The 2016 US Presidential election shined a spotlight on the fringes of each side of the political spectrum, from Bernie Sanders unconventional run and the rise of the “Dirtbag Left” to the extraordinary accomplishment of Republican nominee, a billionaire businessman who came out of nowhere to win the presidency and who did not shy away from catering to and utilizing the slogans of his alt-right/far-right supporters.
Fringe politics on the right and left are not new phenomena, but these voices have gained particular currency and audience in the era of the Internet.
Beginning in the in early George W. Bush administration, but especially taking off during the Barack Obama years, podcasting, blogging, and Internet personalities have grown to acquire the same currency (or even greater influence, depending on who you ask) as traditional media outlets and talk radio. No one embodies this trend more than the rise of far-right talk radio host Alex Jones who has rode his Austin, Texas public radio beginnings to Internet fame and infamy, his show and its contents being discussed by everyone from CNN talking heads to President Trump himself. Hillary Clinton had even accused candidate Trump of using The Alex Jones Show for talking points.
Who is Alex Jones and how has he amassed such an influence in the Trump era?
Like President Trump, Jones has shied away from classifying his political beliefs within predetermined categories. Instead, Alex Jones takes an almost syncretic approach to politics, combining traditional Libertarian and Republican or “paleo-conservative” ideas with a survivalist slant that is touched with an extreme skepticism of central government and its elected (and especially unelected) officials.
This in itself is not unique, but Jones presentation of these ideas is unique among his competition: Compared to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, Jones commands a large online following that perpetuates and morphs his ideas into memes and video shorts that help spread Alex Jones political thoughts across the Internet at a viral rate. Indeed, it is the viral nature of Jones’ broadcasts and his views that have helped catapult his show to the center of the national discussion. The advent of Donald Trump and a general anti-establishment sentiment in the electorate in 2016 only helped broadcasters like Alex Jones find a more willing audience who, as their numbers grew, gladly shared his articles, memes, and videos, broadening his audience ever more with each new addition.
Alexander Emerick Jones began his radio career in 1996 after switching from a public access television show to a talk radio format. Based out of Austin, Texas, where Jones still resides and broadcasts to this day, the public talk radio show was carried by Genesis Communications Network and broadcast over large portions of the country. The show was popular with its audience because of Alex Jones willingness to express a different or “extreme” take on current events and the ability for listeners to call in and speak with and engage Jones live on air. Jones ability to defend his ideas, no matter how far fetched, gained him credibility with his audience, many of whom saw Alex Jones as voicing deeply held beliefs that could not be expressed for fear of social reprobation.
Today he is known for The Alex Jones Show and his website Infowars.com, which US News and World Report has labeled a fake news website. In addition to his websites and radio show, Alex Jones is the author of two books and is listed as the producer, director, or executive producer of multiple films, among them including Endgame: Blueprint for Global Enslavement and The Obama Deception: The Mask Comes Off, the latter being described as an exploration of the theory that President Obama is a puppet placed into power to help create a totalitarian world state, or what Alex Jones calls the “global Stasi borg state.” In an interview with Rolling Stone’s Alexander Zaitchik, Jones describes this as “the corporate-surveillance prison planet…being secretly forged by an evil cabal of bankers, industrialists, politicians and generals.”
Among Alex Jones more controversial positions are that:
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut was a government-run operation to promote anti-gun ownership hysteria.
The Oklahoma City Bombing was also a government operation to squash a nascent states rights movement. (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/talk-radios-alex-jones-the-most-paranoid-man-in-america-20110302)
World governments and corporations have conspired together to create a “New World Order” and used “manufactured economic crises, sophisticated surveillance technology, and inside-job terror attacks that fuel ‘exploitable’ hysteria.”
The United States government faked the moon landings and are hiding advanced NASA technology from the public.
Helped fund the construction of a memorial church for the Branch Davidian followers to commemorate what Alex Jones called David Koresh and the Branch Davidian’s murder by then-Attorney General Janet Reno and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
The infamous Pizzagate controversy in which a Jones-inspired man arrived at a pizza shop in Washington, DC to free the child sex slaves he believed were being held in its basement by the Democratic Party elite.
Alex Jones’ take on the news and his theories about the world have not only garnered him a larger online following than many other right-leaning talk show hosts, but have also drawn in a younger demographic. This challenge to traditional talk-radio giants like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck has caused a rift to develop somewhat between the two, with Limbaugh particularly disavowing Jones’ conspiracy theory-based approach to politics. Jones, for his part, eagerly awaits and aggressively responds to these critiques of his approach which he calls a “transpartisan McCarthyite attack on everything not 100 percent inside their little thought bubble” in an interview with Rolling Stone, “Meet Alex Jones.”
In addition to achieving web-based fame that eventually bled into the mainstream political world during the 2016 US Presidential Election, Jones has also encountered staunch resistance to his ideas and has found himself in court defending himself and even fighting for custody of his children in a much-publicized divorce proceeding from his wife in which his attorneys argued his persona on The Alex Jones Show was an act of performance art and not Jones daily or normal demeanor. In addition, Alex Jones apologized to Comet Ping Pong, the pizza shop in Washington, DC, for insinuating it was holding sex slaves for Democratic elites and clarified in his apology that the owner of the shop, James Alefantis, was not part of a child sex abuse ring.
Most recently, Alex Jones interjected himself in the CNN/Trump meme controversy by imploring his audience to create anti-CNN memes in response to CNN’s threat to out the creator the now-famous meme showing President Donald Trump during a past WWE broadcast body slamming a wrestler with the CNN logo plastered over his face. CNN’s actions with regard to the creator of the meme are seen by some as unbecoming of a media organization of CNN’s stature, but to Alex Jones and his followers it is just further confirmation of the greater conspiracy to control expression and freedom of thought.
Regardless, Jones has a knack for keeping himself at the center of the latest political controversy and is capable of turning even the most mundane of occurrences into rallying points for his audience, keeping them involved in his community of like-minded partisans. His detractors on the left are many and include fellow Internet-based political commentators The Young Turks, with whom Alex Jones show had a much publicized spat during a convention in which the two groups were present, to the Southern Poverty Law Center, who calls Alex Jones, “notorious for epic rants about ‘New World Order’ plots for world government, enforced eugenics, secret internment camps, militarized police and behind-the-scenes control by a global corporate cabal” and cites Jones belief that “the only way to avert this dystopian future is if true patriots resist before it is too late, and his tens of thousands of acolytes are taking heed, building bunkers, hoarding food and investing in precious metals – and, in some cases, resorting to violence.”
William Finnegan, writing for The New Yorker, cites Alex Jones kinship with GOP President Donald Trump in that both embrace and relish in conspiracy theories which energize their audience to action and, in Trump’s case, helped him secure the presidency. Donald Trump embraced the birther controversy, the belief that former US President Barack Obama was not an actual United States citizen and could thus not legally be President of the United States, and the idea that Barack Obama and, should she win, Hillary Clinton secured the presidency through massive voter fraud (a contention Trump still maintains).
The overarching theme that unites Trump followers and Alex Jones listeners is a distrust of traditional media sources and the “establishment” in general. This same political establishment is largely blamed for many of the social ills some voters encounter and by tapping into this vague yet real sentiment, Trump and Jones have discovered a powerful motivating force in American politics. Whether Trump believes the birther assertion or not is as material as whether or not Alex Jones is a performance artist as he asserted during his divorce proceedings. Performance or not, Alex Jones’ impact on the political discussion has helped shaped the early tenor of the Trump presidency.