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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Alex Jones

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Alex Jones, who long ago demonstrated his estrangement from reality, has been putting on a brave front in the wake of last week’s jury verdict in Connecticut awarding the parents of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre nearly $1 billion in damages for having smeared them relentlessly after the tragedy. Going on both his Infowars program as well as other talk shows, he’s been busily mocking the verdict: “Do these people actually think they’re getting any money?” he told his audience.

His fellow conspiracy theorists, however, have registered an apocalypse-level freakout over the news, certain that the verdict is a sign that “the regime” (that is, the “globalists” they all believe secretly run the world) is about to start rounding them all up—even though this was a civil verdict. None of any of these reactions, however, bear any relationship to the complicated legal realities that are about to unfold.

The judgement—totaling $965 million for the eight families of the victims who filed the lawsuit—reflects both the real outrage arising from the facts of the case and the abysmal failure of Jones and his legal team to even attempt to mount an effective legal defense. From the very first day of the tragedy—on December 14, 2012, when a young man named Adam Lanza embarked on a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 children and six teachers and staff members—Jones had not only proclaimed the entire event a “false flag” operation by “globalists” intended to inspire a crackdown on gun ownership, but spent much of the following decade claiming the young victims and their parents were fake “crisis actors.”

The ensuing torrent of harassment and abuse against those families grew to such monumental proportions that Jones consequently ended up facing four lawsuits: the first two, decided in August by a Texas jury, ended with a $45.2 million judgement, which was dwarfed by the size of the judgement in the third lawsuit in Connecticut. The fourth lawsuit, filed in Texas by Sandy Hook parent Scarlett Lewis, is ongoing. Jones also faces a lawsuit filed by the families against Jones and his parent company, Free Speech Systems, claiming that he has been using shell companies to hide his assets in an effort to avoid paying the judgements against him.

As the verdict was being rendered, Jones went on his Infowars program live, mocking the huge dollar amounts as well as the families, who could be seen on live broadcasts weeping while the judgement was read aloud. He called the verdict a “joke,” saying he was only worth a few million. And then he pitched a fundraiser to help with his appeals, vowing that none of the money donated would wind up in the hands of the families.

“This is hilarious,” he said, as the separate awards were listed. “Do these people actually think they’re getting any money?”

“Ain’t gonna be happening, ain’t no money,” he told his audience as the dollar amounts were read aloud for the eight families. “Now remember, I’m in bankruptcy, we’ve got two years of appeals, the money you donate does not go to these people. It goes to fight this fraud, and it goes to stabilize the company. They want us shut down. That’s why the ambulance chasers did this, why they used these families.”

He added: “You want somebody to fight for you, I’m doing it, you see what they do. So you want to fight? That’s fine. It’s your decision. But that’s where we are, that’s the whacked-out system of the left.”

Jones told his audience the liberal Democratic establishment wanted to destroy him, and that “your pennies counter their millions.” He announced he would hold a 16-hour “emergency” broadcast to “save Infowars,” he said, and beckoned his viewers to “flood us with donations.”

“For hundreds of thousands of dollars, I can keep them in court for years. I can appeal this stuff,” he said.

Jones later talked about the verdict with Infowars host Owen Shroyer, dismissing the amounts in the judgement as unimportant. “Quite frankly, the way inflation is going, the way it accelerates towards the Weimar Republic and Zimbabwe—in 10 years, there’s such inflation a billion dollars will be like a thousand dollars.”

He added: “No, I’m not scared. I am disgusted. And I really feel proud of myself, because I’ve told the truth about this, I’ve said when I was wrong, they have created this whole synthetic identity for me, the straw man, and then they sat there and had to lie to a jury and suppress the truth and tell them I was guilty, and rid this kangaroo court. So I myself can hold my head tall.”

Jones was interviewed on the right-wing outlet Newsmax, and voiced confidence that he’d eventually prevail in court. “We are very, very sure, that this thing is such a joke, this is such a fiasco, such a kangaroo court, such a railroad job that these will be overturned, both the Texas rulings and the Connecticut rulings,” he said, indicating he would take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court if he had to. “But it doesn’t matter. I don’t have $10 million cash,” he added.

The legal realities of the verdict, however, are much more complicated—particularly when it comes to extracting anything resembling $965 million from Jones’ conspiracy-theory media empire. The biggest complication involves determining just how much money he really has.

Testimony at an earlier defamation trial showed that Infowars raked in $165 million between 2016 and 2018. Yet Jones claimed Wednesday that he has less than $2 million to his name. He has repeatedly refused to make his financial information public.

A forensic economist who testified in the Texas trial estimated Jones’ combined net worth with his business entities at somewhere between $135 million and $270 million. Some legal experts say this is why the size of Wednesday’s verdict was so immense as to render it largely symbolic.

According to TheNew York Times, the verdict’s fallout is likely to follow one of the three paths available for attorneys on both sides. In the first, the families could end up being entitled to Jones’ future earnings and obtain garnishments to pay off the judgment, although this would also permit Jones to remain in the business of smearing them and many others. The second option would involve the families selling their claims to hedge funds or other investors—giving them cash up front, though only at a fraction of the claims’ value—while the new owners would then attempt to make profits from them by investigating Jones’ assets. The third scenario would involve the liquidation of Jones’ businesses by the bankruptcy court, selling off their assets for cash.

Attorneys for the Connecticut families have vowed to pursue Jones. “We will be active down in Texas in an action we brought to track fraudulent transfers of assets he’s made, and in bankruptcy court where we are now very significant creditors of Alex Jones and Free Speech Systems,” said Christopher Mattei, a lawyer for the families. “We are going to enforce this verdict as long as it takes, because that’s what justice requires.”

Meanwhile, Jones’ longtime cohorts and enablers on the right—particularly those who have built careers like his, peddling conspiracy theories and catering to the lowest common denominator of right-wing politics—were not so cheerily brazen as Jones. Many of them took to Twitter and other social media to indulge in a panic over the totalitarian crackdown they believe the ruling portends.

White nationalist conspiracy theorist Darren Beattie—best known for concocting the risible claim, amplified by Tucker Carlson, that the FBI secretly planned and coordinated the January 6 insurrection—penned a piece for his far-right outlet Revolver News headlined: “Love Him or Hate Him, the War Against Alex Jones is a War Against All of Us.”

“It’s all about the bullhorn—that is, all about making sure that the Regime is in exclusive possession of the megaphone, and any non-approved person who dares speak non-approved narratives to the public gets crushed,” he wrote, adding: “The aggressive use of defamation law is just the latest tool in the Regime’s arsenal to silence dissent.”

Beattie also posted a warning on Twitter to “never ever question the regimes official story or we’ll fine you a billion dollars.” He then stoked paranoia that the government will “kill you” if “you have video proof.”

Benny Johnson, a conspiracist host for Newsmax, whined on Twitter: “Just like deplatforming, this isn’t about Alex Jones, it’s about silencing political enemies,” he wrote. “The regime is setting a precedent that if you speak out, they will come after you & try to destroy you.”

Florida legislator Anthony Sabatini, a Republican conspiracy theorist who earlier demanded that his state kick out the Justice Department after Donald Trump’s mansion was searched by the FBI, complained that “Beltway libertarian cucks talk about LIBERTY! but only end up defending leftist debauchery.” He had a suggestion: “Alex Jones should be appointed as next president of the University of Florida—not Ben Sasse.”

Mike Cernovich, one of the main progenitors of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theories and multiple other fraudulent claims and currently an Infowars host, posted on Twitter that Jones had “killed no one” and had “apologized for his erroneous reports, of which there weren’t many.” He added: “Stalin’s ghost has returned.”

Cernovich retweeted a post from a right-wing account that asked: “How much does CNN owe us for the weapons of mass destruction allegedly in Iraq?” He also retweeted a post from the publisher of the right-wing Post Millennial, Libby Emmons, proclaiming: “[They] decided to hold Alex Jones responsible for the horrible deaths of those school children in 2012.”

Jack Posobiec, the white-nationalist provocateur, called the verdict against Jones an “obvious attack on freedom of speech.” He claimed on Twitter that MSNBC host Rachel Maddow faced a similar lawsuit in 2019 that was dismissed because “courts ruled she was obviously an opinion show and she couldn't be held liable for what she said on air, even if exaggerated.” Posobiec argued that Jones’ different outcome was “not hypocrisy, it's hierarchy.”

Posobiec’s most recent cohort, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, said Jones “owes a billion dollars for saying mean things on his show” before questioning “how much should the propagandists at CNN, MSNBC, WaPo, and The New York Times pay” for promoting COVID-19 vaccination.

“This isn't about calculating real damages from Alex Jones,” Kirk tweeted. “This is about sending a message: If you upset the Regime, they will destroy you, completely and utterly, forever.”

Kirk also posted a video in which he ruminated on the meaning of the verdict. “It is not about whether you like Alex Jones,” he said. “It is completely irrelevant. What is relevant is, do you think that the law industrial complex, in collusion with the media, can work in harmony to obliterate someone financially, for saying something wrong and then apologizing afterwards! Oh, so they’re gonna go for Mike Lindell next. Or are they gonna go for Steve Bannon, or are they gonna for this program, or are they gonna go for Tucker Carlson? The New York Times says this now holds lessons. This is practice for them. This is a spring football game. This is Spring Training.

“Alex Jones is not the destination,” he added. “Alex Jones is getting them refined to be able to do what they actually want to do to all of us.”

In reality, the verdict was simply a long-overdue measure of accountability within the framework of the nation’s longstanding network of laws designed to prevent people from being harmed by irresponsible smear artists, particularly in the media. “The judgment also sends a message to anyone thinking of deliberately deploying disinformation to disrupt people’s lives for financial gain: Think twice—or risk being hit with a similarly large damages payment,” observed Chris Stokel-Walker at Wired.

“There has to be some message sent here to people like him that this is simply not acceptable in a civilized society,” NYU journalism professor Stephen D. Solomon, the founding editor of First Amendment Watch, told Stokel-Walker.

As Southern Poverty Law Center reporter Jason Wilson put it:

Punishing Alex Jones is less important than destroying the business model that allows people like him to profit by pumping toxic horseshit into the national discourse. Let's hope this accomplishes both.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

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