“You know what perjury is, right?” When asked that question under withering cross-examination this week, loudmouth Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones mumbled and stumbled like a meek little mouse.
The far-right radio host’s trial in an Austin courtroom has been almost enough to restore my faith in truth, justice and the American way. Jurors have been determining how much of his likely nine-figure fortune he must pay to the parents of a victim of the Sandy Hook school massacre for defaming them and their late son. Jones’s wildly successful business model has been based on concocting outrageous lies and shouting them at the top of his lungs to millions of listeners. But that does not work so well, it turns out, in a court of law.
“You are already under oath to tell the truth,” Judge Maya Guerra Gamble admonished him. “You’ve already violated that oath twice today. ... 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.”
What Jones did was unspeakably vile: He claimed repeatedly — and falsely, with absolutely no factual basis, since none exists — that the 2012 Sandy Hook killings never happened at all, that they were some kind of “false flag” operation that was “a giant hoax,” and that the 20 dead children ripped to pieces by rounds from an assault rifle were nothing but “crisis actors.”
The lawsuit at issue this week was brought by parents Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, who lost their son Jesse in the massacre. Heslin testified that he has been repeatedly confronted in a hostile manner by people who believed Jones’s lies and that his life has been threatened. Such encounters continue “right up to this day,” he said.
Lewis took the opportunity to address Jones directly. “Jesse was real. I’m a real mom,” she said, telling Jones she thought he never really believed the lies he was pushing. “That’s the problem, I know you know that,” she said to her tormentor. “But you keep saying it. Why? Why? For money?”
Jones had already lost this and several other defamation lawsuits by default, since he failed repeatedly to turn over documents and other information he had been ordered to produce. The only question for the jury is how much Jones must pay Lewis and Heslin in damages. They asked for $150 million, but on Thursday the jury awarded them just $4.1 million in actual damages. The jurors’ work is not done, however: Now they will decide whether Jones must also pay punitive damages, and, if so, how much. So Jones may have more bad news in store.
The whole week has been bad for Jones, who started out full of bluster but found that Gamble had no patience with his prophet-of-doom act. “This is not your show,” she told him.
But that moment Wednesday when he was asked whether he knew the definition of “perjury” could be very bad for a much wider circle of grifters who amassed wealth and power by using lies to stoke MAGA-style paranoia and rage. And yes, I include Donald Trump among those who should be worried.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Mark Bankston, had just said that Jones’s lawyers had mistakenly sent him copies of “every text message you’ve sent for the past two years.” Jones had claimed repeatedly under oath that there were no texts about Sandy Hook; Bankston said the texts prove that claim to be a lie.
Perhaps more important, however, is that the House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021, wants to know more about any role Jones might have played in the Capitol insurrection. Presumably the Justice Department is curious as well. Jones reportedly helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Trump’s rally that day on the Ellipse. He spoke at a separate Jan. 6 rally in D.C., and he posted on Infowars a video in which he says, “We need to understand we’re under attack, and we need to understand this is 21st-century warfare and get on a war footing.”
What contacts, if any, might Jones have had around the time of the insurrection with those close to Trump, or perhaps with Trump himself? Jones has said that he pleaded the Fifth Amendment in an interview with the House select committee. I don’t know what light Jones’s text messages might shed on actions by Jones or others, but I’m eager to find out.
“We fully intend on cooperating with law enforcement and U.S. government officials interested in seeing these materials,” said Bankston. Uh-oh.
In other head-scratching moves, Jones, through Infowars, has attacked the judge (falsely linking Gamble to pedophilia) and the jurors (questioning their intelligence) who will decide how much he must pay to Lewis and Heslin.
He has appeared genuinely bewildered in a context where the difference between truth and falsehood actually matters. Relieving him of more of his money might help him understand.“