He’s rewritten his own history in his mind like a child might, in order to absolve himself of any blame for any of his actions. He can abstractly maybe think like, ‘Oh no. Their kid died. That’s real sad. That doesn’t have anything to do with me. I was just asking questions!’ and go about his life.
If the net result of this grueling, years-long, media spectacle of a Sandy Hook trial is indeed that InfoWars continues to broadcast; that Jones continues to rake in spectacular amounts of revenue while shielding himself through bankruptcy; that misinformation spreads, harassment by listeners goes unchecked, the victims receive no meaningful apology or reckoning, and defamation trials largely leave fake news untouchable, then what is the point? Are we simply doomed to live in a world of split screens, wherein Jones says precisely what he must say in order to minimize jury damages, while simultaneously broadcasting the precise opposite to his adoring listeners?
Of course, any expectation that any given legal proceeding—such as the Mueller probe, Trumps two impeachments, and even the very effective Jan. 6 committee hearings—might lift us out of the misinformation quagmire in which we find ourselves has proven again and again to be too fanciful.
But unlike those other proceedings, the Alex Jones trial offered one important thing: It forced Jones to inhabit the same space as his victims, to at least pretend to listen to them and to feign respect for a judge. It showed us all what a genuine encounter with the “other side”—a side that couldn’t be dismissed, threatened, and insulted with impunity, at least just this once—actually looks like. Thin gruel in the grand scheme of post truth, maybe, but still instructive and illuminating in the extreme.
This trial was fundamentally different from the Jan. 6 hearings or two impeachments in that the defendant had to sit in the room, look into the eyes of his victims and hear their truths. It’s easy to say “yes, but” to this as well. Expecting Jones to grow, or change, or stop would be insane. He is one of a handful of men who has built an empire around his delusions. He will not stop doing what he does any more than Roger Stone, or Donald Trump, or Marjorie Taylor Greene might stop their own runaway trains of money-printing fantasy. They are incurable, they are indefatigable, and the movement they have built transcends any one of them, anyhow. To quote Friesen, they don’t care. They won’t care.
But the point is not to make them care. These people will never change but some still might. And everything we now know about deradicalization suggests that it demands face to face encounters with those you have deemed less than human; those you believe to be crisis actors and paid operatives.
It will remain true that Alex Jones sees the entire world as a series of crisis actors and operatives and fake conspiracies that magically center him. This was fully on display at trial, Jones having attacked the victims, the judge, and the jury mid-trial. So, yeah, no. Alex Jones is not sorry and no, he doesn’t care. Every person in the courtroom is a player in a fantasy conspiracy to get him. But the ultimate project here cannot have been that a legal process would meaningfully damage the hazy reality of a post-truth ecosystem. The most and least satisfaction we were ever going to receive from Jones himself out of these proceedings came when Travis County District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble memorably got him to shut up, even if only for a few moments:
You believe everything you say is true, but it isn’t. Your beliefs do not make something true. 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.
And he did. Because nothing is going to change Alex Jones, who sees speech as a cash-generating and cash-reducing product, and not as a means to an end connected to truth. The catharsis of the trial, to the extent there could be one, is not about repudiating lies-for-dollars or conspiracy theorists, or even in checking those who would incite physical violence by “just asking questions.” It was about putting these people—who live their lives in air-conditioned studios staffed by hollowed-eyed minions and fluffers—into the same physical space as those upon who they prey. Such moments, in our bubbled world —the bubbled world about which Jones himself complains relentlessly—are few and far between.
“My son existed” Lewis told Jones. To his face. It was both everything and also, in this present moment not enough. But for those of us who watched, it offered at least the possibility that someday, with enough such brushes with the reality and humanity of people we have written off, something more than catharsis may come, and that at least some of the reachable might someday come home.