Notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claims a “form of psychosis” caused him to believe that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged.
For years Jones, the founder of InfoWars.com, peddled a conspiracy theory about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman brutally killed 20 children and six adults in 2012. Jones has repeatedly claimed the massacre was a “giant hoax” carried out by “crisis actors” in a broad scheme to trample on Second Amendment rights.
In a video released Friday, Jones acknowledged in a sworn deposition stemming from a lawsuit filed by the families of Sandy Hook victims that the school shooting was in fact real. Jones blamed the “trauma of the media and the corporations lying so much” for triggering his extreme distrust in news and information.
“And I, myself, have almost had like a form of psychosis back in the past where I basically thought everything was staged, even though I’ve now learned a lot of times things aren’t staged,” he said. “So I think as a pundit, someone giving an opinion, that, you know, my opinions have been wrong, but they were never wrong consciously to hurt people.”
This lawsuit, which was filed in Texas, where InfoWars is based, is just one of multiple defamation suits filed against Jones. The plaintiffs of this case include Leonard Posner and Veronique De La Rosa, who say that as a result of Jones’ claims, their family was harassed and forced to move. Jones has previously implied that De La Rosa was paid to pretend she was grieving her six-year-old son’s death. Six other families of Sandy Hook victims filed suit against Jones in Connecticut in April.
Over the last several decades Jones has emerged as a notoriously inflammatory pundit with a considerable platform and following. At its height, his three-hour daily radio show was syndicated to more than 160 stations across the US, while his website InfoWars peddled conspiracies such as 9/11-truther theories that the terror attacks in New York were an inside job orchestrated by the federal government.
Over the last year and a half, Twitter, Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify have all either outright banned Jones and InfoWars for violating rules against spreading hate speech or suspended them for posting new content. He is one of the first and few figures to be formally censored for spreading conspiracies, marking a potential sea change as to how platforms handle controversial figures who knowingly spread misinformation and fake news.
Jones highlights the damaging ways that lies and misinformation spread
Many of Jones’ more infamous broadcasts provide a textbook example of how misinformation gains traction and spreads. Repeat a lie often enough, and you may start believing it as truth.
Vox’s Brian Resnick explained this phenomenon back in 2017 when Jones was invited to sit down for a prime-time interview with then-NBC News anchor Megyn Kelly. Critics condemned the network’s decision to book Jones, viewing the interview as setting a dangerous precedent for giving known-conspiracy theorists an even larger platform to spread damaging lies. As Resnick details, those concerns carry scientific weight:
Psychological science consistently finds when a lie gets repeated, it’s slightly more likely to be misremembered as truth. It’s called the “illusory truth effect.” It’s a tendency the whole news media — as well as consumers of news — should be wary of. And it’s a reason not to give notorious bullshitters such a substantial spotlight. Especially bullshitters whose lies hurt others and whose lies have a track record for virality.
Jones even acknowledged this “illusory truth effect” to a certain degree in his deposition released this week in that he blames the media for making it harder to discern falsehoods from reality. “You don’t trust anything anymore, kind of like a child whose parents lie to them over and over again, well, pretty soon they don’t know what reality is,” Jones said in the deposition video.
But just like his conspiracy theories themselves, Jones attempts to defend himself are dubious. Part of the reason why lawyers representing the Sandy Hook families released the video of his sworn deposition in the first place — an unusual move ahead of any formal trial — was because Jones had already attempted to try the case in the court of public opinion by using his broadcast to spin his version of the story. Those lawyers told the Washington Post they posted the video to YouTube in the “spirit of transparency” and to prove Jones knowingly pushed false information.
Even after coming clean in the deposition, however, Jones quickly fell back into an old habit. According to Rolling Stone, Jones responded to news that a Sandy Hook parent died by suicide last week by openly questioning whether his apparent suicide had been faked.