Opinion

Opinion | Margery Eagan

Families of Sandy Hook victims could force Alex Jones to admit his outrageous lie

Alex Jones runs the conspiracy theory-laden website InfoWars.
Ilana Panich-Linsman/New York Times/File 2017
Alex Jones runs the conspiracy theory-laden website InfoWars.

FAMILIES OF SIX MORE Sandy Hook victims filed a defamation suit last month against Alex Jones, the nation’s premier conspiracy peddler, with millions of followers on his far-right InfoWars website.

That’s because Jones has repeatedly said the 2012 Newtown massacre that killed 20 first-graders and six educators was staged. And his followers have repeatedly attacked the families of the dead as liars, and worse.

This latest suit joins two more already filed against Jones in Texas by two other families. The suits are long shots, legal analysts say. But how great it would be if these families prevail, if they force Jones to admit publicly that he perpetuated a sadistic lie. How great, not just for Newtown, but for the rest of us.

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We’re swimming in an ever larger, seamier sea of bizarre conspiracy theories and lies pushed not just by Jones but also, to name a few, by Sean Hannity at Fox News, Dinesh D’Souza, Gateway Pundit, Roseanne Barr, as we learned in detail last week, and by the president himself and his closest aides. Conspiracy theories and lies about Newtown, Parkland, Columbine, Las Vegas, birtherism, vaccines and autism, pedophile rings led by Hillary Clinton. About the “criminal deep state” running America. About the “globalists” running the world. Jones and others say 9/11 was an inside job. Ditto Oklahoma City and the Boston Marathon bombings. Jones actually talks about chemicals in water turning frogs gay.

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Conspiratorialists feed off one another. President Trump watches “Fox & Friends” and talks with Hannity. As a candidate, Trump praised Jones’s “amazing” reputation, went on his show, and raised InfoWars’ profile. Jones and Trump are Roseanne fans. Her tweet wasn’t racist, according to them. “Absolutely just ridiculous,” said Jones. Trump didn’t denounce it either.

Meanwhile the president has succeeded, with no evidence, in convincing growing numbers of Americans that Robert Mueller, a war hero, is tainted, even corrupt, and that the FBI planted a “spy” in his campaign.

Are we too far gone? Have we totally lost our ability to detect “fake” news?

Or is it possible, just possible, that lawsuits and a public shaming of Alex Jones could help those now living in never-never land return to planet Earth?

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It’s not clear how much Jones himself actually believes of what he spews. During Jones’s custody battle with his ex-wife (he lost), his lawyer said the InfoWars star is a performance artist “playing a character.”

Maybe Jones is just about the money: The barrel chested, hyper-macho broadcaster, who routinely appears shirtless in ads, reportedly makes millions on dietary supplements like InfoWars Life Brain Force and Life Liver Shield.

“It’s a brilliant business model,” wrote Seth Brown in New York magazine. “If you can be convinced that President Obama was a member of Al Qaeda, perhaps you will buy two ounces of InfoWars Life Super Male Vitality drops for $59.95.”

But the Newtown lawsuits are aimed at ending something more sinister: the twisted behavior that Jones’s conspiratorialist claptrap inspires. That is, “the unconscionable campaign of harassment, lies, and abuse [these families] have suffered at the hands of Alex Jones and his co-conspirators,” as Matt Blumenthal of the Connecticut law firm Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder puts it.

Last year Jones devotee Lucy Richards, a woman with significant mental health problems, was sentenced to five months in prison for repeated death threats against Leonard Pozner, father of murdered 6-year-old Noah Pozner. Other families have reported being chased through town by Sandy Hook deniers demanding proof of their children’s deaths. One frightened family moved from their home to a gated community, where they check door and window locks nightly before bed.

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The families “tried to ignore [Jones]. They thought he’d go away, but he didn’t,” said Bill Ogden of the Houston law firm Farrar & Ball, which is also suing Jones. “They’ve gone through almost five years now having to relive the most tragic moments anyone could imagine because it produced ratings for a YouTube channel and a website.”

In other words, fake stories about dead first-graders have helped Alex Jones stay rich.

“Our main goal,” said Ogden, “is to get Mr. Jones to stop.”

Margery Eagan is cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”