Alex Jones, monitor, Select Committee
Alex Jones appears on a monitor during the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol hearing, on Tuesday, July 12, 2022. Photo credit: © Tom Williams/Congressional Quarterly via ZUMA Press
Listen To This Story
Voiced by Amazon Polly

Hello, friends. Here’s the fifth installment of my new Substack newsletter. I hope you like it. You can subscribe here.

As a subscriber, you’ll enjoy early access to my work before it’s posted at WhoWhatWhy.  You’ll also enjoy exclusive Substack-only content.

***

It’s hard to remember — and most people never knew — but before Alex Jones went off the rails, the disgraced fabulist was, in some respects, a sort of sympathetic character. 

At his best, he hosted an incredibly interesting talk show. He platformed fascinating guests and discussed facts, events, and issues you never heard about on “normal” radio. (The experimental filmmaker and cultural critic Richard Linklater thought he was at least entertaining, and listening again to Jones’s monologue during his cameo in Linklater’s Waking Life, he sounds downright reasonable.) 

But Jones also pushed pure bunk and catered to an audience of all-or-nothing extremists with his absolute certitude on who had nefariously done what to cause 9/11, to even crazier, comical total whackdom, like a guest’s claims of child sex slavery on Mars. Vaccines, his audience was told, were definitely a biowar plot.

But plenty of thoughtful people — justly radicalized by the Iraq War and the 2008 global financial crisis — chuckled at the tabloid nuttiness and listened to InfoWars because it was also a home to some provocative, even subversive, ideas that were arguably grounded in truth.

I know this because he gave me a platform. When I published a massively documented, sobering (and jarring) investigative reappraisal of recent American political history, Alex Jones wanted to know more — and to share my findings with his audience, when others wouldn’t go there. If you have heard of me or Family of Secrets, and notwithstanding avid jacket blurbs from a veteran of the National Security Council and the media icon Bill Moyers, Alex Jones is at least partially to thank. 

Next time, I’ll tell the story of how those in the “reputable, reliable media” wouldn’t let me and other serious and credible people speak on their platforms. I’ll provide the full account of how Family of Secrets was very nearly cast into a memory well. But for now, I want to share my moment with Alex Jones. 

***

Along with most decent people, I felt relief at Jones’s recent guilty verdict for peddling vile lies. He got his just desserts for his horrific attempt to capitalize on a grotesque myth about the Sandy Hook tragedy, inflicting damage on scores of innocent people for profit, though the damage can never be fully mitigated. Every time anyone — Marjorie Taylor Greene, for instance — suggests a mass shooting was a false flag committed by crisis actors, we will hear Jones’s voice. 

He was also a herald of America’s descent into a divided country, separated by different perceptual realities. InfoWars helped lay the groundwork for QAnon, “Stop the Steal,” the reflexive insistence that the FBI action at Mar-a-Lago must have been political, the dismissal of expertise — and observable reality itself.

Alex Jones has, without a shred of doubt, badly damaged this country on many levels — and is culpable for many terrible things. But he was also occasionally right. He understood and adapted certain true things that the mainstream media (MSM) could not or would not accept. He wasn’t skilled or sophisticated enough to know exactly what to do with this information (and maybe not principled enough to resist sensationalizing or adulterating it), but he shared it with a large audience that might otherwise not be exposed to it. 

And he understood how conventional society treats perceived apostates. 

There is an established pattern of sustained findings shunted to the margins and ridiculed. It happened to Gary Webb; it happened to me; it has happened to hundreds of the best. 

And so Alex Jones was not merely a creature of his own overheated ambition. It was in some respects the American “mainstream media” that — by consistently catering to the establishment and suppressing important, factual stories with difficult, uncomfortable angles that deserved investigation and public attention; by ignoring, insulting, dismissing, or seeking to destroy hard-working, independent authors and journalists whose only sin was to seek the truth — made it possible for Alex Jones to thrive. 

They created the space that allowed him to devolve into the monster we know today. 

Americans’ trust in the free press, the “bulwark of liberty” that the Founders identified as key to a functioning democracy, is at an all-time low. There is a reason why normal people as well as the far right and the far left seem disinclined to believe anything they read or see, be it on Fox News or in The New York Times, and in some cases prefer Kremlin propaganda over the Washington consensus. 

Alex Jones carries a fair share of the blame. But he’s far from alone. In fact, his very success was made possible by the dereliction of the traditional media. It left a giant hole in public understanding that Jones was able to drive a truck through. That truck was laden with everything from sparkling gems to stinking garbage. 

I know about this phenomenon from personal experience. 

Family of Secrets was a deep dive into the long-hidden history of the Bush clan and its connections to the intelligence community and covert involvement in shaping pivotal moments in recent US political history, dating to before two Bushes even attained the presidency. My book’s 577 pages of fully documented investigative journalism are extensively footnoted. Its revelations challenge some comforting myths about our shared past. And the disturbing story of how this exercise in truth telling was very nearly memory-holed is one I’ve been wanting to go public with for a long time. This story involves Alex Jones.

Alex Jones, protesting, Dallas, TX

Alex Jones protesting in Dallas, TX, in 2014. Photo credit: Sean P. Anderson / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Back in late 2008 and early 2009, my publisher received feedback and outright commitments from a range of leading media outlets that led them to anticipate substantial and enthusiastic coverage of the book and its stunning revelations. But, as I will fully recount in a forthcoming installment, this coverage either disappeared or turned sour in a strange series of what I could best describe as “ghostings.”

Instead of the promised coverage in The New York Times, NPR, and other “quality brands,” I ended up — like many other authors of explosive material — a persona non grata, reduced to virtual invisibility and chasing whatever venues and audiences I could find. Thus it was that in March of 2009, I was in Austin, TX, for what turned out to be a poorly publicized and hence sparsely attended book talk and signing at BookPeople, a local independent bookstore.

An Austinite mentioned to me a radio host by the name of Alex Jones. She told me that Alex (everyone just called him that) was quite a character and that, while he and I presumably had very little in common, Alex had a huge audience. Moreover, he was highly suspicious of the establishment and interested in the kinds of issues that I had raised in my book. 

From what little I knew about Jones, I had the perception that he was a bit kooky, but that was hardly unusual for talk radio.

My local contact knew a producer over there, and would I let her make a call? Why not! I said. What did I have to lose? We quickly got a thumbs up. 

At the time, Jones was operating out of an ”undisclosed location.” His people were very secretive regarding its whereabouts, which turned out to be a strip mall in a nondescript part of the city. After a short wait, I was ushered into Jones’s buzzing studio.

Aside from Jones’s famous voice, which compares unfavorably to grinding gears, and his show’s freaky graphics and branding (one of his entities is called Prison Planet TV), I was pleasantly surprised. He seemed pretty well informed. Much of his analysis would make sense to many people. He didn’t come across as right wing or extreme, overall. He was just very, very skeptical of the system. The bad things it had done seemed to dominate his analysis, to the exclusion of all the good things we expect — and sometimes get — from government, industry, and so forth. He seemed an extreme libertarian more than a demagogue. 

On air, he was gracious to me. Though he admitted he hadn’t had time to read my book before the show, he said he was leafing through it on the breaks, and his growing enthusiasm was palpable. Much of what he said in his running commentary, no matter how raw the phrasing, was true. If you watch those videos on Youtube, you don’t see the person you see today.

He was well-versed in the kind of real conspiracies the media failed to cover that later turned out to be true. Things like: how the tobacco industry, with the help of a blue-ribbon panel of paid-off physicians, deceived the public concerning the harms its products caused; how Exxon and other oil companies misled the public for decades on global warming while internally admitting their own culpability; a truly dystopian CIA project called MKULTRA, which among other things dosed unsuspecting victims with LSD in mind-control experiments; and Operation Northwoods, in which President Kennedy’s Joint Chiefs of Staff horrified the commander-in-chief by proposing a false-flag operation to kill innocent American citizens, among other acts of terrorism, while blaming these outrages on Fidel Castro in order to drum up public support for a war against Communist Cuba. 

He worried about the unseen influences shaping the upward trajectory of even “nice guys” like then-President Barack Obama. We agreed that presidents are far less free to innovate or take risks in the public interest than some might like to admit — that whenever they threatened the powerful elite, boldness in office could be hazardous to one’s political and perhaps even physical health.

Still, some of the things he said really bothered me. He was fascinated by all the things that could go wrong, or supposedly were going wrong, at the hands of some virtually supernatural power. During my own appearance, he was promoting his next guest, who would talk about mass graves that, he claimed, the Pentagon was digging — and wondered if that “fact” presaged a coming war, or something even more sinister. 

Over the years, Jones steadily became more shrill and far-fetched. There was far less journalism and far more hooting propaganda. Ads on the show were a paranoiac’s bookshelf: arming yourself against a looming apocalypse, building your own bomb shelter, and investing in gold. 

He was becoming more of a buffoon and more of a huckster, but there was some method to it. He used legitimate material from others to stoke excitement, fear, and distrust among his audience. I’m guessing that success went to his head. By all accounts, Jones was making a great deal of money. 

Within just a few years, after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, he was extrapolating from tiny bits of anecdotal evidence a wholesale theory that the entire thing was a fabrication designed to foster gun control and a police state. The next year, he was promoting claims that some of the injured during the Boston Marathon Bombing were “crisis actors.”

Jones was hardly alone in swallowing that poisonous Kool-Aid — I heard plenty of this, privately, even from some very sober-appearing pillars of the establishment — but nobody else had the kind of bullhorn he had to broadcast those things. 

Perhaps worst of all, he and allies like Roger Stone appropriated the valuable, well-grounded work of credible academic researchers and independent journalists, twisting useful and valid concepts and terminology for their own purposes. 

As the US has become more and more bifurcated, with two very different views of reality, Jones has chosen a side. I certainly was not a regular listener, and made no attempt to get rebooked on the show, but on the odd occasion when I happened to catch something he said or wrote, I heard the dog whistles that now appeal to the racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, xenophobic, and worse angels of our nature. 

Over time, he has become a full-throated MAGA and “Stop the Steal” enthusiast, a rabble-rouser inspiring those who came to Washington on January 6, 2021, to rampage at the Capitol. The nihilism was still there, but so too was violent demagoguery. 

Perhaps worst of all, he and allies like Roger Stone appropriated the valuable, well-grounded work of credible academic researchers and independent journalists, twisting useful and valid concepts and terminology for their own purposes.

For example, the term “deep state” was originally a more mainstream concept — a phrase from political science defining the floating but quasi-permanent constituencies within government, including the “revolving door” traffic of military and intelligence officials to and from the corporate world. The term was not intended to encapsulate a one-size-fits-all suspicion regarding sinister, invisible, and unaccountable forces that were out to get you whoever you might be

But by the time Jones and his far-right allies were finished with “deep state,” their friend Donald Trump was using it to attack and discredit those who were, in many cases, legitimately investigating Trump’s endemic corruption and outrageous self-dealing. Before long, the Bushes and George Soros — actually diametrically opposed — were tarred as fellow travelers in a “New World Order,” conspiring against Trump and anyone determined to save America from armies of immigrants, the “woke,” and the sexually and socially perverse.

This cynical exploitation and hijacking of a valid concept for understanding power has been painful to me and other dedicated journalists — especially as it provided ammunition to cynics in the establishment who were only too glad to lump together serious investigators with this opportunistic bunch. 

Applying the term “conspiracy theorist” became and is increasingly today the simplest way to ruin someone, shut down discussion, convince the public to turn away. But we all know that some conspiracies are real — like corporate price-fixing, like elaborate murder plots, like the one surrounding the January 6 sedition — and often end in prosecutable crimes. Theories, of course, have inherent value in guiding the hard work of leave-no-stone-unturned research. A more accurate term needs to be developed to describe those who simply make up scenarios like PizzaGate and QAnon — or something as twisted as the Sandy Hook crisis-actor fantasy. 

As for Alex Jones, for a while he embodied a fascinating and provocative duality: promoting a marketable, essentially far-right worldview with plenty of wild, highly speculative, or seemingly made-up and increasingly dangerous stuff — while also giving a platform to real, serious journalists and researchers who could not get the time of day from the MSM. 

His growing recklessness over the years and his descent into hurtful fantasy, culminating in the malicious libel against the Sandy Hook families, was the inevitable climax of this complex and self-serving synthesis. 

And this is where it gets really, really tricky: The media establishment’s historic reluctance to dig deep for answers that might just turn out to be scary, its constantly labeling serious investigators with the pejorative term “conspiracy theorist,” its propensity to stay with the pack and failure to take the requisite big risks — to do anything that might derail their careers — all contribute mightily to the lack of trust found today throughout the land. 

In a way, Alex-Jones-the-brand was a product of the failures of establishment media. He made his name, in part, by noisily butchering truths that the established media had quietly gassed. If American news outlets did their jobs to the fullest, most fearless extent, he couldn’t have existed. 


Author

  • Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.