Alex Jones' lies and the steep price for using the Sandy Hook tragedy to serve his bottom line
Updated: Jan 21
While visiting a small town outside of Atlanta, a woman struck up a conversation with me about the recent verdict against right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. She said that although she didn’t listen to him personally, she worried about the verdict’s affect on free speech rights.
When I explained to the woman that lies can be harmful, she turned to me and asked, “But can words really hurt people?”
Last week, Jones– who is also the founder of Infowars and its parent company Free Speech Systems– was ordered by a jury to pay almost $1 billion dollars to the families harmed by his lies about the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012. This is the second verdict against Jones.
Although many of us grew up hearing phrases like “sticks and stones” most– if not all– of us have been hurt by words. What good does it do any of us to minimize the effects of verbal violence?
None at all.
We lose the meaning and importance of the truth when we minimize the effects of misinformation as a form of violence. Further, by confusing opinions for truths, we keep a can of worms open that has been hard to close.
Jones perpetuated lies for years that not only was Sandy Hook a hoax, but that the victims’ family members staged the attack. Not only did Jones lie, but his audience swelled and his profits soared. According to expert testimony at the trial, both Jones' audience and revenue grew after he claimed Sandy Hook was faked.
The fact that Jones only ever used his words has become a sticking point on the harm of spreading lies. Isn’t it just words? Further, Jones did not physically go after the victims’ families, but his fanbase did.
Mark Barden, the father of one of the victims, said that Jones’ conspiracy theorists urinated on the grave of his 7-year-old son, Daniel, and threatened to dig up the coffin.
Bill Sherlach, whose wife was a school psychologist at Sandy Hook, said that people online claimed his wife never existed. They even accused him of being involved in the shooting that took his wife’s life.
Erica Lafferty, whose mother was the principal of Sandy Hook, said that people mailed rape threats to her house.
Can words hurt? Absolutely.
Jones and his legal team would like the public to believe that the verdict is an affront on free speech. The first amendment is an important right, but often our rights have limits. This is especially true when our words incite violence against another person, as is the case here.
A less political example is that you cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there isn’t actually a fire. Although not law, this is one example of how free speech can be limited to negate harm.
Jones used his platform to spread misinformation about the Sandy Hook massacre for his own financial gain. Although Jones now admits that Sandy Hook was real, he refuses to take accountability for his actions despite the verdict.
Shortly after the verdict was rendered, Jones returned to Infowars to claim that the trial was a joke. Specifically, he argued that it is a further attempt by Democrats to silence him.
“There will be more Alex Jones in this world, but what they learned here today is that they absolutely will be held accountable,” said Lafferty, who wished she could call her mother to tell her about the victory.
Both verdicts against Jones are a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. After hearing all the facts and evidence presented in court, the jury delivered a message: not only do your actions have consequences, but so do your words.