Why not expect the Comeuppance of Alex Jones to stop lying

If it hadn’t been so heartbreaking, Alex Jones’ fraud trial would have been doomed.

Mr. Jones, a slinging conspiracy theorist, was ordered to pay more than $45 million in damages to Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of a 6-year-old boy who was murdered in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In Newtown, Conn., the jury’s verdict came after Mr. Jones was found guilty of defamation of Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis, who for years he had accused of masterminding the government’s planned “false flag” campaign.

To the victims of Mr. Jones’ campaign of intimidation, and those who have followed his career for years, the verdict felt long overdue – the notorious cybercriminal finally facing real consequences for his actions. The families of the children killed at Sandy Hook, many of whom have waited years to see Mr. Jones pay for his lies, are no doubt relieved.

But before we celebrate the arrival of Mr. Jones, we should recognize that the court’s verdict against him is not likely to make more scandalous the character he represents: belligerent fabulists building a profitable media empire with undeniable lies.

The phone number of Mr. Jones has declined in recent years – thanks, in part, to the decision of tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter to block him from their services. But his reach is still wide, and he has more influence than you think.

Court records showed that Mr. Infowars store. Jones, which sells questionable supplements and survival tools, made more than $165 million from 2015 to 2018. Popular podcasts And the show on YouTube, and millions of Americans still watch him as, if not a reliable follower of current events, then at least a terrifying transformation. (And a rich one — an expert witness at trial estimated the net worth of Mr. Jones and Free Speech Systems, his holding company, at somewhere between $135 million and $270 million.)

In the coming weeks, Mr. Jones – the magician of the sacrifice – will no doubt turn his court destruction into hours of entertaining content, all of which will generate more attention, more followers, more money.

But the greater reason for caution is that, whether or not Mr. Jones has personally enriched himself by lying Your name 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 checking the Infowars channel. When Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia suggested that mass shootings could be planned to persuade Republicans to support gun control measures, as she did in Facebook post About the July 4 shooting in Highland Park, Ill., she was playing a song from Mr. Jones’ show. Mr. Jones also played a role in inciting the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol in ways we are still learning. (The House Select Committee on Terrorism subpoenaed Jones’ phone text messages that were sent to to the illegal lawyer who represents the plaintiff in his criminal case.)

You can also see the influence of Mr. Jones in the right-wing media. When Tucker Carlson incites nativist fears on his Fox News show, or when Newsmax hosts spin Weird conspiracy theories Regarding the efforts of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the Senate, to have the Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh killed, it is proof that the DNA of Infowars has entered the conservative bloodstream.

Even outside of politics, Mr. Jones’ wide-eyed style has influenced the way a new generation of conspiracy theorists seek internet fame.

These creators are not joking about goblins and gay frogs, as Jones has. But they are pulling from the same inauthentic playbook. Some of them focus on lighter topics – like kooky health influencers who recently went viral For suggesting that Lyme disease is a “gift” caused by an intergalactic space problem, or like Shane Dawson, a popular YouTube creator who has racked up hundreds of millions of views with his conspiracy theory documentaries in which he credulously verifies claims such as “Chuck E. cheese used uneaten pizza” and “wildfires are caused by direct energy weapons.”

Some elements of the left-wing and centrist discourse still owe a debt to Mr. Jones. The “Red Scare” podcast, which is popular with the anti-establishment “post-left” group, interviewed Mr. Jones and shared their overlapping interests. Much of the endless coverage and analysis of the legal battle between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, which dominated social media this summer, has a Jonesian tinge. Even Joe Rogan, the popular podcast host (who hosts Mr. Jones on his show and has Protect him as “fun” and “entertainment”), borrowed some of the Infowars founders’ connect-the-dots paranoia in arguing, for example, that the Covid-19 vaccine could change your genes.

It would be too simplistic to blame (or credit) Mr. Jones for inspiring the entire modern cranksphere. But it’s safe to say that many of today’s leading conspiracy theorists have found the point of lies and profitable entertainment value alike. It is possible that we have become desensitized to conspiracy theories, and many of the outrageous lies that once got Jones in trouble – such as the accusations about the Sandy Hook parents that were at the center of his blasphemy trial – may become less shocking. If speaking today.

Other conspiracy theorists are less likely than Jones to end up in court, in part because they have learned from his mistakes. Instead of directly accusing the families of the victims of the mass shooting, they take a disingenuous, “just asking the question” stance while poking holes in the official narrative. When attacking the enemy, they scowled, careful not to do anything that could get them sued or blocked from social media. And when they lead harassment campaigns, they choose their targets wisely—often harming public figures rather than private citizens, which affords them broad speech protections under the First Amendment.

That’s not to say there won’t be more lawsuits, or attempts to hold conspiracy theorists accountable. Fox News, for one, is facing a fraud lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems, which claims the network made false statements about voter fraud in the 2020 election.

But these cases are the exception, not the rule. The truth is that today’s media ecosystem is full of Infowars-style conspiracy theories — from History Channel shows about ancient aliens building the Egyptian pyramids to TikToks made by yoga moms who think Wayfair sells trafficked children — and it’s not clear what our legal system can do. , or even should try, stop them.

Social media companies can help curb the spread of harmful lies by making it difficult for fabulists to gather large audiences. But they have their own limitations, including the simple fact that conspiracy theorists have gotten more sophisticated about evading their rules. If you draw the line claiming that Bigfoot is real, attention seeking cranks will only get their millions of views by posting Bigfoot. May is true and that their audience will be wise to do their own research to find out the secrets related to Bigfoot that the deep state cabal hides.

To this new, more sensitive generation of propagandists and reactionaries, Mr. Jones was an inspiration who rose to the top of his profession. But he’s also a cautionary tale – of what can happen when you cross too many lines, tell lies that can’t be easily denied and refuse to be denied.

Mr. Jones did not finish facing the music. Two other lawsuits filed against him by Sandy Hook family members are still pending, and he may owe millions in damages.

But, even if Mr. Jones’s career is ruined, his legacy of stupid, unrepentant dishonesty will live on—strengthened, in some ways, by the knowledge of exactly how far you can push a lie before consequences arise.

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