Alex Jones, a stocky, coarse-looking man with a round face and a pointed chin, devotes a lot of time to our conversation, using the breaks in his show for small talk, offering me water and talking about his three children. "It's hard to switch off," he says. "I constantly see propaganda everywhere."
Jones' studio is located in an industrial area on the outskirts of Austin. For security reasons, its exact location remains undisclosed. There are surveillance cameras above the entrance, black blinds cover the windows and guests are required to sign non-disclosure agreements. Everyone in Austin knows Jones. When he goes out in public, people point to him or ask for his autograph. Jones is concerned about his safety and has a bodyguard. You never know, he says.
Trump's Propaganda Arm?
A sign on the wall at the entrance to the studio reads: "Freedom or Death." The words "Liberal Tears" are printed on a water cooler in the hallway. Jones' realm is enormous. There are four studios, and the state-of-the-art equipment makes it feel like they are part of a national cable broadcaster. There is a large room in which promotional videos are shot, and there are open-plan offices and recreation areas with a ping-pong table and slot machines. Jones calls his offices the "Central Texan Command Center and Heart of the Resistance."
For the first time in his life, Jones says, he's a little more hopeful that America's demise can be prevented, after all. The unsettling thing about this, though, is that Jones has begun to treat his company as a sort of propaganda arm of the presidency, one that is mobilizing the infantry to save the homeland. This can be more dangerous than simply spreading a few unfounded conspiracy theories.
Together with right-wing nationalist websites like Breitbart News, Gateway Pundit and LifeZette, which also have good access to the White House, Jones sees himself as part of a right-wing front that aims to break the power of the traditional media. When Jones talks about the president, it sounds as if he were talking about some Hitler-like Führer. He refers to the first few weeks of the Trump presidency as a "total victory."
The immigration ban? The deportations? Trump's dream of a police state? All wonderful ideas, says Jones, who believes toughness is what America needs today.
Massive Public Exposure
His 100-percent identification with Trump was already evident every day during the campaign. He spewed hate-filled tirades against the Democrats for months. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and then President Barack Obama were his targets in October. On his show, he called Clinton an "abject, psychopathic demon from hell," and said that he had heard that "Obama and Hillary smell like sulfur."
His words spread like wildfire. Clinton mentioned Jones, and Obama joked about him during an appearance, smelling his hand and grinning. The scene became an Internet sensation, but it also provided Jones with massive public exposure.
Jones isn't crazy. He is well-read, knows how to do his research and knows a bit about international politics. When the microphone is off, his speech sometimes sounds as dry as if he were a member of the European Commission. But when the microphone is on, he slips into his role and becomes a fury.
Jones grew up in a suburb of Dallas, where his father was a dentist and his mother was a housewife. After high school, he became familiar with the world of conspiracy theorists through the John Birch Society, an extreme right-wing, anti-communist organization. He tried out his theories on the radio. After a right-wing extremist committed an attack on a federal building in Oklahoma City in April 1995, he accused the government of being involved. He gained a reputation in Austin, where a local station gave him his own show. He launched the Infowars website in 1999.
Echo Chambers of Hate
Jones's rise to prominence is an example of how the internet has revolutionized and to some extent poisoned the American media landscape. Small niche products have sometimes grown into impressive operations. Established brands are fighting for survival, while alternative platforms like Breitbart News, Newsmax and Infowars are creating their own worlds. They are echo chambers of hate, which have become a home for all those seeking easy answers in a complicated world.
Anything can be found in this world, and there are clues to support every crazy theory. Is Clinton a murderer? Obviously she is, says Jones, because as secretary of state she was partly responsible for the war in Libya. Is the government poisoning our drinking water? Well of course, because anyone who adds fluoride to water is gambling with the health of the people. "Jones is so effective because he presents this very clear theory about how the world functions and he bends every fact so that it fits in this theory," says Mark Fenster, a professor of law at the University of Florida in Gainesville who has spent years studying conspiracy theories.
Jones's staff push everything he says through multiple channels. Jones claims that he has as many as 3 million listeners a day. According to Quantcast, which measures audience demographics, the Infowars website attracts more than 8 million visitors each month. Jones has about 2 million subscribers on his YouTube channel and more than a million followers on Facebook. "I am in sort of a living room with my audience," says Jones. " It is like we are sitting around a campfire."
A Small Media Empire
He has more than 60 employees, including students, journalists, activists, techies and social media experts. They help Jones prepare his show, and they write stories for infowars.com. Not everything on the site is nonsense. There are ordinary reports from news wires about the latest poll results, and Infowars provides its own analyses of current developments in Washington. But there are also stories describing Lady Gaga's Super Bowl half-time show as a "Satanic ritual." Or about CIA exercises to murder Trump.
Two-thirds of Jones's funding comes from the marketing of his own products. He sells toothpaste and brain pills, bulletproof vests and guns, sleeping pills and potency supplements. The advertising breaks on his show are filled with his own products, and business is going well. Infowars.com holds an appeal for anyone who believes Armageddon is near.
As promising as the Trump era seems to Jones, it could also prove to be a problem. Not everyone in his milieu believes his staunch support for Trump is a good thing. In the past, Jones had always said that governments are the embodiment of evil, a dark power. He has groomed his audiences with his hatred for Washington. The way he goes on about Trump now, though, makes him seem like the president's propaganda minister. And this could ultimately disappoint some of his fans.
'Radical Islamist Hordes'
It's now shortly before noon, and the show is on a commercial break. Jones is irritated. Trump is under pressure over his executive order issuing the travel ban on visitors and immigrants from seven predominately Muslim countries, a controversy Jones cannot fathom because he believes that the president merely wants to keep "radical Muslim hordes" out of the United States. "I was going to show some executions so that everybody understands how terrible these barbaric Islamists are," he says. " But I think I'm gonna do something else."
The camera starts rolling again. "There are 1 billion Sunnis," Jones says into the microphone. "These are the people that attack shopping malls. These are the people that throw gays off buildings. These are the people that put acid on women's faces." Images of disfigured women flash across the screens behind him, women without noses and with acid burns on the cheeks and foreheads. "There are your beauties," he says.
Jones is stunned that not all Americans share his panicked view of the "jihadists." Indeed, he believes the threat is so great that it would be best not to allow anyone at all to enter the United States anymore.
"Please forget the Statue of Liberty," Jones says during a break. "It's a symbol of propaganda. We should stop worshipping it and bending down to every Third World population that shows up with TB and leprosy."
'Foot Soldiers in the Trump Revolution'
Jones now plans to open an office in Washington. He says might hire 10 people to report on the White House, almost like a traditional media organization. He will be getting help from Roger Stone, a radical adviser to the president, who wrote a book in which he described former President Bill Clinton as a serial rapist without providing any proof. Under a deal reached between the two men, Stone began hosting the Alex Jones show for one hour a week a short time ago. "Elitists may laugh at his politics," Stone says, but "Alex Jones is reaching millions of people, and they are the foot soldiers in the Trump revolution."