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What the Alex Jones trial means for the future of conspiracy culture


By Ramishah Maruf, CNN

The Texas jury’s decision last week to have Alex Jones face punitive damages of more than $45 million in a lawsuit filed by the parents of Sandy Hook shooting victim Jesse Lewis was a “reckoning that was 10 years in the making,” CNN’s chief media correspondent Brian Stelter said.

A pair of Chicago-based podcast hosts have spent the past 5 years holding Jones and his Infowars network accountable. Their program, Knowledge Fight, has produced more than 700 episodes, and uses comedy to “cut through crazy lies,” Stelter said on Reliable Sources Sunday.

Hosts Dan Friesen and Jordan Holmes traveled to Texas to witness Jones’ trial first hand. Friesen said the most powerful moment inside the courtroom was watching Jesse Lewis’ mom Scarlett Lewis give her testimony and speak directly to Jones.

“I think it will stay with pretty much everyone there for the rest of their lives,” Friesen said.

The co-hosts have been covering Jones since 2017, watching his transformation from a seemingly untouchable figure to one that is now in serious legal and financial jeopardy.

“During this whole stretch of time, his content itself has been essentially hollow,” Friesen said. “Watching him from my perspective has gotten a lot less interesting.”

But despite Jones’ legal woes, Holmes said that the culture he’s helped engender has gotten a lot bigger.

“Conspiracy culture is something that is created through the cracks of our regular society,” Holmes said.

And although their podcast focuses on scrutinizing Jones and his tactics, Holmes said the trial was really about the victims.

“People would like to focus on Alex being kind of a bombastic character that we can mock and make fun of, but this isn’t about him,” Holmes said.

The podcast format allows the hosts to go beyond Jones as a character and dive into the mechanisms of what he’s doing and why these conspiracy narratives exist.

“We approach it with the understanding that it’s a serious topic,” Friesen said. “But also that in order to make it interesting for anybody to listen to, we have to make it make something entertaining.”

Friesen has listened to countless hours of Jones’ program, and calls it an “incredibly boring experience.”

“The reason that I do this is because I can stomach that boredom,” Friesen said. He endures the task in order to help others get insights into the misinformation phenomenon. “So they could be in a place where they could better understand what Alex is doing and what he brings to the table.”

Many hope that the legal and financial jeopardy Jones’ is now facing will help curtail misinformation and conspiracy culture. But Friesen isn’t convinced it will be a severe blow.

“The conspiracy producers and people who engage in the sorts of conduct that Alex does end up becoming a little bit savvier,” Friesen said. “They end up learning where the lines are … of what they can do and what they can get away with.”

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