During child-custody hearings last year, a lawyer for Alex Jones, America’s ranking far-right paranoiac, claimed his client was “playing a character” on his “Infowars” radio show and on websites.
Jones’ ex-wife, Kelly Jones, testified that her former husband was a violent basket case. “He is not a stable person. He says he wants to break Alec Baldwin’s neck. He wants J-Lo to get raped.”
Jones’ lawyer countered that his client was a “performance artist.”
Ah. An artist. So Jones is faking his argument that NASA faked the 1969 moon landing. That the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by American terrorist Timothy McVeigh was a government op. That 9/11 was an inside job. That the 2012 massacre in Newtown, Conn., by addled misogynist Adam Lanza was staged. That white genocide is nigh.
And that just this week, Democrats were planning a “second civil war” to destroy the United States on Independence Day.
The civil war never materialized. Like evidence for Jones’ other “artworks,” it didn’t exist at all.
Jones’ performances can have horrific consequences. A man who believed Jones-supported fables about Hillary Clinton’s fictional pedophile ring in a pizza joint showed up at the restaurant with a gun. The grieving Newtown families still receive death threats from Jones’ minions. In April, they filed a lawsuit against Jones for defamation.
Others seeking to reduce the harm of Jones and his kind include Facebook and YouTube, which each claim to be cracking down on conspiracy material.
But a more unusual remedy surfaced this week when federal prosecutors took the uncommon step of publicly clearing former Capitol Hill staffer Imran Awan of dozens of baseless smear campaigns about him promoted by Jones and echoed in President Trump’s tweets.
Internet nut jobs terrified of Freemasons or government agencies aren’t going away, but to have the feds stamp their claims as lies may sap some of their power with others.
Jones himself is scrambling to avoid the personal consequences of his numberless deceptions. To this end, his lawyer claimed he’s no more than an actor when he lies, rants and threatens violence.
Jones insists that a lot of American history is faked, while practically begging to be called out as a fake himself. This pose is disconcerting, but it’s not new. He belongs to a long line of shrill male hysterics. Their highly ritualized performance has nipped at the edges of right-wing thinking in the United States for at least a century.
Jones didn’t make it through community college, and he long ago substituted a grand unified theory for higher education. It lets him pretend to super-genius status.
Jones’ first intellectual idol was Gary Allen, a far-right propagandist. Allen’s book “None Dare Call it Conspiracy” uses stock anti-Semitic tropes in claiming that a cabal of communists and bankers is bent on establishing a global slave state. Their master conspiracy started, naturally, with the Illuminati.
(Gary Allen’s son, Mike Allen, who co-founded the political site Axios, is now the better-known family journalist. Mike Allen claims his home life was “apolitical.”)
And Jones’ strain of conspiracy-mongering goes back further, to the John Birch Society, where Gary Allen was a spokesman.
The Birch Society is a rabid anti-communist clique founded in 1958 by a Brooklyn candy mogul named Robert W. Welch who helped develop Sugar Daddies, Sugar Babies and Junior Mints. In the 1960s, according to the historian Rick Perlstein, meetings of the society were largely devoted to watching a film Welch had made about his grand unified theory, a farrago he called the Master Conspiracy.
Jones, too, is a filmmaker. He served as executive producer on “Loose Change Final Cut,” which insisted that the 9/11 attacks were a false-flag operation by the U.S. government. “Loose Change” began as fiction but was repackaged — false-flagged — as nonfiction.
The creation of stories posing as documentaries partakes of a tradition art historian Carrie Lambert-Beatty calls “parafictions.” Parafictions are a favorite of actual artists, who fake documentary materials to play on viewers’ expectations and credulity.
By contrast, Jones might be said to prey on expectations and credulity. He exploits his followers by disorienting their common sense and exposing them to a system of lies so extensive and maze-y that it seems to permit no escape.
By convincing them that he alone can enlighten them, Jones is able to become their information source, disciplinarian and father figure.
As Garry Kasparov, the Russian dissident and chessmaster, tweeted on Friday: “The demagogue doesn't lead radicals, he radicalizes his supporters. With each outrage he drags them down by association until they feel they have no one else, and no one else will have them. It works.”
This sounds a little like the dynamic that took Jones’ ex-wife to court to contest their joint custody deal. According to her lawyer, “Mr. Jones is like a cult leader; the children appear to be cult followers, doing what Daddy wants them to do.”
It’s hard to break free from cult dynamics, but not impossible. In the case of Alex Jones, a jury saw the danger of excessive exposure to him, at least for his kids. On July 19, 2017, Jones lost primary custody of his children.
Maybe one day the spell on his web fans, radio listeners and tribe of fellow travelers will also break, and he’ll lose primary custody of them too.