By John Serba

Published March 28, 2024, 9:30 p.m. ET

Remember the viral clip from a couple years ago in which Alex Jones was caught committing perjury in court? You get to revisit it in The Truth vs. Alex Jones (now streaming on Max), an enraging and heartbreaking HBO documentary from Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed. It chronicles the defamation suits filed by parents of Sandy Hook school shooting victims against Jones, the far-right-wing conspiracy theorist who for years used his InfoWars network to claim the tragedy was a hoax. He cruelly mocked the families, inspiring his millions-strong following to harass them – and ended up getting his ass whupped in court. This is Jones’ shameful saga.

THE TRUTH VS. ALEX JONES: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

The Gist: “Making shit up – that’s how Alex Jones runs his empire.” Those are the words of Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse was among 26 children and teachers killed by a shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. Making shit up on his web platform, InfoWars, is what earned Jones a fortune, and put him on the receiving end of financially crippling defamation suits. We jump back to 1997, when Jones was still a (lovable?) kook on the radio and public access TV in Austin, Texas. Bolstered by his 9/11 conspiracy theories and the rise of the internet, Jones found a massive online audience that couldn’t get enough of his unsubstantiated rantings about radiation levels and chemtrails, or his staunch gun-rights advocacy. He eventually turned InfoWars into a niche media empire bolstered by the sales of dietary supplements.

Ridiculous conspiracy theories and snake oil – that’s annoying. The enraging stuff began in 2012, when Jones and InfoWars started seeing major boosts in traffic and revenue after he floated the idea that Sandy Hook was staged by leftists in government, to “get people’s guns taken away.” That’s the result of the heartbreaking stuff: What the likes of Lewis and Daniel Barden and Robbie Parker and Nicole Hockley went through. They walk us through their horror, the worst day of their lives, when their children were murdered. Within days, Jones ruthlessly exploited them, mocking gut-wrenching statements Parker made to the press and claiming he’s an actor, faking it – and then pumping his mail-order supplements in commercials. At this point, Jones’ followers numbered in the millions, and they unleashed an avalanche of online and in-person harassment ranging from name-calling to accusations of lying to death threats. At one point, his theories were so pervasive, a poll revealed that 24 percent of the U.S. population believed that Sandy Hook was fake.

Jones milked the hoax theory for years, and Sandy Hook parents knew when he talked about them, because they’d see a spike in the harassment. Some tried to fight back, but learned that countering conspiracy theories with logic was a zero-sum game, and trying to get harmful, falsehood-spewing content removed from social media platforms was a frustrating and endless game of whack-a-mole. So in 2018, they lawyered up and sued Jones – and this is when Reed began shooting this doc, following a pair of defamation suits that the parents hoped would cripple his empire and advocate for truth over blatant, egregious lies.

THE TRUTH VS ALEX JONES STREAMING

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: File The Truth vs. Alex Jones next to QAnon series Q: Into the Storm and you’ve got in-depth examinations into the most fraudulent conspiracy-theory movements in modern history.

Performance Worth Watching: I don’t know if it’s worth watching, but Jones is definitely putting on a performance throughout this saga. His accusations of others being actors could be fired right back at him – his shameless mugging and cartoonish reactions in the courtroom reveal a narcissist who can’t stand to not have everyone’s eyes on him, and seems to be actively battling against self-reflection and -awareness. There have been times when Jones claims he plays “a character” on InfoWars, so who’s being the “actor” here? (Not that hypocrisy is something he’d ever comprehend or own up to. 

Memorable Dialogue: Robbie Parker reflects on the the despair of not only losing a child in such a horrific fashion, but also having those wounds ripped open over and over as a result of the constant harassment: “It’s just weird as a human being to be in a position where you feel like you have zero hope for anything anymore.”

Sex and Skin: None.

THE TRUTH VS ALEX JONES HBO
Photo: WarnerMedia

Our Take: The most gripping moment in The Truth vs. Alex Jones is the only scene in which the lead investigator of the Sandy Hook tragedy appears: After gruelingly tick-tocking through the awful six minutes of that day, he painstakingly lists the names of the victims one by one, from memory. Sure, we get showy courtroom scenes in which we see Jones trying to rant his way through testimony, and prosecuting lawyers all but eviscerating him. But that simple list of names? It’s devastating. And the stories that parents share about their love and grief slice through all the grotesque politics and maddening discourse. Among all the implications about truth and perception and the very nature of reality, their despair is absolutely real. 

Reed diligently explores the other side of the argument, interviewing former InfoWars employees (one says his “reporting” angered Jones when it didn’t line up with Jones’ moronic theories about rising radiation levels in California), and allies of Jones who still believe that the shooting was a hoax, and repeatedly insist that bodies be exhumed to “prove” that the victims actually exist; the film allows them to hang themselves with their own callous words. Also, let it be known that anyone with good sense will be righteously irritated by the use of multiple InfoWars clips in which Jones screams and shouts and bugs out his eyes and repeatedly hocks his sketchy products – and the overall sense is, this guy is a clown, and why is that not self-evident to everyone? I mean, 24 percent of Americans actually believe his destructive rantings and ravings?

So even though we get to watch Jones be taken down nearly in real time, the greater, more troubling idea stubbornly persists: Objective truth has been significantly eroded in the internet era, and if there’s a solution to that problem, we’ve yet to figure it out. Many documentaries about this subject have been released in recent years, but very few have framed the repercussions of perpetuating falsehoods so poignantly and powerfully. Although Hockley at one point wishes for “the total destruction of Alex Jones” – immediately followed by her wondering aloud, “Can I say that?” – the Sandy Hook parents featured here aren’t merely redemptive; they recognize the bigger picture, that their struggles and sacrifices are about more than just hitting back, and that any attempt to profit from other people’s suffering is to be a greedy hypocrite just like Jones. Reed’s journalism is diligent and compassionate, and the result of his work is a must-see film. 

Our Call: The Truth vs. Alex Jones is a vital, engrossing documentary. STREAM IT.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.