The Austin Chronicle

SXSW Film Review: The Truth vs. Alex Jones

By Madeline Duncan, March 12, 2024, 2:00pm, Picture in Picture

On December 14, 2012, 26 families’ worlds turned upside down. Twenty children, six adults, murdered in the span of eight minutes. For the next 10 years, Alex Jones accused these families of fabricating the worst day of their lives. Welcome to the nauseating world of angertainment.

The Truth vs. Alex Jones follows the families whose children and loved ones were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 as they seek damages from Alex Jones, an Austin-based conspiracy theorist who first claimed the shooting was a hoax. For years, Jones questioned the legitimacy of the mass murder, calling parents actors, claiming the children were still alive or never existed, and accusing newscasts of using green screens and edited videos.

Director Dan Reed takes us back to the Nineties, when Jones began his broadcasting career on public-access television. Through the years, Jones skyrocketed to fame spreading conspiracy theories about radiation, fluoride, and 9/11. Just hours after the Sandy Hook shooting, Jones went on air saying it looked like a “false flag operation” and a government scheme to take Americans’ guns, an idea he would proliferate in the coming years.

The documentary illustrates Jones’ angertainment business model: When a video or broadcast spikes in view, sales of Jones’ Infowars-branded supplements parallel. Incidentally, his most popular broadcasts are the most outrageous and fear mongering, thus rewarding Jones when he claimed to expose the Sandy Hook tragedy as a falsity.

The film is more than a profile of a conspiracy theorist, it's a tribute to the pain of the Sandy Hook families. As if losing their children wasn’t enough, parents faced rampant harassment, including threats of rape and death from Jones’ followers. For years, Jones accused Leonard Pozner of lying about holding his dead son in his arms. In 2018 Pozner had enough. He and fellow parent Scarlett Lewis sued Jones for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional pain. A group of parents in Connecticut followed suit.

The Leaving Neverland director filmed most of the documentary in the Travis County Courthouse, chronicling Jones’ absurdities. In both cases, the courts found Jones guilty by default after his lawyers refused to participate in the discovery process. In a moment of humorous catharsis, the families’ lawyer, Mark Bankston, revealed Jones’ lawyers mistakenly sent an entire digital copy of his phone, proving to the jury Jones’ penchant for lying.

Unfortunately, the story still isn’t resolved. Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems LLC, filed for bankruptcy, and have not paid the nearly $1 billion in damages he owes to families. Jones still broadcasts Infowars weekdays.

The film raises many questions we are left to grapple with: Why do so many Americans choose to believe conspiracies? More importantly, can we ever stop the firehose of fake news?

The Truth vs. Alex Jones premieres Tuesday, March 26 on HBO.

The Truth vs. Alex Jones

Documentary Spotlight, World Premiere

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