Alex Jones, the provocative right-wing radio host who has called the Sandy Hook school shooting a hoax, is merely playing an entertaining character, a lawyer for Jones has told a court in Texas.
Randall Wilhite, a lawyer for Jones, told a district judge in Texas that the radio host is a performance artist. The comment came during a hearing in a custody dispute between Jones and his wife. He compared judging Jones based on his on-air comments to evaluating actor Jack Nicholson based on his role as the Joker in "Batman," the newspaper reported.
Jones' comments about Sandy Hook have left bitter feelings among the families in Newtown, who have dealt with a barrage of conspiracy theories and wild claims that their children never existed. The Sandy Hook "truthers," as they've been called, are still prevalent even four-and-a-half years after the shooting, which left 20 first-graders and six educators dead.
Earlier this year, the Newtown school board sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to denounce Jones and "any and all who spread lies that the tragedy was a hoax." Jones has boasted of his relationship with Trump, including phone calls with the president.
"He brags about how you called him after your victory in November," the letter reads. "He continues to hurt the memories of those lost, the ability of those left behind to heal."
Jones, on his radio show in January 2015, said Sandy Hook was "completely fake with actors, in my view, manufactured. ... I couldn't believe it at first," he said.
In November, Jones defended himself, and said critics were taking his comments out of context. But he still said that "I'm not sure about what really happened [at Sandy Hook] and there has been a cover-up of what really did happen there."
Erica Lafferty, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, said Jones has "fanned the flames of a hateful conspiracy theory claiming that the shooting that took my mother never happened."
"It's unthinkable. It's unacceptable," Lafferty wrote in an open letter to Trump last year. "I'm asking you to denounce it immediately and cut ties with Alex Jones and anyone who subscribes to these dangerous ideas."
Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was killed at Sandy Hook, has called Jones a "delusional sociopath" and said it was "disgusting" that he apparently maintained a close relationship with Trump.
After run-ins with truthers, Lenny Pozner, whose son Noah was killed in the shooting, founded the HONR Network, which seeks to expose hoaxers harassing the families of the victims of Sandy Hook and other tragedies. Last year, Pozner faced death threats from a Florida woman who prosecutors said believed Newtown was a hoax.
"I feel that your type of show created these hateful people," Pozner wrote in an email to Jones shortly after he made his first comments about Newtown, according to a lengthy New York magazine story last year about his fight against the Sandy Hook truthers.
Po Murray, chair of the Newtown Action Alliance, a grass-roots gun violence prevention group founded after the massacre, said Jones and others who believe the shooting didn't happen "are obviously suffering from some type of mental illness."
In the Texas custody dispute, Jones' wife, Kelly, said her ex-husband is "not a stable person" and that the fact that he broadcasts from his home poses a risk to their children.
Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.