Infowars is a misnomer. At its core, 9/11-truther Alex Jones’s infamous website is not about “info.” It’s about faith. Jones shows less interest in marshaling information to convince people of his various conspiracy theories than in preaching a theology. He’s not your everyday screed-monger. Rather, he’s an evangelist, and he’s looking for converts, and, judging by the size of his audience, he’s pretty good at making them.
Jones’s theories have sometimes gained currency outside Infowars. His website recently reported that the Department of Homeland Security was buying a notable amount of ammunition, suggesting that it was a federal attempt to raise the price of ammunition or create a stockpile for use against an armed uprising by citizens. A number of news outlets reported on the purchases. Representatives Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) and Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) led a House subcommittee hearing on the matter. And Senator Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) and Representative Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) introduced legislation pushing for more accountability on ammunition purchases by government agencies. But, as tends to be the case with Infowars’ narratives, it turns out to be a non-issue: The DHS buys large quantities of ammo to use at law-enforcement training centers, and there’s little change in the quantity purchased this year compared with previous years.
Regardless of how you feel about the DHS’s buying ammunition, this could be the year “Alex Jones” becomes a household name.
Jones stands out not for sharing disconnected theories explaining things that have happened in the world; instead, he presents a cosmology that demands full faith and adherence. If you are lukewarm, Alex Jones will spit you out.
Before we get into that, it’s important to bear in mind just how out-there unstable Jones appears to be. This is the man who, after going on a high-speed paranoiac rant on Piers Morgan Tonight about gun control, returned to his Manhattan hotel room to make a video in which he claimed to be under surveillance by hostile government agents. This is the man who proudly describes himself as the nation’s preeminent 9/11-truther. This is the man who, as Alexander Zaitchik put it in a Rolling Stone profile, makes Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck “sound like tea-sipping NPR hosts on Zoloft.”
Jones isn’t so much a professor of conspiracy theory as he is an evangelist for conspiracy theology. And that’s probably what makes his oeuvre so compelling to so many — it’s bad news compounded by worse news compounded by news that’s even worse, but there’s always at the end a germ of hope.
In a video that he put on his YouTube channel in 2010, he waxes poetic about the human experience:
There’s all of this creation around us and we don’t really notice it, we just go on about our business, sunsets and thunderstorms and the wind and the forest and flowers and little birds outside your window making a nest in the tree, baby squirrels, cottontails running around in the park at night — I mean, there’s just so much beauty, so much good in the world, so much innocence. . . . This corporate system, this plastic manufactured dehumanized web, is pulled up over our faces, over our psyches, over our souls, and we’re just enveloped by the unreal, enveloped by the petty, enveloped by artificial social stratas, and we take for granted all the majesty that goes on around us. Well, I don’t take it for granted.
Alex Jones doesn’t want to inform you; he wants to convert you to his worldview. His Infowar, if you will, is a holy one, and he fights it with the zeal of a post-postmodern Saint George.
He had a conversion experience, too. Rolling Stone reported that in high school he stood up to the corrupt Rockwall County sheriff’s department, an experience that seems to have confirmed him as a righteous warrior against illegitimate authority in his own eyes. Everyone loves a martyr, and Jones delivers. He riffs on his fear of death by drone strike, and, according to Rolling Stone, he once tore a rotator cuff while being arrested for his activist work. He believes he’s risking his life to speak truth to power.
We should credit Jones’s success to his status as the ultimate street preacher. In the town square of cyberspace, he’s the sign-waving, Bible-beating, sackcloth-and-ashes-sporting prophet of end times that you just can’t ignore. But it’s not all gloom and doom; Jones also offers his audience enlightenment and awakening.
His YouTube rant on Justin Bieber encapsulates all of this. Jones begins by bemoaning pop culture and sports, “how fake it all is.” He name-checks Bieber and Lady Gaga, arguing that kids these days are becoming “mindless vassals who, who now, they look up to some twit instead of looking up to Thomas Jefferson or looking up to Nikola Tesla or looking up to Magellan. I mean, kids, Magellan’s a lot cooler than Justin Bieber!”
Depending on your values, that message may ring true. The near-pandemic level of Justin Bieber fandom probably isn’t a signifier of cultural health (Google “cut for bieber” if you need confirmation of that).
But then he comes in with the kicker: “Life is fiery with its beauty, its incredible detail!” he bellows. “Tuning into it, they want to shutter your mind talking about JUSTIN BIEBER! It’s pure evil! They’re taking your intellect, your soul, and giving you Michael Jordan and Bieber. Unlock your human potential! Defeat the globalists who want to shutter your mind, your doorways to perception! I want to see you truly live! I want to see you truly be who you are!”
In Jones’s cosmos, all the perceived evil and triteness and ugliness of the world we live in — from terrorists in Boston to Bieber’s “Baby” — exists because of globalism and the New World Order. “There is a war on for your mind,” as his website’s header says, and the greatest risk isn’t nuclear apocalypse or financial collapse or water fluoridation; it’s numbness and oblivion to the fiery beauty of human potential.
There are two forces in Jones’s world. The battle for souls is between the corrosive forces of the New World Order (who have infiltrated everything from the Obama and Bush White Houses to MTV) and the indefatigable human will. Jones is a latter-day gnostic. He wants his audience to wake up from their sleep, emerge from their Platonic cave, and see the world as it truly is. That’s the conversion moment. The next step is walking with Alex Jones in the new life of the spirit. That means getting a filter to remove fluoride from your water (don’t even get him started on fluoride), stocking up on seeds for your emergency garden, and pushing the government to mandate that genetically modified foods have labels. It also means that you might want to live near Austin, Texas, an optimal place to start anew when the New World Order — and, along with it, the American government and the West — crumbles. You also might want to sign up for an online dating profile on his website so you can find another freedom-lover to bunker down with outside Austin. You’re awake now, and that means some things have to change.
Alex Jones has the optimism you can have only if you think everything has already gone to Hell. It’s easy to write him off as a kook and a lunatic, but that’s what they did to Jeremiah. The difference between Jones and Jeremiah, of course, is that Jones appears to be a paranoiac.
It’s all fairly consistent, too — bat-feces crazy, but essentially consistent. Infowars isn’t just a website; it’s a way to live. Alex Jones wants to make you a believer.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.