I started writing Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy, and the Battle for Truth Nearly six years after the 2012 shooting deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, 20 first-graders were killed and six educators were injured. The families of 10 Sandy Hook victims sued Alex Jones, a broadcaster and conspiracy theorist from Infowars, for defamation in four lawsuits that were filed in Texas and Connecticut.
Jones spread lies about the crime and the Sandy Hook families for years, accusing them of acting in a false flag operation, an Obama administration pretext for seizing Americans’ firearms. Jones was believed to have attacked the families online, threatened them with their lives, and accosted them at memorial events for their loved one. One parent was shot with a gun. Veronique and Lenny Pozner were the parents of Noah Pozner. Veronique was later murdered in a car accident.
Jones’ audience, millions of Americans deeply distrustful of the federal government, proved instrumental to Trump’s winning the presidency. Trump echoed Jones dark ideas about Muslims and immigrants, as well as his conspiracy theories about rigged elections, from the far-right fringes. Court records show that Jones earned more than $50,000,000 annually during Trump’s presidency, selling diet supplements, body armor, and gun paraphernalia.
Lenny Pozner was a technology expert who devoted his life after Noah’s death to battling the conspiracists and the social media platforms that enabled them. He saw Sandy Hook as the foundation of misinformation in American society. It was the first mass shooting that generated viral false claims. To prove that Lenny was correct, I trace the entire line from Sandy Hook through QAnon to Pizzagate and QAnon to coronavirus myths, 2020 election lies, and the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection.
Jones is currently fighting half a dozen defamation lawsuits brought by his targets. He has been subpoenaed to the House committee investigating Jan. 6 riot. His revolving roster of lawyers included First Amendment absolutists and culture warriors as well as attention seekers. But one lawyer on Jones’ team eschewed the limelight. Mark Bailen was a Washington-based partner at BakerHostetler. He advised Jones during the Trump years. Court documents also state that he assisted Jones on Sandy Hook. Bailen’s spouse is Jessica Rosenworcel, the new chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission. In late 2021, reporting on Rosenworcel’s anticipated nomination, I asked the couple about Bailen’s work for Jones, and whether they considered it potentially problematic. Bailen replied no, distanced him from Jones and Sandy Hook and complained to The New York Times, my employer.
According to court records, Bailen and BakerHostetler were reportedly in charge of Infowars during the Sandy Hook trials. Jones refused to produce records and business records despite repeated court orders. The families won a major victory when Jones was ruled liable in all four Sandy Hook lawsuits by the judges in late 2021. This happened about a year after BakerHostetler had stopped working for Jones. In this spring’s trials, juries will decide the amount Infowars must compensate the families for damages. Infowars documents provided to the families’ Texas lawyers in preparation for those trials say Bailen “had to withdraw because of his wife’s employment.”
“I was certainly surprised to find documents showing an elite D.C. society lawyer had been behind the scenes helping coordinate this catastrophe from its earliest stages,”Mark Bankston, a Texas lawyer, said that he represents Lenny, Veronique, Neil Heslin, Scarlett Lewis and Scarlett Lewis. Jesse Lewis also died at Sandy Hook. “I don’t understand the motivation, but it struck me as cowardly not to put your name on this, to hide behind the scenes.”
This excerpt is from Sandy Hook: The American Tragedy, and the Battle for TruthThe conversation began with Kyle Farrar (Mark Bankston) and Bill Ogden (lawyers for Sandy Hook families in Texas), shortly after the Texas lawsuits were filed. Three Houston-based lawyers speculated about Jones’ potential defense.
I wanted to know how they defined victory in these cases. What was the family’s willingness to go?
“A ‘Sorry, my bad,’ is not gonna solve this,”Bankston stated. “The families know, and we understand too, that a verdict from a jury of his neighbors and peers is going to be very culturally meaningful, and have more impact on how he has to do business, than a settlement will ever be.”
Farrar noted that Jones was sued by four people within a matter of weeks: Leny and Veronique, Neil, Marcel Fontaine and Brennan Gilmore (a musician and ex-state department employee). Gilmore filmed a neo Nazi driving his car into a group of counterprotestors in Charlottesville. He killed Heather Heyer, 32, and wounded a few others. Infowars and others falsely claimed Gilmore was a government operative who fomented violence to discredit Trump.
Jones only responded to each suit by double-dipping.
“I’m sort of shocked he doesn’t have a lawyer trying to tackle him, going, ‘Dude, just stop talking about this.’
“You’re not doing yourself any favors, you know?’” Farrar said.
The three lawyers wondered who would defend Jones in Lenny’s and Neil’s cases. Jones was able to afford legal representation and had other lawyers available. However, defending Jones against Sandy Hook parents was a more difficult and unpleasant task.
“I don’t think any of what I would consider some of the prestigious defense firms would want their name associated with him,” Farrar mused. “Who wants to sign on to that?”
Months later, Texas lawyers finally got the answer. Mark Bailen is a Washington, D.C.–based partner at BakerHostetler, one of America’s best-known law firms. Bailen represented Jones in quiet ways during the Trump era, according to his fellow media lawyers.
In early 2017, after James Alefantis discovered that an Alex Jones video had brought the gunman to Comet, Bailen brought Alefantis, his lawyers, and Jones together in BakerHostetler’s elegant offices near the White House. While Jones sputtered and raged, convinced Hillary Clinton lurked behind the legal threat, Bailen brokered Jones’ stilted public retraction, avoiding a lawsuit.
One month later, Chobani founder Hamdi Ulugkaya sued Jones because he falsely accused him “importing migrant rapists”Bailen was again representing Jones in the U.S. Jones released a late retract, and Chobani renounced the suit.
BakerHostetler, Bailen and others were also defending Infowars against the Gilmore suit in Charlottesville.
It would take the Texas lawyers a while to discover traces of BakerHostetler’s work in at least one Sandy Hook case. In a court filing in Neil’s lawsuit dated August 27, 2018, Jones’ father, David Jones, referred to Mark Bailen of BakerHostetler as “one of our lawyers.”
The elder Jones’ declaration included a letter Bailen sent to Google on Infowars’ behalf on August 16, 2018, after Google terminated its content hosting services agreement with Free Speech Systems, LLC, Infowars’ parent company.
Bankston was able to find a 2018 Infowars Email in a collection of Infowars documents. The documents were part of pre-trial Discovery. Mark Bailen, Eric Taube (Texas lawyer) had the information. “were deciding on what evidence to secure, what transcripts to get for discovery,” in Neil’s lawsuit against Jones, Bankston told the judge in an August 2021 court hearing. Separately, I read another 2018 Infowars email released in court proceedings that described Infowars staffers’ efforts to gather and send documents to Bailen.
“Bailen is a well-recognized, well-respected First Amendment defamation lawyer,”A lawyer who worked with Bailen as an advisor to Jones told me. “I couldn’t tell you whether this is something he really believes in passionately, or it’s a client he got that pays the bills.”
Bailen doesn’t like to answer questions about his work for Jones.
In late 2021 Bailen’s wife, Jessica Rosenworcel, was the acting chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission. She was campaigning to be President Biden’s nominee as permanent chair of the powerful broadcast and telecommunications regulator. While I had never met Bailen nor Rosenworcel, a Connecticut communications lawyer, with a strong record at the commission’s, they are both well-known Washingtonians. “it” couple, well-known in D.C.’s overlapping legal and government circles. In a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters in 2018, Rosenworcel urged them to fight back against Trump’s efforts to undermine a free press, saying that her own young son had used the term “fake news”at the family dinner table. But the other parent presumably at the table that night was Bailen, whose client Alex Jones claimed to have coined Trump’s phrase “enemy of the American people”Mainstream media to be discredit.
In an interview with the Times about her bid for the FCC job, I asked Rosenworcel about Bailen’s work for Jones. They led “very separate professional lives,”She said that Bailen should be contacted. Rosenworcel stated that BakerHostetler has ended its relationship to Jones. Bailen said BakerHostetler had stopped representing Jones in the Gilmore case in Charlottesville in late 2020, a couple of months before Biden’s election.
Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut gave Rosenworcel his strong support. I asked him if it was important that Bailen had worked with Jones. He didn’t know about it. He claimed it was “irrelevant” to him, adding that he didn’t know Bailen. One of his staffers called Rosenworcel and said that the senator had been “ambushed”With the question.
Bailen was a former case manager for me. TimesHe invited him to lunch for an interview. He accepted, delayed, and requested written questions. He repeatedly called the Times’ legal department, complaining that news of his work for Jones could unfairly hurt his wife’s chances for the FCC job, and angry that I had raised it with Blumenthal, who represented most of the Sandy Hook families in the Senate. David McCraw, Times’Bailen was encouraged by his principal newsroom lawyer to accept the interview.
Biden nominated Rosenworcel for the FCC chairwoman just a few more weeks later. An article I wrote for the Times that included a description of Bailen’s unsuccessful efforts to engage Times Legal on the couple’s behalf.
Bailen raised concerns about journalistic fairness, standards and ethics and objected. “tone”Answered all my questions. This was one: “A firm of BakerHostetler’s caliber can choose its clients. Why did Baker choose to represent Jones?”
“A hallmark of First Amendment law is that it seeks to protect speech that may be unfair, unpopular, and sometimes outrageous,” Bailen wrote. (He insisted that all of our exchanges be in writing.
Neither he nor BakerHostetler had been Infowars’ “counsel of record”He wrote the following: He was not involved in the proceedings. Bailen called me to report on his work at Infowars “inaccurate,”But when I asked for details, he declined to answer in writing. “My ethical obligations as a lawyer prevent me from discussing details of former client engagements, irrespective of whether any elements of them have become public.”
Kyle Farrar was correct. No prestigious firm wanted to be associated with Jones’ battle against the Sandy Hook families. Publicly, at least.
Dutton published SANDY HOOK by Elizabeth Williamson. Copyright © 2022 by Elizabeth Williamson.