On October 2nd, 2017, the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States occurred. An incredibly deranged man stockpiled modified semi-automatic weapons in a hotel room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and turned the playground of the Las Vegas Strip into a nightmare.
Within a few hours, radio host Alex Jones had gotten on his talk show and said a whole bunch of crazy shit.
Alex Jones, the Master of Conspiracy Theories
That’s what Alex Jones does, of course, he says crazy shit. Black helicopters, vaccines, Hillary Clinton being a pedophile pimp, nothing he says would look out of context in an old copy of the ‘Weekly World News’.
The difference, of course, is that no one, and certainly not the president, took magazines likes that seriously. And that’s the terrifying thing about Alex Jones. His ideas are taken that seriously by him, his listeners and now the President of the United States.
A critical difference between Alex Jones and the other tinfoil hat types that came before him is the dangerous mix of far-right politics and conspiracy theories he’s created. His show is less Art Bell and more John Birch, and on any given episode you can hear him claim that every tragedy that’s ever befallen America isn’t just the fault of but planned and orchestrated by liberal politicians, and bureaucrats.
He avoids the classic supernatural elements of conspiracy theory lore, there’s rarely (although still sometimes) aliens or subterranean mole men, his boogeymen are instead humans, specifically humans he disagrees with on policy.
Finding The Alex Jones Formula
His popularity began in the 1990’s making claims about President Clinton’s involvement in the bombing of the Oklahoma state building. His career had peaks and valleys from there; he was fired from his first station, allegedly beat up by other local radio hosts, and even ran for Congress as a Republican by the year 2000.
Finding it difficult to maintain traditional sponsors, Alex Jones elected to begin selling products directly to his listeners through his own online and mail order business instead. In the process his reach continued to grow, his show was syndicated on more than 100 networks, and his guests began to include not just other ‘true believers’ but also U.S. congressmen and other policymakers.
Many have asked how a man like this could develop such a far-reaching audience and much has been written, discussed and loudly exclaimed to that end. His prominence is a symptom of a much larger problem our country is currently suffering under, a problem that has slowly been growing for decades.
Mistakes and heinous acts committed by governments in the past have created a framework for conspiracy theorists to flourish in. To be blunt, it’s not hard to jump from the true horror of the Tuskegee experiments to the horror of the idea that 9/11 was an inside job.
Alex Jones: Sincere Journalist or Decent Actor?
Alex Jones and other men like him use the idea that they’re working to uncover these great truths. Instead of putting in the work to uncover those true horrors (like the real journalists they so often malign as ‘fake news’) they invent fantasies to drive ratings, sell products and feed their delusions. They feed on paranoia and manipulate mental illness; they divide people and, more than once now, have driven their fans to horrendous acts of violence.
The question, of course, is how much the man believes his own delusions. Profiles and interviews, with family and former staff, paint a complicated picture. Some say he is a man who lives in his own echo chamber, who genuinely believes that humanity is on the verge of enslavement and who believes himself to be an evangelist for the cause of human freedom. Others say that, even if he does believe his claims, he is intentionally prone to exaggeration, motivated simply to drive profits regardless the human cost he leaves in his wake.
A high profile court case for the custody of his children that happened just months ago may be the clearest insight into the man’s psyche. His defense argued that the statements he makes are simply a character he portrays. That everything he presents is simply meant for “entertainment”. Alex Jones himself went along with the defense. However, a string of cell phone videos showed that the truth was likely somewhere in the middle. Upon taking the stand and under oath, Alex Jones was unable to convey clearly if he understood that the statements he makes on air are fantasy.
It begs the age-old question if you repeat a lie often enough at what point do you begin to believe it’s true?