Alex Jones, the radio personality who built an empire on conspiracy theories

The alt-right host of Infowars has been ordered to pay $965 million dollars in damages to the families of children who were killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, after years of claiming that the school shooting was a hoax

María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo
Alex Jones
The parents of two of the victims killed in the Sandy Hook massacre hugging after the ruling against Alex Jones in Waterbury, Connecticut.MICHELLE MCLOUGHLIN (REUTERS)

On Wednesday, October 12, a Connecticut jury found that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones – who hosts the popular online show “Infowars” – spread egregious lies about the massacre of 20 elementary school children and six teachers at a school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. This has proved to be a pivotal case in a country where 71% of citizens consider “fake news” to be a major concern.

Jones has been ordered to pay $965 million dollars to the families of the children killed, after he spent years claiming that the school shooting was staged. Many of his followers have been harassing the parents of the murdered children for several years, as they believe the lies circulated by Infowars to be true.

The verdict is not only a blow to Jones and his media organization. It may also serve as a warning to numerous far-right figures in the United States – from Sarah Palin to Donald Trump – that spreading misinformation or inciting violence can be punishable by the judicial system.

Jones, 48, has been at the center of conspiracy theories for a long time. Most recently, he spread Trump’s lies about fraud that allegedly took place during the 2020 presidential election. This ultimately led many Infowars listeners and viewers to take part in storming the Capitol building on January 6, 2021. Several Republican candidates for the House and Senate across the country continue to align with Infowars on this subject.

Alex Jones testifying during his trial for defaming the families of Sandy Hook victims, in Waterbury, Connecticut, on September 22, 2022.
Alex Jones testifying during his trial for defaming the families of Sandy Hook victims, in Waterbury, Connecticut, on September 22, 2022. Tyler Sizemore (AP)

But Jones was not on trial for his part in fueling attacks on American democracy. Unfortunately, it took almost a decade just to get him to face justice for pushing conspiracies about Sandy Hook. 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 estimated to be between $135 million and $270 million, all from pedaling conspiracies.

This past summer, Jones was ordered to pay $50 million in compensation to relatives of Sandy Hook victims. The Texan and his company, Free Speech Systems, subsequently filed for bankruptcy as means of delaying further legal processes. But experts proved that his supposed insolvency couldn’t be legitimate. Jones’s income has easily exceeded $50 million a year, not only from followers sending him money, but also from advertising income. On his show, he interrupts his own diatribes to sell dubious dietary supplements, steroids, survival kits and military paraphernalia. He has also used the Connecticut trial – like the Texas trial held last summer – to solicit online donations and increase the sale of his “patriotic” products.

The divorced father of four children has not shown an ounce of remorse for his action. Even after the verdict on Wednesday, he told his audience that “they [the parents of the children] covered up what really happened [at Sandy Hook]... and now I’m the devil. I’m actually proud to see myself 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’s lies about the Sandy Hook massacre have never picked up traction among mainstream politicians, many of his conspiracies have gained a foothold in the Republican Party. He has spread nonsense about the “pedophile new world order” – linked to the Democratic Party – claimed that President Joe Biden is actually dead, encouraged hatred of trans people and said that former president Barack Obama believes in fundamenalist Saudi doctrine. Many of these statements have been echoed by prominent GOP politicians.

Alex Jones is also a big backer of the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms. During an interview with CNN in 2013, he warned against any attempt to restrict access to semi-automatic weapons: “We will not give them up! Do you understand?” The pro-gun lobby would have been thrilled by his fanatical attack on gun control legislation.

As a teenager raised in a middle-class household, Jones was a voracious reader. One of the books that marked him deeply was None Dare Call It Conspiracy, published in 1971 by Gary Allen, a member of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society. Despite how much the world has changed, Jones still considers this book to be the “quintessential manual to understanding the new world order.” Or maybe he simply considers it to be an excellent starting point to make money.

Jones made his radio debut in 1993, right after the Waco siege, which saw FBI agents, soldiers and Texas State Police raid a religious sect that was stockpiling illegal weapons, and resulting in 86 deaths. 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 these mass murders were actually orchestrated by the state.

From radio he transitioned to the internet, where he would warn about global government, forced eugenics, secret internment camps and militarized police. Like the fundamentalists at Waco, he urged his followers to hoard food and weapons, build bunkers and form a violent resistance against the state.

The 2022 National Security Strategy – released this past week by the White House – names the governments of China and Russia as the principal opponents to the United States. However, it also mentions domestic terrorism as a major concern for the authorities. White supremacists, violent conspiracy theorists and armed militia members all fall under this category, many of whom are heavily influenced by what they’re listening to online.

Despite the damages he must pay, it’s unlikely that Jones will stop spreading the paranoia that fuels these troubled minds. And, even if he did, he surely won’t be the last person to cultivate such a mindset.

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