Today was not a good day for conspiracy theorist and Infowars host Alex Jones. Jones, who is known for his bombastic rhetoric and absolutist political takes — including the horrifying untruth that the Sandy Hook massacre, which claimed the lives of 26 people, was a “giant hoax” — has lost his final battle in court. In a rare rebuke, Connecticut superior court Judge Barbara Bellis determined that Jones would be responsible for financial retribution to the families of the deceased. This marks the fourth — and final — time that Alex Jones has lost a defamation suit against these families.
Defamation lawsuits are notoriously difficult to prove, since a plaintiff must establish harm. But Alex Jones’ rhetoric was so patently over-the-top, so despicable, and, yes, so harmful, that his legal fall from grace is almost expected. More broadly, it could pose as a cautionary tale to future pundits wishing to drum up support for a cause using any means (the most disgusting means, as it happens) possible.
What does Alex Jones’ staggering set of losses, capped by this most recent loss, say about language in America? In some ways, this series of court cases is the coda to the events of January 6, 2021, when insurgents, egged on by the flashy and incorrect rhetoric of American politicians, stormed the Capitol building, leaving in their wake death, destruction, and a barely breathing democracy. If we have come to accept weaponized language in political discourse, perhaps we can view these consequences as a correction of course. No, you actually cannot say anything you want. Yes, truth is important. Yes, we will continue to demand decency in America.
Over the course of the past year, Americans have come to terms with the strained capacity to communicate across political parties. Republicans who feigned shock and disgust at the events of January 6 were quick to bury their distaste amid the cacophony of No Compromise. The once-reasonable Republican Party has receded down a rabbit hole of science denialism and routine gridlock. If we were to believe, last January, that the political right truly wanted to overcome the roadblock of Donald J. Trump, that moment of recognition may be behind us. What Republicans want, they shout from the rafters, is an agenda formed by Republicans and for Republicans. All others need not apply.
But the truth is, the type of divisive chatter that has defined the past few years in Washington has exhausted all of us. Alex Jones is exhausting. His lies, like so many other Republican lies, are exhausting. And it is now clear that there are consequences to stoking fear. For Jones, the consequences are financial, but other Republicans are likely to take note. Accountability is not entirely dead. We are at an inflection point, one in which we must recognize the harm perpetrated by people who want only to preserve their own power.
Is it worth the deceit, then, if the cost is financial? If we have not been able to appeal to Republicans’ better angels regarding mistruth, perhaps we can appeal to their conservative wallets. The question we have been asking is: Why can’t you be better? The question we can now ask, moving forward, is: Do you want to pay for your lies with actual money? Though the former question persuaded few party members to shift allegiance, the latter question is likely to be more persuasive.
Of course, none of this was worth it. The schadenfreude of seeing Alex Jones served his just deserts, the knowledge that other far-right provocateurs may eventually pay for their lies, too — none of it is worth it when there is a human cost. And the human cost — the lives of 26 people, 20 of them children — was, despite Jones’ ranting, very real, indeed.
Still, we can hope, in this moment of recognition, that Jones’ losses will pave the way for a better view of humanity. Kinder language. Fewer lies. A dedication to fact over emotion. In a year when we have lost so much of our American identity, it may be the only light at the end of the tunnel.