The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Alex Jones is facing a reckoning. Let it be a warning to other conspiracy theorists.

Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Capitol Hill in D.C. on Sept. 5, 2018. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
Comment

Distortions. Lies. Profiteering off the hurt of others. Those are the signature characteristics that mark the radio work of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. So it shouldn’t have come as any surprise that Mr. Jones reacted to a judge’s ruling against him in lawsuits brought by families of those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., with more distortions, more lies and more attempts to raise money.

Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis earlier this month found Mr. Jones liable for damages in defamation lawsuits brought by the families of eight people killed in the 2012 school massacre after the Infowars host made repeated claims that the shooting was a giant hoax.

The judge ruled that because Mr. Jones had refused to turn over documents ordered by the court, he was liable by default. A similar determination was made by a Texas court in September in two lawsuits filed by victims’ families. Jury trials will next be held to determine the amount of damages.

After Judge Bellis issued her ruling, Mr. Jones went on air and complained about being deprived of a fair trial and invoked his rights to free speech under the First Amendment. Days later, he released a video pleading for money.

Mr. Jones’s claim about being denied a fair trial is undermined by his own refusal to cooperate with the courts in basic procedures necessary to conduct one. Judge Bellis said years of what she called inappropriate conduct by Mr. Jones’s attorneys regarding depositions and the “callous disregard” for her repeated rulings required the most severe sanction of default, which she called “a last resort.” The judge in the Texas case cited the defendants’ “general bad faith” toward the litigation and Mr. Jones’s “public threats,” as well as his contention that the proceedings were show trials.

Multiple efforts by Mr. Jones to have the cases dismissed on First Amendment grounds have been roundly rejected by the state courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. We are the first to stand up for First Amendment rights, but Mr. Jones’s repeated false claims that the shooting at Sandy Hook in which 26 people were killed was a hoax — “staged,” he said, and “inside job written all over it” — were beyond the pale and outside the Constitution’s protections. Mr. Jones, who has now belatedly acknowledged the reality of Sandy Hook, had no credible evidence for his outrageous claims, and his knowing lies did terrible damage to people who already had suffered the tragic loss of loved ones. One family has had to move nearly 10 times and even now is living in hiding.

The families have yet to specify the amount of damages they are seeking, and there is no amount of money that can make up for what they have suffered and will continue to suffer. Their hope, though, is that they will be able to establish that conspiracy profiteering off the tragedy of others is not an acceptable business model. Let’s hope that others in this age of increasing misinformation get that message.

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