Disinfo Wars: Alex Jones’ War on Your Mind
Disinfo Wars: Alex Jones’ War on Your Mind
by Nolan Higdon
In 1833, William Miller predicted the second coming of Jesus Christ in the year 1843. Only after his fourth failed prediction, each of which saw hundreds of thousands of followers turn out, did his followers abandon him. By this time, Miller had already absconded with copious amounts oftheir money,spent onhis publications and for ascension robes that were supposed to prepare them for Jesus Christ’s arrival.[i] A profiteer relying on distortion and unfulfilled predictions, contemporary radio personality and activist Alex Jones operates in the same mode as Miller.Instead of ascension robes, Jones profits from the fear and uncertainty he relentlessly peddles via DVDs, publications, books, a TV show, a radio show, and websites.
Jones is recognized as a spearheading figure of anti-establishment reporting for many Google-searching-truth-seekers. Jones’s work includes an abundance of unfulfilled predictions that often rely on distorted and unproven claims. Despite his many predictions going unfulfilled, Jones and his claims increasingly appear in the corporate press as major media outlets rely on Internet sources for news content. As a result, the works of Alex Jones have broken into the so-called mainstream.[ii] This creates a serious problem for investigative journalists and scholars who focus on controversial subjects. Jones’ self-promotional, unfulfilled predictions and his speculative writings and reports can take away from other legitimate, fact-based researchers who investigate similar topics by shifting the focus from the relevant facts of the particular topic to his unverified and often sensational claims. The result is that those inclined to believe the so-called mainstream media disassociate themselves with some political movements and topics because Jones’ and his speculative reports become the face ofsaid particular movements and topics. Jones’ ability and pattern of delegitimizing controversial, yet evidence-based contingents of so-called truth movements through radicalization and guilt by association, is eerily analogous to the blueprints of various US Government programs– most notably COINTELPRO from the 1960s and ‘70s. More recently, this has also been the case regarding establishment efforts to discredit theOccupy Wall St. Movement.[iii] This article will explore the work of Alex Jones’ and the effects he has had on others who research similar controversial subjects, and how research into those very subjects comes to be viewed in the public once Jones is perceived as a spokesperson or figurehead.
Who is Alex Jones and Why Does He Really Matter?
Alex Jones began broadcasting in Austin, Texas in 1996 on The Alex Jones Show and is now syndicated on over 140 radio stations.[iv] Jones often focuses on government and elite conspiracies during his radio show and through the postings on his websites Prison Planet and Infowars.[v]The taglines for Infowarsand PrisonPlanetare “because there is a war for your mind” and “truth will set you free,” respectively.[vi]Together his websites garner 11.5 million visitors each month with over 28 million page views, making InfoWars.com “the 390th most popular website in the United States.”[vii]
Jones capitalized on the events of Waco, Texas and the Oklahoma City Bombing to launch his career. Jones claims his interest in abuses by government began with the 1993 siege in Waco, Texas when agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) killed seventy-six people—known as the Branch Davidians—for illegally stockpiling weapons.[viii]Like many researchers, Jones believed the victimswere murdered unnecessarily.[ix]Later, when Timothy McVeigh was put on trial for the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people, Jones agreed withcommenterswho concludedthat McVeigh was not responsible for the attack.[x] Jones used his interpretation of both events to launch his public persona through protests, a radio show, and a drive to rebuild the lives of Davidians.[xi]In 2000 Jones attempted to capitalize on his “political activism” by launching a failed bid for the Republican Party nomination in the Texas state representative race.[xii]
Much of Jones’ work focuses on a global conspiracy orchestrated by an elite cabal. In Jones’ usage, “elite” functions vaguely to include everyone from President Barack Obama to CNN personality Piers Morgan.[xiii] Jeremy Stahl of Slate explained that Jones’ conspiracies typically contain a “hodgepodge of disparate banking, corporate, globalization, and military interests…working together to bring about a New World Order of centralized ‘globalist’ government.”[xiv] In 2013, The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) which is a non-profit organization combating hate, intolerance, and discrimination, argued that Jones’ conspiracies focus on a “fiendish plot to control the world” by the elite.[xv]Jonesechoed these claims explaining,“No one is safe, do you understand that? Pure evil is running wild everywhere at the highest levels.”[xvi]
Because Jones’ reporting is vast in focus and lacking in evidence, it can lead followers of the corporate (or mainstream) press to ignore the research done by others on similar controversial subjects. Jones’ claims range from those that may have factual evidence supporting them (which other researchers provide in far greater detailthan Jones ever does) to the completely outlandish (i.e., factually unfounded). Freelance writer Dean Walker outlined the plethora of issues Jones covers: “Jones has accused the federal government of involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks, said that the Branch Davidian cultists in Texas were purposely murdered by authorities, claimed that FEMA is secretly building concentration camps...”[xvii] In 2010, Jones claimed that “The reason there are so many gay people now is because it’s a chemical warfare operation…I have the government documents where they said they’re going to encourage homosexuality with chemicals so people don’t have children.”[xviii] In 2013, Jones claimed that a tornado in Oklahoma was not an act of nature, but a government made “weather weapon.”[xix]
Various bloggers, reporters, and groups have criticized Jones for his conspiracies surrounding elites.[xx]RationalWiki.org, which offers criticism of the media, argued thatJones “never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like.”[xxi]Tim Hjersted from the community-powered learning library Films For Action argued that Infowars “appeals to a certain niche conspiracy audience, but beyond this niche, it is not of much use for reaching people ‘beyond the choir.’”[xxii]In his 2010 book Wingnuts, John Avlon of Newsweek and The Daily Beast argued that“wingnuts” are “the professional partisans and unhinged activists, the hard-core haters and the paranoid conspiracy theorists.”[xxiii] They are fueled by the “self-segregated echo chamber of talk radio, television news, and the Internet.”[xxiv]Avlonidentified Jones as a wingnut,[xxv]because Jones’ distorted claims are documented on websites like Alex Jones Debunked—which deconstructs and exposes videos of Jones false and distorted reporting.[xxvi]
For his book Among The Truthers: A Journey Through America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground, Canadian editor and columnist Jonathan Kay interviewed Jones. Kayexplained that, “Talking to Jones is exhausting. He spits out every sentence as if he were calling the police to report a crime in progress...” and relies on unverified Internet sources to back up his claims.[xxvii] Jones oft makes claims that US actions amount to false flag events. A false flag is when the government performs an attack on its own people to shore up support for their policies and agenda. Kay summarized the views of Jones:there is no difference between the major parties, all governments use false flags, and President John F. Kennedy was murdered for trying to dismantle the Federal Reserve.[xxviii] Kay accused Jones of falsifying history in the case of Lusitania-which after being bombed by the Germans led to the US involvement in World War I-by calling it a false flag. Kay argued that Jones falsifies history to get present day followers to feel that contemporary events are like the false flags of the past.[xxix] It is not that there are not demonstrable false flags in history, it’s that Jones does a shoddy job of proving it where other scholars have dedicated their careers to discussion on such matters, and as a result of Jones’ sloppy fear-mongering, their work gets dismissed by many in the public once it becomes associated with Jones (see endnote 29 for further relevant remarks on Kay’s work).
Alex Jones’ Unfulfilled Prophesies: “I Can Feel It in My Bones”
Jones broadcastsfalse flag predictions almost daily. His broadcasts before 2010 began with the imperial march theme from Star Wars with a voice that explains “Big Brother, mainstream media, government cover-ups. You want answers? Well so does he. He's Alex Jones...on the GCN Radio Network. And now, live from Austin, Texas...Alex Jones.”[xxx]On his February 4, 2009 show he explained that "No doubt in my mind they are planning to stage an inaugural bombing in the next six to seven months, just like 911....” with the goal of improving Obama’s approval ratings.[xxxi] A week later he said the government would use a “biological attack” to kill majority of the population to garner support for martial law.[xxxii] Two weeks later he said “I am telling you right now, I’m sure of it, they are going to stage terror attacks soon…it’s going to be full on federal worship on TV.”[xxxiii] On April 2, 2009 he named Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Dallas, Cleveland, and or Denver as possible targets for a staged nuclear attack.[xxxiv] In June 2009 he said “I would not be surprised if they stage some big terror attacks in the next sixty to ninety days....”[xxxv] In July 2009 he predicted multiple methods for a coming false flag including anuclear attack, flu epidemic, world war, or “bankrupt everything by design.”[xxxvi] None of these predictions proved to be true.
Instead of revisiting shortcomings of his previously unfulfilled predictions, Jones just invents new ones. On November 10, 2009, he said, “Now in the last three months I have been warning people that Obama’s controllers are going to be staging events.”[xxxvii]Thisprediction ignored theprior failed predictions from February to September 2009, which claimed the same thing. However, instead of explaining why he ignored his previous failed predictions,Jones continued to make more predictions. On his February 16, 2010 showhe noted that, “so they are gauging to stage an assassination on Obama to get his approval ratings up and I believe he is probably involved in it.”[xxxviii] On March 29, 2010 he promised a “staged terror attacks in the next month.”[xxxix] None of these predictions proved true.
Similar to the unfilled prophecies regarding false flags, Jonesreplaces and ignores his unfulfilled economic predictions. In June 2008, he claimed the US dollar would drop by 90% in value by 2010.[xl] It did not, so in February 2010 he argued, “In the next sixteen months...they are going to bring in a new financial collapse, they are going to bring down at least 15 European nations.”[xli]That did not happen, either. On his February 9, 2009 show Jones supported his guest Lindsey Williams– the blog writing, ordained Baptist minister– who said, “9 to 12 months from now you are going to see a complete collapse of the US dollar.”[xlii] When this did not happen,Jonescontinued to make further failed predictions. In May2010,he said, “In the next two years they are going to devalue your currency by 50%.”[xliii] In April of 2009,Jones claimed, “The government is going to take most everything you got.”[xliv] In December 2010, he claimed that 60% of the pension funds are gone and they will all be gone “in a couple months.” He called anyone who did not believe him a “dumbass.”[xlv] However, one might suggest it is Jones who looked like the “dumbass” because his prophecyagain proved false.
Since he is not constrained by evidence, Jones goes beyond currency and false flag predictions, tying many conspiracy theories together—including those involving extraterrestrials. On his December 17, 2009 show he claimed that “whether aliens are real or not, the United Nations, another big Rothschild, the federal government, all these astronauts coming out, moonwalkers talking about flying saucers, they are getting people ready for extraterrestrial life to be announced, and I don’t know if it’s this month or five years from now…The mainstream media is legitimizing extraterrestrial life and is basically saying we are being visited and something is going on.”[xlvi]In fall of 2013, this remains yet another unfulfilled prediction from Jones.
The most celebrated of Jones’ predictions among his followers involved the events of 9/11. On September 11, 2001, it was reported that four US commercial airliners were hijacked and three crashed into buildings, killing almost three thousand people in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.[xlvii]Weeks earlier on July 25, 2001 on hisInfowars program, Jones asked listeners to “Call the White House and tell them we know the government is planning terrorism.” He said it will be someone like “bin Laden, who was a known CIA asset in the 80s, running the Mujahedeen War…is the boogeyman they need in this Orwellian phony system.”[xlviii]Despite using the phrase “like bin Laden” and not offering a date, Jones and his followers claim he predicted 9/11.[xlix]Six weeks later Jones proclaimed,“I'll tell you the bottom line…98 percent chance this was a government-orchestrated controlled bombing.” He also noted that it was part of an effort by elites to control the populace.[l]Infowarsstill claims that “In July, 2001, Jones predicted the attacks of September 11, 2001…”[li]
However, all Jones did with his 9/11 prediction was exaggerate evidence of actual coming attacks and then without evidence claim that the government would be behind them. In 1999, former CIA consultant and professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego Chalmers Johnsonmade the evidence-based case for an attack from Osama bin Laden on the US explaining that blowback– domestic foreign attacks resulting from US foreign policy– “was not yet at an end in the case of [Osama] bin Laden.”[lii] The government itself had numerous reports that bin Laden was determined to attack in the US in the year leading up to 9/11.[liii] There had been ongoing terrorist attacks against the US at the hands of bin Laden and others in the decade leading up to 9/11.[liv] Jones had access to most of this information and knew that the US experienced attacks abroad by bin Laden such as the USS Cole bombing in 1998.[lv]Then Jones claimed without evidence that the US government would be behind any future attack.
Jones similarly falsified evidence to support his predictions after the election of President Barack Obama. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Jones claimed that, following orders from Obama, the US government was constructing large prisons out of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) camps for a massive crackdown against US citizens.[lvi] Jones’s argument begins with a fact. FEMA was building emergency relief camps. Indeed, FEMA outlined the camps’ construction plans on its website.[lvii]However, Jones went on to distortthe camps’ purpose, arguing that they were intended for use as “rendition hubs” for some larger Obama conspiracy.[lviii] Jones falsely employed the work of selected fact-based reports to fit his pre-determined conclusion of a global crackdown through FEMA. The Ashbury Park Press (APP) had been critical of conditions in one camp,noting that “it more closely resembles a prison camp” due to poor conditions.[lix]Infowars changed the language and narrative of the APP report in an article thatexplained the camp “more closely resembles a military concentrationcamp.”[lx] The phrase “concentration camp” is odd since a concentration camp does not allow people to come and go as they please. However, people were allowed to come and go from the Oceanport camp, as reported by the very APP article Infowarswas citing.[lxi]
The foundations for Jones’ predictions areoften self-admittedlynot grounded in strong evidence. In January of 2009 he said a staged terror attack was coming because “I can feel it in my bones.”[lxii] A week later he claimed that the body language of the federal government says a false flag is coming.[lxiii]He claimed an attack was coming in August 2009 because of Obama’s declining approval rating.[lxiv] Hisprediction of agovernment attack in March 2010 was based on CNN, FOX, CNBC, MSNBC, and HBO making anti-Tea Party documentaries.[lxv] A week later he said a false flag was coming because “I can just feel it in my gut.”[lxvi]In 2009 he said “Look at how they bombed Madrid on 333, look at 777…they always do it on weird cryptic numbers because-not that we believe in it-it is them who believe in this weird Babylon mystery school.”[lxvii]
Transmuting Collective Fears into Private Profits
Jones’ false reporting appears to be motivated by profit. On his December 31, 1999 radio show, Jones, with factlesshyperbole,trumped up Y2K (the arrival of the year 2000) paranoia by predicting a global crackdown, but he argued that by listening to him you could “escape the globalist sneak attack plan.”[lxviii] He claimed that everyone should “gear up for clamping down on America.” He claimed that Russia, and soon the US, would be controlled by globalists through Y2K.[lxix] He reported “Cash machines are failing in Britain,” “They are finding large amounts of explosives in France,” a war in Chechnya sees “hundreds of thousands dying,” the federal government “has set up a huge 50 million dollar command bunker hooked into all the FEMA boxes that can take over all the short wave broadcast and commercial AM and FM stations as well television broadcast stations,” “Police and military are on high alert running around looking for supposed boogiemen and terrorists under every rock,” “there are trains of military equipment moving into Austin,” “The airport will be used as a major, major facility for trouble makers or rioters here in Austin.”[lxx] Jones’ reporting during Y2K, as evidenced here, was simply false.
Jones’ Y2K reporting buttressed fears among his audience, and in turn this benefited his advertisers. Jones claimed that an awful fate awaited the American people with the coming of Y2K. He claimed that nuclear plants had shutdown, a military takeover of the US was underway, and a brutal takeover of Russia had begun. The fear-mongering broadcast was only interrupted for commercial breaks to sell items needed to combat the false scenarios being reported. One commercial stated that “Time is getting shorter until Y2K, if you want to be sure your family and loved ones weather the potential Y2K storm of delays, shortages, or interruptions of services, then now is the time to stock up on emergency supplies at a Home Food Reserve.” Another commercial warned that a politically unstable Russia-which Jones had falsely been reporting on- would lead to a large ground war in the US and consumers should get supplies to protect themselves. Thus, Jones’ false reporting created a market for his advertisers.[lxxi] Businesses selling security related items continue to fund Jones’ program through advertisement as he fuels the fear that most certainly increases their profit.[lxxii]
In the years following the Y2K broadcast Jones began to use his reporting for self-profit. He sold a DVD about his break-in to Bohemian Grove in Northern California. Jones snuck in during the annual retreat of highly influential attendees, which includesprominent businessmen and politicians. Jones videotaped the “Cremation of Care”ceremony that took place and presented it as part of some elite conspiracy only available through him on DVD. Former director of Project Censored, Sonoma State Sociology Professor, and an expert on what C. Wright Mills called the “powerelite,” Dr. Peter Phillips had seen the ceremony while researching his dissertation (which was about the San Francisco Bohemian Club and events at the Bohemian Grove) and concluded that Jones egregiously misrepresented the ceremony. Phillipstook issue with Jones for claiming that the ceremony was “some kind of cult human sacrifice” where the screaming voice of dying people were echoed through loud speakers.[lxxiii] Phillips argued that Jones waspandering to online theories to sell his DVD, and that his claims were unfounded. In fact, Jones had been invited into the Grove with Phillips to observe, but chose to sneak in for a more theatrical and dramaticapproach to set up his video.[lxxiv] Nonetheless, Jones profited from the hype with the DVD Dark Secrets Inside Bohemian Grove—The Order of Death,released in 2001.[lxxv]
Jones continued to profit from his sale of consumer goods at the expense of other researchers. Jones’ false flag 9/11 reporting led him to profit from a book and fourteen DVDs between 2001 and 2008.[lxxvi]Jones sold six DVDs from 2008 through 2012 focusing on the coming Obama crackdown.[lxxvii] Former employee of the Alex Jones Show and current radio host Jack Blood has criticized Jones for being profit driven and accused him of holding pre-determined conclusions that are unaltered by evidence. Blood was the former fill-in host for Jones on The Alex Jones Show. Blood explained that Jones charged high prices to advertise young filmmakers’ work and gave them about $.50 profit for each of their DVDs while he took a much larger portion for himself. Blood claimed that Jones sold self-autographed DVDs that were actually forged by his staff.[lxxviii]
Jones eventually expanded from radio into television and Hollywood. Jeff Bercovici, from Forbes wrote of Jones, “For a dude who believes virtually every powerful institution is a tool of an evil conspiracy, he’s surprisingly keen on Hollywood.” Jones is friends with Charlie Sheen of “Two and a Half Men” notorietyand director , who featured him a in two of films, and .[lxxix] Jones is a consultant to Jesse Ventura’s TruTVshow,Conspiracy Theories.[lxxx] He is broadcast by GCN (Genesis Communications Network) an affiliate of ABC, making him a corporate media connected pundit.[lxxxi]Bercoviciargued that “Jones operates under this same corporate media for profit structure” as radio personalities Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. However, Jones attacks them both constantly because they are competitors “whom he accuses of stealing his theories and presenting them as [their] own....”[lxxxii]
The Echo Chamber of Establishment-Sanctioned Anti-Establishment Propaganda
Jones portrays himself and his work as standing outside of the mainstream, which is a crucial aspect of its popular appeal. University of California history professor Kathryn Olmstead argues that, once the size of US Government expanded during World War I and real government conspiracies were exposed, a culture of distrust in government flourished,leading to the peddling of more conspiracies.[lxxxiii]Similarly, senior lecturer in American Studies at the University of Manchester, Peter Knight,argues that Americans distrust the narratives provided by those in power—even when those narratives faithfully represent what really happened.[lxxxiv]Indeed, a 2012 Gallup Poll found that 60% of Americans do not trust television news—the highest figure yet recorded.[lxxxv] Jones capitalizes on distrust and constructs narratives outside the mainstreamdespite lacking the evidence to prove his conclusions.[lxxxvi] Jonathan Kay argued that Jones’ behavior is dangerous because it divides American politics without evidence, making it nearly impossible for academics, journalists, and researchers to bridge the divide because of the systematic distrust.[lxxxvii]
Despite his self-styled “outsider,” anti-establishmentpersona, Jones has become increasingly prominent in corporate mediaover the last decade. Jones was welcomed into the mainstream for his 9/11 claims. CNN’s Showbiz Tonight featured him on two episodes in March 2006 to discuss his views on 9/11.[lxxxviii] During his appearance Jones claimed credit for predicting 9/11. He said “Listen, for years Hollywood`s been on fire with people knowing the truth about 9/11. And I was the first to expose 9/11 on the day. In fact two months before I had intel that elements of the military industrial complex were going to carry out the attack.”[lxxxix]
As the corporate press increasingly relies on Internet sources for stories, Jones’ reports have become gradually more prominent. For instance, Matt Drudge,creator of the conservative website The Drudge Report,recently endorsed Jones via Twitter, calling 2013 the “Year of Alex Jones” and referring to Jones’ radio show as “one hell of a broadcast”[xc] Drudge has 32 million daily visitors and “often sets the news cycle” on television.[xci]In the first five months of 2013, fifty pieces of Jones’ work appeared on The Drudge Report, including one claiming that the US gave the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez cancer.[xcii] The media watchdog group Media Mattersobserved that,“Drudge has been consistently linking to Jones' site for years.” From April 2011 to April 2013,Drudge published 244 Infowars articles.The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), an investigative reporting nonprofit, found that Drudge and his Jones linked articles are used as a “reference for news material on Limbaugh's, Sean Hannity's, and Mark Levin's radio shows...[and] a source of topics for [Michael] Savage's rants...”[xciii]Indeed, the work of Alex Jones seemingly has its own echo chamber.
The reliance of the corporate media on Jones’ links has led to politicians literally being informed on particular matters by Jones. On April 15, 2013, at the Boston Marathon, two pressure cooker bombs exploded killing 3 people and injuring 264.[xciv] Within hours of the bombing Jones tweeted “this thing stinks to high heaven #falseflag.”[xcv] Jones claimed that the FBI was behind the attack and that they possibly did it because of a drop in price of gold.[xcvi] Later The Inquisitor out of Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana reported that Jones concluded “the true intention [of the attack] is to expand the Transportation Security Administration’s reach to sporting events.”[xcvii]InfoWarshad a reporter in Boston at the press conferences asking for proof the bombing was not a "false flag.”[xcviii]New Hampshire state representative Stella Tremblay (R) wrote on Glenn Beck’s Facebook page that she endorsed Jones’ theory about the government’s involvement in the Boston Bombing. She wrote, “Are you that blind that you’re not willing to ask questions of your government?”[xcix] If it is blindness Tremblay was concerned with, then perhaps she should have looked at whom she was citing, and sought what evidence Jones actually provided beyond speculation. Of course, people should ask questions of government and other societal institutions. But they should also question news and information sources and hold them to basic journalistic standards by demanding evidence be clearly shown for claims, and employ critical thinking skills, not jump to conclusions. Tremblay resigned from office for reasons relating to this issue in June of 2013.
There is a War on Your Focus
Jones’ access to the mainstream media has resulted in the focus of controversial subjects moving from informed debate to Jones and his speculative, oft rant-like narratives. In 2013, the debate surroundinggun control erupted after the December 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut where Adam Lanza killed twenty-six people.[c] Jones was at the center of the debate in the corporate press fighting against gun control laws. Jones concluded that the government staged the shooting and that any gun control laws were an attempt by elites to control citizens.[ci]
Jones supported a petition to the White House to deport CNN host Piers Morgan after Morgan supported gun control. By January 8, 2013, 106,000 US citizens signed a petition,[cii]that read in part: “British Citizen and CNN television host Piers Morgan is engaged in a hostile attack against the U.S. Constitution by targeting the Second Amendment…We demand that Mr. Morgan be deported immediately….”[ciii]As in the Y2K scenario, Jones trumped up panic to support the NRA message arguing that “globalism and the megabanks that control the planet…they’ve taken everybody’s guns but the Swiss and the American people, and when they get our guns they can have world tyranny.”[civ]Jones’ advocacy of a petition to the US government may seemodd given his longstanding suspicion of that very same government. Though he has blamed the government for events fromthe Lusitania to 9/11, in this case he turned to that very same government to deport Morgan, whom he accused of supporting the government’s elite agenda.[cv]
Jones appeared on Morgan’s CNN program where he reveled in his co
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