Alex Jones opens a Pandora's box on Trump
Infowars host Alex Jones. (Screenshot)

Until Wednesday, Infowars founder and host Alex Jones seemed unfazed about the possibility of consequences. For years, the right-wing fabulist has been in a court battle with the parents of the young children murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre. The surviving parents are suing Jones for false claims that the school shooting never happened. Most people facing a lawsuit from such sympathetic plaintiffs would respond by showing humility and remorse. Jones, however, has turned this situation into a clown show by refusing court orders to turn over evidence, not showing up for trial, and going on air regularly to tell even more defamatory lies about the families and the judge presiding over the case.

He has good reason to believe shamelessness will work out for him. Through the power of bullshit, Alex Jones has evaded consequences for his actions for decades. His strategy is simple: Lie to the audience by claiming to be the victim of a vast conspiracy. This opens a fountain of loyalty and, crucially, money.

It worked after Jones was kicked off various hosting services for repeatedly breaking rules about disinformation and defamation. The Infowars audience rallied to his side. Jones made millions after being de-platformed, often raking in as much as $800,000 in a day. This Donald Trump-like audacity seemed like it might work for Jones in this legal battle over his Sandy Hook lies, as well. He has barely put up a legal defense. Instead, taking his case to the airwaves, where his lies risk no perjury charges. Coupled with stonewalling and financial shenanigans that look an awful lot like hiding money, it's clear what the goal is: amass so much wealth and support that even a major judgment against him won't cause any significant damage.

On Tuesday, the parents of Jesse Lewis, a 6-year-old murdered in the 2012 shooting, testified in Austin, Texas about the damage done by Jones and his lying. For much of the time, however, Jones wasn't even in court, choosing instead to livestream on Infowars. Jones spent that time raving about how the parents were being manipulated by a "Democrat" conspiracy, calling the judge a "goblin," and falsely claiming that he was being railroaded. He then begged his audience to send him money to fend off this supposed "deep state" conspiracy.

On Wednesday, however, Jones came to court and was subjected to a brutal cross-examination. And finally, he blinked.

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Mark Bankston, the lawyer for the Sandy Hook parents, revealed that he was in possession of the entire contents of Jones' cellphone, something Jones clearly didn't realize. Bankston also played an Infowars clip of Jones implying that the judge conspires with pedophiles, and laid waste to Jones' attempt to plead poverty to keep the jury from giving the family the $150 million they're asking for. The video of Jones getting rattled swiftly went viral.

Jones, who has decades of experience as a gaslighter, kept chattering and accusing the lawyer of trying to have a "Perry Mason moment." Still, it's hard to deny that a flicker of concern crossed his face, a small sign of fear that this may, after all this time, be a problem that Jones can't escape through lying and bombast. Jones, New York Times reporter Elizabeth Williamson tweeted, was later seen "sweating so much his hair is soaked and dripping onto his *blue* collar."

To make the moment even more delicious, the newly freed cell phone records may now be finding their way into the investigation of the January 6 insurrection, which Jones played a heavy hand in hyping.

The House committee investigating the Capitol riot has indicated an interest in getting the phone records. During recess, Bankston was heard saying into a hot mic, "You know what nobody's thought about yet? What happens when that phone goes to law enforcement." On Thursday, Bankston said in court that he's producing Jones' phone records to the committee immediately after the hearing unless the judge orders him not to, to which the judge replied that she wasn't sure he could even refuse to do so.

Through the power of bullshit, Alex Jones has evaded consequences for his actions for decades.

"If I do this, what do I have to lose?"

That's how Trump justified both the Big Lie and the resulting coup effort that culminated in the January 6 insurrection, according to testimony offered to the committee by a former Trump appointee. Alas, Trump's belief that he will evade political and legal consequences for trying to overthrow democracy has, so far, proven true. Yes, he lost the 2020 election and his coup failed, but the Big Lie has only metastasized since then. Republicans across the country have come to share Trump's confidence that, as long as they never break character as Big Lie believers, they will eventually build enough power and momentum to finally land the kill shot on American democracy. And they're not wrong to believe that. Recent wins by election deniers in Arizona's Republican primary move the GOP closer to a chance to steal that state's electoral votes for Trump in 2024 — which could be enough to steal the entire presidential election.

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One of the most demoralizing aspects of the past few years is how effective Jones, Trump and their fellow authoritarian leaders have been with this never-blink strategy. Even when they lose, they seem to win, growing in power and wealth while legal authorities seem incapable of holding them to account. Instead, prosecutors falter, flagrant law-breaking is ignored, and the coffers of anti-democracy leaders keep filling.

Indeed, the sickness is spreading, as more people get intoxicated by the idea that there's no limit to the wealth and power that can be accumulated, so long as you abandon any lingering attachment to truth or decency. Witness how the former "left wing" writers have been shilling for Jones, pretending he's a "free speech" hero instead of a man being held responsible for torturing the parents of murdered children. It's unlikely these men are stupid enough to believe their own rhetoric. It's just that the cult of shamelessness is just that alluring. As Trump said, what do they have to lose?

That's why the Jones trial feels like it has weight outside of the already hefty question of whether he should pay for defaming the families of mass shooting victims. If Jones suffers a real consequence for this, it would boost hopes that accountability is possible. It would allow people to believe we don't actually have to lay down and let evil men walk all over us. There is a limit to how far shamelessness can get you.

The recent guilty verdict for former Trump aide Steve Bannon for his refusal to answer a subpoena offers a similar ember of hope. Bannon also had no real rejoinder in the face of his obvious guilt, and instead tried to save himself through sheer bellicosity. So far, that doesn't seem to be working, though the fight isn't over until he's actually in prison. He still seems to feel he can beat this with relentless gaslighting. His lawyers called no witnesses and offered no evidence in his defense during his recent trial. On Infowars, this fact was already being used to spin out a story about how Bannon was not "allowed" to defend himself, which is a lie. But it's a clever lie, which sets Bannon up to collect more money and support by pretending his lack of defense was due to being railroaded, instead of an active choice from his own team. Whether he can leverage those resources into escaping prison is the remaining question.

In one of the most iconic scenes in both the "Game of Thrones" TV series and books, the royal aide Varys remarks, "Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less." It's a truth that has served Trump, Jones, and their fellow travelers well. By creating the illusion of invincibility, these authoritarians have turned invincibility into a reality. That's a terrifying power, but it also suggests a vulnerability. It means that even small cracks in the armor create hope that they aren't untouchable. These men can be stopped — if people have the will and stamina to fight back.

It's another sign of the depravity of our time that the burden of leading this fight has fallen on the shoulders of the parents of murdered children. But in all that darkness, there is this hope: Alex Jones blinked. Now we know that he knows he is not unbeatable.