To mock supporters of affirmative action, he organized an "affirmative action bake sale" that sold cookies for prices ranging from just 25 cents apiece for minority women to $2 for white males. To needle protesters staging a march against the Iraq war, he proudly recalls positioning himself at the head of the line and displaying a banner reading, "Saddam Loves Walkouts."
Jones is now cranking up a far more controversial effort -- or stunt, skeptics say -- to zing his philosophical opponents, and he is capturing a national media spotlight in the process.
His new tactic is to offer students bounties of up to $100 per class for providing tapes and notes of classes taught by certain UCLA instructors. Outraging some faculty who liken it to a witch hunt, the campaign targets are teachers who, Jones says, should be exposed for turning their courses into forums for left-wing indoctrination.
As the lanky 24-year-old son of two schoolteachers emerges as at least a momentary conservative star in America's campus culture wars, Jones remains essentially a provocateur and one-man band. After an erratic start to his post-college career -- he was fired from at least two jobs and is suing a third former employer -- Jones has created an independent alumni organization with influential advisors but only one employee, himself. And he has managed to roil academics from coast to coast even before buying any information from students.
Jones said he has a personality streak that thrives on "pushing the envelope.... You've got me, on one side, being the kind of campus activist who will be out there, and he'll be a firebrand and will get in people's faces."
His conservatism, Jones said, blossomed in his years in Westwood, spurred by "simply being around the leftist enthusiasms of a certain portion of my UCLA classmates -- especially their hero-worship for ghouls like Che Guevara."
Some classmates don't have fond memories of him, either.
"I think he got off on being inflammatory," said Brian O'Camb, who edited columns Jones wrote for the campus' daily student newspaper and who now is working on a doctorate in English literature at the University of Wisconsin.
"He made it a point to attack anything that resembled affirmative action or anything that, in his eyes, might serve students of color before other students," said Anica McKesey, a former UCLA undergraduate student body president who is a district representative for Assemblyman Joe Baca Jr. (D-Rialto).
At the same time, Jones can be reverential toward his personal heroes. When Ronald Reagan died, he and a friend drove to the former president's home in Bel-Air. They waited outside until the hearse with the flag-covered casket pulled away.
The boyish-faced, clean-shaven Jones also professes a fascination for Baseball Hall of Fame relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, whose trademark was his flamboyant handlebar mustache.
Jones, who says he has collected thousands of items of Fingers memorabilia, said he admires the pitcher's bravado and described the mustache as "a big provocation to hitters."
Since graduating from UCLA in June 2003 with a bachelor's degree in political science, Jones has endured a string of setbacks in the working world. He acknowledges being fired from two researcher jobs, one with conservative activist David Horowitz and the other for U.S. News & World Report columnist John Leo. Jones also left a third employer, Nissan North America, and filed a lawsuit against the company alleging that it illegally refused to pay for his overtime work in customer service.
U.S. News and Nissan declined to comment on their differences with Jones. But Horowitz, who heads the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, called Jones "uncontrollable." The trigger for the firing, Horowitz said, was a complaint by UCLA students that Jones had pressured them to "file false reports on leftist students."
Jones explained that he had observed student demonstrators "using amplified sound and trying to block us from moving across campus" and asked some students to file police reports.
In his return to campus activism, Jones initially demonstrated unusual skill. To raise what he says is $22,000 in contributions, Jones stuffed 4,000 envelopes with solicitation letters and pamphlets at his Culver City apartment last year. Largely though e-mails and phone calls, he assembled an advisory board for his Bruin Alumni Assn. that has included such conservative heavyweights as onetime Reagan administration official Linda Chavez, former Republican Rep. James E. Rogan, ex-California Republican Party Chairman Shawn Steel and Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom.
However, since last weekend at least three board members, including Rogan and Thernstrom, have quit, saying they disapproved of Jones' plan to pay students to snoop on targeted professors and had not been informed of his intentions.
Other board members defended Jones' activities. Chavez, a Reagan administration Civil Rights Commission staff director and currently head of the Virginia-based conservative advocacy group Center for Equal Opportunity, said in an e-mail that she is "not sure what all the fuss is about.... No one is suggesting that anyone be fired for his or her views. But why shouldn't prospective students have a way to get a glimpse at what they are likely to encounter in the classroom so they can make an informed decision about whether to sign up for a class or not?"
UCLA has warned Jones that selling lecture material may violate campus rules and raise copyright issues. So far, Jones said he has lined up one student to gather information and is talking to others.
A college friend who also was in the Bruin Republicans, David Hackett, now a legal assistant at a Los Angeles law firm, described Jones as very much driven by political discourse.
Jones is "a passionate guy, he likes the give and take" of political debates, said Hackett, who added that he still supports Jones but quit as the alumni group's vice president last week to avoid the media attention.
Jones, who is single, grew up in the San Diego County city of Vista. He attended public schools and ran for the cross-country and track teams.
One family trauma he recalls is when his father, before going into teaching, lost his job as a chief financial officer for a company in the data services field. Jones said he learned to appreciate the stability of a union contract, when his mother's income kept the family financially afloat.
"I'm a little conflicted about teachers unions and that sort of thing because, obviously, it kept us on a steady keel," Jones said.
The California Federation of Teachers, though, doesn't have any warm, fuzzy feelings toward Jones. Its president, Mary Bergan, denounced Jones' effort Friday as "an attempt to stifle classroom debate and replace it with the chill winds of fear."
His parents declined to be interviewed.
Jones enrolled at UCLA, his father's alma mater, partly because he was enamored of its past sports glory. His disenchantment with some aspects of the university, Jones said, began at a freshman convocation program. Jones, who is white, said he was bothered by the comments of a student leader who demanded the return of affirmative action for minorities on campus despite the state ban on the practice. Jones also said he was alienated by the "impersonal and machine-like" atmosphere in required, lower-level general education classes, although he enjoyed his studies in political science.
In classes, he impressed some instructors as very intelligent but argumentative.
He took two courses from Eric Avila, associate professor of history and Chicano studies. Though praising Avila's "History of Los Angeles" course, Jones was harshly critical of his "Understanding Whiteness in American History."
On Jones' www.uclaprofs.com website, which is "dedicated to exposing UCLA's most radical professors," Avila's "Whiteness" course is characterized as "sub-academic rubbish" and lumped with other Chicano studies classes that Jones says are aimed at radicalizing Chicano students.
In turn, Avila recalled Jones as a student with an "agenda to promote his politics in my classroom.... He would take class discussions that were based on a particular reading or book and extrapolate to try to steer the conversation to a debate on, say, affirmative action or immigration."
Avila expressed concern that Jones' campaign will hurt the relationship between faculty and students.
"You're looking out at your class lecturing, and you think, 'Hmm, I wonder who in here is being paid to spy and take notes and then sell my notes to this guy who is going to mock my class?' "
Jones says the worst experience came in a political science course taught by part-time instructor Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California. The course, titled "Is Litigation the Way to Social Change?" dealt with issues such as affirmative action and abortion. Jones, who received an A-minus, said arguments that challenged liberal orthodoxy quickly were put down.
"She simply refused to tell the other side of the story," Jones said.
Ripston, who no longer teaches at UCLA, recalls Jones as a "very smart" student who articulated his views well. But, she said, Jones' challenges didn't seem to be "an attempt to get at ideas. It was angry."
Fellow students in the class, she said, appeared to grow weary of his exchanges.
"He was told to be quiet several times," Ripston said.
In the last week, as news spread of his $100 offers, Jones has done plenty of talking, providing interviews to a host of TV and radio news programs. He's been praised and denounced by editorial writers and Internet bloggers.
He said his student days prepared him for controversy. "The outspoken conservative Republican probably is not going to be the most well-loved guy on campus, but after a while, you just end up reveling in it."
Times staff writer Peter Y. Hong contributed to this report.