Discover more from The Bulwark
Alex Jones Gets His Reality Check
In a court of law, Truth is actually a thing
Infowars founder Alex Jones listens to a supporter at the Texas State Capital building on April 18, 2020 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images)
Morning Shots is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Because indulging in schadenfreude is not beneath us, I thought I’d share my thoughts on Alex Jones’s legal implosion this week.
How bad was Alex Jones’s week in court?
It was bad. He was caught lying under oath about his previous lies about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
And he found out that his lawyers accidentally turned over every one of his texts and emails to the attorneys for the families he has maligned.
And he was ordered to pay one of those families close to $50 million in total damages (although that number could change.)
It was an extraordinary reckoning. And it’s likely only just beginning.
“You know what perjury is, right?” one of the lawyers asked Jones.
Indeed he does.
But Jones’ very bad week should also be a teachable moment. Sure, it’s a televised example of pure schadenfreude. But it’s also a reminder that in today’s conservative movement, crazy is not only tolerated — it’s encouraged. Because Jones’ toxic, anti-governmental conspiracy theories have slowly but surely infiltrated the political waters. Things that 10 years ago would have been dismissed are now being repeated in the halls of Congress. And of course, former President Donald Trump is right there in the middle of it all.
For decades now, Jones has weaponized and monetized conspiracy theories, fake outrage, lies and paranoia. He and his website have pushed theories that 9/11 was an inside job, suggested that the government may have also been behind the bombings in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people, and at the Boston Marathon, which killed three. Jones claimed that the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was a “deep state false flag operation” engineered to start a civil war. He told his followers that the mass murder at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, “was a false flag, mind-control event.” The Columbine school shootings were “100 percent false flag,” as were the attacks in Orlando, Florida, Las Vegas and San Bernardino, California.
In his post-truth world, Jones charged that the government had plans to use chemicals to turn people gay, claiming: “I have the government documents where they said they’re going to encourage homosexuality with chemicals so that people don’t have children.”
And, of course, he lied about the children gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He now admits that that attack was “100% real.” But that was not the story he peddled for years.
“Sandy Hook [was] ‘synthetic,’ completely fake, with actors, in my view,” Jones said in one clip played to the jury this week. “Manufactured. I couldn’t believe it at first. I knew they had actors, they are clearly, but I thought they killed some real kids. And it just shows how bold they are, that they clearly used actors, I mean, they even ended up using photos of kids killed in mass shootings … in a fake mass shooting in Turkey. Or, uh, Pakistan.”
The pain he inflicted on the families of the murdered children was unimaginable. The grieving parents were subjected to years of threats, insults and intimidation.
But, for Jones, there were few negative consequences. To the contrary, he flourished in the growing alternative reality bubble where he could drive the political narrative, regardless of fact-checkers. Instead of being shunned or marginalized, Jones found that lying was a lucrative business model that leads to celebrity and political clout. According to his own leaked text messages, at some points Jones claimed he was bringing in $800,000 a day.
But more important, as his audience grew, Jones’ conspiracy theories were amplified by others in the right-wing media ecosystem. And he was a major player in the rise of Donald Trump. Here the worlds of mainstream politics, MAGA fanaticism and fringe conspiracy theory start to collide.
“Your reputation is amazing, I will not let you down,” Trump told Jones in a December 2015 appearance. Trump’s crony Roger Stone called the conspiracy theorist “the single most important voice in the alternative conservative media,” and “a valuable asset” who will “rally the people around President Trump’s legislative program.”
On the Monday after his election victory, the president-elect called Jones to thank him for his support in the campaign and promised Jones he would return to his show, a pledge that The Washington Post called “an extraordinary gesture for an incoming president whose schedule is packed with calls from world leaders and the enormous task of overseeing the transition.”
But this week, Alex Jones found himself in a court of law, where the lies finally caught up with him. And when it happened, the karma was jaw-dropping.
“This is your Perry Mason moment,” a startled Jones said after being confronted with incriminating texts and emails about Sandy Hook in open court.
Only marginally less dramatic was the rebuke from the judge presiding over the trial.
“You must tell the truth while you testify,“ Judge Maya Guerra Gamble told Jones. “This is not your show. You need to slow down and not take what you see as opportunities to further the message you’re wanting to further and instead only answer the specific and exact questions you have been asked,” she said.
When Jones tried to argue that he believed he was telling the truth, Gamble clarified the difference between an alternative reality media world and a court of law. In the law, she told him, truth was actually a real thing.
“You believe everything you say is true, but it isn’t,” she pointedly told him. “Just because you claim to think something is true does not make it true. It does not protect you. It is not allowed. You’re under oath.”
It was, by any measure, a bracing moment.
Jones now owes millions in damages. And it may get even worse. The Jan. 6 committee will issue subpoenas and, Jones — a serial liar — may also face perjury charges. Other law enforcement officials are likely to express interest in the contents of his phone.
Unfortunately, however, his spectacular fall does not mean an end to Jones’ now much more common brand of political paranoia. Right-wing media, with nudges from the former president himself, has become habituated to Big Lies and apocalyptic conspiracy theories. Dangerous, obviously untrue theories about voter fraud and the “deep state” are now commonplace.
Dozens, if not hundreds of imitators, fellow grifters, and bottom feeders are ready to take his place. But his successors should pay close attention to the fate of Alex Jones.
It may give them a glimpse of their own future.
Bill’s Conversation with Whit Ayres
Definitely worth your time: Bill Kristol talks with veteran Republican pollster and strategist Whit Ayres.
According to Ayres, Donald Trump remains the center of gravity in the Republican Party and is broadly popular among party regulars. And yet there is a majority of Republican voters Ayres calls “Maybe Trump” who might be willing to consider an alternative in 2024.
Ayres points to how some Republican elected officials have successfully managed to avoid Trump’s insistence on denying the outcome of the 2020 election—and considers possible paths forward for the party that would allow some distance from Trump.
Kristol and Ayres also discuss Republican prospects in the House and Senate in 2022 in light of issues including abortion, Joe Biden’s approval, and the quality of candidates in both parties.
This Conversation and all previous releases are also available as audio podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and Spotify.