For Once, Alex Jones Is Silent

The only way to shut up Alex Jones, for a moment, at least, is to place him inside a courtroom. For the past few days, the Infowars founder and conspiracy theorist has been in and out of a Travis County courthouse as one of his numerous defamation trials continues. The trial will determine how much Jones and his company must pay Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, two parents from Newtown, Connecticut, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse, was killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. In the years that followed that horrific massacre, Jones used his platform to spread lies that the shooting was a “false flag” operation, and that the grieving families were playing the role of actors in an elaborate government plot. “Jesse was real,” Lewis said of her dead son. She looked directly at Jones. “I am a real mom.”

The past two days of the Jones trial have been wrenching and shocking. Today, the plaintiff’s lawyers revealed in dramatic fashion that Jones’s lawyers accidentally sent opposing counsel years worth of data from Jones’s personal cellphone, including emails and text messages. The contents of the phone, which Jones’s lawyers failed to mark as privileged, revealed that the nation’s second-most prominent conspiracy theorist had apparently perjured himself during his sworn testimony. Upon realizing the gravity of the situation, Jones sat stunned and red-faced, looking on the verge of tears. “This is your Perry Mason moment,” he said derisively.

Jones is right that this was indeed Perry Mason–level drama. What exactly might come of this discovery is unclear, but it seems likely that we will continue to learn more about the inner workings of Jones’s conspiracist media empire (one message from the trove disclosed that in 2018, Infowars was making as much as $800,000 a day from its online store). The contents of the phone could be turned over to law enforcement, where the material could be relevant in other pending investigations. But although unfettered access to Jones’s internal communications is a tremendous potential liability for him, just as revealing is what happened to Jones yesterday afternoon.

[Charlie Warzel: What has (and hasn’t) changed since Sandy Hook]

A day before the made-for-TV reveal, Lewis detailed the anguish Jones’s lies about her child’s death brought upon her and her family, as well as the other parents of Sandy Hook children. “You have impacted every single day of my life negatively,” she said. She noted that she’s forgiven Jones and even felt compassion for him, though she still wants him held accountable for his actions. She also urged Jones to grapple with the way that his rampant lying and fearmongering have poisoned American politics and warped reality for the hundreds of thousands of viewers and listeners who consume Infowars content.

When Jones’s testimony began, he immediately feigned ignorance on legal matters and sputtered out a defanged version of his usual on-air monologues. He found moments to tout the quality of his Infowars supplements (suggesting they’re good because they’re made in Japan) while alleging that he was “bankrupt.” (Jones’s company, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy last Friday, a move some speculate is intended to delay facing his impending legal consequences. Opposing counsel argued this was a lie as Jones has only declared bankruptcy and not yet proved it.) At one point during a routine line of questioning, Jones told his lawyer, “You can’t be told about the matrix; you have to see it.” Jones’s attorney responded, “Let’s slow down a little bit.”

Jones is used to commanding the microphone for interminable periods, and from the stand, it almost looked like he was back in his studio and about to tear into a signature four-hour broadcast rant. But the witness chair is a powerful tool in exposing Jones for what he really is: a reckless individual caught in a web of his own lies. Yesterday morning, he rolled up in a white GMC Yukon and began berating Judge Maya Guerra Gamble, calling the proceedings a “show trial” and claiming that the entire concept of “trial by jury is being destroyed here.”

He’s less a journalist, he said during his testimony, and more of a curator of information. This is, of course, a 180-degree turn from Jones’s on-air bluster about his high-quality sourcing and researching, as well as Infowars’ incessant marketing as being on the front lines in the battle for truth. The same went for Owen Shroyer, one of Jones’s deputies at Infowars who took the stand in the trial last week. Normally cocky and confrontational, Shroyer appeared flushed and anxious when he was forced to admit that he’d done zero vetting of his sources. “I could have done a better job,” Shroyer mumbled when the plaintiffs’ attorney Kyle Farrar asked him about a specific false claim he aired. “You could have done a job,” Farrar retorted. “You could have done something.”

[Read: The most powerful publishers in the world don’t give a damn]

Throughout the trial, Jones has been at his most exposed when the jury has left the room and he’s been forced to confront the authority of Judge Gamble. Gamble has frequently admonished Jones, the way a parent or principal might scold a misbehaving grade-schooler. At one point yesterday, Gamble interrupted Jones’s attorney to ask him to “spit his gum out.” Jones immediately stood up to tell the judge he was instead massaging the hole of a recently pulled tooth. “Would you like me to show you?” he asked, bending over and pulling open his mouth. “I don’t want to see the inside of your mouth,” Gamble replied. But Jones continued to shove his finger in his mouth in front of the judge. “No gum. Hole,” he mumbled before being warned again by Gamble to sit down.

Near the end of the day, shortly after Jones contended under oath that he was bankrupt, Gamble tore into Jones for “abusing my tolerance and making asides to the jury.” Whenever Jones attempted to speak, Gamble cut him off. “Remember, this is not a fair world,” she said, referring to her courtroom. “I can interrupt you; you can’t interrupt me.” When Jones suggested that he and Infowars had complied with the lawsuit’s discovery requests, Gamble shut him down.

“You must tell the truth while you testify. This is not your show. You need to slow down and not take what you see as opportunities to further the message you’re wanting to further and instead only answer the specific and exact questions you have been asked,” she said, showing visible frustration. “Do you understand what I have said?”

“Yes, I believe what I said was true,” Jones retorted.

“You believe everything you say is true, but it isn’t. Your beliefs do not make something true,” she said. “That is what we’re doing here. 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 need to be true when you say them. Don’t talk.”

For those of us who have spent years watching Jones lie, Gamble’s rebuke was so cathartic, it was almost poetic. But this is not just about his falsehoods. Jones’s entire discourse tactic is to load any debate or topic of conversation with so much noise that it renders speech almost impossible for anyone else. During his shows, Jones rambles endlessly on endless topics—be it vaccines or 9/11 conspiracy theories or stolen-election theories—citing news articles and dubious studies haphazardly and drawing false or tenuous connections between disparate events. In public, he drowns out everyone else on the street with the blare of his infamous bullhorn. As one of his former employees, Joshua Owens, told me in 2019, Jones’s goal is, “to flood any topic with confusion and doubt so no one can grab onto anything.”

[Read: The lasting trauma of Alex Jones’s lies.]

This is why attempting to earnestly interview Jones is a fool’s errand. In any semi-normal setting, Jones will unleash his growly baritone on any subject, spinning his own tired narratives and making sure that nobody else can get a word in edgewise. As soon as he feels cornered, he’ll start yelling even louder. He creates a spectacle that’s difficult to look away from. Jones’s ravings, even when odious, can offer perverse entertainment to his haters, even if just to dunk on him. Because he appears so much like a caricature and because he is so outlandish and volatile, there is a desire, even among those who find him dangerous and vile, to try to understand the man and his true beliefs. Most profiles of Alex Jones have attempted to answer the same question that I, a person who has profiled Jones, get asked constantly: Does he really believe what he says?

As Jones becomes a key figure in our national nervous breakdown and the far right’s assault on democratic processes, more and more people seem to want to try to understand him. Alex’s War, a controversial new documentary by Alex Lee Moyer, attempts to understand Jones by shadowing him and offering a zero-commentary, vérité-style look at Jones’s life leading up to January 6, 2021. (Moyer has cited D. A. Pennebaker’s legendary Bob Dylan documentary, Don’t Look Back, as an influence.) But all that access offers up a surprisingly boring, morally bankrupt portrait of Jones, in which he does almost all the talking to illustrate his past. The movie features exhausting amounts of footage from Jones’s old and recent broadcasts—the exact type of flooding the zone with shit that Jones and Infowars deploy in order to obscure the truth and evade responsibility for the myriad things they get wrong. Hardly anything, besides the behind-the-scenes footage of Jones in his office or marching in Washington, D.C., before and during January 6, is very new or interesting, because the portrait we see of Jones in Alex’s War is the one we always see. The one where he’s in charge of his narrative.

But this week, trapped for a moment inside a courtroom, Jones has been briefly rendered powerless. With nothing to distract those in the courtroom and the rest of us watching along on a livestream, we could all see Jones in a rare light. There were no verbal gymnastics to cover up the true Alex Jones, but today’s reveal went a step further. Jones, who relishes flashy stunts, is used to being the one who gets to make the big, gotcha reveal, but today he was on the other end, unable—under threat of contempt of court—to talk his way out of his lies. For the first time in recent memory, he looked truly uncomfortable.

It’s unclear still whether Jones will face true, career-altering consequences for his Sandy Hook lies. But whatever the damages rendered, the process has offered us a glimpse at the truth. The best way to understand Alex Jones is to put him inside the legal system, even if he opts to lie under oath. Yesterday, Judge Gamble repeatedly scolded the conspiracist for his petulant behavior, while reminding him of the grave nature of his legal situation. And as soon as court adjourned, the old Jones emerged. Only moments after her remarks, he confronted a Sandy Hook parent across the courtroom aisle. Seconds later, he yelled at the opposing lawyer about feeding the jury fake, doctored videos (they weren’t). It’s grotesque behavior, but, in the legal setting, it’s instructive. Jones has spent his entire life believing the rules don’t apply to him. For decades, he’s managed to build a fantasy world where that’s true. It’s only in a courtroom that the gravity of real-world consequences seems to apply. It’s the only place he can’t hide.