By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
I have been on this planet for 64 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more horrifying, disgusting person — I balk at using the term “human being” — than Alex Jones. That’s saying a lot.
Donald Trump comes close for being a black hole of self-absorption with a total disregard for others who do not serve his ends. So does Vladimir Putin and the host of despots and madmen who have unleashed war, terror and unimaginable misery on others. But their ilk is not new. What Jones has been doing as the preeminent figure of the modern and very lucrative misinformation industry viscerally hits home because I am a parent.
I’m beyond deeply grateful not to know firsthand the agony of losing a child. However, I do know parents who have endured it, so I am certain there is no greater torment. The parents of the 26 victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting — 20 of them were only six or seven years old — know that pain all too well. Yet Jones has been willfully compounding their suffering for years with his baseless claims that the shootings were a hoax or staged by the government with paid crisis actors for the sake of generating support for comprehensive gun control.
There was a glaring lack of evidence to support anything that Jones said about Sandy Hook. But as is so often the case with conspiracy theorists, mere questions suffice as proof in their minds. So Jones has pressed on to the point where the families of the victims have been viciously harassed by demented followers of his popular, mind-numbing, revenue-generating show InfoWars, which has an audience of millions.
The case of Neil Heslin is particularly egregious. Heslin’s car and house have been shot at, and he and his wife had to hire a security detail to protect them. The couple now suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome brought on by nearly 10 years of often public abuse from people who believe Jones.
“I fear for my life,” Heslin testified during hearings that were held in Travis County District Court in Austin, Texas, to determine how much Jones must pay him and his wife for defaming them. “I fear for my safety and my family’s safety and their life.”
Three years ago, on the air during his show, Jones threatened one of the lawyers representing other Sandy Hook families and was later found in contempt of court and sanctioned by the Connecticut Supreme Court.
The defamation lawsuit by Heslin and his wife, Scarlett Lewis, was filed in 2018 in Travis County, where Jones’s company is based. It is one of four suits that have been filed against Jones. He has also been found liable for damages in Connecticut. The other two trials will begin soon.
Watching Jones react and respond to the grieving parents after initially avoiding having to face them in court, he came across as a heartless, blustering coward who has grown wealthy, plump and neckless off his ill-gotten gains, which are said to be in the neighborhood of $62 million. His defense — that he was merely asking questions about Sandy Hook — is nauseating, like the “just following orders” excuse Nazis used during their trials after World War II. He even had the mindboggling gall to say he never meant to hurt the families of the victims. What the hell did he think his words were going to do?
It’s no surprise that Jones was admonished for lying under oath and could face charges and a 10-year prison sentence due to a blunder by his own attorneys that borders on cosmic justice: They inadvertently sent to Heslin’s and Lewis’ lawyers the entire contents of Jones’ phone after Jones had said under oath that some of the texts and financial documents on it did not exist.
“Do you know what perjury is?” Mark Bankston, an attorney representing Heslin and Lewis, asked Jones.
“You believe everything you say is true, but your beliefs do not make something true,” Judge Maya Guerra Gamble told him. “Just because you claim to think something is true does not make it true. It does not protect you. It is not allowed. You’re under oath. That means things must actually be true when you say them.”
The judge in Texas awarded Heslin and Lewis $4.1 million in compensatory damages — and later tacked on $49.3 million in punitive damages.
Although he was finally forced to admit (while squirming and sweating) that the Sandy Hook shootings were real, Jones’s company, Free Speech Systems, which produces his show, has filed for bankruptcy. It’s a naked, shameless attempt to avoid having to actually pay for his crimes.
Of course, Jones continues spreading his lies undaunted, just as Trump and his supporters are still doing with their claims of massive voter fraud in the 2020 election or that the January 6 riot at the Capitol was staged … or committed by political enemies … or was an outright hoax. The explanations are always changing, but one constant remains: no credible evidence to prove them.
I can see the cynical manipulation in those who push conspiracies for financial and/or political gain, and the madness that prevails in people who embrace them. Insisting, without a shred of proof, that anything and everything that goes against you in life is the result of a massive, complex and highly organized plot gives you an excuse to blame and not use your brain.
Do any of these people ever stop to think about what it would actually take to pull off a Sandy Hook-style hoax? Do they really think 20 families, and the families of six school staff members, could be bought, or simply agree, to fake the deaths of their children or loved ones and send them off to live elsewhere under assumed identities? All members of those extended families would have to be in on it, too. And what about the rest of the staff? The local police and other emergency responders? The other families in the district?
Heck, humans have trouble keeping plans for a surprise party secret. With something so fantastical, surely even a few knowledgeable people would come forward to spill the beans or provide inside information as they are doing for the House committee investigating Jan. 6 and Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
Refusing to confront inconvenient truths and harsh reality is complete cowardice. Yet millions of people willfully overlook facts and shun common sense, so Alex Jones is in the vanguard of a sadistic free speech movement that seeks to protect the spread of dangerous lies. This is the equivalent of shouting “fire!” in a crowded theatre even though there is no evidence that the building is burning.
How does someone like Jones live with himself? I can only assume that money, fame and power are a narcotic that blocks even the smallest glimmer of human conscience in such a self-centered, insensitive lout. Still, I keep waiting for a moment of dawning recognition in people like him, a sign of actual remorse, a shred of genuine feeling, empathy and compassion.
All I can think of is the Biblical verse, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
Alex Jones has profited in terms of money, but he has clearly lost his soul … assuming he had one in the first place. Fittingly, he has also lost $49.3 million and quite possibly a lot more in days to come. He can’t lose enough to suit me.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.