Last December, amid the jumbled Republican presidential nomination scrum, Donald Trump carved out half an hour for a live video interview with a volcanic Austin radio and web-streaming host who broadcasts from a semi-secret location dubbed “The Central Texas Command Centre and the Heart of the Resistance”. Alex Jones, America’s foremost purveyor of outlandish conspiracy theories, was in a buoyant mood that day. He had recently had Matt Drudge, the influential conservative news aggregator, on his show. But this was much bigger.
Trump wasted no time signalling that his mind-set aligned with the host’s. Trump said he would not apologise for asserting that large numbers of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the collapse of the twin towers in the 11 September terrorist attacks, a claim that fact checkers have repeatedly refuted. “People like you and I can’t do that so easily,” said Trump, speaking from his office in Trump Tower. He would later call Jones “a nice guy”.
The interview would reverberate into the general election as Hillary Clinton tried to use it to paint Trump as an irresponsible crackpot associating with another irresponsible crackpot. It also pushed Jones, who operates the websites Infowars.com and Prisonplanet.com, from the realm of niche showman into mainstream US national dialogue. The man who said that the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings were a hoax involving child actors, and who claimed that elements of the US government were responsible for bombing the Oklahoma City federal building, and for the 9/11 attacks, had been granted an enormous new audience.
“I think Alex Jones may be the single most important voice in the alternative conservative media,” said Roger Stone, the Nixon-era political trickster who orchestrated Trump’s appearance on the show. Last week, Trump seemed to confirm Jones’ status. Jones says Trump called to promise that he would return to the programme to thank the Infowars audience, an extraordinary gesture for an incoming president whose schedule is packed. Stone, who takes credit for persuading Jones to support Trump, sees the web impresario as a potent force for the new administration, a bridge between the presidency and a restless, sceptical slice of the population.
“He’s a valuable asset – somebody has to rally the people around President Trump’s legislative programme,” he said. Jones got his start hosting a public-access television program in Austin, Texas, where his father was a dentist. He speaks cryptically about his family, fostering an aura of mystique when he says that his father’s patients included CIA officials who were so important that they had to be guarded while under anaesthesia.
“I had some family that did some things for the CIA,” he once said. In Austin, a city with a distinct embrace of quirky characters, Jones’ histrionics could sometimes be a source of college-keg-party amusement. He became friends with the Austin-based filmmaker Richard Linklater, who cast him in small roles in the 2001 film Waking Life and in A Scanner Darkly in 2006. “He’s really smart... I like the way he thinks,” Linklater said with a smile, adding that he does not share some of his friend’s more controversial views: “I don’t agree 9/11 was an inside job.”
Jones is a solidly built 42-year-old with bright piercing eyes and a retreating hairline. His Facebook biography describes him as “ruggedly handsome”. His rhetorical style is an avalanche of words. He makes assertions with the scantiest of proof, but delivered with utter certainty. His monologues explode with emotion. Some days he appears to be sobbing, holding his face in his hands. Then he is making deep, guttural growling noises, then howling. The internet is thick with video clips labelled “Alex Jones Epic RANT!”, “Alex Jones unleashed!” or “Epic meltdown”.
During one show he went off on Hillary Clinton, calling her “a witch”. But he didn’t stop there. She is “evil”, he said, “a whore of Babylon drunk on the blood of the saints”. He stuck his tongue out and unloosed a menacing yell. “So demonic,” he said. Jones is also a filmmaker, having produced a stream of long, densely scripted, often thinly supported documentaries with titles such as TerrorStorm: A History of Government-Sponsored Terrorism, 9/11: The Road to Tyranny and Fall of the Republic: The Presidency of Barack H Obama.
In his films, as well as his broadcasts, Jones frequently returns to his core theme of the threat posed by shadowy, malevolent, elite “globalists” bent on worldwide domination. The United Nations, he claims, intends to release plagues that will kill off 80 per cent of the world’s population. Those left will be herded into crowded cities where they will be enslaved by the elite, turning the Earth into a “prison planet”. A smaller population would mean the elite would have less competition for mysterious “life extension technologies”. The recurrent message is that these powerful interests foment insecurity to then foist policy changes on an addled public. Hence, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, in Jones’s telling, was confected to force gun control on America. “Sandy Hook is a completely fake, with actors, in my view, manufactured. I couldn’t believe it at first,” Jones said in one programme. “I know they had actors there, clearly. But I thought they killed some real kids.”
Other tragedies, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, he says, were “false flags” employing CIA-manipulated dupes who take the blame. The raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound was faked because the terrorist leader was a CIA asset. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was behind the Oklahoma City federal building bombing. It goes on. And on. In the mid-1990s, at the outset of Jones’ career, he was befriended by Ted Anderson, owner of Midas Resources, a Minnesota gold coins and precious metals firm that sponsored his show. In an interview, Anderson recalls the young Jones as having “a lot of drive; not a terribly big audience; at that time it was just raw energy – he’s more refined now”.
Anderson was the founder of “The Ron Paul Air Corps”, a group of pilots who flew planes pulling banners promoting the “Ron Paul Revolution” during the former congressman’s 2008 presidential run. Now another Anderson company, Genesis Communications Network, syndicates the Alex Jones programme to 129 radio stations, many of them in small markets. It is difficult to confirm Jones’s audience size, but the host has said he has five million daily radio listeners and recently topped 80 million video views in a single month.
Jones is able to multiply his audience by simulcasting his radio programming via his website, further spreading its reach on his YouTube channel. The costs are minuscule in comparison to running, say, a cable television network, and he may well be generating millions in profits. One of the engines for his media fiefdom is the sale of Infowars-branded products including T-shirts and dietary supplements. He touts detoxifiers, including one made from the green hulls of black walnuts, the bark of a South American tree (the quassia) and the buds of organic cloves.
For the survivalists in his audience, he offers a $1,797 (£1456) Infowars Life Select one-year food supply. Jones has always had flair for the dramatic, as he displayed during this year’s Republican National Convention when he stormed onto the set of the liberal programme The Young Turks, and engaged in a shoving match with the hosts that could have come straight out of The Jerry Springer Show. Jones was largely ignored by the mainstream media, but in 2006 he drew substantial attention from cable news programmes when the actor Charlie Sheen, then the star of the popular sitcom Two and a Half Men, appeared on his show and agreed with Jones that the government might be covering up the true story of 9/11. Suddenly, Jones was a guest on CNN boasting that he had “intel” two months before 9/11 that “elements of the military-industrial complex were going to carry out the attacks. I said they’ll use bin Laden ... That is their patsy to take blame for attacking the towers”.
The excitement about Sheen’s comments died down, but Jones never relented, returning repeatedly to the allegations. His claims about “globalists” were interpreted by some as a veiled anti-Semitic code. “They’re always trying to claim that if I talk about world government and corruption, I’m anti-Semitic,” Jones told his audience. Jones remarks have put him in the crosshairs of the Southern Poverty Law Centre, whose deputy director Heidi Beirich called Jones “a gateway drug for people who end up in harder aspects of the movement”, such as neo-Nazi groups. She pointed to the case of Jerad and Amanda Miller, the couple who died in a shootout after the murder of two police officers and a civilian in Las Vegas. Citing the pair’s internet postings, Beirich described the couple as “Alex Jones superfans” who moved on to other groups and eventually violence. After the shooting, Jones said on his programme, “My gut tells me that the cold-blooded, degenerate, evil killing is absolutely staged, ladies and gentlemen. There is so much proof that this was staged that my mind exploded with hundreds of data points, and quite frankly it’s conclusive.”
Jones gained an important ally in 2013 when he met the political strategist Roger Stone in Dallas, who was there to promote a book he’d written suggesting that Lyndon Johnson was behind the assassination of John F Kennedy. “We really kind of hit it off,” Stone says. “He’s fearless. A showman. He likes a drink. A cigar. Bawdy stories. Hunting and fishing. He’s a man’s man.”
Stone says he had spent nearly three decades trying to figure out how to make Donald Trump president. He thought his new friend, Jones, could help. He particularly liked the idea of Trump appearing on Jones’s shows, because “they are reaching the Trump constituencies – they are reaching the people who knock on the doors”. Trump wasn’t difficult to persuade, says Stone. The President-elect is “an inveterate watcher of television. He has watched Infowars. They hit it off”.
As the campaign progressed, Jones became more and more of a presence. He marketed “Hillary for Prison” T-shirts, which became wildly popular. Stone recalls Trump remarking to him that he liked seeing so many of the shirts in his rally audiences. Clinton took notice. In late August, during a stump speech in Reno, Nevada, Clinton dismissed Trump’s attacks on her health as “fever dreams”. “It’s what happens when you listen to the radio host Alex Jones, who claims that 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombings were inside jobs,” Clinton declared. She noted that Trump had told the radio host: “Your reputation is amazing, I will not let you down.”
Jones was now, officially, a campaign issue. In response, he does what he always does: he went ballistic, blasting Clinton for months. In October, he said to his audience, “I’m told there’s a rotten smell around Hillary, folks, I’ve been told this by high-up folks. Obama and Hillary both smell like sulphur.”
The President took the bait. During a campaign appearance for Clinton, less than a month before the election, Obama said that “a guy on the radio” had been calling him and Clinton “demons” who “smelled like sulphur”. The President sniffed his hand and said with a smile, “I mean, c’mon.” It was meant to make Jones and Trump look like jokes. But Stone was loving it. “They’re merely making him bigger,” he said. “They’re only making him more important, I think it had the reverse effect.”
On election night, Stone joined Jones at his friend’s Austin studio. They popped open champagne. Jones had much to celebrate. But he was worried, he told his audience. He has been warning about it for a long time: elites will try to assassinate Trump. Jones can feel it in his gut.
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