SXSW Review: Grappling with ‘The Truth vs. Alex Jones’

SXSW Review: Grappling with ‘The Truth vs. Alex Jones’
Courtesy SXSW

There are few public personalities alive today who seem to relish being despised as much as Alex Jones. The longtime host of InfoWars, a news program that wholeheartedly embraces fringe conspiracy theories as irrefutable truth, believes that he is doing the public a great service by sharing all the things he believes to be wrong about America. His glorification of the right to free speech has gotten him into trouble in recent years as the defendant in two separate lawsuits from a group of people whose lives he has made hell for the last decade: parents of the young victims of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting.

While Jones is the focal point of this documentary, it also takes time to pay tribute to the students and teachers who were killed. That those events are public knowledge at this moment in time isn’t taken for granted since this film needs to be all-encompassing and evergreen. The course of that devastating day is replayed respectfully, interviewing an investigator who pieces together what he believes happened in the span of just six minutes and hearing from parents about their last memories of their children. Next is Jones’ near-immediate response, which is to sow doubt about the authenticity of the shooting, latching on to one parent’s nervous laughter right before a press conference in which he tearfully eulogizes his child. From there, harassment begins and never lets up, and Jones only continues to double-down on his claims that there’s something funny about this tragedy that he thinks had to be manufactured to take people’s guns away.

This documentary features extensive footage from two trials in which Jones is called to answer for his role in promoting the idea that the shooting was a hoax, one filed by two parents in his native Austin and another by a larger set of parents in Connecticut. Jones repeatedly decries them as show trials and kangaroo courts, and he even mentions the presence of the HBO cameras filming this very documentary as somehow part of a rigged operation against him. Seeing Jones shake his head and half-smile every time someone accuses him of something is revealing about who he truly is, and the insufficient apology he tries to offer to the few people who are willing to approach him is missing any actual admission of guilt. Even more appalling is how, over and over, he goes on his show midway through the trials to vent his frustrations and make further untrue statements, only to be confronted with clips of them played the next day in court.

The narrative woven in this film paints a clear picture of Jones as a con artist who says things he can’t back up and then denies ever having said them, even though there is readily available footage of each misleading or deliberately false statement. An unexpected focus of the trials is on how Jones sells supplements on his show and that profiting off of those sales is one of the reasons he peddles conspiracy theories he knows will generate exponentially higher ratings. Like everything else, he refutes those claims when questioned about them on the stand, but as he laughs off the extraordinary multimillion-dollar sums he’s being ordered by the court to pay to the plaintiffs, he’s about to go in front of his audience to beg them to buy more supplements to keep funding his all-important work fighting the system.

Though it’s assembled in a clear and coherent way that makes it more easily digestible, much of this can be gleaned from simply watching Jones on his show. Where this film truly reveals something groundbreaking is in its conversations with the parents, who express a range of emotions while recounting the brutality of having to argue the very existence of their murdered children when accosted by random InfoWars devotees on the street. Hearing from one parent that, much as he hates to admit it, there is something disarming and captivating about Jones, is equally enlightening and disturbing. That’s what this film does best, to let Jones, who is all too willing to mug for the camera, show the world who he really is and just how much he relishes calling out other people for perceived or fabricated acts far less objectionable than what he does every single day. This film is not an easy watch, particularly for parents, but it’s a riveting and vital look at the power of a megaphone and those who use their reach for self-serving and destructive purposes.

Grade: B+ 

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

The Truth vs. Alex Jones makes its world premiere in the Documentary Spotlight section at the 2024 SXSW Film and TV Festival and will debut on Max on March 26th.

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