- Alex Jones, a right-wing conspiracy theorist, has been the subject of controversy in mainstream media after NBC News host Megyn Kelly announced an interview with him.
- Jones began as a little-known fringe provocateur, condemned even by right-wing media.
- His relationship with the president and the traction he gained during the 2016 election have brought him into mainstream political discourse.
Alex Jones, perhaps the country’s most prominent conspiracy theorist, is at the center of controversy after NBC News announced it would air an hour-long interview with him on this week’s episode of “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly.”
Jones, whose daily radio show Infowars has a growing audience of millions, became a focus of national attention after then-presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared on the show in December 2015.
But Jones regularly peddles inflammatory, fabricated theories, including that the 9/11 attacks were an “inside job,” that the Sandy Hook massacre, in which 20 children were killed, was staged by gun control activists, and that President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are “demons” who “smell like sulphur.”
Critics, including parents of children killed at Sandy Hook, are protesting Jones’ NBC interview, arguing that his appearance on a respected news platform will legitimise him and his beliefs. But Kelly and NBC are defending the interview, arguing that Jones’ growing influence warrants journalistic attention.
“Our goal in sitting down with him was to shine a light — as journalists are supposed to do — on this influential figure, and yes — to discuss the considerable falsehoods he has promoted with near impunity,” Kelly wrote in a statement on Tuesday.
‘The more he screams, the more they listen’
Jones, now 43, first got into media in Austin, Texas in the mid-1990s.
By that time, Jones had developed strong libertarian views and a “weirdness” instilled by the artistic community in Austin, Shannon Burke, a talk radio host, told Buzzfeed. Austin was “the perfect incubator” for Jones, Burke said.
He developed his signature style at the Austin Public Access TV station in the 90s.
The station “was wild and unmoderated — like the YouTube of its time,” Brian Blake, the station’s longtime producer and IT director, told Buzzfeed.
Jones was just out of high school back then, but his performances on his public access show bore resemblance to the Jones his viewers and listeners know now. Ever since he first started broadcasting, Jones touted conspiracy theories, some of which were sourced from a book, “None Dare Call it Conspiracy,” that he found on his father’s shelf, according to Buzzfeed.
While his big break came from public access TV, Jones’ first real job in media was with a local talk radio station. He got the job with some help from his father, a dentist, who recommended his son to a patient who managed the station. After his father made the connection, Jones was invited in for an interview.
“He just walked into the booth, sat down, and started in on a rant cold — I never saw anything like that,” Ryan Schuh, the station’s radio engineer at the time, told Buzzfeed News.
His style was a hit — and his rants, which often involve screaming and sometimes tears, remain his defining trait.
“The more he screams, the more they listen,” Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia observed in a profile of Jones last fall.
In 1996, he began hosting his own show, “The Final Edition,” on Austin’s KJFK-FM, and in 1999, he founded Infowars, which he continues to operate independently out of his Texas home.
But Jones remained on the fringes of far-right thinking and was largely unknown to mainstream America, until, in 2006, he interviewed the actor Charlie Sheen, who discussed his belief in 9/11 conspiracies on Infowars. The interview and its subsequent coverage on mainstream media brought him widespread condemnation (even by fellow right-wing media) — and a much broader audience.
The same year, he began marketing Infowars merchandise and dietary supplements and has reportedly made millions from the sales.
‘The single most important voice in the alternative conservative media’
In 2013, Jones met Roger Stone, the president’s longtime adviser and a political operative fond of his own set of far-right conspiracy theories.
“We really kind of hit it off,” Stone told The Washington Post last year. “He’s fearless. A showman. He likes a drink. A cigar. Bawdy stories. Hunting and fishing. He’s a man’s man.”
By 2015, Stone was heavily involved in Trump’s nascent presidential campaign and, impressed by Jones’ loyal and growing following, introduced the radio host to the candidate. Jones invited Trump on Infowars in December 2015.
During the interview, Trump praised Jones’ “amazing reputation,” and promised, “I won’t let you down.” Jones told Trump that “90%” of his listeners supported his candidacy.
Throughout the 2016 campaign, Jones vigorously promoted Trump and attacked Clinton, gaining particular notoriety when Clinton and Obama criticised him publicly for calling them “demons.”
But Jones’ reach only grew. Today, he has over 1.3 billion views on YouTube and Infowars is syndicated on 160 radio stations. His anti-establishment, anti-globalist fearmongering is reflected in much of Trump’s rhetoric.
“He’s like the Goebbels of 2016,” a longtime Jones associate, referring to Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s chief propagandist, told Buzzfeed in May. “He really won the election for Trump.”
In a remarkable testament to Jones’ influence, Trump called the radio-host after the election to thank him for his viewers’ support and for “standing up for what’s right.”
“I just talked to kings and queens of the world, world leaders, you name it, but he said it doesn’t matter, I wanted to talk to you, to thank your audience, and I’ll be on the next few weeks to thank them,” Jones said of his conversation with Trump.
While it’s unclear whether Trump has been in communication with Jones since he took office, Infowars’ notoriety continues to grow and its material has repeatedly made its way into the president’s Twitter posts.
“I think Alex Jones may be the single most important voice in the alternative conservative media,” Stone, who has recently begun moonlighting as an Infowars host, told The Post shortly after the election.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has labelled Jones an “extremist” and calls him “the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America” and perhaps the most influential in US history.
“To many, Jones is a bad joke,” the SPLC writes on its website. “But the sad reality is that he has millions of followers who listen to his radio show, watch his ‘documentaries’ and read his websites, and some of them, like Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, resort to deadly violence.”
And Jones is quick to recognise his growing influence.
“Have you seen what we’ve done — how talk radio now sounds just like me?” Jones asked in his June 12 show. “Have you seen how the president sounds just like me? Have you seen how Steven Bannon sounds just like me?”
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