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The profit of conspiracy
Sensemaker audio

The profit of conspiracy

The profit of conspiracy

Alex Jones is one of the United States’ great sources of misinformation – and he’s made a lot of money from it. This week a court has found him liable by default of defamation. But will it stop him spreading lies in future?


Transcript
Claudia williams, narrating:

Hi, I’m Claudia, and this is the Sensemaker. 

One story, everyday, to make sense of the world.

Today, making money from spreading lies: how a conspiracy theorist gets away with it.

***

“A race riot film to create the vision in this nation so that globalists can play whites and hispanics and others off against each other…

A whole host of radioactive isotopes… the list goes on and on…

He loves betraying people he gets off on it, he’s committed to Satan…

They’re buying armoured vehicles, millions of rounds of amo…”

Montage of clips of Alex Jones speaking

That’s Alex Jones speaking.  He’s the founder of the media outlet, Infowars… 

“So they did doctor up photos and stuff for the public…

They’ve said what they’re spraying and releasing, would actually eat holes in the atmosphere and damage the soils of the planet.”

Montage of clips of Alex Jones speaking

Taken at face value, Infowars is an independent news service – quote – “battling globalism and promoting a pro-human future.”

But don’t take it at face value.  Because Infowars tells lies and peddles conspiracy theories.  

And there’s one conspiracy theory that Alex Jones has been spreading for the last nine years that’s much darker than most.

“Well it took me about a year with Sandy Hook to come to grips with the fact that the whole thing was fake.”

Alex Jones

In 2012, a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut resulted in the deaths of 20 children and six adults.

“We’re being told by multiple state and federal sources that unfortunately more than a dozen people have been shot and killed at that school and that number includes children.”

ABC News

After the shooting, Alex Jones began spreading bogus theories that it was part of a plot by the US government to confiscate citizens’ guns and that the victims’ families were “actors”.

“Then we see footage of one of the reported fathers of the victims, Robbie Parker, doing classic acting training where he’s laughing and joking and they say “hey, we’re live” and he goes “oh” *sobs* and maybe that’s real, I’m sure it is…”

Alex Jones

And as a result, “fans” of Alex Jones – perhaps I should say followers – began to target the families of the Sandy Hook victims.  The harassment was so severe that some were forced to move house – one family moved almost 10 times and the parents can’t visit their son’s grave because it isn’t safe for them to do so. 

But collectively the families didn’t take things lying down.  They sued Alex Jones and Infowars for defamation. 

And this week they won their case in court.

The case hinged on Alex Jones’s refusal to turn over records and documents that would prove whether he’d profited from spreading the conspiracy theories – a refusal that led to the court’s ruling that he was liable by default.  

It was a victory for the families but was it a victory for the truth?  Because what’s to stop Alex Jones from carrying on telling lies?

***

Back in 2018, Apple, Facebook and YouTube began to remove most of Alex Jones’ content from their sites.

The Infowars app was removed from the App Store, his podcasts were taken down, and Facebook removed four pages from its site. 

“First demonise Infowars, lie about us, build a straw man, then sue us to add credibility to that, then have a few fake strikes on YouTube and Facebook with nebulous terms like bullying children and Islamophobia…”

Alex Jones

Collectively, they cut the link between Alex Jones and a mainstream audience.

But Alex Jones had already built a following – and it was growing.

His YouTube channel had racked up 1.3 billion views.  Nearly 1.7 million people followed him on one of his many Facebook pages, and his radio show was heard on more than a hundred stations nationwide. 

And he was making money.  Papers in his divorce case disclosed how in 2014 alone, Alex Jones pocketed more than $5 million through the sale of products to boost testosterone and survivalist gear to “push back in the fight against the global agenda”. 

But now that the courts have ruled against him in the Sandy Hook case, has he been gagged or can he keep pushing his agenda?

***

This is where the American Constitution comes into play – and in particular the First Amendment which guarantees freedom of expression.  Jones has always been quick to cite it. 

And when it comes to the Sandy Hook case, he’s made a calculation.

“He made a calculated determination just simply to defy the court’s orders…”

Chris Massey speaking on CNN

This is Chris Massey speaking. He represents the Sandy Hook families.

“…and for as long as he could, he made false representations to the court and to us about the existence of the evidence… the evidence that he deliberately withheld was precisely the evidence that would show that he engages in outrageous, inflammatory and dishonest rhetoric in order to drive traffic to his website so that he can profit financially.”

Chris Massey speaking on CNN

By failing to present evidence, Alex Jones can keep his Infowars business model a secret, Infowars and its affiliated companies are privately owned, after all. 

Next year, a jury will decide how much Alex Jones has to pay the families in damages. He, meanwhile, has said he’ll appeal.

And even if Alex Jones stops telling lies about Sandy Hook, there’s nothing to prevent him from spreading conspiracy theories about other issues.

The fights about Infowars and information we can trust aren’t over.

This story was written and produced by Imy Harper.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Alex Jones was found guilty of defamation. He was found liable by default of defamation.