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‘The Truth Against Alex Jones’: How the Sandy Hook Lies Were Spread for Profit

AUSTIN — Robbie Parker’s 6-year-old daughter Emilie had been dead less than 48 hours, gunned down alongside 19 of her classmates and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when the Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones went on Infowars. and claimed that Parker was “a soap opera actor” who made it all up.

All Parker did was laugh nervously before making a statement to the press about his daughter’s identity, the father said in the documentary “The Truth vs. Alex Jones,” which aired March 26 on HBO. The film premiered this month at South by Southwest in Austin, where Jones is based, was judged and once heckled. in a chicken restaurant.

But Jones was on a roll. He called the massacre of 20 children a “false flag” hours after it happened in December 2012 – “before the bodies were even cold,” as the parents’ lawyer put it in a deposition for the one of two defamation suits featured in the film that were ultimately brought against Jones. Soon he was urging his listeners to take apart Parker’s video to prove that the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history had been staged as an elaborate ruse by liberals to take guns away from Americans. Immediately, Parker says in the film, Emilie’s memorial Facebook page was flooded with people who called her a “whore” and threatened to show up at their house with guns to demand proof that she was still alive.

It lasted 10 years. It continues. Every time Jones spread another hoax theory, these grieving families were hit with a new wave of brutal harassment: rape threats, death threats, people confronting them in the street. In the film, another mother, Jacqueline Barden, testifies in court that she and her husband received letters from people saying they had peed on their son Daniel’s grave, or promised to dig it up, because They were convinced there was no one inside. . Yet another, Francine Wheeler, recounts how she was in an elevator at a conference for mothers who had lost their children to gun violence when a woman told her that the mass shooting that killed her son Ben had never happened.

“It’s just a constant loss of your sense of safety and security while you try to grieve the loss of your 6-year-old who was unexpectedly murdered in the classroom,” said Principal Dan Reed . “The cumulative harm is really, I hope, what comes out in the film.”

And even though Jones was ordered to pay nearly $1.5 billion to families in 2022 – lawyer called the Texas judgment “the most egregious defamation case in American history” – the families have yet to receive a single cent. Jones filed for bankruptcy while also being accused of reckless personal spending And move your money to hide your assets.

He still broadcasts his show Infowars four hours a day, six days a week.

“Concretely, Alex Jones has not yet been silenced. Maybe he still is, but I doubt it,” says Reed, whose latest project, “Leaving Neverland,” was a deep dive into the sexual harassment allegations against Michael Jackson. Reed, a Brit, spent four years making “The Truth vs. Alex Jones,” with broad courtroom access and intimate, emotional interviews with parents.

Jones did not agree to be interviewed for the film, although Reed says he pursued him for years and received countless text messages from Jones. “He would leave me voice notes saying that I was a mercenary of the establishment and that he was not going to watch my film, but in a fairly polite and cordial tone.” (Jones did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment.)

But there is plenty of Jones speaking on camera in recorded depositions, as well as plenty of courtroom footage; the Texas judge allowed Reed to bring 10 cameras and two microphones. Reed also had the full cooperation of many Sandy Hook parents.

“They saw it as part of their mission to stop the lies we were being told about their children, to get Alex Jones,” Reed says. “They put up with me for years and years, putting cameras in their faces and asking them about the worst day of their lives, and I’m so grateful.”

But nothing he documented in his film really diminished Jones’ power and reach. “So the most important point is, ‘Well, is this now how we’re going to establish the truth?’ By taking people to court in trials that take years and years to play out? ” says Reed. “…Trying to prosecute your ex-president is proving very difficult, for lying on a massive scale.”

Long before Sandy Hook, Reed had heard of Jones as an entertaining braggart who got his start on Austin public television, where he would rant and rave while carving a pumpkin or wearing a tinfoil hat. Eventually, he began winning over a national audience with conspiracy theories about 9/11, fluoride and Fukushima radiation, for which he sold iodine as a means of combating it. A subset of the Internet has even turned clips of his shows into “remixes” to folk music and the like.

But the cult of Jones took an even darker turn with his Sandy Hook theories, which took a heavy toll on harassment of grieving parents. “He accused them of faking the deaths of their children and it seemed completely extraordinary,” Reed says. “He is the one who exemplifies this trend towards fantasy and superstition in the collapse of traditional media and their replacement with a kind of conspiracy candy. He is the titan of this world.

In the most damning parts of the trial footage, Jones treats the Texas courtroom like it’s his show, and at one point he practically does an infomercial for his line of supplements, which, according to him, are made from the best ingredients, directly from Japan. He is also reprimanded by Texas judge, Maya Guerra Gamble, for lying on the stand. about being bankrupt and for saying he complied with the plaintiffs — this was after Guerra Gamble rendered several default judgments and denounced him for “blatant bad faith and total disregard” with regard to legal procedures, in particular when providing preliminary information.

In both trials, his lawyers also spoil and hand over evidence to family lawyers, as a complete history of his text messages that contradict Jones’ testimony on the stand. “He treated the court like his studio, and from the expressions on the faces of the jury, I don’t think that worked very well,” Reed says.

The lawyers also show that Jones’ lies about Sandy Hook are directly linked to his income. Every time Infowars floated a hoax theory, viewership increased, as did sales of its supplements, measured by “peak engagement.”

And as Jones’ father and business partner, David Jones, testified in a deposition: “We like to imitate spikes. ” In other words, Jones’ business model was to lure viewers in with outrageous theories — regardless of the human cost to those parents — then sell things to the Infowars audience while they were there.

“You come for the outrage, you stay for the extras,” Reed says. “They were experimenting with this new type of scam. All these big conspiracy theories, from the former president of the United States on down, they’re all tenacious, right? There is always a way to make money by deceiving people with lies. Alex Jones is a consummate con artist, and this is one of his biggest drawbacks and makes him the most money.

But Jones isn’t just portrayed as a buffoon. He is charismatic enough that Scarlett Lewis, one of the parents suing him in Texas, brought him water and four cough drops into the courtroom because he was coughing and explained to him that his larynx was torn. He apologized to her and eventually admitted that the attack was “100% real.” Parker, Connecticut, admits he can’t take his eyes off him.

“I think that’s one of the biggest reasons for Alex Jones’ success,” Reed says. “He lies with great conviction and a great gruff personality and with a lot of humor, and I think people find that very easy to consume and very appealing.”

At the Texas trial, the family’s lawyer told the jury that 24 percent of Americans, or 75 million people, believe Sandy Hook was “either definitely or possibly staged.”

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It’s just a coincidence that the film comes out during an election year, Reed says. Former President Donald Trump appears in the film during an interview with Jones, who is a prominent supporter and has attended numerous election rejection rallies in 2020 and 2021. “So there’s that connection, (but ) we didn’t want to do it. too explicit,” Reed says.

Reed says he’s not trying to make a film that will change the minds of conspiracy theorists. “I think the point of the documentary is to mark a moment in time and say, ‘This is how we got here… and I think by doing that in a very detailed and very careful, this can become a point of reference for us.’ when we try to understand what happened in the world and how we entered the post-truth era. For me, Alex Jones’s lies about Sandy Hook were a turning point… in this sort of dark scam and lies becoming more and more common.

And if the truth can only be established now in court, where does that leave us?

Currently, Jones is free to position himself as a champion of the First and Second Amendments, claiming on air that he will never pay the money he owes. “I think he’s just going to make more money,” Reed says. “He’s going to become more prominent as we get closer to the November election.”

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