I used to have a friend who loved Alex Jones. If you know who Alex Jones is, then right about now you are probably thinking, ‘What was wrong with your friend?’
My friend had serious mental illness and is dead now. But that’s not the point.
The point is that this week Alex Jones and his Infowars platform were, in essence, kicked off the internet – banned from Facebook, Youtube, Apple, and Spotify; a decade of back-catalog deleted. It was a stunning and seminal moment in the march towards censorship, to see an entity with millions of subscribers and followers across platforms, with billions of views, effectively erased with a snap of fingers.
Curiously, and for those doing the record keeping, it was not the big bad Trump administration who served as proprietors of this historic moment in censorship, but instead yuppie liberal tech companies. The definition of fascism is somewhat ambiguous, but most models include a connection between corporate power and government. Those living on top of the rock not under it know that corporations and the uber-rich are already calling most of, if not all, the shots in government. Now they appear ready to openly make decisions about fundamental rights and freedoms.
When my friend first introduced me to his beloved Alex Jones, the initial impression I took away looked at the show through two spectrums.
The first was similar to how I might watch professional wrestling – as a fun piece of satire with bits of reality mixed in. Alex Jones is known as “America’s top conspiracy theorist,” a title which would not automatically make me hate the man, and many of his theories went way out there.
For whatever criticism legitimately directed at Alex Jones, there is one thing that can’t be denied: he is a fantastic showman, entertainer, and performance artist.
His shows are essentially a series of rants by him. He often yells, waves his hands in the air wildly, bugs his eyes out of his head, bares his teeth and growls like an animal. He sweats profusely. Sometimes he takes his shirt off and exposes his hairy barrel-chest. He uses the most colorful and eccentric language possible. In one segment he literally wrapped his head in tin foil.
His formula for the rants is to take one or two nuggets of truth then go off in every which way with inferences, embellishments, soft-connections, and good old imagination, until what he is talking about barely resembles where he started.
It is a bit like watching somebody play a guitar solo on acid.
The second level of my initial interaction with Alex Jones related to the fact that within all of the chaos there were, oddly enough, the occasional interesting nuggets of truth. In this way Alex Jones could be viewed a bit like a shitty Wikipedia – something you cannot garner concrete facts for life from, but which may be used to direct yourself towards interesting rabbit holes you can go down if you so choose.
Here is a good example:
One of Alex Jones’ most notorious conspiracy theories is his belief that the government is conspiring to turn people gay. In his most infamous rant on the subject, Jones moves from “gay bombs” to PCP, to brain chips and government mind control experiments in a spectacular smorgasbord of absurdity, closing with the widely-mocked line, “I don’t like them putting chemicals in the water that turn the freakin’ frogs gay!”
Chemicals in the water are turning the frogs gay – it’s like something you’d read on The Onion.
Except, if you were to look into the seemingly ridiculous proclamation further, you would find a UC-Berkeley study which showed that chemicals in Atrazine – one of the world’s most popular pesticides – seriously impact adult male frogs, “chemically castrating” three-quarters of them and “turning one in 10 into females.” To this, Alex Jones, in what would be hard to believe was anything but intentional ignorance, applied stereotype and shortened to “gay.” Unsurprisingly, the very real effects on the environmental ecosystem of a corporate money-maker like Atrazine go unreported in mainstream media.
So, it appeared to me at first glance there were two ways to view Alex Jones. First, if you wanted to relax and recline yourself into the theater of the bizarre; watch a hairy Texan sweat and scream and drive himself crazy like you were watching the ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage cut a wrestling promo in the 1980s.
Secondly, as an indicator of unusual rabbit holes a person might like to go down for themselves if they were bored … bored and stoned probably.
My friend did not take Alex Jones in either of these ways. He was more of a ‘word-for-word,’ cut-and-dried kind of Alex Jones fan; the kind of person who didn’t understand the satire, who actually thought the frogs were gay.
And therein lies the problem.
I think back to the heyday of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Most people watched the show for what it was – a fun satire sprinkled with bits and pieces of truth and fact.
However, there were some who watched The Daily Show in the same way as my friend watched Infowars – as if it was gospel; as if it alone was enough to inform their views on the world.
Of course, The Daily Show and Infowars are not, and were not the same thing. But it is worth mentioning that fans of the Jon Stewart character viewed him as a liberal crusader who always knew just what to say to disarm belligerent conservatives and blow their positions up in their faces (gun puns intended). Meanwhile, critics of Jon Stewart viewed him as the perfect representation of the smug liberal elite. Similarly, critics of Alex Jones view him as the perfect representation of the unhinged alt-right, while his fans see him as a conservative crusader who always knows just what to say to blow up the liberal globalist agenda.
The main difference between the shows, and the main reason why a casual observer such as myself did not become a fan in the same way as I might have with professional wrestling, is that as the ‘unhinged alt-right’ character, Alex Jones is constantly saying things which offend people.
He suggested the Sandy Hook school shooting was fake, a “staged” false-flag operation in pursuit of gun control; something which continues to cause the families of victims pain to this day. He calls President Obama a “radical Muslim.” He proposed that 9/11 was an inside job – offensive to some but perhaps not the most ridiculous thing Jones has ever advocated. Recently, he became attached to the ‘Pizzagate’ story – a dark tale of pedophilia in places of power – and claimed the Jewish Mafia runs Uber.
The problem with Alex Jones saying these things is not about the overwhelming majority of people in the country who never watch Infowars and don’t really give a shit what he has to say. Neither is it about the people who might occasionally catch an Alex Jones rant and view it like performance art.
No, the problem, of course, is with people like my friend, people who take Alex Jones literally and don’t bother examining what he is saying for themselves.
I guess, first, I’d have to ask … if extremely gullible people are not to watch Alex Jones, what are they watching? Mainstream media? – which is just as manipulative and fake as Infowars, perhaps more so because they are not as up-front about their satire.
If the problem is gullible people, then the solution we are looking for is how to make less gullible people – how to improve the critical thinking skills of the ‘unwashed masses’ – not how to ban content and censor commentary, satire, or comedy.
The solutions which stick out most obviously would probably be to increase education standards. But then again, the ‘government’ needs that money for the military …