In roughly 10 years since he declared the deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history to be a “giant hoax,” Infowars founder Alex Jones has been denounced and de-platformed by tech giants such as Facebook, YouTube and Spotify, and faced significant financial blows. The latest came Thursday when a jury ruled that Jones had to pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages to the parents of a 6-year-old boy killed in the Sandy Hook mass shooting after he created a “living hell” for the family.
But as Jones’s false claims and rants launched him into the national political dialogue, his ascent has arguably been solidified, thanks to Donald Trump and Joe Rogan embracing Jones and endorsing his ideas to online audiences of millions of people in recent years.
Jones’s 2015 interview with Trump offered a window into some of the future president’s talking points at his rallies.
“Your reputation is amazing,” Trump told Jones at the time.
Jones going on “The Joe Rogan Experience” in 2020 allowed him to push false claims about coronavirus vaccination on Spotify, where he had been banned. A clip shared widely on Twitter this week shows how Rogan, whose show has an estimated audience of 11 million per episode, has previously defended Jones as “hilarious” and having entertainment value.
“What is he doing that’s so awful?” Rogan asked. “It’s entertaining!”
Representatives for Trump and Rogan did not immediately respond to requests for comment early Friday.
The decision from an Austin jury on Thursday means that Jones could pay significantly less than the $150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, for remarks after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 people, 20 of them young children, dead. It remains to be seen how much Jones, 48, might be ordered to pay in punitive damages. The jury is expected to return Friday to weigh that amount — a sum that could be considerably higher.
Shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, Jones, who has previously promoted conspiracy theories about the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 attacks, falsely claimed that “no one died” at the school and that the attack was “staged” and “manufactured” by gun-control advocates. The remarks not only outraged grieving parents but also led to death threats and abuse from strangers. After Heslin told the jury this week that the false claims had made his life a “living hell,” Jones conceded in court to the family that the shooting was “100 percent real.”
“Neil and Scarlett are thrilled with the result and look forward to putting Mr. Jones’s money to good use,” Mark Bankston, a lawyer for the parents, told The Washington Post on Thursday. “With punitive damages still to be decided and multiple additional defamation lawsuits pending, it is clear that Mr. Jones’s time on the American stage is finally coming to an end.”
His presence on the national stage was elevated when Trump, who became the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, agreed to be interviewed on Infowars. Trump and Jones said the December 2015 interview was arranged by Trump confidant Roger Stone — years later Jones and Stone would be subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
“I will not let you down,” Trump said to the Infowars founder.
Jones has acknowledged the impression he seemed to have on Trump, taking credit for introducing the then-candidate to the idea that media members were his “enemy.”
“It is surreal to talk about issues here on-air, and then, word-for-word, hear Trump say it two days later,” Jones told his audience at the time.
The connection between Trump and Jones was documented in “United States of Conspiracy,” a 2020 special from PBS’s “Frontline.” One of the lies Jones spread on his show was that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and former president Barack Obama founded the Islamic State. Trump repeated Jones’s false claim about Clinton and Obama at one of the Republican candidate’s rallies before the 2016 presidential election, according to PBS. Trump repeated, during an interview with Fox News, another of Jones’s lies: that the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was associated with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Former Infowars staffers told “Frontline” how Trump seemingly using Jones’s false claims as his own was “a super power trip for Alex that was irresistible.”
“Someone in the mainstream — Trump — using the words that Jones had been using for decades, I think that emboldened Jones, and it changed him as a personality,” said Josh Owens, a former video editor at Infowars.
The support from Trump elevated Jones in the national conversation, as when Fox News host Tucker Carlson hailed Jones as “one of the most popular journalists on the right.” Joe Walsh, the former GOP congressman from Illinois who has since become a vocal critic of Trump and his allies in the Republican Party, noted on Twitter this week how “there’s really no difference between Alex Jones and Donald Trump. None.”
But the raised profile also cost Jones. In 2018, Facebook, Apple, YouTube and Spotify were among the platforms to ban all content from Jones and Infowars for violating their hate-speech guidelines. After Roku dropped Infowars in 2019, Jones shared a cryptic post to his Instagram account of a tweet from Infowars reporter Owen Shroyer, which featured an artistic banner of Jones’s face looking enraged.
“Strike me down now and I only become more powerful,” Shroyer wrote.
In the podcasting world, Rogan is one of its premier personalities. Rogan, a lightning rod for controversy who has a huge following, came to an agreement with Spotify in 2020 for a reported $100 million for his podcast library.
So when Rogan welcomed Jones on his show in October 2020, the Infowars host listed a series of falsehoods surrounding coronavirus safety measures such as vaccination and masking, climate science and the polio vaccine. During the course of the three-hour appearance, Rogan also referenced Jones’s lies surrounding the Sandy Hook shooting.
“We all know that you’ve [messed] some things up, right?” Rogan said to Jones in 2020, specifically mentioning Sandy Hook. “But you’ve gotten so many things right. This is why I keep talking to you about these things, and that’s why I defend you and why I think it’s … dangerous to censor you.”
In response to the backlash that followed, Rogan defended having Jones on his show. Rogan said on Instagram that he fact-checked “every single crazy thing he said” and that “all of them were verified.”
“I knew people were going to criticize the content of the podcast without even listening and I was right,” Rogan wrote. “He said a lot of crazy, but accurate things, and that’s what I’ve been saying about him for years.”
Even though Spotify banned Jones and Infowars from its platforms, company executives also defended the booking, writing in an internal email how “it’s important to have diverse voices and points of view on our platform,” according to BuzzFeed News. Rogan found himself under fire at the beginning of 2022 for controversies surrounding coronavirus misinformation and the many previous instances in which the host used the n-word.
A spokesperson for Spotify did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rogan’s supporters have also taken a vested interest in Jones. On Reddit, users on the subreddit dedicated to Rogan have flooded the forum with posts about Jones and clips from the defamation damages trial. While some on Reddit are sick of reading about the one-time Rogan guest, others can’t get enough.
“Alex Jones spewing FACTS!” one supporter wrote.