More than 70 Republican candidates in competitive congressional and gubernatorial races across the country declined to denounce Alex Jones for popularizing the myth that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting never happened.
We reached out to every Republican candidate in a competitive race for Senate, House, or governor — 79 in total — and asked them whether they believe that the Sandy Hook mass shooting was a hoax, and whether they support the families suing Jones for defamation. Only seven candidates answered our questions.
Among the candidates who would not discuss Jones were several incumbents, including Ron Johnson, who’s fighting to keep his Senate seat in Wisconsin, and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who has a slight edge over Democratic challenger Val Demings. Also failing to answer our questions were Trump-endorsed Senate candidates Mehmet Oz, J.D. Vance, Herschel Walker, and Blake Masters.
After a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, Jones used his platform at Infowars to lead millions of people to believe that the event never occurred and was instead fabricated as a pretext for draconian gun control measures. The myth spawned a movement whose adherents have routinely harassed those who lost their loved ones, claiming their children never existed and even taunting them to exhume their dead bodies.
The Trace’s survey was conducted in early October during Jones’s second defamation trial, which resulted in a $965 million judgment against him. Grieving family members testified how his baseless claims spurred years of harassment and threats from his followers. In a separate defamation trial in Texas in August, a jury awarded $49.3 million to the parents of another Sandy Hook victim.
The Republican Party is increasingly beholden to voters who embrace a variety of outlandish conspiracy theories, ranging from QAnon to debunked claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The candidates’ unwillingness to engage with questions about the Newtown massacre, and the pain that Jones’s lies have caused the victims’ families, further illustrates the GOP’s dependency on these constituents.
“The head of the Republican party is Donald Trump, who is a promoter of Alex Jones,” said Ted Miller, a professor at Northeastern University, who tracks the far-right’s influence on American politics and society. “And they don’t want to lose that base. Right now, there’s a significant amount of momentum in the direction of the conspiratorial-minded, and these folks are not willing to do the right thing and stand up against lies and misinformation and propaganda.”
To identify the competitive races, we used The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes elections and campaigns. Our survey included candidates in races rated “toss up” or “lean.” That meant 10 Senate candidates, 59 House candidates, and 10 gubernatorial candidates.
We began reaching out to each Republican campaign during the last week of September to confirm the media representative and their contact information. We sent our questions on October 6 and gave each campaign a week to respond. We sent follow-up emails on October 12, and waited an additional week for any late replies to roll in. If we couldn’t confirm the contact information for the campaign spokesperson, we sent our questions to the general “press inquiries” email. We called campaign headquarters and reached out to campaign staffers through social media, making every attempt to get our questionnaire before the candidates.
The vast majority of the candidates we reached out to simply didn’t respond. One campaign blasted us for even asking. “These are by far the most irrelevant questions to this race I’ve ever had in a year and a half of this campaign,” said the spokesperson for Kari Lake, the GOP candidate for governor of Arizona, whose support of conspiracy theories is well-documented.
All of the respondents were House candidates. Five of them are running in races deemed “lean Democrat” or “Democrat toss up” by Cook Political Report. None of the respondents said they thought the shooting was a hoax, and nearly all of them slammed Jones’s actions toward the Sandy Hook families. “I denounce anyone, including Alex Jones, who seeks to use the horrific murder of children as a prop for their political agenda,” said April Becker, who’s looking to unseat the incumbent in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.
George Logan, who’s vying for one of Connecticut’s five House seats, denounced Jones and added, “He should be brought to complete and total justice.” Brian Maryott, who’s running a tight race in Southern California, said of Jones, “His actions and those of his followers were reprehensible.”
Only one candidate answered “no” when asked if they support the families suing Jones for damages: Bob Burns, a Trump-aligned, pro-gun businessman in New Hampshire. His reason appears to be personal: A family member was once the victim of a violent crime, a spokesperson said, and he felt that the media “distorted the facts” of the case “in a manner that could only be described as libel.”
The only incumbent who responded to our survey, Representative Don Bacon of Nebraska, didn’t answer our questions directly, instead sending a statement in support of the families. “Conspiracies hurt them,” he said. But he didn’t explicitly denounce Jones, or even mention him.
The GOP has positioned itself as the party of gun rights, and opposes most reforms. No Democratic candidates at the federal level were awarded an A grade from the National Rifle Association this election cycle. In 2020, there was only one A-rated Democrat in Congress, but he was defeated that year. At the state level, the NRA awarded A grades to 87 Democrats vying for state legislatures this election cycle.
“What’s to be gained by Republicans denouncing Alex Jones? The answer might be because it’s the right thing to do, the principled thing to do,” said Mac Stipanovich, a longtime Republican consultant. “But they’re all percentage players, and there’s no percentage.”
“Are there voters out there — no matter how bizarre and perverted — who would be turned off by Republicans tearing into Alex Jones? Sure. Not necessarily because they think Alex Jones is all that, but it’s part of the tribal code.”
Despite their reluctance to comment on Jones, at least one of the Republicans we contacted has feuded with him publicly. Rubio and Jones clashed after a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on social media and election disinformation in 2018. Jones taunted the senator by calling him a “frat boy” and a “snake” in full view of the press gaggle, and when he touched Rubio’s shoulder they exchanged veiled threats.
When addressing the harms caused by Jones’s conspiracy theories about Sandy Hook, though, Rubio has declined to take action. Over the last two years, the senator’s office has been repeatedly contacted by Lenny Pozner, whose son was killed at Newtown. Pozner, a Florida resident, was facing harassment from a prominent hoaxer who had been featured on Jones’s show, and was seeking help.
“They never responded,” Pozner told The Trace. “They were aware of my requests, and they did nothing.”
The only GOP incumbent in a competitive gubernatorial race, Brian Kemp of Georgia, didn’t respond to our queries about Jones. Kemp, an unabashed gun rights supporter who signed a permitless carry bill in April, is slightly ahead of Democratic challenger Stacy Abrams in the polls.
Miller, the Northeastern professor and author of the recent book “A Conspiratorial Life: Robert Welch, the John Birch Society and the Revolution of American Conservatism,” said the silence of these lawmakers is unconscionable. “Especially if you’re a public figure,” he said, “that’s your job to speak out about these matters. You have an obligation.”