Last week, HBO released a rather intense documentary, The Truth vs. Alex Jones, that documents how the king of conspiracy theorists Alex Jones promoted the lie that the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax, a false flag operation designed to provide a pretext for liberals and the government to take away Americans’ guns. Jones’ decade-long promotion of this conspiracy theory, which involved attacking parents whose children had been gunned down as “actors” and “fake” while claiming that their children never died, ended up in his losing two defamation suits, the judgment against him from one of them being the largest single defamation judgment in American history. You might wonder why I would be writing about this documentary and Alex Jones, given that the main topic of the film is a conspiracy theory not related to medicine. However, I suspect that a lot of you know that one of the major ways that Jones funds his online empire is through the sale of supplements, as was so clearly demonstrated by the filmmaker.

As I watched in horror, anger, frustration, and some relief when the parents finally won their defamation judgments, an odd thought popped to mind: The Dietary Health and Supplement Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA of 1994, which we’ve written about many times) was one thing in addition to the Internet that had made Alex Jones possible. Indeed, it made a whole online ecosystem of misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories possible by providing a revenue stream that conspiracy mongers like Jones could use to fund their activities and then business empire. Let me explain.

The Truth vs. Alex Jones: One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen

Before I discuss supplements, however, let me just say one thing. If you have HBO or Max, watch The Truth vs. Alex Jones. It is one of the best documentaries that I have ever seen. I will concede, however, that it is at times a very hard watch. It is, however, a necessary watch, at least in my opinion. For example, only 15 minutes into the film there is a segment in which Daniel Jewess, a now-retired Connecticut State Police detective who served as lead investigator for the shooting, spends six agonizing minutes of screen time explaining over photos of relevant parts of the school and interspersed with 911 calls exactly what, as far as the investigation could piece together, happened and when. He presented a detailed reconstructed timeline of how the shooter went from one classroom (Room 10) to another (Room 8) killing teachers and students (26 in all, 20 children and six adult teachers and staff), finishing with a massacre in a small restroom packed with children, after which he committed suicide—all in around six minutes. Particularly moving is how Jewess says the name of each and every child and staff member killed. This segment was preceded by interviews with parents, who related what they did with their children that morning before dropping them off at school, all noting that that was the last time they had seen their children alive. Remember, these children were all between six and seven years old.

So, yes. It’s a very hard watch.

Contributing to this are segments showing the parents describing their experiences after the shooting, how the brutal murder of their child had affected their lives, and how Alex Jones’s decade-long promotion of conspiracy theories that the Sandy Hook shooting had never really happened, that it was a false flag designed to be used as a pretext to allow the government to take away the guns of patriotic Americans, and how the parents were crisis actors lying about what happened and their children either never existed or had not died had upended their lives with threats and intermittent terror. It was a campaign that began, as one lawyer for the parents who brought defamation suits against Jones, noted, “before the bodies were even cold,” less than three hours after the massacre, with Jones ramping up over the next few days:

The parents sob and whimper as they quietly talk about seeing their children, who are riddled with gunshots, cold, and distorted, and with fragments from their teachers’ body parts, who attempted to shield the kids from being shot. There’s around 20 minutes of heart-wrenching recollection of the tragedy, undercut directly after by Jones, who begins to claim that the shooting was “staged” the same day as those 26 souls’ lives were cut short. Robbie Parker, the father of slain six-year-old Emilie Parker, says he just wanted to be left alone by the media and particularly Jones, so he assembled a press conference. “I had just wanted to share something about who my daughter was,” Parker says in an interview. But as soon as the press conference wrapped, Jones and his team labeled Parker a crisis actor. This resulted in dozens and dozens of threats on Emilie’s memorial page on Facebook, calling the child a “whore” and claiming she was still alive.

Why did Jones label Parker a “crisis actor”? As Parker also explains in the interview, he was incredibly nervous right before the press conference and, as a result, had laughed nervously right before approaching the microphone. Throughout the rest of the movie, it’s shown how Jones keeps cutting to that nervous laugh, after which Parker became somber, mocking him viciously time and time again with those exaggerated fake sobs that he likes to employ for being an “actor” who, noticing the camera, had suddenly gotten back “into character.” This vile mockery pops up time and time again, as Jones repeated this mockery many times over the next decade.

In another harrowing narrative, Neil Heslin describes how he had cradled the cold body of his son Jesse Lewis one final time and seen the gunshot wound to the forehead that had killed him. Almost immediately after the original press interview in which Heslin had described this, Jones pounced, claiming that, according to the timeline he had assembled, this was not possible, demanding that Heslin explain himself and/or admit that he was lying.

As this review of the documentary notes:

This went on for 10 years. It’s still going on. Every time Jones aired another hoaxer theory, these grieving families would be hit with a fresh wave of vicious harassment: rape threats, death threats, people confronting them on the street. In the film, another mother, Jacqueline Barden, testifies in court that she and her husband received letters from people who said they’d peed on their son Daniel’s grave, or promised to dig it up, because they were convinced no one was in it. Yet another, Francine Wheeler, tells of how she was in an elevator at a conference for mothers who’d lost their children to gun violence when a woman told her that the mass shooting that killed her son Ben never happened.

“It’s just a drip, drip, drip of constant undermining of your feeling of safety and security while you’re trying to grieve for your 6-year-old child who was murdered unexpectedly in the classroom,” says director Dan Reed. “The cumulative harm is really I hope what comes out of the film.”

One of the parents noted in the film that he could always tell when Jones had aired a new Sandy Hook segment, because they would notice a large uptick in harassment and threats by Jones’ fans.

Nor does the film spare Jones’ conspirators, people whom he used as “sources” for his conspiracy theory. For example, the filmmakers include an interview with Wolfgang Halbig, one of Jones’ go-to “experts,” who kept claiming that the shooting had been staged based on anomaly hunting. For instance, one version of a video interview with one of the parents by Anderson Cooper had a moment where his nose seemed to disappear, which Halving and Jones claimed to have been due to the use of green screen. (The film notes that the copy on the CNN website does not have that video glitch.) One of Halvig’s other reasons was particularly bizarre, namely that they had not brought in helicopters to airlift the wounded out. He seemed blissfully unaware that it very rapidly appeared that there were no survivors. In fact, it turned out that there was only one survivor in the bathroom who, miraculously, had not been hit when Lanza sprayed bullets into the enclosed space, and had survived by playing dead. He also wondered why paramedics didn’t go inside the school, when in fact they had just as soon as the police had determined that Lanza was dead and there were no other shooters. (Jewess mentions talking to the chief paramedic on the scene.) Halbig is quite the nasty bit of work, too, having been arrested for possessing someone else’s identification information after he had repeatedly emailed several people and law enforcement agencies the Social Security number, birth date and other information of Leonard Pozner, whose 6-year-old son, Noah, died at Sandy Hook.

I could go on, but watch the film. I’ll just add that the difficulty in watching some of the segments is more than made up for by the deposition and courtroom footage of Alex Jones’ testimony, where, not controlling the venue and not being on his show, he alternately lied, raged, and conspiracy mongered, obviously very uncomfortable and distressed. There’s one particularly satisfying scene in which the plaintiff’s attorney confronts him on the witness stand with text messages erroneously sent by the defense attorneys that demonstrated quite clearly that Jones had lied about being bankrupt, about the revenue stream to his company, and about not having discussed Sandy Hook. Through it all, clips of Jones ranting about how both trials were “show trials” by a “kangaroo court” and how the whole thing had been scripted from the beginning play, even as both judges for the two cases end up making a summary judgment against Jones and his company, because he had failed to cooperate with discovery, even, as they characterized it, making a mockery of the process. Less satisfying was watching the final huge verdict being read down, because Jones live streamed the proceedings with him in a side box mocking the verdict and claiming he wouldn’t pay because he didn’t have any money. Worse, Jones might be right, as the final black screen included text saying how, as of March 2024, Jones had not yet paid any of the nearly $1.5 billion awarded by juries in the two states (Texas and Connecticut) to the families and was still doing his show. Also particularly disturbing was the oft-cited statistic that nearly one-quarter of Americans either deny or doubt that Sandy Hook happened, largely thanks to Alex Jones.

If there’s one thing that The Truth vs. Alex Jones demonstrates, unfortunately, it’s that the hopes of the parents for their verdict to usher in an “era of truth” was incredibly naive. I wish it were otherwise.

The DSHEA as a mechanism for funding disinformation

Regular longtime readers will likely know that we have been describing how bad a law the DSHEA is dating back to 2008, with guest contributor Dr. Peter Lipson once describing it as a “travesty of a mockery of a sham.” The DSHEA is, after all, a law pushed through by a bipartisan group of quack-friendly legislators, including Democratic Senator Tom Harkin (who was responsible for getting the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, now known as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, created and funded as part of the NIH) and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, whose home state of Utah has become the supplement manufacturing capital of the US and who was through his entire career before his retirement a pit bull in defense of his home state supplement industry.

Because it’s been a while since we’ve discussed the DSHEA, I’ll just remind you what it does and why it’s such a bad law. Basically, as Peter Lipson described back in 2009:

DSHEA has a couple of very important consequences (aside from filling the pockets of supplement makers).

What does the FDA require of “supplements”?

Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), the dietary supplement manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that a dietary supplement is safe before it is marketed. FDA is responsible for taking action against any unsafe dietary supplement product after it reaches the market. Generally, manufacturers do not need to register their products with FDA nor get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements.* Manufacturers must make sure that product label information is truthful and not misleading.

To paraphrase: “sell whatever you want, just don’t let us catch you.”

What’s more frightening than this inexcusable lack of oversight is that many of the products marketed under DSHEA aren’t just vitamins and such, but products that claim to do the same things as real medicines. How do they get away with that?

There is a bit of a loophole. Supplement sellers can’t make specific claims that the supplement being sold can treat or prevent any disease. Moreover, when a supplement is marketed it’s more or less the honor system. No registration with the FDA is required. After all, supplements are food, not medicine! In effect, the government can’t really do anything unless problems are reported after the supplement is marketed. Even worse, the definition of “supplement” has become very broad, as Quackwatch points out:

DSHEA worsened this situation by increasing the amount of misinformation that can be directly transmitted to prospective customers. It also expanded the types of products that could be marketed as “supplements.” The most logical definition of “dietary supplement” would be something that supplies one or more essential nutrients missing from the diet. DSHEA went far beyond this to include vitamins; minerals; herbs or other botanicals; amino acids; other dietary substances to supplement the diet by increasing dietary intake; and any concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of any such ingredients. Although many such products (particularly herbs) are marketed for their alleged preventive or therapeutic effects, the 1994 law has made it difficult or impossible for the FDA to regulate them as drugs. Since its passage, even hormones, such as DHEA and melatonin, are being hawked as supplements.

In other words, under the DSHEA, substances that are clearly not foods can be marketed as supplements, including herbs and other botanicals (the vast majority of which are marketed as having a beneficial medicinal effect and some of which contain chemicals that do act as drugs). As long as the manufacturer is careful not to make specific health claims, it’s all good. In other words, a “nutritional support” statement claimed for a supplement must not be a “drug” claim; i.e., it must not claim that the supplement can be used for the treatment or prevention of a disease. Supplement manufacturers easily evade this requirement by making vaguer claims related to organs or systems, such as claiming that a product “boosts the immune system,” “supports heart health,” or something similar, often accompanied by what Dr. Lipson has sarcastically referred to as the “quack Miranda warning“:

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

At the bottom of the landing page of the InfoWars Store:

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your physician before using this product.

* The products sold on this site are not intended for use in the cure, treatment, prevention, or mitigation of any disease, including the novel coronavirus. Any suggestion to the contrary is false and is expressly disavowed.

Sure thing, Alex. Your double Quack Miranda Warning is noted.

Color me unsurprised.

In general, it doesn’t take too much searching to find supplement advertising that does claim to treat, cure, or prevent disease. That’s why I’ve argued before that the DSHEA was the greatest boon to supplement manufacturers ever. In its wake, the supplement industry exploded, racking up huge increases in sales. Moreover, so lax is the regulation of supplements that I like to point to one example of an extreme and egregious act, namely the marketing of an industrial chelator as an “antioxidant” supplement for the treatment of autism, that went on for quite some time before the FDA finally acted. Over the years, supporters of science-based medicine and sound public policy have made efforts to repeal the DSHEA or, failing that, to reform it to make it less of an enabler of grifting quacks. All have failed.

Which brings us back to Alex Jones.

I know that I’ve argued that all antivaccine misinformation (which Alex Jones also spreads but was not discussed in the film) and quackery (again, also promoted by Alex Jones but not discussed in the film much) are, like all science denial, at their core conspiracy theories. I’ve discussed, for example, the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement, which posits that vaccines are dangerous and promoted for nefarious reasons (e.g., profit, control), but that “they” (the CDC, doctors, big pharma) are covering up the evidence. Similarly, all science denial takes the same form, namely that the science being denied (e.g., evolution, oncology) is accepted for nefarious reasons and all evidence showing it to be bogus is being “covered up” by powerful forces. Sandy Hook is very much the same, but what the film shows is just how integral the sale of bogus supplements was to the motivation for spreading increasingly outrageous conspiracy theories, to being the funding source for people like Alex Jones.

For example, “stories” like this:

Hook ’em with the outrageous headline and wild conspiracy story lying about how the FBI had concluded that “no one” had been killed at Sandy Hook…

And then:

Supplement Jones
Sell ’em the supplements! (Both are screenshots from The Truth vs. Alex Jones.)

InfoWars sells lots of supplements, too. One particularly effective passage involved the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, namely Jones’ defense team, again. In explaining the significance of the story above, the filmmaker notes that Jones’ lawyers had accidentally sent them attachments to emails with daily sales and revenue data. At one point, Jones is grilled on his business model, which, it had become obvious, was to sell supplements and to gin up outrage to draw viewers, some of whom would be receptive to the pitch for Jones’ line of supplements that inevitably peppered his broadcast and appeared after many segments. Indeed, after the story in the screenshot above above ran, according to the sales figures mistakenly sent to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, sales from the InfoWars supplement store immediately more than quadrupled. (See screenshot below.) One lawyer even asked, “InfoWars is actually an infomercial, right?”

InfoWars supplement daily revenue.
The story ran on September 24, 2014. Notice how supplement sales nearly quintupled on September 25, 2014.

Make no mistake, Alex Jones sells a lot of supplements. Indeed, at one point on the stand, Jones is shown bragging about how he has the best supplements, the purest supplements, all made in Japan by experts and branded with his company. In fact, I laughed out loud when I saw that he was selling colloidal silver, of all things! There are also shots of him hawking iodine supplements after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan and promoting his DNA Force supplements. Just for yucks, I checked out the InfoWars Store yesterday, and, no surprise, Jones is selling lots and lots of supplements, ranging from Turbo Force Plus (which contains vitamin C, thiamine, green tea extract, and a number of other common supplements) to Brain Force Ultra (which contains a proprietary mix of ingredients including green tea leaves, ginkgo, and other herbs), and, perhaps my favorite, DNA Force Plus, which claims to “boost your body’s cellular engines” and contains CoQ10, rhodiola root extract, and a number of other ingredients. There’s a whole line of supplements under the names InfoWars Life, InfoWars MD, InfoWars Platinum, Emric’s Essentials, Dr. Jones’ Naturals (it’s not clear to me who Dr. Jones is, unless it’s referring to Alex), Summit News, and, of course, a line of cannabis products under the name Rebel Zen CBD. Unsurprisingly, he also sells prepper supplies, books, and videos.

All of this led me to wonder: Without the DSHEA, would there be an Alex Jones? Maybe, but I have my doubts. It is certainly possible that a grifting pathological liar as skillful as Jones is would be able to identify something else to sell as profitable as supplements to support his online media empire, but I doubt it. The attraction to conspiracy theories among those predisposed to purchase colloidal silver, for instance, is strong, and Jones knows that by supplying all manner of conspiracy theories, be they Sandy Hook, antivaccine, COVID-19-related, or about the “failure” of conventional medicine and how quackery works, he will attract such people, some of whom will be predisposed to his sales pitches for his supplements.

Worse, he is not the only—or even first—one to use supplements to become rich promoting conspiracy theories. Mike Adams, whom I sometimes think of a protege turned competitor of Alex Jones’ given his past work for Jones, also sells supplements and prepper supplies. I sometimes think that Adams has surpassed the master as well, in that he has weaponized a mass spectrometer to study his competitors’ products and proclaim them full of heavy metal contaminants, using his results to persuade you to buy his line of supplements. He also uses the same mass spectrometer to fear monger about vaccines by finding trace amounts of mercury in influenza vaccines, for example. Back in the late 1990s, well before Adams and Jones (and when Adams was grifting on the Y2K scare), Joe Mercola started a supplement store to fund his server charges running his website, a business that ballooned over the following two decades to turn him into a quack tycoon, with a net worth now north of $100 million.

Unfortunately, in the age of COVID-19, conspiracists like Adams, Mercola, and Jones now have many who emulate their business model, such as Dr. Peter McCullough and those running The Wellness Company, which promotes COVID-19 conspiracy theories and sells quackery to treat both COVID-19 and “vaccine injury” due to spike protein from the mRNA vaccines. A prime example includes Drs. Pierre Kory and Paul Marik, among the co-founders of the Frontline COVID-19 Critical Care (FLCCC) Alliance, which uses COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories to sell ivermectin and various supplements claiming to prevent or treat COVID-19 or COVID-19 vaccine injury—and now even cancer. (Do you sense a theme yet?) The list goes on and on. Let’s put it this way. Whenever I see a new conspiracy site, I look for the supplement story. It’s usually there, and if it isn’t I can usually count on seeing one before too long, with the only major exception that I’ve found thus far being Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense, which sells mainly branded T-shirts, hats, and other clothing. Maybe it’s because he’s running for President.

I’ll conclude by revisiting my question: Did the DSHEA create Alex Jones and the whole infrastructure of conspiracy theories, disinformation, and lies, an ecosystem in which he is still probably the biggest, baddest conspiracy theorist out there? In answering the question, I have to conceded that “create” is likely too strong a word. However, certainly “facilitate” is not. That’s why I feel comfortable concluding that, absent the massive supplement industry fueled by pseudoscience and conspiracy theories, Alex Jones and his ilk almost certainly would have had a much more difficult time funding their activities, much less growing to the behemoths of misinformation that threaten science-based medicine and even democracy itself. In that, the damage from the DSHEA goes beyond just its damage to medicine and the harms that it allows supplement manufacturers to cause its users to encompass damage of the sort to the parents and relatives of those killed at Sandy Hook by the conspiracy theories spread by Alex Jones.



Posted by David Gorski

Dr. Gorski's full information can be found here, along with information for patients. David H. Gorski, MD, PhD, FACS is a surgical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute specializing in breast cancer surgery, where he also serves as the American College of Surgeons Committee on Cancer Liaison Physician as well as an Associate Professor of Surgery and member of the faculty of the Graduate Program in Cancer Biology at Wayne State University. If you are a potential patient and found this page through a Google search, please check out Dr. Gorski's biographical information, disclaimers regarding his writings, and notice to patients here.