A Texas judge has denied conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s request to dismiss a defamation suit brought against him by the parents of a child killed during the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. The argument for dismissal laid out by Jones’s lawyer suggested in part that the Infowars host had been engaging in “rhetorical hyperbole” when repeatedly calling the Sandy Hook shooting a hoax and labeling the victim’s grieving parents as “crisis actors”. And while it’s good news that the Sandy Hook parents will have their day in court, the rhetorical hyperbole argument offers a disturbing window into the thought process of Jones and the purpose of Infowars.
Importantly, the term rhetorical hyperbole does have a legal definition — and one that Jones’ brand of rhetoric fails to meet. The idea of rhetorical hyperbole is that it is emotionally charged speech which leans heavily on name-calling that any reader or listener would not take as literal fact. For instance, if I wrote in my continued frustration over Jones’s awfulness that he is a Prada purse full of diarrhea, readers would obviously understand that I do not mean to contend that Jones is literally a high-end purse filled with runny poop. That’s rhetorical hyperbole. And if in my anger over his bloated attacks against reality, I suggested that Jones was a Muppet made from discarded pig parts, that would also be rhetorical hyperbole. Obviously, despite appearances, he’s not an offal puppet.
However, it is not rhetorical hyperbole when Jones, who insists Infowars be taken seriously as a journalistic platform, claims repeatedly to have evidence that parents of slain children are actors and that those slain children do not exist. Why? Because Jones has said over and over again that his conspiracy is fact. And, more disturbingly, a huge bulk of his listeners have taken that to heart. Some have even been motivated to send Sandy Hook parents death threats.
So, to recap, saying Jones is a sack full of anuses left in the sun for a week: rhetorical hyperbole. Creating videos suggesting proof that 20 children did not lose their lives to a deranged shooter in Newtown, Connecticut: not rhetorical hyperbole.
But there’s something alarming in Jones’s contention that his statements were not defamatory because his listeners know not to take him literally. Because the fact is, Jones’ listeners do take him literally. If they didn’t, how else could he hope to sell survivalist supplies for the end-of-the-world scenarios that are so often the end game of the lizard people and deep state operatives Jones so often rails against? It’s obvious that he’s literally banking on the hope his fans take him seriously. And they do.
In fact, they take him seriously enough that in 2016 then-candidate Trump appeared on Infowars to tell Jones that, should he be elected, he wouldn’t let the host or his listeners down. If there had been doubts about Jones’s legitimacy, they were likely erased by the appearance of Trump and his subsequent election.
There’s also the spurious claim that Jones and Infowars are clearly meant for “entertainment”. It’s truly hard to imagine that individuals would find the denial of the Sandy Hook shooting entertaining. How monstrous would you have to be to consider it entertaining to call a parent’s genuine grief at the loss of a child an act? Besides, at no point does Jones offer a wink at the camera. At no point does he tip his hand to suggest that it’s all fun and games and that his rhetoric has no consequence. Instead, he rallies his so-called patriots to action, claiming to be the source of truth and reality. And for that reason, Jones has one hell of a fight against him.
If there is justice in the world, Jones will lose his case and Infowars will become an obscure blip in history — a cautionary tale from a time when division threatened to tear America apart. In the end, things should work out alright for Jones. He could probably find employment in a backwater gun and ammo store where people might hear his ravings and take them like they should have to begin with: the confused ramblings of sentient trashcan full of diapers that have been set on fire in a dirty alleyway. And that’s obviously rhetorical hyperbole.