Alex Jones believes Barack Obama is a literal satanic force from hell.
The U.S. government is covertly operated by a shadowy international cabal referred to as the New World Order. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has got to put Americans in concentration camps. The “Jewish mafia” manages Uber and American healthcare. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are literal devils – such as, the type that come from hell and smell like sulfur.
And that’s only a general collection of the crazier points that radio host and media mogul Alex Jones thinks.
A good deal of other folks – which includes many supporters of Clinton – appear to trust them, too. One of Jones’s websites, Infowars, got 10 million distinct visitors in the past month, based on Quantcast. That’s more than National Review, America’s leading conservative journal, and practically four times as much as Rush Limbaugh’s site. It’s also more than mainstream websites like the Economist and Newsweek.
Jones is also near to the Trump campaign. He interviewed Trump in December 2015, at length. In the course of the show, Trump informed Jones that “your reputation is amazing,” and stated, “I will not let you down.” Jones paid the compliment back, informing Trump that “90 percent” of his listeners back him. Trump has tweeted out Infowars links, as has Donald Trump Jr., his son. Roger Stone, a leading Trump adviser, is a regular visitor on the Alex Jones radio show.
Alex Jones believes a whole lot of things – such as, Spin’s Andy Cush documents, the belief that Justin Bieber is part of an evil conspiracy to confiscate your guns. This kind of concept is, gradually but certainly, being dragged toward the conservative mainstream.
How did this occur? How did someone as demonstrably crazy as Alex Jones get so close to the Republican presidential campaine?
The boost of Alex Jones is in part a tale about the long lasting charm of conspiracy theories in American life, and the way the internet is reshaping our information ecosystem.
But it is also a tale about the institutional breakdown of the Establishment. By spurning the mainstream media and cultivating its own alternative ecosystem, it opened the door and invited folks like Jones in.
The creation of Alex Jones
The Alex Jones history begins in the notoriously strange metropolis of Austin, Texas. Jones went to high school there, graduating from Anderson High School in 1993 and going to Austin Community College part time afterward.
It isn’t completely amazing that Jones formulated his belief in conspiracies, both global and domestic, while residing in Austin. The Texas state capital is best referred to as countercultural hub, a home base for beleaguered Texas liberals. But it’s also functioned as a kind of clearinghouse for conspiracy buffs.
The city provides a melting pot for right-wing anti-government types and post-hippie radicals like Willie Nelson, producing a spot where conspiracy theorists of all types can share their theories on evil government plots. They meet at destinations like Brave New Books, a basement storefront where, on one 2014 visit, I overheard a staffer and a customer talking about how the government organized the Boston Marathon bombing.
“There’s this really distinctive Austin personality that goes back to the New Left and counterculture days in the ’60s and ’70s,” states Jesse Walker, the books editor of Reason magazine and the publisher of The United States of Paranoia. “They [do] this very American style of radicalism and populism.”
After graduating from high school, Jones worked his way into this landscape, hosting local cable access and radio shows in the mid-’90s. At the time, the Clinton presidency, and functions like the 1993 Waco siege, had triggered a spike in far-right, and at times violent, anti-government activity. Jones glommed onto these concepts, reasoning that the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was a “false flag” organized by the US government as a pretext to crack down on dissenters.
Jones’s reputation in the Austin conspiracy scene at some point gained him focus from national hate-watchers. “I first heard about him in late 1998,” recalls Mark Pitcavage, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
“THERE’S A WAR ON FOR YOUR MIND!”
Folks like Pitcavage followed Jones because he was part of a much wider movement, an anti-government far-right that blames the world’s affilictions on a grand global conspiracy.
Jones and those similar to him think the world has been covertly taken over by a secret global cabal, the so-called “New World Order.” These “globalists,” as Jones types derisively call them, want to take over the United States, which they observe as the final stronghold of freedom on earth.
Jones and his many other travelers also think that the leadership of the United States, in spite of political party, is secretly operating to bring New World Order rule to America. That’s why Jones discusses FEMA setting up concentration camps and Obama acquiring your guns. (Note: neither of these issues are occurring.) They’re laying the groundwork for when a New World Order putsch comes.
The only way to end this, he states, is for people to fight back. For some, especially those in the militia movement, that implies arming yourself against the government. For Jones, it implies arming yourself with understanding about the real nature of the conspiracy; winning the “InfoWar.” His site’s tagline: “There’s a war on for your mind!”
Lots of folks around the country preach a identical concept. What distinguishes Jones from his rivals is his energetic presentation style. Jones yells and rants and raves. He cries, grunts, and growls. He rips off his shirt, slams the table, and pleads with the cameras. He promises you details that “they” are keeping from you, truths about a coming disaster that you need to get ready for and that only Alex Jones has the research ability to uncover.
The pure energy of an Alex Jones performance puts every cable news broadcaster to shame. What he states is obviously ridiculous, but the way he affirms it is just unbelievably watchable.
By the early 2000s, Jones’s gonzo style had turned him into a kind of local superstar in Austin. He sprang out in famed Austinite Richard Linklater’s 2001 film, Waking Life, providing one of his patented spittle-flecked rants in animated form.
But what truly triggered Jones to break out, on a national level, was the birth of the World Wide Web.
“He’s become what he has today because of the internet,” Pitcavage states.
Visualize him of a conspiracy theory equivalent of early political bloggers, like Andrew Sullivan or Josh Marshall.
These men comprehended, with ease, that the internet was going to be the 21st century’s dominant medium for information dissemination, and distinguished themselves from other editors by aligning to the technology early on. Jones did the same thing, just with a diverse target audience in mind.
He developed websites, Infowars and PrisonPlanet, to disseminate his message. The websites sold VHS tapes and later DVDs of Jones’s monologues and documentaries. As internet technology got more advanced, Jones cut out the middleman, and just began streaming his broadcasts on his sites and uploading the videos to YouTube.
He discovered a massive and receptive audience. By 2010, PrisonPlanet and Infowars combined for about 4 million distinctive monthly visitors, based on Texas Monthly; his radio show had 2 million monthly guests. One 2013 estimation put his empire’s revenue at over $10 million a year.
Jones had gone from being a cable access host in Austin to one of the more familiar figures on the political internet.
“Alex Jones is the primary producer of conspiracy theories in America today,” Mark Potok, a senior guy at the Southern Poverty Law Center, tells me.
Jones in the Obama age
Jones’s substantial target market has given him the capability to impact real-world events. In 2009, the National Guard had scheduled an exercise in Arcadia, Iowa, where volunteers in the city would play-act as foreign civilians to practice operations in an urban environment.
Jones, certainly unsurprisingly, noticed something far more nefarious. He aired a radio segment whereby he called the exercise an “invasion” plan by “dirtbag Soviet scum, the ones that funded both the Bolsheviks and the Nazis.” The National Guard, Jones cautioned, “want to cull our butt!”
This directed to a enormous outcry from Jones fans, who overloaded the National Guard with grievances and options to protest. The guard cancelled the operation – and while they believed the cancellation had nothing to do with the Jones-led uproar, that’s kind of hard to imagine.
“He can take nothing and turn into a real world problem because his followers can then go act on things,” Pitcavage states.
The number of folks inclined to listen to this kind of talk has only grown since Barack Obama’s election. In 2009, there were 149 so-called “Patriot groups,” organizations that discuss Jones’s perception of the New World Order conspiracy, based on SPLC data. By 2012, there were 1,360 nationwide, an boost of more than 800 %.
This mirrored the far-right’s spike during the Clinton years; it appears that Democratic governance encourages anti-government extremism. Race might also have been a component, though Pitcavage stresses that the overlap between the Alex Jones audience and the white supremacist crowd is surprisingly minimal.
Curiously, online racists hate Alex Jones, as they think he concentrates too much on the New World Order and not enough on the threat from minorities and Jews. He fairly recently got into on-air fight with David Duke, the infamous former KKK leader, surrounding Jones’s refusal to concentrate on the Jewish role in the New World Order. (Jones’s wife, by the way, is of Jewish ancestry.)
“I have long said that one of the biggest roadblocks we have in bringing large numbers of people to our ranks is Alex Jones,” publishes one poster at The Daily Stormer, one of America’s signature neo-Nazi sites. “He talks about many real issues but does everything in his power to discredit factual information on Jewish and Zionist power.”
Regardless of what the reason behind the spike in Jones-style conspiracy theorizing, its increase certainly helps explain Jones’s audience expansion in the past eight years. As far-right conspiracy theories become more common, so too has the most famous advocate of those theories.
But that’s only a general explanation. To comprehend how Alex Jones became the extremely well-known, popular figure he is currently, you need to comprehend his relationship with more mainstream conservative media outlets – or, more precisely, his relationship with Matt Drudge.
How Alex Jones and the Republican party grew to be intertwined
Drudge is the notoriously secretive founder of the Drudge Report, maybe the most well-read and significant website on the right currently. Drudge, like Jones, was an early internet adopter, only he worked in the mainstream – most particularly by breaking the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998. Though the Lewinsky details turned him into a household name, the Drudge Report is more of an aggregation than newsbreaking operation, mainly linking out to other sites instead of reporting its own stuff.
Drudge has constantly had a very tabloid sensibility in what he links to, which occasionally batons on the irresponsible. He has consistently published tales alleging that Bill Clinton had an illegitimate black child, for instance, and stated (without proof) that John Kerry had an romance with an intern in the course of the 2004 campaign.
At some point in the early days of the Obama administration, Drudge latched on to Alex Jones. It was a match built in heaven: Jones’s fact-free but hugely entertaining rants were a ideal fit with Drudge’s gossipy, right-wing paranoiac technique to news. He started linking intensely to Jones’s work on the Drudge Report, driving millions of clicks to Infowars and delivering Jones’s work to a more mainstream conservative audience.
“If you had to say there was one source who really helped us break out, who took our information, helped to punch it out to an even more effective level, [Drudge is] the guy,” Jones stated in a 2011 interview with New York magazine. “Three years ago, there was almost no news coverage of Bilderberg [an alleged “globalist” hub] in this country; there was an electronic Berlin Wall. Drudge, every year, takes our reportage and links to it on our site.”
As the Obama administration went on, Drudge and Jones’s relationship strengthened. In early 2013, Drudge announced that the coming year would be “the year of Alex Jones” – a prediction that had been set up by his own work. Between April 2011 and April 2013, Drudge had linked to 244 individual posts on Infowars or PrisonPlanet, based on Media Matters’ Ben Dimiero. These posts include:
A November 2012 post marketing statements that James Holmes, the man [then] on trial for the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, might in fact have been under the influence of CIA “mind control.” The item was based around a tale told by an “alleged inmate” apparently in jail with Holmes, who believed Holmes informed him he was “programmed” to kill by an “evil” therapist.
A July 2012 article highlighting an interview involving Jones and Joseph Farah, editor of conspiracy website WND. In the course of that interview, Farah indicated that if Obama were re-elected, folks like him and Jones might be “hunted down like dogs.”
A March 2012 article indicating that the death of conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart might not have been the consequence of natural causes, but rather related to a “damning” video about President Obama Breitbart had allegedly prepared to release the day of his death.
Drudge wasn’t the only Jones validator on the mainstream right, as outlined by Dimiero. The Paul family, both former Rep. Ron and Sen. Rand, have shown up on the Alex Jones Show (the former was a regular visitor). Fox News personalities Lou Dobbs and Andrew Napolitano have been on; conservative celebrities like Charlie Sheen and Ted Nugent also compensated Jones for some visits.
This shouldn’t shock anyone. As historian Rick Perlstein details in the Baffler, the conservative movement has long been stricken by conspiracy theorists, going back to is beginnings in the ’50s and ’60s. In many cases, these folks have taken advantage of the fears of conservatives for income.
Consider, for instance, Glenn Beck’s commercials for Goldline – a business that cautioned of an approaching market crash under Obama to influence the elderly to purchase its ridiculously costly coins.
About 3 years ago, I investigated a similar organization, called Reboot Marketing, which were found to be advertising its products in outlets like National Review and RedState. Reboot utilized Jones-like dire warnings about FEMA camps and “communist food brainwashing” to market products with brands like Food4Patriots (preserved food) and Power4Patriots (home energy packages). It turns out that the meals was a marked-up basket purchased from another dealer, and the home energy packages couldn’t work as advertised. The whole thing was cooked up by a Harvard grad known as Allen Baler, who noticed paranoid conservatives as easy marks.
Compared with Baler, Jones almost undoubtedly thinks most of what he’s saying. You don’t begin your career on cable access if you’re in it for the money, as Pitcavage mentioned in our conversation.
But the key point here is even “respectable” components of the conservative movement like National Review and Beck have, for years, been very satisfied to manipulate far-right conspiracies – either to develop support for typical Republicans or to make a buck. This technique made it much, much easier for someone like Jones to get a foothold in the party, to come connected with real Republican legislators and key conservative media figures.
Drudge might have been particularly accountable for mainstreaming Jones, but he was forcing an open door.
Donald Trump and the GOP become Jonesified
Alex Jones seems not to notice a lot of good news in the world. Donald Trump’s primary victory was an exemption.
Jones views Trump as a kind of quieter kindred spirit, someone who is aware of the perfidy of the New World Order but doesn’t speak about it quite so freely. He states the Trump folks have been courting him, for this reason, since early 2015.
“There’s no way the Trump people would have reached out to me a year and a half ago, if he wasn’t aware of the work,” Jones explained to reporter Alexander Zaitchik in July 2016. “He’s been what you call a ‘closet conspiracy theorist’ for 50 years. I think he’s been a chameleon in the system, and now he sees the time to strike.”
It’s easy to notice where Jones is coming from. Try studying the following set of quotes, and tell me whether or not they’re Trump or Jones:
“We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism.”
“It’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth, and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.”
“This election will determine whether we remain a free nation or only the illusion of democracy.”
They’re all Trump quotes, of course. Like Jones, Trump sees dark conspiracies everywhere – an elite that’s secretly oppressing Americans, and that only he can fix. Trump doesn’t need to say the phrase “New World Order” to get the point across to people like Jones; language about “globalism” is a clear enough for those people to gloom onto it.
This isn’t just a dog-whistle for the Jones audience. As Yochi Dreazen notices, Trump’s language about a global economic elite is specifically reminiscent of classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, ones taken up by many Trump fans on the “alt-right”. Jones himself has also dabbled in this material, in spite of his argument with the neo-Nazis: In one October broadcast, he cautioned of a “Jewish mafia” that controls the health care system, which is soon “going to hurt you.” However, Jones was adamant, “I’m not against Jews.”
Trump has at times gone further than dog-whistling, and in fact amplified conspiracies created or marketed by Infowars.
Trump announced that the EPA produced the California drought to safeguard a fish, a claim that seems to have started on Infowars. His theory that Ted Cruz’s father was engaged in the JFK assassination, or that Antonin Scalia might have been murdered? Yes, both on Infowars.
Can we verify that Trump is getting his conspiratorial suggestions from Jones? Not necessarily, but there isn’t another answer that makes a lot of sense.
Trump obviously scans Infowars, judging by his Twitter account, and sung Jones’s praises when he made an appearance on the show. But the most evident conduit is Roger Stone, a shady right-wing operative who has wormed his way into the Trump inner circle. Stone is a longtime Alex Jones enthusiast and guest on his program, and you can very easily picture him handing off what he “learns” there to Trump.
Curiously, Trump doesn’t seem to take in a lot of information mainstream from right-wing sources like National Review or the Weekly Standard (maybe because the editors of those publications have largely disavowed Trump). The publication that most tightly tracks Trump’s perspective is Breitbart, a far-right site that frequently peddles in Jones-lite conspiracy theorizing.
Intellectually engaging, Trump is much more a item of the fever swamp than the mainstream right. Yet the conventional leadership of the GOP has had a hard time disavowing him, even during the primary. And the rise of Jones helps clarify why.
Consider it. In a normal party, suggesting that an opponent’s father had assisted to kill JFK would get you ridiculed out of the race. But it didn’t.
A nontrivial percentage of Republican voters had imbibed Jones’s snake juice, and didn’t view anything bizarre about Trump’s theories. Republican leaders and media outlets were too used to conspiracy theorizing to get all worked up with it, like they did with the “grab ’em by the pussy” tape. It was just a component of the movement.
The Democratic Party, as an institution, doesn’t have the same level of relaxation with this out-there weirdness. Left-wing publications don’t run advertisements by sketchy vendors who sell their items based on political paranoia. There’s just a fundamental asymmetry between the structured American left and right, one that permits totally absurd concepts to seep into one side in a way that it just doesn’t with the other.
To seep so far, in truth, as to influence the GOP’s specific nominee for president of the United States.
This isn’t a issue that ends with Donald Trump. Jones might have began as a fringe figure, but years of mainstreaming has permitted him to develop a real reputation among Republican voters. It’s not clear how more responsible conservatives can avoid his concepts from spreading further, or roll back the weird concepts he’s already injected into the party rank-and-file. And the more these concepts are out there, the harder it will to take the party back from the kind of folks who elected Trump in the first place.
Alex Jones is one more big issue for the Republican Party in a year that’s currently full of them.
These People Are A Danger To Themselves And Others! Wake Up!!!!!!
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