Original story, published in Esquire, here.
AUSTIN, TEXAS—Alex Jones sat alone in the courtroom, preparing for the stage. He ran his fingers through his dirty blonde hair, staring at his reflection in the computer screen in front of him. Most people know Jones as the InfoWars host who shouts, takes off his shirt, and peddles conspiracy theories—like his belief that the Sandy Hook massacre could have been a hoax, which has prompted listeners to send death threats to parents of the victims for more than four years. Last week, Jones implied that former President Obama’s daughters aren’t his own children.
“I believe in the overall political program I am promoting of Americana and freedom,” he growled to a packed courtroom when he took the stand late Wednesday afternoon.
Jones is locked in a heated custody battle with his ex-wife, Kelly. Since their divorce in 2015, their three children have lived primarily with their father after Kelly agreed to limited—and sometimes supervised—visits. She is now seeking sole or joint custody, arguing that her ex-husband is an unfit parent. But the stakes are far higher than which parent will get summer vacations with their kids. Jones’ attorney maintains that Jones is “playing a character” on his show, and should not lose custody of his children simply because he is a “performance artist.”
On Wednesday, Jones characterized his InfoWars show as 90 percent hard news and punditry, with satirical comedy bits filling in the rest. To capitalize, InfoWars even published a listicle under the headline “Top Ten Alex Jones Performance Art Characters.” On his show the night before, Jones appeared to contradict himself, portraying himself as out of control.
“I’m an actor supposedly. I don’t have any original thoughts. They tell me what to say. I’ve got teleprompters in here. No I don’t. I can’t even read off a teleprompter. I can’t even control myself. Everybody knows it around here.” He continued: “We’re the most bona fide, hard-core, Real McCoy thing there is.”
At one point on the stand, while the lawyers and the judge conferred in private, Jones sighed deeply and stared at the ceiling. It was a look of boredom, rather than pain. He did not want to be there.
Wednesday’s legal proceedings began at 9 AM local time. Twenty-three minutes later, Jones (or one of his InfoWars staffers) sent out a tweet from his account lambasting a Guardian article about him.
The entire morning and most of the afternoon was taken up by testimony from the case manager for the Jones’ divorce and Kelly’s former therapist. The competing legal teams sparred on more fundamental issues, like the personalities of their clients, and more specific ones—like whether their child’s injured toe was evidence of medical neglect.
Jones’ legal team portrayed his ex-wife as manipulative, splitting the family apart by pitting various members against each other. Her attorneys countered by asking the witness to explain her ex-husband’s diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, and whether it could impact his parenting. Later, the former therapist revealed in a deposition that Kelly accused Alex of being “verbally, emotionally and sexually abusive,” which the therapist believed to be true.
All the while, Jones sat and watched. Opposing lawyers asked Judge Orlinda Naranjo to admonish him for repeatedly shaking his head during testimony, which she did.
During the lunch break, Jones could be overheard revealing a Trumpian love-hate relationship with media attention, likening coverage of his trial to that of O.J. Simpson’s.
After lunch, Jones sat with his hands in a triangle—almost like he was praying—and grumbled about unwanted attention from Good Morning America. An assistant delivered a freshly laundered white shirt. Jones spent the afternoon wiping the sweat off his brow with a napkin.
Finally, at 4:15 PM, Alex Jones, the man or the character, took the stand.
His attorney Randall Wilhite led him through a series of questions and pictures, all designed to show—sometimes physically—Jones holds his children dear. In the opening photo, Jones clutched his 14-year-old son on his lap. Others showed him hiking with his children, or at birthday parties.
“I didn’t pick these, these are funny,” Jones chuckled.
As a witness, Jones switched topics frequently, with rants on U.S. industry sprinkled in with his descriptions of his children. Every three to four minutes, his ex-wife’s lead attorney Bobby Newman would object to Jones’ soliloquies. To be fair, Jones also managed to play family man.
“All three kids are next level compared to me or anyone else I know,” he boasted.
His face remained expressive throughout. He squinted and nodded like George W. Bush. His eyes widened again like Peter Lorre. He pursed his lips like Donald Trump, who was a guest on his show in December 2015, an appearance brokered through mutual friend Roger Stone. Trump called Jones’ reputation “amazing” and promised not to let him down once elected. (Stone is in Austin this week, filling in for Jones as Jones spends time at the custody trial.)
Jones claimed he gets up at four in the morning to do research, with a Trumpian statement: “You wouldn’t believe how complicated it is.”
He spoke for a while about his son appearing on InfoWars. “He’s always saying that’s what he wants to do professionally.” He added that “It’s just the PG stuff, not the serious stuff.”
Asked by his own attorney if he had any security concerns about his son being on the show, Jones responded, “Not according to our law enforcement sources.”
At one point, one audience member muttered to another: “Did you see how he stared down the jury?”
A note, scrawled in black marker on the door of a men’s bathroom stall fifty feet away from the courtroom, read “Alex Jones is a racist piece of s*&$.”
Original story, published in Esquire, here.