In my 2003 dark-comedy novel, The Amazing Mister Alphabet, I wrote about the lies to which we are constantly subjected: “Lies, lies, and more lies. So many lies that we as a society no longer bother to discredit and discard the lies foisted upon us, but rather, we judge the lies according to their cleverness and originality and artistry. Liars who are extremely clever and original and artistic can make millions of dollars off their talent.”
I was referring mostly to advertisers, politicians, and writers when I wrote that. For example, advertisements for the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia featured a fictional coffee picker named Juan Valdez and his mule Conchita, carrying sacks of harvested coffee beans. The voiceover proudly proclaimed that Colombian coffee beans were “handpicked by Juan Valdez.” Of course, that would have made Señor Valdez a very busy picker.
In 2003, I had no idea that misinformation, and/or disinformation, would soon become a multibillion-dollar industry. I first became aware of the problem in 2016, when I saw several dubious posts on Facebook. One post proclaimed: “Pope endorses Donald Trump.” The Catholic Church had moved far to the right, but I couldn’t believe the pope had endorsed Donald Trump. It turned out, of course, that he did not.
Another popular post in 2016 claimed that the Clintons were running a human trafficking and child sex ring out of a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor. “Pizzagate,” as it came to be called, was also entirely untrue – and not without consequences. A North Carolina man traveled to Comet Ping Pong and fired a rifle inside the restaurant. The restaurant owner and staff received death threats from incensed conspiracy theorists.
Pizzagate is considered the predecessor to the QAnon conspiracy theory. And loyalty to QAnon has emerged as the common thread connecting the hundreds of men and women arrested for their participation in the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021.
It’s not just far-right extremists who believe these false narratives. Soon after Trump became president, I posted on Facebook a picture of a whale being processed on a whaling ship, and I wrote a little fake news story: “President Trump lifts US whaling ban. Will bring thousands of jobs to New England, Trump says.”
Most of my Facebook friends were progressive Democrats (like me). At least a dozen people wrote comments expressing their outrage. Not one single person fact-checked or disbelieved the story. It destroyed the last of my confidence in Facebook, and I quit Facebook shortly thereafter.
Alex Jones ranks among the biggest liars and spreaders of misinformation. New York magazine has described Jones as “America’s leading conspiracy theorist,” and the Southern Poverty Law Center describes him as “the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America.”
Born on February 11, 1974, in Dallas, Texas, Jones graduated from Anderson High School. He briefly attended Austin Community College before dropping out.
As a teenager, he was profoundly influenced by the 1971 book, None Dare Call It Conspiracy, by John Birch Society speechwriter Gary Allen. Described by some as “an over-sized political conspiracy pamphlet,” it claimed global bankers controlled American politics – not elected officials.
The 1993 Waco siege at the Branch Davidian complex near Waco, Texas, further radicalized Jones, confirming his belief in “the inexorable progress of unseen, malevolent forces.” Around this time, Jones started hosting a call-in show on public access television in Austin.
On April 19, 1995, the second anniversary of the Waco siege, Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 19 children, and injuring more than 500. Jones did not believe that McVeigh and his associate Terry Nichols were responsible for the bombing.
In 1998, Jones launched a campaign to build a new Branch Davidian church. Jones claimed that David Koresh and the Branch Davidians were murdered by Attorney General Janet Reno and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms during the Waco siege.
On September 11, 2001, Jones said on his radio show there was a “98% chance” that the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was “a government-orchestrated controlled bombing.” Jones promoted the conspiracy theory that the George W. Bush administration was responsible for the 9/11 terrorists attacks.
On December 2, 2015, presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared on The Alex Jones Show. Trump told Jones: “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down. You’ll be very, very impressed, I hope.”
During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump linked to InfoWars articles as sources for his claim that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims celebrated 9/11. When InfoWars published a video claiming Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had mental health issues, Trump then recycled it in a campaign speech. When a Jones video claimed the 2016 vote would be rigged, Trump claimed the same thing two days later.
In 2015, Jones launched a campaign claiming Bill Clinton was a rapist. In late 2015, InfoWars began selling T-shirts with the slogan ‘Hillary for Prison.’ Jones said Trump called him the day after the election and thanked him for his help with the campaign.
Sadly, we expect to hear lies in the political arena. “Alternative facts” was the phrase used by Trump’s advisor, Kellyanne Conway. Liars and conspiracy theorists invoke their First Amendment right to free speech, using it as a shield and a weapon in their relentless war on the truth.
On December 14, 2012, 29 children and 6 adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Jones claimed the massacre was a “false flag operation” by gun control advocates. Jones stated, “no one died” in Sandy Hook, and the incident was “staged,” “synthetic,” “manufactured,” “a giant hoax,” and “completely fake with actors.”
Because of Jones’ malicious lies, parents of the murdered children faced harassment, stalking, and death threats.
Several parents of the murdered children have filed defamation lawsuits against Jones – and they are winning. According to NBC News: “A Texas jury ordered Jones to pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages to the parents of one child killed in the Sandy Hook massacre. The parents ... had sued Jones for defamation after Jones accused them of faking the death of their son in order to attack gun rights.
“In addition to the $4.1 million . . . the jury determined Jones would also have to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages.
“This is not only a large blow to Jones, who has already filed for bankruptcy, but to other conspiracy-theory fomenters who fill their audiences’ heads with stories of the deep state, a stolen election, and a child-sex ring in the basement of a pizza restaurant.”
Jones, a community college dropout, is reportedly worth $270 million – money he made off the business of lies and misinformation.
Written by Mark Heinz, who lives at Nolin Lake. Visit his website on Amazon.