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Episode Summary

Alex Jones, the far right talk radio host who pioneered the art of making money from internet conspiracy theories, is facing the worst moment of his career. It is quite possibly the apocalypse of Jones. After making up thousands of lies over a career spending decades, Jones is now starting to face consequences.

In August, a jury in Austin, Texas, returned a damages verdict against Jones for defaming the parents of a child who was killed in a school shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012. Jones was ordered to pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages and $49 million in punitive damages. The lawyer for the plaintiffs in this case, which is one of only several, insists that this will be only the beginning of what’s going to happen to Jones and his company Infowars.

But is that right? Will he actually have to pay those large-scale fines? And will Jones be affected by large-scale fines at all?

And in the long term, are legal suits a way forward to stop the propagation of conspiracy theories in this country? Joining me to discuss in this episode is Liz Dye. She is a columnist with the legal affairs website Above the Law. And she also is a writer at Wonkette.com.

The video of our August 7, 2022 conversation is below. A transcript of the edited audio follows.



Transcript

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Thanks for being here, Liz.

LIZ DYE: Hi, thanks for having me.

SHEFFIELD: All right. So Jones, he’s been sued by several parents from the Sandy Hook school shooting, but I guess let’s back up first. What exactly did he do, according to the parents in the lawsuits?

DYE: Okay. So in December of 2012, a young man who was disturbed and had ready access to firearms entered the school in Connecticut, entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and killed 26 people.

20 of them were children. Six of them were staffers. Almost immediately Jones started saying that he felt like it was a hoax, it was setting [00:04:00] off his “spidey senses.” And he, he started saying either it was a synthetic event, which is his kind of patois for an event which takes place but is staged by the government.

He treated it as an event designed to gin up support for gun control. And lots of people on his Infowars network propagated this including host Owen Shroyer, who suggested that the plaintiff in this first case, Neil Heslin, was lying when he said he had held his son’s body after he had been shot. And a lot of other things which implied that they were crisis actors.

And there were a lot of parents at Sandy Hook who faced persistent harassment from Jones’s followers, particularly because Jones gave a platform to people who purported to be experts in security or whatever, but were fluidly insane.

The parents were harassed so persistently over years that several of them, not the current plaintiffs, but some of the other plaintiffs were forced to leave their home to stay safe. And so they have, they have sued both for the emotional damage and the cost of treating the trauma that he caused, and for having to move out of their homes or take extra security precautions to keep themselves and their families safe,

SHEFFIELD: Uhhuh. And these lawsuits, they’ve been in the works for a long time in the courts for a long time. Jones, he really tried to stall them a lot and–

DYE: And he continues to yeah,

SHEFFIELD: But yeah. Talk about that a little bit, if you could.

DYE: Okay. So they sued in 2018. Most of these families sued in 2018, but Jones just kind of refused to engage and was so egregious about his refusal to engage in discovery. I assume that your listeners understand that discovery is a process by which the [00:06:00] parties in litigation trade information.

He so egregiously refused to participate in discovery that state judges in both Connecticut and Texas issued what’s known as death penalty sanctions or a default judgment. So the case this week did not revolve around–

SHEFFIELD: Which does mean, effectively, you did not participate as directed, so therefore you are going to be assumed as guilty, right?

DYE: You f’ed around and find out, right? So he he did not participate. So he didn’t hand over messages. He said I have no email, which turned out to be a total lie as we I’m sure we’ll discuss later. He said, I don’t have any, he missed text messages.

SHEFFIELD: And he missed his depositions as well.

DYE: Right. Well, that was kind of, that was at the end, right? He refused to be deposed. He refused to hand over documents and handed over a few videos and said, this is the sum total of Infowars’s broadcast pertaining to Sandy Hook, which was probably not true.

He said, ‘Well, they deplatformed us, they kicked us off YouTube and we don’t have any videos.’ Which is ridiculous. So he was so egregiously obstructive that two judges, in Connecticut and Texas, because he’s being sued in Texas and Connecticut, said you have defaulted. You no longer get to prove that you didn’t defame these people or inflict emotional distress.

We’re just going to go straight to the you cutting a check phase and talk about how much you owe these people for defaming them and inflicting emotional distress.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. So the lawsuit that is in Austin, Texas, that one is the furthest along. And that is the one that he got in the news for recently.

DYE: Right. So that one’s concluded. That one’s basically done except for the appeals, the trial itself is done.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. And one of the things that really was one of the big issues in the case though, was how much money is Alex Jones worth? How much does he have? And, and that [00:08:00] is something that even now nobody actually knows.

DYE: Well, that’s sort of true. You have sort of an idea. So if we could go back to one of the things which he did to obstruct the trial.

SHEFFIELD: Sure.

DYE: Which was on the eve that this trial was supposed to start, this trial in Texas, where Neil Heslin and Scarlet Lewis, their son, Jesse Lewis, was six years old when he was killed in 2012. Right before this trial was about to start, Alex Jones took three kind of worthless shell companies that were named defendants in the Texas suits and raced into the bankruptcy court and said these companies are bankrupt.

And when a party to a lawsuit, when the defendant in a lawsuit in a civil suit is bankrupt, it automatically stays the state proceeding and transfers jurisdiction to the federal court. So the trial stopped, they couldn’t, they couldn’t go on.

And the plaintiffs in those cases, the Sandy Hook plaintiffs, just said, well whatever, these are worthless shell companies and they dropped them as defendants. And then that’s how they got back to court.

In the meantime, in the middle of this latest trial, Alex Jones put his main company, which is Free Speech Systems into bankruptcy in Texas, which will probably stay the remaining two trials in Texas. One is a Sandy Hook trial, and one is from someone who was wrongly labeled to be the Parkland school shooter by an Infowars host. Then there’s the other Connecticut trial, which has a huge number of plaintiffs.

SHEFFIELD: Which is actually where the shooting happens.

DYE: Right. Right. So, so those people sued. Two parties, two families. Neil Heslin and Scarlet Lewis and Lenny Posner and Veronique De La Rosa sued in Texas, and also someone named Marcel Fontaine, who was wrongly accused of being the Parkland shooter.

SHEFFIELD: Mm-hmm.

DYE: So what I’m saying is he continues to obstruct by filing for bankruptcy, but you are getting to see some of the finances finally. That was one of the things which he refused to cooperate with discovery, not letting them see the finances, not [00:10:00] letting the plaintiffs see the finances.

But you are finally getting a look at some of the finances for Free Speech Systems, which is basically coterminous with Jones. He has always treated it as if they are one and the same. And indeed the expert witness testified that if Jones never made another broadcast, Free Speech Systems, his main company, would be worth significantly less because he’s the main draw. He’ll hold microphone.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And some of that seems to have come out of some text messages that his attorney in the case inadvertently sent over to–

DYE: That was amazing.

SHEFFIELD: –the plaintiffs. People I think are generally aware that that happened, but the way it happened, I think, is even more amusing. Can you talk about that?

DYE: I mean, look, if you are a bad client, you are going to have some shaky, you know, I’m not saying that these lawyers are bad lawyers. I don’t actually think Andino Reynal, his lawyer, is a bad lawyer. But, Andino Reynal was like the 10th lawyer on this case. And there’s a reason he was the 10th lawyer on this case and he could not manage his client.

I mean, Alex Jones throughout this trial went on his broadcast, commented on the trial despite being told not to, called the judge a dwarf goblin– which is not really what you want your client to be doing–

SHEFFIELD: Who helps pedophiles.

DYE: Right, right. Well, right, because she works with the Texas Child Protective Services and somebody in the child protective services who did something wrong. I mean, it was gross. It’s gross. And just extremely bad client behavior, if you’re the lawyer. So Andino Reynal, his lawyer, it wasn’t such an easy position for him to be in. He’d already lost the case when he took it, and his client is a fruit loop. His client is totally erratic and has a kind of erratic relationship with the truth. So already that’s bad.

So Alex, Jones’s longtime attorney in Connecticut, Norm Pattis, has been there for a lot of the shenanigans mm-hmm . So his lawyer, Norm Pattis, sent a copy of Alex Jones’s phone and a bunch of other [00:12:00] things to the Texas lawyers and the Texas lawyers inadvertently put it in a shared Dropbox with the plaintiff’s lawyer.

So they all got access to Alex Jones’s phone. And really this was information that should have come well, some of it was information that should have come during discovery. And some of it was information that should never have come at all.

There is no reason that the Connecticut plaintiff’s medical records were on that phone. There is no reason that the Texas lawyer should have access to the Connecticut plaintiff’s medical records. Or a bunch of other things.

So, so what happened in court the other day was that Alex Jones said, ‘I don’t ever use email. I haven’t used email in 10 years because I’ve got so many emails. This is just impossible.’ And Mark Bankston said, well, isn’t this your email? And he said: ‘No, I must have dictated that to my secretary.’ But he does have email.

And this is one of the things which he got caught lying about on the stand, lied about a bunch of things, which is why Judge Gamble castigated him in no uncertain terms and said, ‘You know, just because you believe it’s true, doesn’t mean it’s true. You must not lie under oath in my court.’

SHEFFIELD: And it’s funny, I have to say though, because Alex Jones, his entire sort of persona is basically George Castanza from Seinfeld.

DYE: Right, right.

SHEFFIELD: It’s not, it’s not a lie if you believe it.

DYE: Exactly.

SHEFFIELD: But that doesn’t work in a court of law. You can’t do that.

DYE: Correct. Right. And some part of it is true does not mean the whole thing is true. Like he said, ‘We cooperated with discovery. We gave them so much stuff.’ And indeed they did, dump a lot of crap on the plaintiffs. They just didn’t give them crap responsive to discovery requests, nor did they give things that were responsive to the court’s order.

So the fact that he gave them a lot of stuff, including all of these unopened emails, one of which had child pornography, and it is kind of not relevant. If you didn’t comply with the court order, the volume of non-compliant junk that you handed [00:14:00] over. It’s not relevant.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. So his Texas attorney though sent the link to this shared Dropbox folder to the Texas plaintiffs against Jones. And then immediately said, please disregard.

DYE: So he sent it, he, the Texas defense attorney, Andino Reynal, put it in the shared Dropbox or perhaps his paralegal did. And Mark Bankston, the plaintiffs’ attorney said, this does not appear to be compliant with my request to which Reynal said, ‘please disregard.’

Well, okay. So here’s what Texas law says, kind of in a nutshell. Texas law says if an attorney inadvertently hands over privileged material, he or she has the right to ask for it back, citing the statute and doing these things, has 10 days to say, please destroy all copies pursuant to the statute, blah, blah, blah.

And ‘please disregard this’ doesn’t do that. That’s not going to cut it. He didn’t do it. And so you have 10 days to say not ‘please disregard,’ but ‘please destroy all copies, this has been sent in inadvertently and there is a statute.’

And indeed, when Bankston presented the phone, Reynal said ‘I said, please disregard.’

And Bankston said, no, you just cited the statute, so I know, you know how to read it. This is what you did. And it was not compliant. So he can’t get it back anymore.

Judge Gamble gave him a few days to cite things that were attorney client privileged or should be confidential, like those medical records. And it would appear from the hearing that what Raynal did was to say all communications between these parties are privileged. That’s not a compliant privilege log. You’re going to have to do better. You’re going to have to say when you know this, this text exchange on this date between these two parties, you can’t say all communications between these parties are privileged, because that’s too broad a brush.

But even if it worked, he failed to designate the medical records of the Connecticut plaintiffs as confidential. And so the judge, Judge Barbara Bellis in Connecticut, has asked both Pattis and Reynal to [00:16:00] get into her courtroom to explain why they shouldn’t be sanctioned for failure to comply with laws about how medical records should be maintained.

And look, Reynal is not a big firm, he’s in a bad situation. All of that is bad. Everything that happened there.

SHEFFIELD: Indeed. But it seems though that some of those text messages basically did give a more full portrait of Jones’s net worth and also Free Speech Systems.

DYE: Absolutely. Absolutely.

SHEFFIELD: And then one of the other things that happened was that after he lost the default judgments, Jones began transferring, what was it, $11 million a day, into another company!

DYE: Right. So, so let me, let me talk about that, because the bankruptcy, the newest bankruptcy, you’re getting a lot of information about that. So Jones had two default judgments, and around that time, so he’s basically, co-terminus. He’s basically Infowars.

When it became clear that he was going to have these default judgements against him in Connecticut and Texas, he executed promissory notes to a Nevada LLC called PQPR. PQPR was, in theory, the Infowars vitamin supplier. So it was supplying them with “Z Shield” and “Super Male Vitality” and all of whatever– pills that I’m not going to take.

SHEFFIELD: Scam supplements, yeah.

DYE: Well, you know, I mean, if it’s iodine pills, it’s iodine pills, whatever you call it, but it’s not right. I’m not going to take them.

So he’s– although on the witness stand, he is like, ‘That’s the best stuff. We get it from the Japanese,’ when he was giving his nonresponsive testimony.

So PQPR is theoretically the vitamin supplier. And PQPR has theoretically not invoiced Infowars for a period of years, and decided when these default judgements were entered, remembered: ‘Oh!’ suddenly to send the bill. And the bill was for like $65 million.

So what happened was Infowars, FSS, which is the company which runs Infowars, executed two promissory notes in 2020 and 2021, around the time that these default [00:18:00] judgements were entered saying, ‘Oh, look, we owe you $60 million. We, FSS, owe this Nevada LLC, PQPR, $60 million. And we’re going to sign this promissory note securitizing the debt.’ Which means that in anti bankruptcy– ding, ding, ding– PQPR would be first in line to get paid.

And so not only is it going to put PQPR first in line, but it signed these notes saying FSS owes PQPR all this money, and then it started to shovel cash out the door to PQPR, sometimes $11,000 a day, but like millions and millions and millions of dollars to impoverish FSS. So fairly soon after that, the Texas plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in Texas court saying that these were fraudulent transfers and trying to challenge the transfers.

You do have some sense of the books, because now they’ve filed for bankruptcy, FSS have filed for bankruptcy. The main creditor is PQPR, but who owns PQPR? Well, don’t faint, Alex Jones, Alex Jones and his parents own PQPR. So they’ve securitized this debt to themselves.

So that there is this pending Texas state case and the bankruptcy case in Texas as well. But that’s a federal case, both of which the plaintiffs are saying, these are fraudulent transfers to make it look like FSS is broke and it is not broke. Some of the texts that were at trial were revealed at trial.

So Alex Jones testified because he cannot shut up, he testified this week that the profit margin is so low on these supplements and the MREs or whatever other crap that they sell, the prepper gear that he testified, not in response to a question just because he runs his mouth, that the profit margin was really low. At which point Bankston was able to impeach him and show that he’d lied on the stand by showing a text from a bookkeeper saying, ‘look at this amazing profit margin, ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.’ Because in fact, [00:20:00] they’re raking in cash. They’re raking in cash on all of these supplements. They’re raking in cash, on the prepper gear and all the rest of the crap.

SHEFFIELD: And in fact, they actually made more money after they were banned from YouTube and Facebook and Twitter.

DYE: Exactly. So, so Alex Jones’s shtick involves routinely saying that he was de-platformed and it was so bad for his business, blah, blah, blah. But of course it wasn’t. He said it was like being in a prison and like it being off of YouTube and Facebook was like being in prison, where other people could come and visit, but he couldn’t respond to criticism, but it’s utter nonsense as the forensic accountant testified during the last day of testimony. The income has been in the 60 to 70 million range consistently, before and after. And Alex Jones tried to say: ‘Well, that was just COVID. We just made all this money. Cause we’re COVID. And, you know, because we’re selling all of this prepper gear,’ and whatever crap. But he’s still making the money with or without YouTube.

So you did get to see that they’re making plenty of money, tens of millions of dollars a year. And that the only way that they could make themselves look like they weren’t making money was to say, we owe $60 million to PQPR, which is like saying my right pocket is empty because it owes all the money to my left pocket.

SHEFFIELD: And so the forensic accountant that the Texas plaintiffs, he estimated that Jones and Infowars combined in all their various shell corporations have got a net worth between $135 million to 270 million.

DYE: Mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: That is an insane amount of money.

DYE: Right.

SHEFFIELD: And Jones really is sort of the inspiration for this entire right wing conspiracy apparatus that has developed because I mean Jones, he’s been at this stuff since the nineties, but it began really starting after 9/11, when he was saying it was inside job, the government did and Jones himself admitted in court in this Texas case that I always say everything is a false [00:22:00] flag. I always say that.

DYE: Exactly.

SHEFFIELD: Which ought to if his fans had any sort of rationality to them, that ought to give them a little bit of pause that this guy says the same thing, no matter what, and doesn’t actually know what the hell he’s talking about.

DYE: Right.

SHEFFIELD: But it doesn’t.

And so the question is though, in the larger context here, Jones got assessed $4 million in compensatory damages, which is basically the economic damages to the families that sued him. And then he was assessed for $49 million in punitive damages. But is that really going to happen, do you think?

DYE: No. It’s definitely not going to happen. A as Judge Gamble said, Texas law purports to trust juries and then doesn’t trust juries. It’s designed to be very friendly to corporations to make sure that they don’t wind up paying out crippling settlements or billion dollar settlements.

So it is restricted in such a way that the punitive damages award is restricted by the compensatory damages. So they don’t even call them punitive damages. They call them exemplary damages. So the first award was for the defamation and for the infliction intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Those were the two torts, only $110,000 of that $4 million was for the loss of income and to make those people whole, make Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis whole for the out of pocket expenses. Right? So their therapist testified and therapy can be very expensive or very inexpensive. This was fairly inexpensive therapy that they were getting. They did not have to move as some of the other plaintiffs did, they did not have to move houses. They did not have to kind of flee. And so the amount that was purely economic damages from that $4 million was only [00:24:00] $110,000. And the statute says that you can double the economic damages plus $750,000.

So that would be 220 plus 750, which is less than a million dollars, which is definitely less than 49 million.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Mark Bankston, says he’s going to challenge that. He’s going to challenge that, both in Texas court and in the federal bankruptcy court in Texas, he’s going to challenge it in the state court. He says that the damages cap is unconstitutional under the Texas constitution. And he also thinks that they will be kind of creditors whose claim will be adjudicated by the bankruptcy court.

I don’t know about that. And I think a lot of people who don’t know about that are saying a lot of things, but I do not think that, I mean, Texas very clearly designed its law to be unfriendly to plaintiffs, and they are not going to get 49 million.

However, if they got $5 million, that’s, that’s a lot of money. And the award of $49 million is from jurors who are saying you have moral culpability. And if someone else who doesn’t have hundreds of millions of dollars does this and gets sued, $5 million will put them out of business.

So I think it’s not great, but also there are a lot of other plaintiffs. Connecticut is significantly less unfriendly. And I think there will be other awards. So you know, here we are, but it’s not going to be the $49 million.

SHEFFIELD: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So this particular case isn’t going to put him out of business. Not likely.

DYE: No, definitely not. But $5 million is not no dollars. And you know, a rational person would try and limit his damages. Look, one of the things that he tried to do in bankruptcy was establish– the first time around and also the second time around– was establish a litigation settlement [00:26:00] trust which he was going to, he proposed to fund with $10 million to buy off all the plaintiffs. There about two dozen plaintiffs. He proposed to put a pot of money of 10 million to buy off all the plaintiffs. That’s not going to do it. There are like eight families who are suing in the Connecticut case, which does not have a draconian a cap. And the Pozners are the next Texas case, and they’re going to have more economic damages because they did have to move a bunch of times. They live in Florida now and they’ve had to move multiple times.

So I think that there’s going to be more awards going forward. It’s unsatisfying that this wasn’t like the killing blow for Infowars, the $5 million wasn’t going to, you know, kill them. But it is also kind of a harbinger of how the other cases are going to go.

And, you know, frankly it leaves more money for the other plaintiffs who are similarly situated and, and sometimes worse.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And I think also whatever happens with Jones himself, he’s created a brand for himself that for his audience, it doesn’t matter if he’s wrong. And in fact, on the topic of Covid, if you go and look at Alex Jones in October, November, December of 2019, even January, February 2020, he was talking about how COVID was going to kill everyone and it was a Chinese engineered bio weapon and everyone was going to die and that the globalists were behind it and Covid was their weapon.

And then of course he changed on a dime once the right wing decided that Covid’s not a threat. It’s no big deal. Changed on a dime that didn’t affect him in any way at all.

DYE: No, I mean, there’s no penalty for it. Although I will note that he did on the stand discuss Agenda 21, which is that theory that the government is trying to depopulate the country and cut the country’s population in half.

And he said: ‘ We check all our sources, except for recently we, we didn’t get one and we got it wrong. And I wrecked my office.’ You’re a lunatic. ‘I smashed up my office [00:28:00] when I got so mad.’

What had happened was he had seen a “deep fake” video of the Pfizer CEO talking about how he wanted to decrease the proportion of the population of this planet who couldn’t access the COVID vaccine. And it had been deep faked to talk about that as if the Pfizer CEO was talking about cutting the population of the earth in half.

That’s one of his kind of fixations, is trying to thin the herd, that there’s a plot to thin the population of the earth. So he’s still on that, although it doesn’t seem to be happening.

SHEFFIELD: Whatever the method is, it it’s always fungible.

DYE: That’s right. It doesn’t matter. It’s the globalists, it’s you know, whatever.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And, and one of the other things that’s been kind of interesting about him in recent years is that, as the Republican party has become more overtly Christian supremacist, Alex Jones has also been changing his programming to fit that messaging.

DYE: Right.

SHEFFIELD: So like when you would originally listen to him in the nineties or early two thousands.

DYE: I would never listen to him.

SHEFFIELD: Okay. Yeah. Well, I did once in a while and you know, or if you eventually go back and look, a lot of it was just just stupid conspiracy theories about lizard people and some Rothschild nonsense, et cetera. It wasn’t religious really in any possible context.

But now when you listen to Alex Jones, it’s almost like listening to one of these far right ministers. That it is kind of a church service. He’s talking about God and how the globalists are trying to kill Christians. Before, they were just nefarious, evil wanted to kill everyone who wasn’t rich like them, but now it’s specifically, they want to kill the Christians.

But anyway, that’s a long way of me saying that this industry that Jones spawned and imitators, any of these myriad other websites spouting nonsense, these verdicts do present an opportunity.

And I feel like you’re seeing that also– and these lawsuits are not nearly so far along, but the lawsuits against Mike Lindell and various Donald Trump legal enablers of his [00:30:00] election heist attempt in 2020, they are now being sued for massive amounts by Smartmatic voting machine company and by Dominion Voting Systems. And some of their former employees, so Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy has, he’s tried to do countersuits against them, but they’ve all been dismissed as ludicrous. And so those are still being stalled and tied up in the courts, but I don’t think it’s going to look good for him either, seems like.

DYE: No, I think Lindell’s in trouble. He’s made a lot and continues to this day to make crazy claims. He just this week promised I think that August 21st, everything’s going to change and like, okay, this time for real.

SHEFFIELD: For the 20th time. Yeah.

DYE: For the 20th time, I know he was, so he was so excited to serve the Supreme Court with his lawsuit and he couldn’t get any takers. He needed to get state attorneys general to get original jurisdiction at the Supreme Court. And he was so excited to do it for Thanksgiving and it just didn’t happen. But you know, there’s another Thanksgiving coming up, maybe. But I do think that there is a lot, there is no penalty for getting it wrong anymore.

Which is one of the things that I think these cases, I think that, that Alex Stern’s case is important because we are going to have to learn to live with these people who monetize hate, monetize lies, monetize disinformation and can use an enormous platform.

I mean, that was one of the things which came out in the trial, that there were a couple of people whom everybody in internal emails at Infowars knew were crazy. And they could have ranted kind of into the ether in anonymity forever, if they hadn’t been handed this enormous megaphone by Alex Jones to kind of air their insane conspiracy theories about Sandy Hook for millions and millions of people.

So it’s not a big enough award, it’s not enough, it’s not remotely enough, but also if we are kind of transitioning to a template for how to deal with people who tell lies and hurt people, okay, it’s something, right? Here’s, here’s a way. And, and it is, you know, $5 [00:32:00] million isn’t going to deter Alex Jones. Is it going to deter somebody smaller? Yeah, probably it’s a lot of money.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And we can see that again, going back to the voting machine lawsuits that initially the people who were pushing these garbage ideas, they were getting support from larger right-wing media institutions, like Fox News, like News Max. And those organizations have stopped pushing this stuff.

DYE: Right.

SHEFFIELD: They’re still being sued, though.

DYE: Still in the cross hairs. Right, right. There were a lot of lawyers in, in Donald Trump’s orbit who were pushing these nonsensical claims about election fraud.

Some of them most famously at this press conference at the RNC where Sydney Powell, a Texas lawyer, made this just like bat-crap crazy speech saying that it was, you know, it was Dominion and Smartmatic, these two competitors in the voting machine market, had colluded and that they were in cahoots with Venezuela and Hugo Chavez, who has been dead for a long time.

And then Rudy Giuliani got up and infamously leaked hair dye all over the lectern as he was ranting about these claims of election fraud, but they and their allies filed 65 lawsuits, none of which came to anything alleging election fraud.

And they also had recounts in a whole bunch of swing states and then their shenanigans which is probably a funny way to put it, but they did culminate in the attempted coup in Washington and the capital insurrection because they thought, well, we didn’t get what we wanted. So what we’ll do is we’ll substitute these fake electors.

And the fake electors scheme was that they were going to take, they were going to have people who swore themselves in as kind of the representatives of voters from swing states. And that those people were going to say, yes, all these swing states went for Donald Trump.

I mean, these lies have not gone away and I think we’re going to see them again pretty soon in November attempts to do this stuff.[00:34:00]

SHEFFIELD: And the other thing also is that Alex Jones also played a role in the January 6th attempted coup as well, so that he personally, according to him, donated the majority of the funds, or at least a significant amount of the funds for Donald Trump’s speech, which he gave before the crowd marched on the capital.

DYE: Right.

SHEFFIELD: And that he himself tried to speak at it. But apparently it was blocked by somebody else, but he actually spoke the night before, talking at a rally where they were talking about “liberty or death” and how they were going to, you know, they had to fight for their country.

And Jones was saying that if you don’t come to January 6th– telling his audience that this is it, this is the final showdown, et cetera. And just really inflaming these people. And the January 6th House committee investigating all that has now subpoenaed Jones’s phone records because obviously that’s very relevant to what they did not provide them.

DYE: Funny you should mention, because they did subpoena him and they subpoenaed the phone metadata, which it’s not your texts and it’s not the contents of your calls.

SHEFFIELD: It’s who you’ve texted with, yeah.

DYE: Right. It’s not the content it is what they call non-content data. He sued them to stop them from getting the metadata on his phone. But while he was doing that, his own counsel extremely competent no doubt, sent that to the plaintiff’s attorney, Mark Bankston, and did not take steps to retrieve the data.

And so Bankston got an immediate request from the January 6th select committee, as well as the Connecticut plaintiffs to share the contents of the phone. And there’s no stopping him. They don’t own that data anymore, they being Alex Jones or FSS, or even the lawyers. They don’t own that data anymore.

So as far as I can tell, that suit is going to be moot, although it’s maybe more retrospective, they want different set of texts, but [00:36:00] they’re going to get the phone. And if the phone contains data from, say, November 3rd, 2020 through February of 2021, it’s going to be probably pretty interesting to them, especially because he appears to have been in communication with Roger Stone, who also spoke there on January 5th.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And after January 6th it was on January 7th, I believe, that Jones himself said, and again, you know, he lies all the time, so who knows if it’s true or not, but he claimed that he had been in touch with the White House and White House staffers leading up to January 6th. So yeah, we’re going to get some very interesting information out of this and it took a while.

DYE: Right. Although I think that they probably have it. I think that Bankston wasn’t going to let any grass grow under his feet. He waited for the judge, he gave the judge that hearing, which after the verdict, there was that hearing where he demanded sanctions on Reynal, and Reynal demanded to have the records of the phone returned and or sealed.

And the sanctions motion is being taken under advisement, but he didn’t get the records sealed. And Judge Campbell said you’re going to get a subpoena and you probably don’t even need a subpoena if the House asked for it. And Bankston said, I’m going to give it to anybody who asks for it now, because it’s mine, free and clear, and you failed to take the steps you needed to do to get it back.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, it’s his thing now. But just going back to the larger question though, we’ve had this mass propagation of, explosion of misinformation, disinformation and the people have tried to come up with different methods to tamp it down. So whether that’s banning individuals or banning terms or deemphasizing various hashtags or individuals. But ultimately, I think Alex Jones’s experience has shown that that really doesn’t actually stop these lies from getting out there and certainly not from being profitable.

DYE: Right.

SHEFFIELD: So what that means then is that basically there are two other really possible remedies. One is, [00:38:00] you know, larger scale laws against this sort of thing, which is what some countries have.

DYE: Right.

SHEFFIELD: Would likely not survive in the U.S. legal system. And then the other method is to target the individual actors–

DYE: mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: Through lawsuits against them for defamation. And are there any other possibilities here besides those two?

DYE: I don’t know. And it’s something I think about a lot. How do we metabolize this change, where data can move so quickly and where nobody appears to pay any penalty for getting things wrong?

I mean, look, arguably George HW Bush lost his reelection campaign because he lied about taxes.

SHEFFIELD: He broke his promise, yeah.

DYE: Right. He broke his promise. But we’re not in that era anymore. That time is gone. The time of shame is gone. The time for penalty for being wrong or even lying is gone.

So I do think we are going to have to figure it out. And I do think that these verdicts are going to matter, particularly because Alex Jones really is patient zero for this phenomenon. He is someone who, better than anyone, invented this genre and has profited from it, has made hundreds of millions of dollars off of it.

So, yeah, we are going to have to figure this out. And I do think this verdict matters, even if it does get reduced to 5 million or some paltry amount as compared to the demand, even if doesn’t shut him down.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And it’s only the first of many verdicts that he’s going to face.

DYE: Mm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: And of course the reality is that besides the Sandy Hook parents, he’s defamed all kinds of people over the years.

DYE: Right, right. And look, OAN, right? One America Network is functionally no more, right?

SHEFFIELD: Yeah.

DYE: One America gave they voice to these things. Did not get renewed by Direct TV, and is functionally off the air. I mean, it’s functionally an internet program; its reach has been significantly curtailed. Newsmax, once it got sued, stopped saying that the election was stolen.

Fox tamped it down relatively quickly, in its hard news. Although it allowed people like Maria Bartiromo [00:40:00] to keep it alive. And Sean Hannity as well. And I think they are going to pay, because Fox is a Delaware corporation and I believe Dominion is also a Delaware corporation.

I believe those cases and probably Smartmatic as well are in Delaware state court. And the judge has refused to dismiss them on First Amendment grounds or on free speech grounds. They are going to have to pay, although let’s be clear, the minute before Sean Hannity was going to have to testify in the Seth Rich defamation case– he was the staffer for Hillary Clinton whom people said, Wiki Leaks–

SHEFFIELD: The Democrats that had killed.

DYE: Right, right. They had said that he had been killed to stop leaks, to kind of hide the fact that Russia had hacked the DNC. This is like, many seasons ago in the DC scandal rama. The minute that they were going to have to put Sean Hannity in a deposition, they settled with the parents.

So I don’t, I do not think that Fox is going to put Maria Bartiromo and Sean Hannity in a deposition. That would be a bad idea. So we’ll see.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. Neither one of them has very good control over the things they say.

DYE: Right, right. And you’ve already seen Rudy Giuliani testify, but Rudy Giuliani is functionally on his own. I mean, I think everybody knows who Rudy Giuliani was. He was the mayor of New York during September 11th.

SHEFFIELD: I think so.

DYE: Yeah. Yeah. But he’s so un-governable in depositions and tells the truth in sometimes hilarious and destructive ways.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah, no, that’s true. So what’s kind of interesting is that there are lots of well financed left-of-center legal organizations that have money to make lawsuits for various things. I haven’t seen any of them involved in these lawsuits against right wing disinformation purveyors. But maybe I just haven’t looked.

DYE: Are you talking about like the Dominion suits or–

SHEFFIELD: Or just like some of these Alex Jones Sandy Hook ones. This is actually a real opportunity for these groups [00:42:00] that sue about voting rights or sue about some other thing where they say that they’re here to protect democracy. Well, stopping disinformation, that’s a really good way to protect democracy, seems like.

DYE: I would agree with you, except that I think that these are kind of suits for private recovery, right? So the money that Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis get is going to go to them, to do with as they please.

And so, Mark Elias’s group, Democracy Docket, they definitely will sue, but they’re suing to kind of vindicate public rights, not private grievances, right?

So, in the suits against against Fox, Dominion’s suit against Fox, Dominion is seeking billions to recover. Dominion Voting Systems, the voting machine manufacturer, is seeking billions to recover for its own reputation.

SHEFFIELD: Which certainly was damaged by all these allegations.

DYE: Of course, of course, right? I mean, there are plenty of jurisdictions which have gotten rid of their Dominion machines. Their reputation was grievously harmed by the lies that these people spoke about them.

But that’s a private grievance, that’s a corporation that’s gotten harm. I do not think that that would be the best place for some of these pro-democracy organizations to put their muscle, because the money’s going to go to the corporation or the money’s going to go to the individuals.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. But on the other hand, they can at least help them get started, if it’s individuals. So I will contrast that with the way the right actually has tried to get in on some of this. And you could argue they actually started it with Peter Thiel’s– the right wing billionaire’s lawsuit, where he financed the former wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker for publishing a sex video or something like that of him.

And then they’ve also financed a lawsuit by this then high school student named Nick Sandman, who–

DYE: Right.

SHEFFIELD: Who was, he was definitely falsely accused of various things by some people.

DYE: No, he was no, I’m just going to interrupt you. He lost, he lost this.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, no, no. I’m saying he lost, but I’m saying like they were helping [00:44:00] him with his lawsuits. So I’m saying that this is a template that groups could follow. Now whether or not they win, you know, that’s another thing, but it’s something that probably we need more of, I would say.

DYE: I, I don’t know whether I agree with you. So Peter Thiel is a billionaire he’s been a part of the “PayPal mafia.” He was one of the original tech billionaires. He funded Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker as a part of a vendetta because– if I recall correctly, Gawker outed him. I don’t that wasn’t really.

SHEFFIELD: As gay.

DYE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And that whole thing was gross. It was gross in all kinds of different ways. And Thiel has gone on to kind of have these sock puppet candidates. JD Vance, whom he set up, and Blake Masters in Arizona. I don’t think that that’s a great template for us.

I do think there’s plenty of litigation that we should fund. I think we should sue for drop box access, you know, there’s, there’s going to be plenty of stuff that’s a public access.

I mean Sandman was sort of propped up, but not really. Sandman and Kyle Rittenhouse, the kid who shot people in Black Lives Matter protests and got off, those are kind of crummy individual suits. I don’t think that’s where we ought to put our money, that’s–

SHEFFIELD: Well, find better plaintiffs.

DYE: Yeah, well, yeah, sure, sure. I mean, Obergefell, if we have to stand and re-litigate all of these abortion access and marriage equality cases. Yes. I do think that we ought to put our money where our mouth is as part of the American left and defend these rights. But you know, vendetta suits– kind of gross. I don’t think that is where is a good use of time.

SHEFFIELD: Mm-hmm okay. Alright, well, so you were watching the Jones Texas case and writing and tweeting about a lot. What was a funny moment that a lot of people missed in your opinion from there?

DYE: I think there was a funny moment when there was a mental health professional, one of the expert witnesses was on the stand and I believe that Andino Reynal, Alex Jones’s attorney’s point was that these people didn’t suffer from PTSD within the [00:46:00] DSM definition, but he didn’t have the DSM definition nor did he enter a copy of the DSM. What he did was he kind of pulled up on his phone or something like a summary of the DSM definition of PTSD and tried to enter it. It was just, it was just one of a series of discovery fails where he kind of face planted in spectacular fashion. And, and every lawyer watching was like, what the hell is going on here such amateur hour?

And, and to be fair, bad client, his bad client. And he walked into the case when it was, when it was already over. So, it was kind of a mess.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. Well, hopefully it will only get worse.

DYE: I think that’s pretty much guaranteed.

SHEFFIELD: All right. Well, so it’s been a great conversation, Liz. Thank you for being here.

DYE: Thank you.

SHEFFIELD: Um, We’ve so we’ve been talking with Liz Dye. She is a columnist for Above the Law and also Wonkette.com. And then she’s on Twitter at 5DollarFeminist. That’s the number five. And presumably referring to all the $5 words you enjoy using. (laughs)

DYE: Something like that.

SHEFFIELD: Okay. All right. Well, thanks for being here, Liz.

DYE: Thanks. Take care.

SHEFFIELD: All right. Okay. So that is the program for today. And just wanted to remind everybody that you can get this episode and previous episodes with video, audio and transcripts at Theoryofchange.show. And that will take you to the section on Flux.community where this show is a part of.

So please do visit us there. And if you liked what you heard here today or saw here today, you can go to patreon.com/discoverflux to support us. And big thank you to everybody who is currently doing that. We really appreciate it. So again, that’s patreon.com/discoverflux.

I’m Matthew Sheffield. Thanks for being here today and we’ll see [00:48:00] you next time.