The Terrifying World Of Alex Jones | @curaffairs

The Terrifying World Of Alex Jones from @curaffairs
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If you are not a member of the Infowars viewership, the appeal of Alex Jones can seem somewhat mystifying. If you have not already fallen down his rabbit hole—if you do not believe in false flag attacks and fluoridation conspiracies and black helicopters—Jones can seem transparently ridiculous. He rants, he sweats, sometimes he takes his shirt off. He obsesses over stories that most of us do not—recent headlines on the Infowars site include “Illuminati Symbolism To Replace Christian Cross On Notre Dame Cathedral,” “Barack Obama Is About To Be Investigated For Treason,” and “Learn How Vaccines Use Fluoride And Glyphosate To Kill You.” His worldview is paranoid, incoherent, and terrifying. It’s tempting to treat him merely as a lunatic or a grifter—John Oliver, in his detailed examination of the Infowars empire, seemed to think of it mainly as a scheme to sell bogus nutritional supplements.

And yet: While almost everything you could say against Alex Jones is true—half of what he says is nonsense, he traffics in demented conspiracies, his online shop sells obvious snake oil (from “Brain Force” and “DNA Force” tablets to chocolate bone shakes to mysterious red pills called “The Real Red Pill Plus”)—it is not surprising that he has managed to find an audience. Jones is a skilled entertainer, who offers his viewers and listeners far more than just sham health tonics and bunker survival kits. They’re drawn to him for the same reason people are drawn to televangelists—he seems to have secrets, and answers, and offers you support in the never-ending war between the sinister forces of Them and the desperate, surviving Us.

Before he was kicked off YouTube and Facebook, Alex Jones was bringing in an audience of close to 1.5 million people. Nowadays, it’s apparently quite a bit less, though he can still draw a crowd: A recent appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience, lasting well over 4 hours, topped 13 million views on YouTube. Watching Infowars, it’s not difficult to see why: Jones has a preacher’s charisma, and a gift for creating drama and working himself into a raging frenzy. As with Donald Trump, everything he says might be nonsense (on the Rogan show, he strongly defended his theory that interdimensional beings were controlling the government), but it is very difficult to stop watching him.

The monologues on Jones’ show are rambling and often make very little sense, but he is so confident, so alive and boiling over with emotion, so convinced that what he is saying is not only true but that he is the only one who sees things how they really are. It’s all in the delivery, the voice. (Interestingly, while most televised blowhards eventually publish a book, Jones has never done so, perhaps because his schtick is entirely dependent on his persona, and making an interdimensional political conspiracy seem plausible in print is more challenging.)

Perhaps it is best to expose you to a sample of an Alex Jones monologue, so you can see what he’s feeding his listeners. Here is Jones talking about the plague of “illegals” coming over the borders. Be sure to read it in his voice:

Let me just calmly lay out that if you just go to even mainstream statements by the current head of DHS and the former head of DHS Jeh Johnson and what’s happening and what our reporters have videotaped and witnessed and what’s happening across the United States and what’s being organized, the UN, funded by elements of our own government and stay behind groups put in power by Hillary and Obama, helped collapse Europe with the help of the EU, with over 10 million military-age men in the last seven years, where Europe is just wrecked. 80 plus percent less tourism, crime rates off the charts, just bedlam. Thousands of cars burned per week, hundreds per night, mass stabbings, sex slavery. The third world in many areas is Hell and we’re in an existential threa—crisis here. And just as they ran the same operation with North Africans and Middle Easterners and others I guess Europe in the last seven or eight years, the exact same people are running an attempt with not one but two caravans of over 40,000. The government is saying 40,000. They were saying it was a thousand before and it was 50,000 so I don’t know. But they’re always a lot bigger than they say. And there’s caravans arriving every day of a hundred, 500, 200, 1,000, and Beto O’Rourke is there as a literal treasonous traitor organizing it and bragging that it’s happening. People are coming across not being tested for diseases, they’ve been caught smuggling children en masse. This is insanity. Total insanity. But it’s designed to bring the country down. And you’ve got that backdrop with the deep state trying to overthrow Trump. All Trump is doing is the basic default that anybody would do to keep the country from collapsing. But it’s not enough because the attack’s been launched, and Trump can’t get the laws or the funding to stop it. And once they overwhelm the courts and once they overwhelm the detention facilities it’s over. You’ll have 10 million in the next year come in. It was a million and a half illegals that they know of last year, probably 4 million they don’t. 10 million, it’s estimated, will pour in this year. 10 million people. And there is a crime culture and MS-13 and a smuggling culture, and all the lawlessness that you see in Latin America is now here and it’s causing giant crime explosions.

How about another? Jones is generally supportive of Trump, seeing the president as a good man beset on all sides by hostile forces, but Trump’s government encourages people to vaccinate their children, and for Jones that was highly suspect:

Trump is trying to pragmatically bring the country back, he’s trying to turn the economy on, and he’s trying to do it from the swamp. And that’s why you see them coming after him so hardcore, but later in the next segment I’m going to go over some of the clips of him saying come out and take the measles shot over the weekend. First is him a few years ago saying how dangerous vaccines are. So is he selling out to big pharma? … They had to come out and get their shots. Well Mr. President, how many? It’s like 60 something they mandate now and try to act like it’s the law. Going to be a hundred soon. They got hundreds of shots, Big Pharma wants to get government to just mandate it, they lobby and then some corporate company makes me pay to have something put in my body. So the left can kill babies after they’re born and say it’s a woman’s body … Major university textbooks are teaching that babies are parasites like cancer … But let’s get into AOC right now.

In a few paragraphs we can get a full appreciation of the Jones style of communication. You can see that it, uh, ranges somewhat widely. One minute he is suggesting Donald Trump has sold out to the pharmaceutical industry, the next he is talking about the left murdering babies, then it’s on to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. There are a number of assertions tossed out in succession, the evidence of each often thin. The facts are imprecise— “like sixty something”—and the argument is shapeless; it has the same quality found in transcripts of Donald Trump’s spoken words.

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Jones’ speech is characterized by wild inferential leaps. From the fact that large numbers of people cross the border without permission, and that some of these people have illnesses, and Democrats are often sympathetic to immigrants, and the immigration agencies frequently release immigrants from custody, he concludes that Democrats and the deep state are engineering an attempt to destroy the country by importing diseased humans as bioweapons: “Huge Bioweapon Plagues Released Upon United States By Deep State,” as the Infowars headline ran.

Jones is very concerned with appearing as if he relies on evidence. During a typical show, the desk in front of him will be littered with documents, some of which are printouts of Infowars articles and some of which are extracts from government reports or mainstream news articles. When Jones appeared on the Rogan show, he was adamant that all of his most outrageous assertions—could be backed up with sources. There’s frequently a grain of truth in his ravings, but the largest factual claims on Infowars are often demonstrably false. Barack Obama is not being investigated for treason and the Illuminati have not yet managed to despoil Notre Dame (the modern architects, on the other hand, are taking their best shot at it). Several weeks ago, for instance, a clip of Bernie Sanders surfaced on Twitter in which he said the word “niggardly” (which has absolutely nothing to do with the other word etymologically, though it’s probably advisable to just ditch it for a synonym). Yet Infowars co-host Owen Shroyer announced that the organization possessed a clip of Bernie Sanders saying the n-word.

The “fact-based” posture is critical, however, because Jones is trying to convince his audience that he is offering them secret truths, science that the scientists won’t tell you about. He is making empirical claims—about why some nutrient brew is good for you, or what vaccines do, or what is happening in the world—and needs the appearance of caring about what is and what isn’t true. Hence his document pile, his constant insistence that they’ve got the evidence the government doesn’t want you to see, his testimonial support from a quack doctor (who has “been to MIT” in the same sense as anyone who has taken the Red Line to Kendall Square).

As with many conspiracy theories, though, it can often be difficult to tell precisely what is being argued. There are themes rather than step-by-step arguments, though we know there is a vague, elite internationalist cadre of wealthy and powerful people in the private and public sector dedicated to destroying the country. We’re never really clued into what Jones is alleging, but it’s certain that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Beto O’Rourke, the UN, EU, “elements of our own government,” “stay behind groups,” and others are attempting to “bring our country down.” It’s not clear why they’re doing this. Motives remain shrouded and opaque, untenable allegations are wordlessly dropped, and the goalposts are re-adjusted to accommodate the same grand conspiracy, slightly altered at the margins.

In this way, the Infowars worldview is unfalsifiable. Individual facts may be disproven, but the general theory can never be fully discredited. The actors bleed together—the Clintons, Obama, the Deep State, the EU, Soros, the Democrats, the United Nations, they’re all on the same globalist team. In a bizarre way, this is somewhat consistent with a standard Marxist analysis. Leftists would concur that all the aforementioned actors are on the same team, the side of capital. Indeed, Jones’ take on Warren Buffett—that he is a predatory elite whose “sweet little old man who likes ice cream” routine should fool no one—is more realistic than the credulous liberal fondness for Buffett. Here, Jones rants about how Google and Buffett try to create a friendly image to disguise their true nature:

I saw Google got caught in a bunch of new stuff, and then when they talked to one of their presidents, they said “But we wear fluffy socks.” They’re like “What about Google getting hacked and all your passcodes being taken, and Google spying on people?” “We wear fluffy socks.” Almost every photo of Warren Buffett, a master wicked operative, involved with his banks with money laundering, narcotics trafficking, that’s in Bloomberg, AP, Reuters, but in almost every photo he goes “I’m just a little old man… Ice cream!” [Jones mimics holding up an ice cream cone.] … Google goes “I’m wearing a pink and a green sock and I’ve got a little beard and I talk like this [sotto voce] Do you know what those guys do when they get on jets? They go [demonic voice] BRING ME FIFTEEN HOOKERS AND GET THE DRUGS READY NOW AND TAKE ME TO THE PRIVATE ISLAND. GET THE SATANIC RITUALS READY. HURGGH.”

Once again, despite his credibility-enhancing use of “Bloomberg, AP, [and] Reuters,” Jones can’t really be trusted on the facts—the “fluffy socks” were worn by engineers to minimize the damage to latex balloons they were working on, and Buffett probably doesn’t actually participate in Satanic rituals on a private island. (It’s natural to think that Jones can’t possibly literally mean all the stuff he says about how elites are Satanic demons, but he does frequently make pretty unambiguous statements like “these people are the literal demon spawn of the pit of Hell” and “Hillary Clinton is an abject, psychopathic, demon from Hell that as soon as she gets into power is going to try to destroy the planet… I’m telling you, she’s a demon. This is Biblical.”) The truth about Buffett and Google, though, is closer to what Jones says than what each of their public relations operations would like us to believe. As David Dayen exposed in an excellent Nation investigation, Buffett makes his money in part through investing in capitalism’s shadiest business—predatory lenders, insurance companies, price-gouging monopolists, and Wells motherfucking Fargo.

But Jones’ worldview lacks the specificity and coherence of a Marxist worldview. The Chinese invented climate change, Clinton is a demon, the FBI didn’t arrest her because the deep state is in league with the globalists, medical scientists are trying to bury the truth about vaccines, but what on earth is orchestrating all of this? Jones is trying to help his viewers understand but in the end they only become more confused and afraid, because the danger is coming from everywhere.

Then there is the question of what Jones is actually advocating in favor of. The range of survivalist products suggests he is simply arming his viewers with knowledge (and brain powder) for a coming war between globalists and the people, or some kind of apocalypse. But it can actually be difficult to describe Jones as on the “left” or “right.” To the extent that he has conventional political views, they are far right, but also throw into the mix weirdness like interdimensional space goblins, witches, and demons, not to mention the deep conspiracizing. Jones does seem genuinely committed to a broad opposition to creeping authoritarianism—albeit inconsistently upheld, and perfectly comfortable with immigration restrictions. A video of Jones clips from the ‘90s confirms that he has been unchanged over the decades—he is shown being arrested for disorderly conduct as a result of refusing to be fingerprinted in order to renew his driver’s license, taunting police at a mysterious checkpoint who he claims are engaged in “Nazi-like behavior,” and surveying startled tourists at the Grand Canyon to find out if they had heard of Bill Clinton’s new executive order—which, according to Jones, turned historical sites like the Grand Canyon over to UNESCO.

The editorial direction of Infowars is in some ways baffling, some ways not. Sometimes huge stories go unmentioned while Jones and the rest of the crew remain fixated on lurid tales of seemingly small import, which are often spun into cosmic struggles (e.g., drag queens reading to children, chemicals in the water turning frogs gay, or “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Endorses Sharia Law Features Burkini,” a sign of civilizational suicide). Many of the issues they focus on tend to be horrifying and surreal and the hosts’ tenor can broadly be described as apocalyptic. Most of the issues covered tend to highlight the instability and fractious nature of the world, stories that are not as they first appear, or that highlight powerful (often government) forces arrayed against the citizenry, in particular good, patriotic, red-blooded, old-fashioned, God-fearing, conservative Americans. (While Jones’ screeds are sometimes bigoted and racist, he has distanced himself from people who state one single group, like Jews or Muslims, are responsible for The Big Bad Things That Threatens Us All. Unless that one group is the cosmopolitan globalists. But Jones is happy to be racist-adjacent, hosting callers and guests, like David Duke or far-right science fiction writer Vox Day, who talk about white genocide.) Recent Infowars obsessions include: the Jussie Smollett case, government-enforced vaccinations, Big Tech (Facebook, Google, YouTube, etc.) conspiring to censor conservatives, Russiagate, and the caravan of “illegals.” Note that in many of these stories things are not as they first appear. The official narrative (of the government, mainstream media, Big Tech, Hollywood, etc.) is not to be trusted. Most the stories foment fear, paranoia, and distrust of all institutions other than Infowars. As a business model, this makes perfect sense, but on an epistemological level, it is is terrifying.

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This kind of inerrant omniscience of Jones and Infowars—that there’s really only one source you can trust—isn’t the only quasi-religious aspect of the show and its host. There is also something reminiscent of fire-and-brimstone Christianity to Jones’ approach. In keeping with the religious zeal of the programming, Jones uses Infowars as his prophetic pulpit, delivering the holy writ: Frothing at the mouth and berating his listeners with frightening anecdotes about how Globalist demonic drag queens are kidnapping your children and reading them Satanic bedtime stories, tuning in to Jones’ preaching is a way of knowing what the hell is going on in the world, and how you can protect yourself and the people you care about from the world’s manifold dangers. Binge-watching the program over the course of several weeks, it became difficult not to empathize with the genuine fear and paranoia the network’s viewers feel. The world, filtered through an Infowars-colored lens, is a very scary place. Infowars, for its viewers, is the sole lighthouse in a dark, tempestuous world. And given the demographics of Jones’ viewership, it’s unsurprising that he would borrow so much stylistically from this particular kind of Christianity.

In the same way that religious fundamentalism often leads to extremist acts, there’s something that feels very dangerous about what Infowars is doing. It’s very easy to imagine that someone who took Jones seriously could be seriously damaged, or do serious damage to others. Here he is talking about—of all people—CNN’s Brian Stelter:

Look at him. And you know what, he is better than you if you keep letting him run your life. He runs your kids, he runs the schools, he runs the banks. This guy, this spirit, this smiling, leering devil that thinks you can’t see what he is. He is your enemy. Period. All the narcissistic devil-worshiping filth. I see you enemy. I see you enemy. Enemy. Enemy. You are my enemy. And I swear total resistance to you with everything I’ve got. Disingenuous, fake, false, brokeback, twisted, a defiler, a betrayer, a backstabber, a devil. You will pay. Yeah, you don’t think I see your face, scum? You don’t think I don’t see you, Stelter? I see you, you understand me? I know what you think of me and my family. I see you right back. You understand that? You understand that, Stelter? [Grunting noises] Stelter. You will fall. You will not bring humanity down. God is going to destroy you. Get him off the screen. [Crying] Oh, God, they’re so evil. Just please God, free us from them. They’re drunk on our children’s blood for God’s sake.

It’s easy for us to laugh at this. Brian Stelter, bring humanity down? But could some unstable person hear “Free us from Brian Stelter to save humanity” and think to themselves “Must kill Brian Stelter”? Quite conceivably. Even more concerning  is Jones’ frequent and casual anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric, which is even more likely to lead to hateful acts and contribute to a broader culture of hostility to these already marginalized groups.

Illustration by C.M. Duffy

Does Alex Jones actually believe the insane conspiracies he spouts daily on Infowars? It’s tough to say. He does tend to drop them rather quickly—we’ll hear one day about the deep state launching a bioweapon attack on the country, and then the next day about burkinis. But if what he’s doing is an “act,” he’s the most brilliant actor of our age, never breaking character for even a second. One suspects that Jones is indeed really like that, that he does somehow manage to believe his own bullshit.

There’s no doubt that Infowars has, historically, been a lucrative grift for Jones. One need only briefly peruse the Infowars store (Prepare to be gobsmacked!!!) to see just how impressive the empire Jones has built for himself actually is. But it’s mistaken to think, as John Oliver seems to, that Infowars has all been an elaborate ruse solely to hawk junk. Oliver downplays how effective and insidious the content of Jones’ show is. Jones can be funny and charismatic and engrossingly weird. It needs to be said. And there’s something incredibly fascinating, compelling even, about him. He is fun to watch. You don’t quite know what is going to come out of his mouth next, and to be honest neither does he. When he gets angry, which is often, he yells and pounds his desk, and his indignation seems to consume him.

Jones is not merely a raving, tomato-faced, balding, middle-aged man to be laughed off. He seems to have real ideological commitments, or at least purports to, and his show is the vehicle for disseminating his political message. There’s no doubt that Jones is a savvy marketer, but over the years he’s made too many enemies, stuck his neck out too frequently, taking on unnecessary personal risk well before he gained the level of notoriety that now follows him. With Jones there appears to be some real ideological commitment, even if the precise content of that commitment is opaque.

All of this makes Jones’ success deeply troubling. If the country continues on its present course, if Donald Trump is the beginning of our descent into fear rather than the culmination of it, do not be shocked if Alex Jones is the president in 20 years. Oh sure, you can laugh at the idea now. But you probably laughed at the idea of a Trump presidency until November of 2016, and here we are. Alex Jones is the same type of figure, but even darker and loopier, and he preys on people in the same way. Unless we give people real answers, clear up their confusion and comfort them in their terror and uncertainty, they will gravitate toward Jones, who promises to sell you security in a bottle, to explain the world and arm you for the coming civilizational calamity.

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Originally posted by Current Affairs on 2019-06-13 11:02:09

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