AUSTIN, Texas — Alex Jones suffered a dramatic defeat in his custody battle Thursday night in a trial that questioned both Jones’ future visitation of his children and the legitimacy of his performances on InfoWars, his conspiracy-theory website and talk show.
The couple will receive joint custody and Kelly Jones, the ex-wife of the InfoWars host, will have the right to decide who the children live with.
The jury ruled 10-2 in Kelly’s favor following 10 hours of deliberation at the end of the nine-day trial.
Jones had previously been joint managing conservator and the three children lived at his residence. Kelly saw them sparingly, only five times so far this year, her attorneys said.
A central question in the case, and the main reason for wider interest in what is essentially a child-custody case, has been whether or not Alex’s off-air persona is the same as what viewers have seen on InfoWars—or if he is merely a kind-hearted, doting, and soft-spoken father off-camera.
Jones’ lawyers have notably argued that his on-air persona is an act, an assertion that could potentially cast some doubt on his often over-the-top political claims, including doubts that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre ever occurred.
Regardless, questions about InfoWars have been something of a moot point due to Judge Orlinda Naranjo’s refusal to allow the trial to focus on the program or Alex’s politics.
Ex-wife Kelly Jones’ attorneys only brought a few videos to enter into evidence, and all but two were ruled inadmissible by Naranjo: a clip of Alex apparently inebriated in Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Night bellowing that “1776 will commence again” and “the age of man is here,” before announcing that he is going to go urinate on a tree. The only other clip allowed was from the Joe Rogan show, in which he can be seen smoking a joint, which is legal in California, where the clip was filmed.
The clip appeared to contradict Jones’ assertion that he only smokes marijuana once a year “to test its potency” (he also blamed George Soros for brain-damaging people with overly potent marijuana), though it’s unclear how bad this toke played with a jury in liberal Travis County, Texas.
Perhaps the most significant InfoWars clip to get traction in court was one from Saturday morning in which he boasted that he had slept with “conservatively” at least 150 women by the time he was 16. The clip was not played in court, but Kelly Jones’ attorneys managed to bring it up in court as evidence that Alex is not a positive role model for his 14-year-old son.
Regardless, the jury and assorted onlookers have been treated to a healthy dose of an Alex Jones, who in real life—in the courtroom, without cameras—does, in fact, bear a strong resemblance to the on-air dynamo who brought us “Hillary for Prison” and the infamous gay frogs rant. Under cross-examination, he spoke not only about George Soros and overly potent marijuana, but also his taste for zebra meat and canned exotic game hunts, and confirmed that a big bowl of hot Texas chili caused him to forget details about his kids’ lives, which he’d referenced in his deposition.
Jones’ trial took place at the Travis County courthouse in downtown Austin, not too far from Anderson High School in the Northwest Hills neighborhood, where he graduated in 1993. Just a few years after graduating, he became one of a number of oddballs on Austin public-access TV in the mid-to-late-’90s, before moving his shtick to radio. On Austin airwaves, Jones was a wild-eyed, anti-establishment ranter and raver who did not seem at all out of place in an Austin that was a haven for free-thinkers that hadn’t yet made “weird” a marketing ploy.
In the early days, when he was little known outside the Texas capital, Jones gained a reputation as a bombastic, aggressive on-air personality who repeatedly challenged rivals to fisticuffs and did pushups to get amped up for what a then-co-worker described to The Daily Beast as “a sort of pro-wrestling character he invented for himself.”
The co-worker said it was hard to tell where the theatrics ended and the real Alex Jones began, adding that at some point in the late-’90s Jones started coming into the office complaining that he was being followed by black helicopters, scanning the sky above the radio station before slipping inside.
Most Austinites probably couldn’t imagine that he’d be a hero of the far right just decades later, a cultural phenomenon who counts President Donald Trump among his fans.
Even without the more eccentric utterances, it’s his persona and mannerisms in the courtroom that look familiar and seem impossible for Jones to turn off. He was constantly in movement, his face always expressive. Jones was admonished countless times by Judge Naranjo and Kelly Jones’ attorneys for shaking his head and scoffing at unfriendly testimony. Often, when caught in the act, he’d sheepishly play innocent, part of a persona that at times seems boyish and manic. Couple that with the growling, machine-gun cadence of his voice (the court reporter had trouble keeping up), and his ability to improvise—and you’ve got a pretty good recipe for compelling TV.
The drama over the deliberation Thursday evening, and the gag order on the case, didn’t deter Alex Jones from launching a mini-tweetstorm of sorts, lashing out at a series of critics. He saved his big guns for Stephen Colbert, whose Tuck Buckford character parodies Jones. In a series of tweets, he challenged Colbert to debate him in character as Tuck Buckford, adding that Buckford is too chicken emoji poop emoji to face him.
He also tweeted videos about a Planned Parenthood employee “caught haggling over baby body part prices,” a “massive pedo investigation” reportedly ignored by the mainstream media, and one clip hyping “nationalist-populist heroine” and French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.
In perhaps a role reversal, the closing argument for Alex’s legal team painted Kelly Jones as conspiratorial and paranoid, convinced of an “inverted reality” in which she’s facing an army of corrupt officers of the state (court-appointed therapists and counselors) who have allied against her.
Their argument also focused on the professional assertion by multiple mental-health professionals that Kelly frequently experiences “emotional dysregulation,” typified by poorly modulated emotional responses to situations, a condition they say jeopardizes the safety of her children.
They appeared to adopt a sort of “good cop” tone, conceding that she loves her children and wants to spend more time with them, avoiding the sort of venom deployed by their client, who when asked on the stand if Kelly has any positive qualities as a mother, said “I can’t perjure myself. She has no positive qualities.”
Kelly’s defense has centered on the concept of parental alienation, and an attempt to portray Alex as having severely manipulated his children against their mother in a form of deep emotional abuse and who is “erasing positive memories” of their mother.
Attorney Robert Hoffman painted Alex as “a master manipulator” who is “trying to pull off an elaborate ruse to paint Kelly as the worst mom on earth.” He argued that Jones has used his fame, celebrity, and money to somehow “escape detection,” leaving Kelly to face the brunt of criticism from the family-law system.
Hoffman also described Jones as “racist, bigoted, hates women” and “like a cult leader and we see the horrific things cult leaders do to their followers—and the kids are his followers, doing what Daddy says to do.”
For the most part, InfoWars and Jones’ work made little appearance in the closing arguments. Hoffman did argue that Jones has narcissistic personality disorder and is “turning his kids into InfoWarriors” and “foot soldiers,” especially his 14-year-old son, whom Kelly Jones’ legal team has painted as being groomed by his father into a mini-me Alex Jones, set to someday inherit the InfoWars throne. Hoffman also mentioned how just after a death threat was sent on Twitter to Jones and his family, he allowed his son to appear on an InfoWars newscast, despite the apparent danger.
With InfoWars by and large out of bounds, Kelly Jones’ attorneys have faced an uphill battle, having to focus on Alex the father and not Alex the on-air supernova of conspiracy and bombasticity who claimed the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax and recently called a Democratic congressman a “cocksucker,” threatening to “beat [his] goddamn ass you son of a bitch.”
Kelly Jones’ attorneys have had to make the case that he alienated his children against their mother, despite the testimony of a mental-health professional to the contrary, as well as a series of counselors and therapists whose testimony appeared to bolster Alex Jones’ case.
On Tuesday, Kelly took the stand and gave a glimpse into life with her ex-husband when he’s off the air.
She described America’s most famous conspiracy theorist as “an angry, volatile person who has racist, homophobic views” and “is enraged and out of control most of the time.”
She said that Alex “doesn’t believe in traditional medicine” and refuses to vaccinate his children. She added that she is concerned that her children are exposed to his beliefs at home and that “they are morphing into him.”
In the end, beyond the headlines and the tweetable witness stand rants of Jones are three children, aged 9 to 14, who have been through great emotional distress since the couple divorced in March 2015. For them, the difficulties of the divorce and the custody battle will persist long after the trial falls out of the news, and that is no conspiracy.