Alex Jones, the conspirator who made business with disinformation

A Connecticut jury this week put a price on lying, in a remarkable attempt to plug the leaks that misinformation is opening up in American democracy. The phenomenon of fake news constitutes a “problem” for 91% of citizens, and for 71%, a “major problem”, according to a recently published survey, but the condemnation of far-right fabulist Alex Jones to pay almost 1,000 million dollars [about 1,028 million euros] for spreading that the Sandy Hook massacre (26 dead in a school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012) was a farce, seems to have established a limit.

With the highest judicial body in the country in the hands of an ultra-conservative majority, there is no optimism about the possible legal redress of hoaxes and libels -such as the legal battle of Republican Sarah Palin against The New York Times, among other cases- , but the blow to Jones and his website Infowars, one of the main platforms of the alternative right-wing conspiracy, can serve as a warning, especially when numerous Republican candidates for the mid-term elections (in November) continue to maintain, like Jones, that Donald Trump was the victim of a robbery at the polls in 2020. Jones’s harangues to Trump supporters helped fuel the storming of the Capitol in January 2021.

Alex Jones testifies in the Sandy Hook libel lawsuit in Waterbury, Connecticut on September 22.

Alex Jones testifies in the Sandy Hook libel lawsuit in Waterbury, Connecticut on September 22. Tyler Sizemore (AP)

Justice has quantified the price of the lie at 965 million dollars ―namely, that the tragedy that cost the lives of 20 children and six educators at the Sandy Hook school was a theatre―, but the convicted person has also profited from the hoax in these years: after all, in the United States, ideology is also a matter of money. Oblivious to the pain of the families of the victims, Jones profited through a network of shell companies through which he amassed a fortune valued between 135 million and 270 million dollars. This shows how profitable a hoax is, if the fan is oriented in the right direction: rabid Trumpists; Republicans in general on the warpath against Democrats, hungry for vitriol. An easy and captive audience thanks to the multiplier effect of the networks.

On the eve of two rulings that in the summer condemned him to pay compensation of 50 million to other relatives of Sandy Hook, Jones (Dallas, 48 ​​years old) filed for bankruptcy of the parent company, Free Speech Systems. The declaration of bankruptcy is a very common administrative process in the United States to avoid, or at least delay, the action of justice (it was used by the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma to stop thousands of lawsuits for its role in the opioid crisis, or by the National Rifle Association to restructure itself).

The experts who have evaluated the Jones companies disagree with their alleged insolvency. His income has exceeded $50 million a year from the sale of dietary supplements, survival kits, and military paraphernalia advertised on his shows. He has also used the Connecticut trial, like the one in Texas this summer, to solicit donations and increase the sale of these patriotic products.

Denialist, crude manipulator or conspirator to subvert the system, who is Alex Jones? The product of an audience eager to commune with alternative facts knowing its falsity? Father of four children, Jones is above all someone who shows no remorse and has not even understood that lying, even in the quagmire of the alt right, has short legs. The condemned man broadcast the verdict of the Connecticut jury live on Infowars on Wednesday. “They covered up what really happened, and now I’m the devil,” he said. “I am actually proud to see myself subjected to such an attack.” To the moral damage caused in the families by his lie, the harassment by his followers was added to them.

Throughout more than two decades of career, Jones has not stopped spreading nonsense endlessly: about the “pedophile new world order”, an echo of that crazy theory about the existence of a pederasty network in a Washington pizzeria linked to the Democratic elite; about the “living dead Biden”; repeated diatribes against Jews, embodied in the financier George Soros, against immigration and the trans community (“children are told the story that a fat man dressed as a clown is a woman, and that is NOT a woman”) or, in short, against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, in their day their favorite black beasts. “Obama and Hillary smell like sulfur, they smell like hell”, “Obama is a hard-line Wahhabi [Saudi rigorist doctrine]; he is Al Qaeda”, are some of his sentences.

“New world order”

Jones’s bravado occasionally found its way into the mainstream media, such as this statement – ​​or threat – made on a live CNN show in 2013: “I’m here to tell you that 1776 [date of the declaration of independence] will begin again if They try to take away our firearms. We will not give them up! Do you understand? His presence in the conventional media hardly sparked debate about the possible homologation of his speech: in the society of the spectacle, Jones was a charlatan who gave game.

As a teenager, raised in a middle-class home, he was a voracious reader. One of the books that marked him was None Dare Call It Conspiracy (“No one dares to call it a conspiracy”), written in 1971 by a member of the John Birch Society, an ultra-conservative and anti-communist group founded in the midst of the Cold War. Despite what the world has changed since then, for Jones it is the “quintessential manual to understand the new world order”, a feverish story about the alleged conspiracy of international banking to finance the Russian revolution of 1917.

His jump to the airwaves came after the bloodbath (86 dead) that put an end to the challenge of the Davidian sect in Waco, in 1993, when Jones made his debut on a small local station. After the 1995 Oklahoma bombing, in which Timothy McVeigh leveled a federal building killing 168 people in response to the Waco event, he launched into a conspiracy theory, insinuating that the terrorist had had a military escort to plant the bomb and that the action was an imitation of the Reichstag fire.

Alex Jones was one of the first to paint a dystopian future before dystopia existed. But his mental scenario is more hallucinatory: a “new world order” under a global government, with forced eugenics, secret internment camps, militarized police, and behind-the-scenes control by a devious global corporation. To protect themselves from him, he urged his followers to build bunkers, hoard food and weapons, and actively resist violence.

The new national security strategy launched this week by the White House – a document that each new Administration must present and whose publication was delayed this time by the invasion of Ukraine – names China and Russia as the main threats to the United States, but does not forget that national or internal terrorism that increasingly worries the authorities: that of white supremacists, supporters of the replacement theory or violent militants with weapons. The White House maintains that democracy is in danger – the assault on the Capitol amply demonstrated it – while Jones’ emulators multiply.

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