NEWTOWN, Conn. — Less than 20 miles from the place where a gunman massacred 20 first graders and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the man who has spent much of the decade since the attack spreading lies about what happened that day testified before a jury on Tuesday.
The captivating courtroom spectacle playing out just up Interstate 84 has featured wrenching testimony and explosive outbursts. But in Newtown, people are done talking about Alex Jones.
“I think that most of the people in this town would like to forget about him, to forget his name,” said Richard Fattibene, 81, as he sat in the town’s general store having a coffee on Tuesday morning.
The founder of the conspiracy website Infowars, Mr. Jones was found liable last year in four defamation lawsuits, and this week, a jury in nearby Waterbury, Conn., is expected to start deliberating about how much he should pay in compensatory and punitive damages.
But for the very real town where his twisted fantasies were focused, the trial has been less a courtroom reckoning than an unwelcome reminder of the tragedy that has become synonymous with its name.
Mr. Fattibene is semi-retired from his business selling parts to auto body shops. He recalled the brutal aftermath of the attack, the police cars on his street guarding the houses of children who had perished, the universal anguish.
“The town was upside down,” he said.
A friend who had joined him that morning, Dominic Calandruccio, 80, also semi-retired, from his job selling insurance, sounded a similar note. He hadn’t been following the Jones trial, but he had strong feelings about the man at its center.
“We hate him,” he said, adding, “I hope he goes to jail.”
Mr. Calandruccio, who moved to Newtown in 1978, thinking it would be a great place to raise his family, said he still loved the town, with its rolling hills, its well-preserved architecture and its access to nature. He often walks his dog near a site that is slated to become an animal sanctuary named for Catherine Violet Hubbard, a little girl lost in the tragedy who had loved animals.
It left him dumbfounded that people could target victims’ families after what happened.
“How can anybody be so cruel to those people?” he said of the conspiracy theorists who had harassed and stalked family members of the victims.
Almost immediately after the attack, conspiracy theorists seized upon the toxic notion that the tragedy had been staged by the government as a pretext to advance gun control. It was trauma layered on trauma, and one of the key figures behind the lies was Mr. Jones, stoking the frenzy on his popular Infowars show and website.
Mr. Jones and anguished families have both testified in that trial, and he had been expected to take the stand again on Wednesday, though on Tuesday his lawyer indicated that he probably would not. A previous trial found him liable for nearly $50 million.
In Connecticut, there are no limits on the damages, so the decision could ruin Mr. Jones financially. He has made millions hawking survivalist gear, diet supplements and gun accessories on his broadcasts — and was found to have violated a state law prohibiting the use of lies to sell products.
At a cafe near the new Sandy Hook Elementary School — the old building was razed — Sue Bucur and Barb Baldino, both 59 and local residents, were catching up over lunch. They were not watching the trial, but they remained incensed about the role that Mr. Jones had played in circulating falsehoods.
“For someone to deny what happened — he didn’t sit here and watch a line of hearses go by on the way to the cemetery,” said Ms. Bucur, who owns a crystal shop near the cafe.
Ms. Baldino, who works in media sales, added that the money could not reverse the damage that had been done by the lies or the pain that the families had been subjected to during the trial.
“I don’t know how you can punish him enough,” she said. “The money’s not going to do anything for anybody.”
The Rev. Andrea Castner Wyatt, rector at Trinity Episcopal Church, has been painfully aware since she arrived in Newtown two years ago that the work of healing the trauma the town endured would be ongoing. The church helps organize an annual interfaith service of remembrance. The community hasn’t settled on a location for the service next month, which will mark 10 years since the attack.
Part of the deepest distress is that mass shootings continue to take place around the country, she said. The church also hosted a well-attended vigil for the victims of the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting in May, which she said was painfully similar to the Sandy Hook attack.
“They’ve had 10 years of learning what it’s like to live with this,” she said of the town. “That’s why their hearts really went out to Uvalde.”
For John Bergquist, 47, the trial was a reminder of the political divisions roiling the country. He grew up in Newtown and works in a winery nearby, and was sipping a rosé at a favorite haunt, My Place, after work on Monday.
“People have reached their saturation point with talking about the tragedy,” he said. “Not that they don’t care, but it’s been re-litigated so many times, it’s difficult.”
But he added that the shadow of what had happened always loomed.
“Even if you do stop talking about it, I think everybody feels a connection to what happened,” he said.
Source: NY Times