Why the trial of Alex Jones won’t stop the lies from spreading

If it wasn’t so painfully sad Trial of Alex Jones for defamation could be cathartic.

mr. Jones, a conspiracy theorist who quits supplements, has been ordered to pay more than $45 million in damages to Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, parents of a 6-year-old killed in a 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. , Conn. The jury’s verdict came after M. Jones was found guilty of defamation. Heslin and Miss. Lewis, whom he falsely accused for years of being a participant in the crisis in a government-planned “false flag” operation.

To the victims of Mr. Jones’ harassment campaign and those who have followed his career for years, the verdict seemed long overdue – the infamous internet villain finally faced real consequences for his actions. The families of the children killed at Sandy Hook, many of whom have been waiting for years to see Mr. Hook. Jones pays for his lies, no doubt relieved.

But before we celebrate Mr. Jones’s retribution, we must admit that his sentence is unlikely to hit hard on the phenomenon he represents: militant fabulists building lucrative media empires with easily debunked lies.

mr. Jones’ megaphone has dwindled in recent years, thanks in part to decisions by technology platforms like Facebook and Twitter to ban him from their services. But his reach is still significant, and he has more influence than you might think.

court records shown what mr. Jones’ store Infowars, which sells questionable performance supplements and survival gear, made over $165 million from 2015 to 2018. Jones still appears as a guest on popular podcasts as well as show on youtube, and millions of Americans still look to him, if not as a reliable chronicler of current events, then at least as a foolish diversion. (And a rich expert witness at the trial estimated Mr. Jones and Free Speech Systems, his holding company, to be worth somewhere between $135 million and $270 million.)

In the coming weeks, Mr. Jones – the martyrdom maestro – will no doubt turn his defeat in court into hours of entertainment content, all of which will generate more attention, more subscribers, more money.

But a more important reason for caution is that whether or not Mr. Jones is still personally enriched by his lies, his gimmick is everywhere these days.

You can see and hear Mr. Jones’ influence on Capitol Hill, where attention-seeking Republican politicians often sound like they’re auditioning for slots on Infowars. When Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, a Georgia Republican, suggested that the mass shooting could have been staged to convince Republicans to support containment measures. facebook post about the July 4th shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, she plays hits from Mr. Jones back catalog. mr. Jones also played a part in fueling Jan. September 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol in ways we are still learning about. (The committee of the House of Representatives investigating the uprising, asked for a copy text messages from Mr. Jones’ telephone number, which were mistakenly sent to lawyers representing the plaintiffs in his defamation case.)

You can also see Mr. Jones’ influence in the right-wing media. When Tucker Carlson fuels nativist fears on his Fox News show or when the Newsmax host spins weird conspiracy theory about the attempt by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, to assassinate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, this is proof that Infowars DNA has infiltrated the conservative bloodstream.

Even outside of politics, Mr. Choleric, Jones’ wide-open style has influenced how a new generation of conspiracy theorists seek fame online.

These creators don’t all rant about goblins as well as gay froglike Mr. Jones has. But they come from the same scenario without the facts. Some of them focus on softer topics, such as the crazy influencers who recently went viral for suggesting that Lyme disease is a “gift” caused by intergalactic space matter, or as Shane Dawson, a popular YouTube creator who has racked up hundreds of millions of views since conspiracy theory documentaries in which he trustfully examines claims such as “Chuck E. The Cheese Giants Didn’t Eat Pizza” and “Wildfires are caused by directed energy weapons.”

Certain elements of left and center discourse also owe a lot to Mr. Jones. The “Red Scare” podcast, which is popular with the anti-establishment “post-left” crowd, interviewed Mr. Jones and shares some overlapping interests. Much of the insane coverage and analysis of the legal battle between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard that dominate social media This summer I had a Jones thing. Even Joe Rogan, the popular podcast host (who hosted Mr. Jones on his show and protected him as “fun” and “entertaining”), borrowed some of the paranoia of the founder of Infowars “connect the dots”. arguefor example, that Covid-19 vaccines can change your genes.

It would be too easy to blame (or praise) Mr. Jones for inspiring the entire modern crank field. But it’s safe to say that many of today’s leading conspiracy theorists have found an equally profitable treat for lies and entertainment. It is also likely that we have become desensitized to the conspiracy theories and many of the outrageous false claims that Mr. Black once bugged. Jones got into trouble — for example, the accusations against Sandy Hook’s parents, who were at the center of his defamation trial — would sound less shocking if they were made today.

Other conspiracy theorists are less likely than Mr. Jones to stand trial, in part because they have learned from his mistakes. Instead of directly blaming the families of the victims of the mass shootings for making it all up, they are taking a naïve “just asking questions” stance, punching holes in the official story. When attacking the enemy, they tiptoe to the line of slander, being careful not to do anything that could lead to prosecution or a social media ban. And when they run harassment campaigns, they choose their targets wisely—often slandering public figures rather than private individuals, which gives them broader protections for speech under the First Amendment.

This does not mean that there will be no more lawsuits or attempts to prosecute conspiracy theorists. Fox News, for example, face a libel suit from Dominion Voting Systems, which alleges that the network made deliberately false claims about voter fraud in the 2020 elections.

But these cases are the exception, not the rule. The truth is that today’s media ecosystem is chock-full of Infowars-style conspiracy theories, from History Channel shows about ancient aliens building Egyptian pyramids to TikTok created by yoga moms who think Wayfair sells child victims of human trafficking — and it’s unclear whether our legal system can or even should try to stop them.

Social media companies can help curb the spread of malicious lies by making it harder for fabulists to garner huge audiences. But they have their limitations, including the simple fact that conspiracy theorists have become more sophisticated at bending their rules. If you draw a line under the claim that Bigfoot is real, attention-seeking weirdos will just get their millions of views postulating that Bigfoot power be real, and that their audience would be wise to do their own research to find out what Bigfoot-related secrets the Deep State cabal is hiding.

To this new, finer generation of propagandists and reactionaries, Mr. Jones is an inspirer who has conquered the highest peaks of the profession. But it’s also a cautionary tale about what can happen when you overstep too many boundaries, tell too many easily debunked lies, and refuse to back down.

mr. Jones didn’t finish looking at the music. Two more lawsuits filed against him by Sandy Hook family members are still pending and he could end up with millions more in damages.

But, even if Mr. Jones’s career is ruined, his legacy of brazen, unrepentant dishonesty will live on, enhanced in a sense by knowing how far you can go in a lie before the consequences come.