There is little in this world more gratifying than seeing a bad man get his comeuppance. The pleasure of seeing somebody brought low after repeatedly “getting away with murder” is better for the human body and soul than vegetables and religion. But for the past few years, consequences haven’t really felt like they’ve been on the cards for a lot of prominent people. Bad men don’t really get their comeuppance anymore. They get book deals, or a TV show, or elected prime minister. Bad men get rich.
Unless your name is Alex Jones, that is, in which case bad men get humiliated over and over again in an extremely public forum, and then get taken to the cleaners by the vulnerable people they used to make a name for themselves.
For those who don’t know, Alex Jones is the founder of far-right news outlet Infowars, a website known for spreading conspiracy theories and misleading news stories. Jones founded Infowars in the late 1990s, but only started to receive mainstream attention in 2015 after helping boost then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Far from being the fun kind of conspiracy theorist – the kind that believes mole people control the government from a series of underground tunnels – Jones is known for peddling some pretty harmful untruths, the most insidious being that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was faked by the government to help secure the public’s appetite for gun legislation.
Lies that Jones has promoted about Sandy Hook have caused the parents of children killed in the massacre to receive harassment and death threats for nearly a full decade, so it was no surprise when those same parents have chosen to take Jones to court for making their already difficult lives even more traumatic. What is surprising, considering the total impunity with which Jones has seemingly acted for the past 20 years, is the extent to which the trial has exposed him to the consequences of his actions.
Jones has already lost the case, as the families now seek $150m in damages from the disgraced TV host after forcing him to finally admit under oath that the massacre was “100 per cent real.” As a result, Free Speech Systems LLC – the parent company of Infowars – has filed for bankruptcy in anticipation of that figure being met. That outcome now seems all but certain as Jones’ lawyers commit blunder after blunder, from being caught swearing at the opposing council to accidentally sending two years of incriminating text messages to the Sandy Hook families’ legal team.
Jones has met this scrutiny with a predictable lack of self-awareness, using the witness stand as an opportunity to hawk his ineffective supplements and flirt with committing perjury. Luckily the court has not treated Jones with the same kid gloves the rest of the world apparently does, with the judge repeatedly scolding him for lying under oath and otherwise speaking out of turn. There’s been a real sense throughout the proceedings that Jones is completely ill-equipped to deal with people calling him out on his bullshit, with the moment the aforementioned text messages were sprung on him providing an excellent digestif to a veritable banquet of schadenfreude.
While the trial has provided Jones with a much-needed dose of karmic justice, it does raise the question: is it enough? It’s nice to see somebody like Alex Jones get taken down for their misdeeds, but how was he allowed to take things this far to begin with?
I visited Newtown in 2016, back when Jones began to regularly be endorsed by Donald Trump, and it’s hard to overstate the level of damage that mainstream denial of the most traumatic event in a community’s history can do to a community. Everybody in that town knew somebody who had been affected by Sandy Hook. Everybody was a survivor, either directly or by association.
Imagine discovering that your child had barely escaped being murdered by a lunatic; putting up with the subsequent media onslaught that meant your couldn’t leave your house at certain times of day without being hounded by a reporter; slowly training yourself and your family to live a normal life again; and then discovering that the next leader of your country was endorsing a guy who said none of it had ever happened. It isn’t just upsetting – it’s obscene.
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To me, Alex Jones is a cartoon character. If you created him for a movie meant to satirise conspiracy theorists and the far right, people would tell you to tone it down. There’s even some debate over whether the version of Alex Jones we know is real, with his lawyers in a previous 2017 custody case arguing that Jones puts on an act for his audience, and that his on-air persona is akin to “performance art.”
He’s a human litmus test for the question of how far you can push misinformation before finally seeing consequences, and now we have an answer: you can do it for 10 years and be repeatedly praised by the most powerful man on the planet, while also making millions of dollars.
Hopefully Jones will be the first of many bloated, odious dominoes to fall, as we finally start to see some justice meted out for the many indignities inflicted on us over the past few years by terrible men. The January 6 hearings in the US have already landed provocateur Steve Bannon in hot water, as he was found guilty of contempt of Congress after ignoring a subpoena and now faces up to a year in prison.
Here in the UK, Boris Johnson was finally forced to resign after what felt like an endless string of scandals, proving that even Tory MPs have a limit to the humiliation they will endure before finally taking action.
It’s taking a long time for justice to be done – longer than it ever should have – but it is happening. Maybe there’s more justice to come. We can only hope.