.
The case manager who handled the custody issues during his divorce, Dr. Alissa Sherry, said a therapist diagnosed him with narcissistic personality disorder, a difficult condition to treat that can impact his sense of empathy. He initially declined treatment, but eventually sought therapy, she said.
Bobby Newman, an attorney for Kelly Jones, insinuated that an episode in which Alex Jones allegedly yelled at his daughter to remove a boot to protect her foot after a fracture amounted to negligence. Alex Jones’ aggressive insistence that the fracture was small enough to walk on with regular shoes contradicted the doctor’s orders, but Sherry denied that it amounted to negligence.
Sherry confirmed that in one instance during a therapy session with his children present, Alex Jones took his shirt off for unexplained reasons. Newman asked how many times she’d seen that happen in her professional career.
“I suppose just once,” Sherry said. “I don’t remember the context of it, but it’s a rare thing to happen in a therapy session.”
Sherry appeared to offer a much harsher assessment of Kelly Jones. The Austin psychologist described the children’s mother as suffering instances of “emotional dysregulation” ― an inability to control the intensity of her emotions. Sherry said that ailment had led her to recommend less frequent contact with the children until she had brought herself under control through therapy.
I don’t remember the context of it, but it’s a rare thing to happen in a therapy session. Psychologist Alissa Sherry, describing the time radio host Alex Jones took his shirt off during a family therapy session
Lawyers for Alex Jones rolled a roughly 40-minute video of an interview with her personal therapist in depositions that reflected her assessment. The therapist said Kelly Jones distrusted the case manager, and eventually went on to view him with suspicion and threatened to challenge his professional license. Robert Hoffman, an attorney for Kelly Jones, said they may call her former therapist as a witness in the trial.
While Alex Jones’ initial appearance as a witness Wednesday seemed to bode well for his trial, he’s struggled to reconcile his new public image as a sensitive family man with his professional persona as an enraged conservative who does things such as flippantly and baselessly questioning the paternity of former President Barack Obama’s children.
In seeming disregard of a gag order preventing him from discussing the trial outside the courtroom, he posted a video on Infowars Tuesday accusing the media of maligning him as a disingenuous performance artist ― a characterization based on the description provided in court by own his legal team.
“What? I didn’t say that,” Jones says in the video. “And they show an image like I’m being arrested like they always do.”
“This is the type of deception that’s going on,” he added. “They play these semantical lawyer games, ladies and gentlemen. It’s ridiculous. We’re defending the Republic. We’re defending the border. We’re defending the Second Amendment. They don’t like us because we are able to get a talking point out that’s true, and the system wants a monopoly of control over news and the information. That’s why they lie and say we’re fake news.”
Attorneys for Kelly Jones attempted to raise the issue of the gag order in the courtroom Tuesday morning, but the judge cut them short, asking lawyers for both sides to approach the bench. They spoke in hushed tones, but one of Kelly Jones’ lawyers spoke loudly enough to make it clear that he intended to censure the radio show host for Tuesday’s video segment.
A gag order is perhaps a cruel fate for a man who’s made a profession out of shouting outrageous things at inappropriate times. But even without uttering a word, Alex Jones managed to get under the skin of his ex-wife’s lawyers. While conferring with the judge and opposing counsel, Hoffman pointed a finger at Jones, suddenly raising his voice to say: “He shakes his head and glares at me!” Hoffman repeated the outburst a moment later. “And again he’s shaking his head and smirking at me!” he said, once again pointing a finger at Jones.
Travis County Judge Orlinda Naranjo had told Jones twice on Tuesday to refrain from gesturing or risk getting tossed out of the courtroom. He was admonished a third time after Hoffman’s remarks.
Naranjo declined to discuss the gag order issue in open court. But during the jury’s lunch break, she invited the lawyers into her chambers, away from the ears of the press. When she returned, she told members of the media to shut off all electronic devices and stop live-tweeting the court’s proceedings, which she had tolerated until then but is unusual in many courts.
“You’re not to use the social media,” Naranjo told the court again, as the day’s proceedings ended.
On Thursday, Alex Jones faces cross-examination.
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.