There was a war on for your mind, and you lost

The conspiracy mogul may have been served a death blow in court, but his greater project will undoubtedly live on

There was a war on for your mind, and you lost
I took this photo of Alex at a press conference many years ago and let me tell you the mileage on this image has been incredible. It's now part of Wikimedia Commons for free use

Edited by Sam Thielman

ALEX JONES, the infamous conspiracist behind the Infowars media brand, was found liable for damages totaling $965,000,000 by a jury in Connecticut, where Jones and the LLC behind his media empire had been sued by a group of parents. The plaintiffs’ children were murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, and Jones and his associates spent years spreading defamatory claims about them, including that they had never been killed at all.

It’s Jones’s largest charge on his growing legal tab, a collection of defamation judgments stemming from his “coverage” of the mass shooting, in which he repeatedly claimed the mass murder was a “hoax” and that grieving parents were actors in a scheme to advance gun control laws. In August, a Texas court handed down a $45,200,000 judgment against Jones on behalf of other parents. (Texas law will almost certainly reduce that total.) Jones still faces another damages case in Texas, presumably later this year.

Some, including myself, have wondered whether the end may in fact be nigh for Jones and Infowars, both of which have the tenacity of the proverbial post-nuclear cockroach. Jones and his gang have persisted through deplatformings and expulsions from so many of the communities and businesses that enabled their meteoric rise—social media platforms, online payment systems, and the like. Now, even though it all seems about to come crashing down, I can’t help but entertain a few doubts as to whether the rulings in these cases—which is to say, the unfathomable sums Jones now owes—will in fact nail his coffin shut tightly enough to prevent his resurrection.

Jones has profited hugely from his line of dietary supplements and the direct donations he solicits from his viewers, and it should come as no surprise that he is already asking fans for money so he can continue to drag out the lawsuits. But there are only so many supplements and tinctures that Jones can realistically sell. His best hope at survival would probably be a bailout from a supportive billionaire or two, but the price tag on these lawsuits may prove too steep even for them. And it’s hard to imagine what kind of benefit Jones could provide in return.

Jones may attempt to hide his money, but this isn’t as simple as divorce court (where he has lots of experience). At sums this vast, enterprising attorneys and forensic accountants will see the money as a bounty worth chasing to the end of the earth, and will be more than happy to drag Jones through as many legal proceedings as necessary, exposing him to further consequences in the process.

But no matter what happens to Jones, the info wars have already been waged. Even if the money he made by exploiting his listeners’ paranoid rage is redistributed to the people he maimed in the process, the ripples he started among conservative and alternative media have grown into waves. Consider Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s primetime show; you’d be hard-pressed to spot meaningful differences between the content of that program and a garden-variety segment from Infowars. The hosts on the Infowars broadcast desk feel that way, too.

Jones’s efficacy can be seen in the way the Right reflexively defends Jones’s behavior. Leading conservative voices, excluding a few—Sebastian Gorka of all people—saw the judgements against Jones and flopped to the turf, screaming foul like unprofessional soccer players. If you believe those demagogues, Jones was punished by the courts for daring to question consensus reality, and you—yes, you, dear reader—may very well be next in line for the same fate.

In actual reality, Jones’ predicament is of his own making. He repeatedly refused to participate in the proceedings against him, resulting in default judgments where cases have skipped straight to deciding how much money Jones owes. As those proceedings went forward in spite of his stonewalling, Jones spent what turned out to have been very valuable time indeed denigrating judges and jurors involved in the cases instead of actually defending himself.

Free Speech Warriors will argue that this case spat in the face of Jones’ First Amendment rights. That’s not true either. Free speech, as liberal as it is in America, still has limits. One of those is defamation. In the case of Jones’ Sandy Hook coverage, his remarks clearly passed that threshold and caused an irreparable amount of damage to his victims. What Jones did was not a form of speech protected by US laws.

Jones and his guests made repeated claims that spawned and encouraged horrific barrages of harassment of parents as they attempted to mourn their dead children. Some parents testified that they are still tormented to this day. Several have moved to new homes to try to evade conspiracy theorists stalking them; a mother said she was scared to be photographed at her daughter’s funeral. One father still lives in hiding. Jones changed those parents’ lives forever and soiled the memories of their children. As is often the case, it’s a real struggle to find a Free Speech warrior willing to explain in detail what exactly Jones did. (These are often the same people who cry “cancel culture” when they see mean things said about them online.)

The reflexive defense of Alex Jones’ nonexistent right to harraunge families of murdered children should be understood as a bellwether. Very powerful people who know better are pretending not to, because they view reality as a war to be won rather than a consensus we use to inform our best judgments—which is perfectly in line with Jones’ entrepreneurial vision. The media model exemplified by Jones is understood as a crucial tool in a broader authoritarian power-grab, morality and human collateral damage be damned.

That’s not to say that ripping Jones to financial shreds isn’t a worthwhile cause. It’s important to set a clear example. But no amount of money, however enormous, can reverse the effects Jones and his empire have had on those parents, or his personal acceleration of our modern political and social decay.

I told Insider for its profile of Jones in wake of the legal rulings: “Alex Jones is likely to continue being Alex Jones, which means he's likely to try all kinds of shenanigans to avoid accountability. The money awarded in damages does not repair what Alex Jones has done to those parents' lives, but it could be a step towards dismantling the toxic empire that Alex Jones has built around his brand.”

Jason Wilson also put it well:

We can hope the damage these lawsuits do to Alex Jones is as severe as the damage he did to families who, in their worst moments, he tortured for the sake of his personal profit. But it won’t be.

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