On Wednesday, October 12, a Connecticut jury determined that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who hosts the popular online show “Infowars,” spread egregious lies about the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. This has proven to be a watershed moment in a country where 71% of citizens believe “fake news” is a major concern.
Jones was ordered to pay $965 million to the families of the children killed after claiming for years that the school shooting was staged. For several years, many of his followers have harassed the parents of the murdered children, believing the lies spread by Infowars to be true.
The verdict is not only a setback for Jones and his media company. It may also serve as a warning to a number of far-right figures in the United States, ranging from Sarah Palin to Donald Trump, that spreading misinformation or inciting violence can be prosecuted.
Jones, 48, has long been the subject of conspiracy theories. Most recently, he spread Trump’s lies about alleged fraud in the 2020 presidential election. As a result, many Infowars listeners and viewers decided to storm the Capitol building on January 6, 2021. Several Republican House and Senate candidates across the country continue to support Infowars on this issue.
Jones, on the other hand, was not on trial for his role in inciting attacks on American democracy. Unfortunately, it took nearly a decade for him to face justice for spreading Sandy Hook conspiracies. During that time, oblivious to the pain of the families whose children were gunned down by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, he amassed a fortune worth between $135 and 270 million dollars by peddling conspiracies.
Jones was ordered to pay $50 million in compensation to Sandy Hook victims’ families this summer. The Texan and his company, Free Speech Systems, subsequently filed for bankruptcy, as means of delaying further legal processes. Experts, however, demonstrated that his alleged insolvency could not be true. Jones’s annual income easily exceeds $50 million, thanks to both money sent to him by followers and advertising revenue. He interrupts his own diatribes on his show to sell questionable dietary supplements, steroids, survival kits, and military paraphernalia. He’s also used the Connecticut trial, like the one in Texas last summer, to solicit online donations and increase sales of his “patriotic” products.
The divorced father of four children has expressed no remorse for his actions. Even after the verdict was announced on Wednesday, he told his audience that “they [the children’s parents] covered up what really happened [at Sandy Hook]… and now I’m the devil.” I’m actually proud of myself for being subjected to such an attack.” It appears that the harassment that Infowars fans have inflicted on the families of the victims will not cease anytime soon.
While Jones’ lies about the Sandy Hook massacre were never accepted by mainstream politicians, many of his conspiracy theories have gained traction in the Republican Party. He has spread nonsense about the Democratic Party’s “pedophile new world order,” claimed that President Joe Biden is actually dead, encouraged hatred of trans people, and claimed that former President Barack Obama believes in fundamentalist Saudi doctrine. Many of these assertions have been echoed by prominent Republican politicians.
Jones was a voracious reader as a teenager growing up in a middle-class family. None dare call it a conspiracy, published in 1971 by Gary Allen, a member of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society, was one of his favorite books.
Jones made his radio debut in 1993, immediately following the Waco siege, in which FBI agents, soldiers, and Texas State Police raided a religious sect suspected of stockpiling illegal weapons. There were 86 fatalities. By 1995, after domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people after bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City, Jones was on the air claiming that the state was behind the mass murders.
Regardless of the damages he must pay, Jones is unlikely to stop spreading the paranoia that fuels these troubled minds. Even if he does, he won’t be the first person to cultivate such a threat.