The damage Alex Jones has done is unforgivable. It’s also irreversible.
The biggest story in conspiracy theory news this week — or, perhaps, this decade — is that Alex Jones was ordered to pay almost $1 billion in damages to the parents of children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School a decade ago in a mass shooting.
Jones was found liable for defamation after he claimed the attacks were a “government operation,” an elaborate hoax with no real victims that was intended to deprive Americans of their guns. The exchanges during the months-long trial were barely believable, with parents telling Jones that their children really did exist.
“Jesse was real,” said Sandy Hook parent Scarlett Lewis in the courtroom in August. “I am a real mom.” Lewis, alongside other Sandy Hook parents, said she had been threatened repeatedly by Jones’s followers who told her that her child didn’t die in any shooting. The damage done by Jones, however, goes far beyond the horrific pain and trauma he has inflicted on Sandy Hook families. Jones’s distinctive style has been mimicked and exported the world over. Remember back in March, when the Russian Embassy in the U.K. accused victims of the Mariupol Maternity Hospital attack of being “actors?” Those claims were straight out of Jones’s playbook. “An official embassy blue-check account has gone full Alex Jones with crisis actor allegations,” Stanford disinformation expert Renee DiResta tweeted at the time.
Jones’s devout followers — of which there are millions — continue to stand by the conspiracy theorist. One prominent Jones devotee is “Paper Planes” singer M.I.A., who during the pandemic became a vocal conspiracy theorist herself. “If Alex Jones pays for lying, shouldn’t every celebrity pushing vaccines pay too?” she tweeted, to the tune of 150,000 likes.
M.I.A is just one of a raft of celebrities, who during the pandemic have used their enormous platform to peddle dangerous conspiracies and jump to the defense of Jones. You can read more about the company M.I.A. is keeping in this rundown of conspiracy-minded celebrities that I wrote last year.
Other conspiracy theorists and “Make America Great Again” adherents are now claiming that the Jones judgment is evidence that he is being persecuted by the Biden “regime.” DiResta, the Stanford disinformation expert, unpacked this language best: “‘Regime’ rhetoric is a hyperbolic way of describing a government run by a party that isn’t yours,” she tweeted. “But populist propagandists want to extend it to anything holding a member of their ‘team’ accountable. Recognize it as what it is: an attempt to broadly delegitimize institutions.”
IN GLOBAL NEWS
The unvaccinated are “the most discriminated against group,” says Canadian politician Danielle Smith. Within hours of being voted in as premier of Alberta, she told the media that she was determined to enshrine human rights protections for the unvaccinated, whom she believes have suffered more from discrimination than any other group in her lifetime. She is over fifty years old. Her words have caused widespread outrage, with many pointing out that Smith has trivialized the struggles of indigenous people and ethnic minorities in her race to defend the rights of a tiny sliver of the population who choose not to vaccinate. Smith insists that wasn’t her intention, though she didn’t apologize either.
Staying in Canada for a moment, doctors in Smith’s province, Alberta, are noticing a worrying new trend: an uptick in people refusing to take blood transfusions, Jehovah’s witness-style. But they’re not spurning blood because of their religious beliefs. They don’t want to accept blood from donors who have been vaccinated against Covid. This may be a new phenomenon in Canada, but doctors in the U.S. have been encountering this problem for the past year. They’ve dealt with patients who are mistakenly afraid of “tainted” blood; who harbor fears of being infected with the virus themselves, or of contracting side effects from the vaccine. “A lot of people think there’s some kind of microchip or they’re going to be cloned,” Dr. Geeta Paranjape, medical director at Carter BloodCare, told Kaiser Health News. To the handful of patients requesting blood from unvaccinated donors, the answer from doctors has been a resounding “no.”
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson is tipped to give special honors to prominent climate deniers by giving them seats in Britain’s House of Lords, according to a leaked list published by the Daily Telegraph. Among Johnson’s nominees are billionaire Michael Hintze and political economist Ruth Lea. The latter has openly opposed the control of greenhouse gases, saying that the idea that cutting carbon emissions will reduce global warming is “ridiculous.” Hintze, meanwhile, has funded a lobby group pushing for the U.K. government to scrap its pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
WHAT WE’RE READING
COP27 will be held in Egypt in less than a month. Naomi Klein suggests that the event will allow the Egyptian regime to brush over its appalling human rights record and urges attendees to be bold in criticizing the regime. Because ultimately, she argues, “Unless political freedoms are defended, there will be no meaningful climate action.”