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Don’t expect the arrival of Alex Jones to stop the lies

If it weren’t so sad, Alex Jones’s defamation trial could be cathartic.

Appendix-slinging conspiracy theorist Mr. Jones ordered. In Newtown, Conn., Mr. The jury’s verdict came after Jones was found liable for defamation of Mr Heslin and Ms Lewis, falsely accusing them of being crisis actors in a “false flag” operation orchestrated by the government.

Mr. For victims of Jones’ campaign of harassment and those who have followed his career for years, judgment is long overdue — the infamous Internet villain finally faces real consequences for his actions. The families of the children killed at Sandy Hook, many of whom Mr. Jones, who has waited years to see his lies paid for, is no doubt relieved.

But we are Mr. Before celebrating Jones’ comeback, we should acknowledge that a verdict against him is unlikely to put much of a dent in the phenomenon he represents: war fabulists building profitable media empires with easily debunked lies.

Mr. Jones’ megaphone has shrunk in recent years — thanks, in part, to decisions by tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter to block him from their services. But his reach is still considerable and he has more influence than you might think.

From 2015 to 2018, selling dubious performance enhancing supplements and survival tools, Mr. Court records show that the Jones Infoverse store grossed more than $165 million. Despite his deplatforming, Mr. Jones still makes a guest appearance. Popular Podcasts And YouTube shows, and millions of Americans still see them as, if not reliable chroniclers of current events, at least a contrarian turn. (And a rich one — an expert witness at trial estimated the net worth of Mr. Jones and Free Speech Systems, his holding company, at between $135 million and $270 million.)

In the coming weeks, Mr. Jones – the maestro of martyrdom – will no doubt spin his court defeat into hours of entertainment, all of which will generate more attention, more subscribers, more money.

But one big cause for alarm is that Mr. Whether or not Jones has remained personally wealthy through his lies, his thik is everywhere these days.

On Capitol Hill Mr. You can see and hear Jones’ influence, where attention-seeking Republican politicians sound like they’re auditioning for slots on InfoWars. When Representative Marjorie Taylor Green, a Republican from Georgia, suggested that mass shootings could be staged to persuade Republicans to support gun-control measures. Facebook post About the July 4 shooting in Highland Park, Ill., he told Mr. Jones playing hits from his back catalogue. Mr. Jones played a role in promoting the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, in ways we are still learning. (A House committee investigating the sedition has subpoenaed a copy of text messages from Mr. Jones’ phone that were mistakenly sent to lawyers representing plaintiffs in his defamation suit.)

You can also see the influence of Mr. Jones in the right-wing media. When Tucker Carlson stokes nativist fears on his Fox News show or when a Newsmax host spins Weird conspiracy theory About House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s attempt to kill Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanagh, proof that Infoverse’s DNA has entered the conservative bloodstream.

Even outside politics, Mr. Jones’s choleric, wide-eyed style has influenced the way a new generation of conspiracy theorists seek fame online.

Mr. Unlike Jones, these creators don’t talk about goblins and gay frogs. But they’re pulling from the same truth-free playbook. Some of them focus on soft content – ​​like kooky wellness influencers It went viral recently They credibly verify claims like “Chuck E” for suggesting Lyme disease is a “gift” from an intergalactic space object, or Shane Dawson, a popular YouTube creator who has garnered hundreds of millions of views with his conspiracy theory documentaries. Cheese Recycles Uneaten Pizza” and “Directed Energy Weapons Cause Wildfires.”

Some elements of left-wing and centrist discourse owe something to Mr. Jones. The “Red Scare” podcast, which is popular with the anti-establishment “post-left” crowd, interviewed Mr. Jones and shared some overlapping interests. Much of the coverage and analysis of the legal battle between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard that dominated social media this summer had a Jonesian tinge. Joe Rogan, popular podcast host (he also hosts and has Mr. Jones on his show defended him “hilarious” and “entertaining”), for example, borrowed the connect-the-dots paranoia of Infowars founders in arguing that Covid-19 vaccines can change your genes.

It would be too simplistic to blame (or credit) Mr. Jones for inspiring the entire modern cranksphere. But it’s safe to say that many of today’s leading conspiracy theorists have found that same lucrative sweet spot of lies and entertainment value. We are desensitized to conspiracy theories, and many of the outrageous lies that once got Mr. Jones in trouble — such as the allegations about the Sandy Hook parents at the center of his defamation trial — sound less shocking. If you say today.

Other conspiracy theorists like Mr. Jones is less likely to end up in court because he learned from his mistakes. Instead of directly accusing the families of mass shooting victims, they adopt a naive, “just asking questions” posture while poking holes in the official narrative. When attacking foes, they toe the line of defamation, careful not to do anything that gets them sued or banned from social media. And when they wage harassment campaigns, they choose their targets wisely — often defaming public figures rather than private citizens, which afford them broad speech protections under the First Amendment.

That’s not to say there won’t be more lawsuits or attempts to hold conspiracy theorists accountable. Fox News is facing a defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems, which claims the network knowingly made false statements about voter fraud in the 2020 election.

But these cases are exceptions, not the rule. The truth is that today’s media ecosystem is awash with Infowars-style conspiracy theories — from History Channel programs to TikToks about ancient aliens building the Egyptian pyramids produced by yoga moms who think Wayfair is selling trafficked children — and it’s not clear that our legal system can do this. , or try to stop them.

Social media companies can help prevent the spread of harmful falsehoods by making it harder for fabulists to gather large audiences. But they have their own limitations, including the simple fact that conspiracy theorists have gotten more sophisticated about circumventing their rules. If you draw the line at claiming Bigfoot is real, attention-seeking cranks will get millions of views by placing that Bigfoot. may be True and his audience would be wise to do their own research to find out what Bigfoot-related secrets the deep-state cabal is hiding.

To this new, more sensitive generation of campaigners and reactionaries, Mr. Jones is an inspiration who has climbed the highest peaks of the profession. But they’re also a cautionary tale — of what happens when you cross too many lines, tell too many easily debunked lies, and refuse to back down.

Mr. Jones isn’t done facing the music. Two more lawsuits brought against him by members of Sandy Hook’s family are still pending and he will have to pay millions more in damages.

But, Mr. Even if Jones’ career is destroyed, his legacy of brazen, unrepentant dishonesty lives on — strengthened, in some ways, by the knowledge of how far you can push a lie before the consequences begin.

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