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Dan Reed Renders a Clear Verdict in The Truth vs. Alex Jones

The Four Hours at the Capitol director doesn't indulge the conspiracy theorists, instead focusing on the very real victims and their families.
  • Alex Jones and his attorney (Photo: The Truth vs. Alex Jones/HBO)
    Alex Jones and his attorney (Photo: The Truth vs. Alex Jones/HBO)

    The parents of the children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012 thought they’d lost everything, but InfoWars host Alex Jones found new ways to take even more. He incited a mob of unhinged conspiracy theorists and set them loose on grieving parents for his own profit. A gunman’s bullets massacred 20 children in just eight minutes, but Jones spent the next decade slowly torturing their families.

    It’s difficult to watch HBO’s The Truth vs. Alex Jones without wanting to punch the screen whenever Jones’ smug face appears. He’s truly a despicable person, and director Dan Reed (Leaving Neverland, Four Hours at the Capitol) wastes no time searching for any redeemable qualities. Reed provides a foundation for the documentary with a quick review of Jones’ career, which began in the 1990s on local cable access TV. He was a shock jock who built a following promoting crackpot conspiracy theories; his lies were never harmless but the targets were usually the government or faceless “globalists.” Sandy Hook was different and far more vile. The victims were real people, not shadowy figures from The X-Files.

    Jones claimed Sandy Hook was a “false flag” operation intended to justify a mass confiscation of guns. Barack Obama had just been re-elected president and far-right conspiracists insisted that he’d impose Marxist martial law in his second term. Unfortunately, not a single new gun law was passed after Sandy Hook, which led some to fatalistically concede defeat in the gun debate. If slaughtered children couldn’t change the minds of the gun-obsessed, nothing would. Perversely, the conspiracy theorists remained convinced that they were the victims of a government “hoax” and continued tormenting the Sandy Hook families.

    Reed doesn’t indulge the conspiracy or set out to debunk the absurd assertions. Instead he focuses on the true victims, both living and dead. Reliving the Sandy Hook massacre is a gut punch that requires its own trigger warning. Reed interviews parents who vividly recall those last minutes before school — normally a frantic time when parents are so busy getting their kids dressed, fed, and out the door, they don’t stop to consider if this is the last time they’ll see them. Now, those precious final moments are seared forever in their minds.

    It seems impossible that anyone could watch these interviews and insist that the parents are “crisis actors” and the child they lost never existed. A parent describes holding her dead son’s hand for hours “until it got warm” and “almost felt like a live hand.” No writer can fake those words. No actor can fake that pain. However, the documentary contrasts this gripping humanity with the contemptible self-indulgence of those who bought and sold Jones’ lies. Sandy Hook denier Kelley Watt says she’s just as convinced that no one died at Sandy Hook as the father of one of the victims is that his six-year-old son died. Wolfgang Halbig, a former InfoWars contributor, promoted the baseless conspiracy that the government faked 20 children’s deaths in a failed attempt to take away his precious guns. He cruelly sent photos of random adults to Sandy Hook parents and claimed they were their children who hadn’t really died. “If I’m that wrong and I hurt people,” he says, “I belong in a mental institution.” That’s perhaps the one true thing he’s ever said.

    Serving as the documentary’s writer, producer, and cameraman, Reed filmed the families over four years and built enough trust between them that they open up fully on camera, exposing the open wounds Jones refused to let heal. The Truth vs. Alex Jones doesn’t depict the families as helpless. After establishing the stakes, the documentary details how the families confronted Jones’ evil head-on and defeated him.

    Leonard Pozner and Scarlett Lewis sued Jones for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Jones had claimed repeatedly that Pozner lied about holding his dead son in his arms. Lewis testified that Jones’ followers had harassed her family for years and sent them death threats. The parents filed suit in Texas, where Jones is based, and another group of parents sued Jones in Connecticut. One of the parents recounts receiving deranged messages from conspiracy theorists who claimed to have urinated on their son’s “fake” grave and threatened to dig it up to prove there’s no body buried there.

    There’s a high bar for proving defamation, and Jones had long hidden behind his First Amendment rights. However, he never engaged in good-faith with the discovery process and the courts eventually found him guilty by default. All that’s left is determining a dollar amount, but the families’ lawyers know that a financial slap on the wrist won’t stop Jones’ persecution — they have to go for the jugular.

    The courtroom scenes are not the typical Law & Order fare but they’re no less compelling. Judge Maya Guerra Gamble can barely contain her disgust when Jones performs his schtick in her courtroom. “When you hear ‘sustained’ you have to stop talking!” is just one of her many scathing lines as she prevents Jones from turning the proceedings into an episode of his show. The families’ lawyers reveal how Jones specifically profited off the misery he caused. Whenever he railed against the Sandy Hook shooting “hoax” — never with any actual proof, of course — his viewership spiked, and he sold more of his InfoWars-branded vitamins and supplements.

    The families’ lawyers are able to conclusively prove that Jones deliberately lied after Jones’ own counsel accidentally sent them his phone’s entire digital record for two years. Jones admits under oath that the Sandy Hook massacre actually occurred. It’s a pyrrhic victory, though: After a decade of his lies, 24% of Americans believed the shooting was staged. That’s almost 80 million people, who vote in elections and might sit next to you on the bus.

    Ultimately, Jones was ordered to pay $1.5 billion in total damages to the families; he later declared bankruptcy. As Lewis tells Jones on the witness stand, ruining him was the only way to stop him … for now. She’s astounded that it reached this point, when the cost of simple humanity was so much less, but she’s capable of compassion, empathy, and most importantly shame. These are traits that Jones lacks utterly. He can’t even fake simple politeness with his victims when his financial life is on the line.

    Yet Lewis offers Jones a cup of water and cough drops after seeing him constantly hacking in the courtroom. This is a moment that could only work in a documentary, as viewers might never believe that someone could extend such simple generosity to her tormentor.

    Reed ends The Truth vs. Alex Jones with the right mixture of personal triumph and American tragedy. Lawyer Mark Bankston warns that Jones fed off a moral sickness that’s only grown since Sandy Hook and remains a threat to a truth-based society. That’s a depressing thought, but it’s also uplifting to realize that for every Alex Jones, there’s also a Scarlett Lewis.

    The Truth vs. Alex Jones premieres March 26 at 9:00 P.M. ET on HBO and Max. Join the discussion about the documentary in our forums.

    Stephen Robinson is a political columnist, arts writer, and theatre maker.

    TOPICS: Alex Jones, HBO, The Truth vs. Alex Jones, Dan Reed, Sandy Hook