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Smokey Bear, the UN, and Hitler

How Alex Jones won an audience for his idiosyncratic blend of conspiracy theory and libertarianism.

“Make no mistake. Our culture is under attack and if we don’t turn away for five minutes from the football games, from the bread and circus, we are doomed to a 100 percent tax rate,” Alex Jones says to the camera in America: Destroyed by Design, his first documentary, produced in 1998.

Over the next eighteen years, Jones found himself riding the wave of a cult fandom willing to entertain any theory — no matter how outlandish — he might have. Now America’s best-known conspiracy theorist, Jones was only twenty-four years old when he created America: Destroyed by Design.

He made the film while he worked at a public-access television station in Austin, Texas, producing his Infowars program three nights a week in addition to his three-hour weekday radio show. Jones was well on his way to becoming a major cultural figure.

The New World Order

America: Destroyed by Design, despite being nearly twenty years old, provides a clear picture of Alex Jones’s political foundations. It opens, fittingly, with Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna” playing over a waving American flag.

Then a smash-cut sequence of visual non-sequiturs follows: Bill Clinton meets with Chinese officials. A sinister Smokey the Bear wearing a United Nations hat appears. Several news stories that show photographs of human rights abuses committed by United Nations peacekeepers in Somalia flash on the screen, followed by images of the Oklahoma City bombing, grainy newsreel footage of Hitler, and Jones himself shouting at customer service clerks in a DMV.

Jones refers to himself as a libertarian and constitutionalist. But those descriptors do not begin to effectively shade the contours of his worldview. His first film’s themes of slavery, population control, and the erosion of privacy directly echo the topics he drills into his audience today.

The linchpin holding Jones’s universe together as it spins further toward doom is the New World Order, a scheme perpetuated by “the globalists.” The NWO sits at the center of his symbolic order, giving meaning to everything around it.

A number of characters recur in the Jones globalist universe: the Bilderberg Group, the United Nations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Trilateral Commission, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, Skull & Bones, and the Illuminati, to name just a few of the organizations that he believes secretly run the world.

The notion that the New World Order plans every terrorist attack, drafts every piece of legislation that aims at international cooperation, starts every geopolitical skirmish, and falsifies every report on climate change makes Jones’s political theory resilient and adaptable.

Especially when you consider how effectively it fills the void created by the absence of evidence: all facts are really lies spread by the NWO, and you cannot possibly verify a lie.

Thus every problem, conflict, or source of tension returns to a vast conspiracy created by and in service of a globalist agenda to manipulate and control the fate of all people. Jones’s worldview creates a spiral of circular logic, where every subject offers further evidence of the NWO’s nefarious reach.

Which is — when you stop to think about it — an extremely comforting and linear perspective on world history and today’s political and economic realities. Rather than seeing ambiguity, chaos, and the more subtle dynamics of class struggle, history instead becomes the result of a carefully engineered and meticulously executed plan, however evil it may be.

However, Jones did not invent this perspective. He cribbed much of his analytical lens from Gary Allen’s None Dare Call it a Conspiracya 1970s red scare polemic that argues America’s virtuous middle class is being squeezed out of existence.

Old-money “European” bankers (the Rothschilds) and American industrialists (Rockefellers) put pressure on them from above, while the poor leftist and unionist underclass, duped by the 1 percent, rise up from below. At the time of Conspiracy’s publication, Allen served as a contributing editor for the John Birch Society’s publication American Observer.

Jones identifies concentrations of capital in the hands of a small group of people who have massive amounts power as a serious problem. But he fails to recognize that it issues from the economic system itself. In other words, Jones would accept the super wealthy, as long as they are the right kinds of people.

He’s explicitly anti-socialist. In his 1994 documentary he says, “Socialism is a movement of the economic elite, not of the downtrodden masses. It is a way to consolidate wealth criminally. And remember, wealth is never destroyed, it is merely transferred.”

Despite all his bluster on standing together to fight the New World Order, Jones’s ideology is ultimately one that stands against the class forces that might actually challenge elite rule.

For example, Black Lives Matter, a social movement that actually engages the police state — a topic that Jones addresses in a number of documentaries — and whose membership feels the effects of police militarization most directly, is described on Infowars.com as a terrorist organization funded by George Soros to sow the seeds of divisive racial tension.

Chip Bartlet termed the marriage between conspiracism and populism as producerism, which

has a history of assuming that a proper citizen is a white male. Historically, groups scapegoated by right-wing populist movements in the US have been immigrants and people of color, especially Blacks. Attention is diverted from inherent white supremacism by using coded language to reframe racism as a concern about specific issues, such as welfare, immigration, tax, or education policies.

No doubt, Jones carries on this tradition. But perhaps it wouldn’t be of much significance if it weren’t for the 2016 presidential election.

Alex Jones and the Donald

Jones now finds himself in a unique position: for the first time in his career, he shares a political affinity and an audience with a major party candidate.

Trump appeared on Jones’s radio show in December 2015 to discuss his bid for the Republican nomination. As usual, the candidate made a number of characteristically outlandish claims.

Trump said, for instance, that he predicted that Osama bin Laden would stage a major terrorist attack on American soil in his 2000 book, The America We Deserve. Of course, no one was surprised to learn that this was not true.

But Trump’s fake prediction aligns with the real one Jones made on his ACTV-era iteration of Infowars. In July 2001, he claimed that the US government was planning an attack on American soil and that Osama bin Laden would be a suitable boogeyman to take the blame. He remains steadfast in his belief that 9/11 was a false-flag operation.

But Jones and Trump don’t agree on everything. When Trump said, “We need proper surveillance. Whether it’s a mosque or anyplace else, we need to be surveilled and we need to see what’s coming at us because we’re not going to have a country anymore,” careful viewers likely expected the paranoid champion of privacy and constitutional rights to object.

But he didn’t. Soon after, Jones estimated that 90 percent of his audience supports Trump.

This connection with a strand of libertarian politics that has made a resurgence of sorts in recent years might explain how Jones has gained a broader public profile.

But whether Jones has become more accepted into the American cultural mainstream or if Trump’s camp shrewdly recognized an opportunity to court an overlooked segment of the electorate, the collusion between a major party presidential candidate and one of America’s most prolific conspiracy theorists is noteworthy.

Trump himself is no stranger to this mode of politics. After all, the businessman — likely the loudest and most prominent voice in the birther camp — spent plenty of time publicly attacking Obama on the basis of his citizenship eligibility.

He’s since linked the president to a shadowy plot crafted by radical Islamists to somehow rot the American government from the top down.

And he recently claimed that Hillary Clinton founded the Islamic State. While versions of this argument appear in other circles, Trump didn’t mean that her policies materially contributed to destabilizing the Middle East, which created the conditions for ISIS to take power.

Given the opportunity to explain his argument with more nuance, Trump simply repeated: Clinton, then-secretary of state, now presidential candidate, founded ISIS.

For all the fiery invective Jones spews about the horrors of increased globalist authoritarianism, he either doesn’t recognize or willingly ignores the portion of Trump’s rhetoric that flirts with domestic authoritarianism.

The smart money is on the latter, because, if nothing else, Jones embodies America’s entrepreneurial spirit — he takes opportunities for wealth and fame when he sees them.

Weird AM

A savvy and astute media producer, Jones has tirelessly crafted a cult following, built over two decades of prolific output. He’s shifted with the medium of the times: taking full advantage of public-access television and community AM radio, before integrating video and audio live-streaming on infowars.com and prisonplanet.com.

He’s written two books, directed and produced over thirty documentaries, and hosted thousands of hours of radio from a studio he built himself. He uploads search-engine-optimized videos of his show to YouTube with targeted ads embedded in them.

However, Alex Jones wasn’t the first to capitalize on underused media forms. Right-wing voices have flourished on AM Radio for decades, ever since the Reagan-era Federal Communication Commission (FCC) abolished the Fairness Doctrine in 1987.

Intended to ensure that radio stations could not push a single political agenda, the Fairness Doctrine, in the words of the FCC,

involves a two-fold duty: (1) The broadcaster must devote a reasonable percentage [of] . . . broadcast time to the coverage of public issues, and (2) coverage of these issues must be fair in the sense that it provides an opportunity for the presentation of contrasting points of view.

Without the Fairness Doctrine, license holders could staff their stations with hosts who attracted the largest number of listeners, launching the age of the right-wing pundit on AM radio.

After his 1988 debut, Rush Limbaugh popularized the polemic conservative talk radio format, railing against the mainstream liberal media, climate change scientists, and women — to name just a few of his favorite targets — to become one of the highest-rated radio talk shows in the country.

Early in the 2000s, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity joined Limbaugh on the AM Radio dial, syndicated by Premiere Radio Networks to over six hundred radio stations nationwide.

Coast to Coast AM — often overlooked in roundups of right-wing conservative programs — debuted in 1998 and is also syndicated by Premiere Radio Networks. Touting the program as the “best paranormal news show” with three million weekly listeners, hosts George Noory and Art Bell discuss a wide range of fringe topics with their guests, usually authors, self-professed experts, and academics.

Perhaps the text on a link to Paranormal Date — the Coast to Coast AM website for singles — paints the picture of the station and its audience: “Find your match that shares an interest in the paranormal, science, life after death, ghost stories, Bigfoot, UFOs, alternative medicine, and conspiracy theories.”

Before his recent interview with Trump, before comedians Eric Andre and Tim Heidecker made fun of him at the Republican National Convention, before the clips of his barely coherent rage appeared on the web, before all that, Alex Jones was a regular guest on Coast to Coast AM.

His first appearance was in 2003 to discuss his film Dark Secrets: Inside Bohemian Grove, a documentary about a resort nestled among the California Redwoods where some of America’s most powerful people — a literal old boys club — gather annually to network and engage in strange rituals.

Past Bohemian Grove attendees reportedly include Henry Kissinger, Warren Buffett, the Bush family, Dole Food billionaire David H. Murdock, along with dozens of other career politicians, financiers, and business owners.

Jones focused on the occult aspects of the Bohemian Grove, specifically the “Cremation of Care” ceremony, which involves the ritualistic burning of a human effigy in front of a giant owl. Broadcaster Walter Cronkite reportedly provided the voice for the owl for a number of years.

Following this account of the strange gathering, dozens of other Coast to Coast AM appearances followed for Jones.

What’s Next?

Jones has always found new ways to get his message out to more people, building a listener base from those who sense that there is something wrong with how politics works, but don’t quite know what.

He’s had equal success cultivating mutually beneficial partnerships anywhere he can, to anyone who will listen. No one should be surprised that convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza, Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Chuck C. Johnson have recently appeared as guests on his program.

Regardless of who triumphs in November, Jones looks forward to continued success.

If Clinton wins, he can point to the DNC e-mail leak to prove that the establishment fixed her candidacy from the start: more evidence of the globalists nefariously pulling the strings and forcing their will on the good free people of America.

Conveniently, if Trump wins, Jones gets to applaud the brave people who stood up to the machine and fought to protect liberty. How Jones decides to frame his relationship with Trump will be up to him.

If the time comes to renounce him, Jones need only claim that the all-powerful globalists got their fingers into him, corrupting and coercing the man into a puppet: a tragic, but inevitable, result.

Meanwhile, peddling a politics without real solutions to his aggrieved audience, Jones’s battle against the shadowy figures behind the world’s governments can continue in perpetuity while his personal media network grows and grows.