Hannah Selinger, The Independent
Alex Jones and Scarlett Lewis
It should have been a slam-dunk. Alex Jones, the liar and provocateur whose trial concluded yesterday in the civil suit brought on by the parents of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, has finally been sentenced. The $4.1 million dollars that he will pay in retribution might feel like justice to some. And, in some ways, it is: Jones —who helms InfoWars, the fake news site that spews both vitriol and misinformation — has been held accountable in the civil court system. The twin verdicts (the original lawsuit and the sentencing) are a warning flare to others who may follow in his footsteps: Words do, in fact, matter.
But the parents who sued Jones, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis — their son, Jesse, was murdered at Sandy Hook — had sought damages in the amount of $150 million. That was not a purposeless number born of pure greed. It was an amount meant to wound Jones. It was meant to guarantee that he was incapable of continuing to do what he does best: pursuing a career as a con artist with the financial backing hefty enough to harm more people.
During Jones’ dizzying recent trial, the prosecution revealed one of the greatest mistakes ever made by a defense team in the history of any public trial. Early on, the prosecutor told Jones during cross-examination, the defense had accidentally emailed a full record of the InfoWars’ creator’s emails to the prosecution — emails that Jones had testified did not exist.
Those emails should have been disclosed in discovery (the judge admonished the defense for not doing so), and they revealed plenty about Jones and his character. They also revealed the true financial state of InfoWars, an enterprise that Jones had claimed was financially insolvent. For at least several days in 2018, those emails alleged, InfoWars took in over $800,000 per day. On the stand, Jones did not dispute the veracity of these numbers.
How do you disable a bully? The best way is to diminish his power, and Heslin and Lewis were right to look to Jones’ wallet as a means by which to do so. How much is Jones worth? Clearly more than $4 million. This payout, then, is no more than a minor inconvenience. It does not prevent him from spewing venom again. And it doesn’t really do what it should have done, which is to discourage similar actors from behaving just as deplorably.
At 6:10 pm Eastern Time, just minutes after Jones received the jury’s verdict, he posted a seven-minute, 42-second video to his site. “I trusted God. I trusted the truth coming out,” he said in that video. “At the end of the day, I don’t have all these millions of dollars they claim I have, so I’m at peace. But this is still a major victory for truth.” It’s hard to say whether or not a sentence in the full amount sought — $150 million — would have had the intended effect of cowing Jones. It’s likely that nothing could ever make a blowhard narcissist ever come around. But a bigger financial settlement could have made it impossible for him to ever fully return to a public forum. And that’s important. This settlement is not a victory for “truth,” of course, or not truth as Jones sees it. The intention was for this to be a victory for the victims of the atrocity of Newtown, Connecticut, the families of whom have had to pick up the pieces — a reality that has been even more difficult in the decade since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, considering the lies propagated by Jones himself. Those lies have encouraged other equally deranged people to stalk, harass, and abuse the parents who suffered the worst tragedy imaginable: the senseless loss of a child.
As on January 6, 2021, when former president Donald J. Trump lit a match and watched his lemming-like supporters run off an inevitable cliff of bad behavior, Jones created an atmosphere ripe for combustion. That he wasn’t the one making threats to these parents, or shooting at their cars, or harassing them on the street is hardly the point.
Justice was not truly served yesterday. But we can keep trying.