The high point of Alex Jones’ public life—and the moment that it all began going inarguably downhill—happened in the small hours of the morning after Election Day 2016, not long after Donald Trump declared victory.
“I already know my life’s purpose has been completed,” Jones said on air from behind the massive Infowars desk, his eyes watery and even more reddened than usual. “I will continue on. But for now, I realize, I have won.”
In the years since, Jones has tumbled precipitously, a descent that is, ironically, all due to his increased fame. Jones’ relationship with the former president—as well as Trump’s most notorious adviser, Roger Stone, who’s appeared on Infowars many times—brought him a new, rather white-hot level of scrutiny. Between 2018 and 2019, Infowars and Jones’ personal accounts were booted off an array of social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, and YouTube. Also in 2018, a group of Sandy Hook parents sued him in both Connecticut and Texas for his repeated claims that the mass shooting that killed their children in 2012 was a “giant hoax.” Jones and Infowars recently lost both cases by default, with the judges in both states ruling the company had failed to produce documents and financial and operational information required by discovery. Decisions on how much Infowars’ parent company, Free Speech Systems LLC, owes in damages are expected next year. (Jones claimed for several years that Sandy Hook was a fraud perpetrated by the government with the use of “crisis actors,” claims he has subsequently said he disavows. His lawyers are appealing the default judgments.)
Nor are his legal troubles necessarily over: He’s also still being sued for defamation by Brennan Gilmore, the man who captured on video the murder of demonstrator Heather Heyer at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Jones and Infowars suggested repeatedly that Gilmore was a Deep State operative, as did a host of other right-wing commentators, including Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit and former Texas Rep. Allen West.
Finally, Jones has been subpoenaed to appear before a congressional committee to answer for his alleged role in the Jan. 6 riot. He participated in a D.C. rally before the riot that ended with a march to the Capitol. According to rally organizers, the Wall Street Journal reported, he also arranged a $300,000 donation from Julie Jenkins Fancelli, an heiress to the Publix supermarket fortune and a major Trump donor. According to the WSJ, Jones also personally pledged more than $50,000 to the event in exchange for the “top speaking slot of his choice,” according to documents reviewed by the paper. (In the end, Jones didn’t speak at the Jan. 6 rally but at a different one the night before, where the WSJ reported he said, in part, “I don’t know how all this is going to end, but if they want to fight, they better believe they’ve got one.”)
Jones has denied any connection to the violence of Jan. 6, and he was not in the Capitol himself. In impromptu remarks in front of a crowd on January 6, he said, “We declare 1776 against the New World Order… We need to understand we’re under attack, and we need to understand this is 21st-century warfare and get on a war-footing.” But he also he urged them to demonstrate peacefully, saying, “We’re here to take our rightful country back peacefully, because we’re not globalist, antifa criminals.” His longtime attorney Norm Pattis told CBS that Jones was exercising his First Amendment rights, adding, “Congress's attempt to chill ordinary Americans in the exercise of these rights is terrifying."
As Jones faces what could be a sizable legal judgement and another bout of withering press when he testifies before Congress, he’s also working on something much weirder. Infowars is teaming up with a hypnotist named Jake Ducey to shill a bizarre new video series Jones is calling “Reset Wars.” On air, Jones has described the series as “the most important thing I’ve ever done,” and a new site set up for the project promises it will be “your road map to navigating the apocalypse.” In a black-and-white promo video, Jones rants about the enslavers of mankind, whom he accuses of “trying to turn us into robots,” before launching into a description of what sounds like a potted summary of the plot of The Matrix. It’s remarkably incoherent even by Jones’ standards; he references “transcending the third dimension” several times, but just how he proposes to help his audience do that isn’t quite clear.
This is a different bent for Jones: more New Age, more abstract, and, for a man usually desperate to occupy the spotlight alone, unusually collaborative. Ducey, the hypnotist, has made a lengthy series of YouTube videos about the Law of Attraction, the idea that anything you desire can be summoned with the right level of positive thinking. He talks a lot about attracting money, which would probably be appealing to someone in Jones’ current circumstances. (Ducey’s Instagram page indicates he’s also deeply involved in conspiracy theories about COVID and vaccines, which is more in Jones’ usual realm.)
For expert Jones-watchers, the whole thing smacks of desperation. “It’s something that makes me think he’s more worried than he has been at other times in the past,” says Dan Friesen, a co-host of “Knowledge Fight,” a podcast that looks critically at Jones and Infowars. “It’s just so weird.”
But where Jones is floundering, the culture he’s influenced is not. The conspiracy ecosystem that he helped to spawn is arguably healthier than ever, a sprawling, chaotic, alternative-media landscape with a million little wannabe Alex Joneses astride tiny empires on Parler, Telegram, Rumble, and elsewhere. That ecosystem has helped lead millions of people toward deadly serious lies about COVID-19 and a supposedly stolen election.
And some of the people influenced by Jones are trying to rehabilitate his public image. On Fox News last week, the network’s biggest star, Tucker Carlson, praised Jones at length, calling him a “better journalist” than many in the mainstream media—albeit one who is, as Carlson put it, “often mocked for his flamboyance,” about as florid an understatement as you could make.
Carlson’s flattery isn’t out of left field: As the Washington Post pointed out, he’s far from the first figure from the mainstream right to praise Jones, and many more have appeared on his show, including Sens. Rand Paul and Matt Gaetz, Trump adviser Steve Bannon (many times), and, most infamously, Donald Trump himself, during his first campaign.
While many of those people would probably no longer consider going on Infowars to be a strong career move, the ideology Jones promoted is more successful than he could have ever dreamed. Talking points in his vein and in his grandiose, grandstanding, utterly false style are everywhere, repeated not just on Fox but also on relatively upstart channels like OAN, as well as animating the younger generation of conspiracist members of Congress, from Marjorie Taylor Greene to Lauren Boebert to Josh Hawley. The core of Jones’ message—that an impossibly corrupt Democrat-led Deep State is planning to impose martial law, dangerous vaccines, and wholesale enslavement on an unsuspecting populace—has become so widespread that it barely registers anymore as a fringe idea.
Alex Jones may be imperiled, in other words, but his legacy—what might be termed “Jonesism”—is thriving.
For almost 30 years, Alex Jones has known, for better or usually much worse, how to chase a headline. One of his most reliable and notorious tricks has been to claim that mass-casualty events—terrorist attacks, school shootings—were staged by the government. His time in the spotlight began in the mid 90s, when he was a cable-access TV host obsessed with the Waco bombings, Ruby Ridge, and the idea that the government was wantonly killing patriotic dissenters on the right; he also suspected the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was a hoax staged by the government to justify further crackdowns on the so-called Patriot movement. (Jones later appeared in a fringe documentary called A Noble Lie to further espouse these views.) Jones drew on a deep-rooted, well-established strain of right-wing discourse, promulgated by a previous generation of conspiratorial talking heads like Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan, who fraternized with a range of antisemitic bigots far more extreme than anyone Jones was willing to be aligned with publicly.
Jones took a few ideas circulating in the broader conspiracy-verse of the early 1990s and made them a major part of his messaging, specifically the idea that the U.S. government and the “New World Order,” as he called it at the time, were willing to stage mass-casualty events to usher in a draconian police state. Those claims carried Jones through much of his career; he made the same accusations about the 9/11 attacks, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016, and the Las Vegas mass shooting in 2017. Jones wasn’t the only person to make these claims, but as the 90s gave way to the 2000s and his cable-access show grew into a small media empire, when he said it, the public heard.
“He could have been huge,” said Jon Ronson, “in a less malevolent way.” Ronson is a famed British journalist who’s known Jones since 1997, when they infiltrated Bohemian Grove together, the caper that vaulted Jones into mainstream public awareness. (Bohemian Grove is the bizarre event where an ultra-wealthy society called the Bohemian Club gather in Northern California for two weeks of heavy drinking, light nudity, faux Druidic rituals, and what levelheaded activists say is a troubling amount of discussion about public policy, away from the prying eyes of the public. Numerous world leaders have attended the gathering.)
Ronson has never doubted Jones’ star power, the way his oratory and bizarre fixations blended into something compulsively watchable.
“My memory of him is in the mid to late 90s,” Ronson said. “He was going on about Waco and Ruby Ridge—which is worth going on about, in terms of government overreach. He was using florid oratory skills, comparing the people surrounding Waco to the Mayans drinking blood. But there wasn’t xenophobia, he wasn’t attacking the parents of children killed in school shootings.”
Jones’ preoccupations have always zigzagged between conspiracy theories about the government cracking down on true patriots and far weirder stuff. From the start, he’s been obsessed with black helicopters, FEMA-run concentration camps, and the dark doings of the New World Order, and he’s long claimed that he and Ronson beheld world leaders committing an actual human sacrifice at Bohemian Grove, something that objectively didn’t happen. Occasionally, though, he talked about something so off-the-cuff and objectively harmless that it bordered on charming. Take, for instance, his long-running obsession with chimeras: He claimed at one point that the government is developing “humanoids” that are “80 percent gorilla, 80 percent pig.” (Some of Jones’ weirder claims also dovetailed with government conspiracy talking points, like his infamous, much-mocked segment about BPAs in plastic, which he incorrectly scream-claimed are a Pentagon tool that are “turning the freaking frogs gay.”) He’s also, of course, pegged a staggering number of things as occult or satanic rituals, including, to name just two of a galaxy’s worth, Lady Gaga’s halftime show at the Super Bowl and the work of artist Marina Abramovic.
Jones also displayed a level of showmanship and comic timing that bordered on self-awareness, a wink to the viewing audience that he understood how he was coming across, and the character he appeared to be performing. On a Halloween 1997 broadcast, for instance, he energetically carved a pumpkin while discussing the Austin Police Department’s use of infrared cameras to spy on people in their homes; as Jones spoke, the camera cut to a plastic, screaming, blood-drenched head in a basket, its mouth silently agape. It was funny, bizarre, and excellent TV. (And his discussion of the militarization of police departments and sheriff’s offices across the country is broadly correct; it’s a good reminder that part of why Jones caught on was that some of what he discussed was rooted in fact.)
Jones has changed over time. Physically, he’s gotten bulkier, more crimson; tonally, the flashes of humor he used to occasionally show have long since evaporated. Two things seemed to change Jones over time, in Ronson’s observation. There was his increased wealth, of course, which began in 2007, after he started selling supplements and survivalist gear through an online Infowars store. More drastic, though, was his relationship with the Trump universe, which had a very influential group of people suddenly taking him, to use a phrase that became relevant at the time, both seriously and literally.
“His whole thing was about being on the outside and theorizing about what was going on in the corridors of power,” Ronson said. “And suddenly, he had access to them.”
In truth, Jones always seemed to have been set a little off-kilter by his sudden relationship with the White House. He didn’t really seem to believe the Trump administration was actually going to happen at all: In the lead-up to the Trump inauguration, he was predicting the Deep State would orchestrate a coup to murder the president-elect. When things went off without a hitch, he seemed moderately surprised.
Over the Trump presidency, his inability to inveigh against the people in power took him in some strange and ill-advised places instead, most notably Pizzagate; he was among the legions of conspiracy-minded commentators who encouraged their followers to “investigate” Comet Ping Pong, a suggestion that ended with a gunman, 28-year-old Edgar Welch, doing just that. In March 2017, Jones issued an uncharacteristically lengthy and humble apology to Comet Ping Pong’s owner, James Alefantis, seemingly motivated by a legal letter sent by Alefantis’ attorney. Barely two months later, he issued another rare retraction, this time apologizing to yogurt company Chobani and its owner Hamdi Ulukaya, after the company sued him for suggesting they had “imported rapists” and spread tuberculosis.
This was a tidy bit of foreshadowing: The case that would get him in the most trouble, Sandy Hook, also involved him making incredibly lurid claims against private citizens who were too small to ignore him. When Jones had been inveighing against Bohemian Grove or Barack Obama or the Queen of England, there was virtually no chance those parties would take notice or even be much affected by his claims. A yogurt entrepreneur, though, or a guy running a pizza parlor, scarcely had much choice.
And in both the Pizzagate and Chobani cases, Jones folded surprisingly quickly. “Alex was yelling about how he was going to fight this, he was going to win or die,” said Friesen. “And then as soon as they were going to get into discovery, he immediately settled and never talked about it again.”
In some ways, the election of Joe Biden and the COVID-19 pandemic could have been a return to form for Jones. Suddenly, he was back on the outside, and a global health crisis has ushered in new forms of social control that he’s tried to make hay from, spinning an incredible number of conspiracy theories about China, COVID tests and vaccines, and figures like Bill Gates and Dr. Anthony Fauci. But this time, he’s on a crowded playing field, struggling to make himself heard against a tide of imitators, many of whom haven’t been deplatformed to the extent he has. Alongside some of the more extreme QAnon figures, he can even come across as downright tame—not necessarily a good thing if you’re hungrily trying to keep control of your share of an expanding market.
Again, the paradox here is evident: While Jones has been to some extent sidelined, his business model has been replicated time and again. Meanwhile, his ideas arguably underwrite an increasingly powerful and prominent political movement, the ascendant far-right increasingly shaping Republican politics.
Jones’ obvious influence is everywhere: Far-right, QAnon-sympathetic congresswoman Lauren Boebert proudly posed with him in January 2020 while she was campaigning. The much more stridently QAnon-friendly Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene claimed on social media before she took office that the Parkland and Sandy Hook shootings were staged, as was 9/11. On Infowars, she’s one of a handful of politicians who merit unstintingly positive coverage, part of a feedback loop where the conspiracist fringe helps influence this new generation of politicians, who are in turn covered on Infowars as proof of these ideas’ legitimacy. Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, for instance, has become notorious as an all-purpose conveyor of conspiracy theories, all of which—COVID, climate change, Hunter Biden—are then assiduously covered by Jones and his crew.
But to Jones’ evident surprise, even as he attracted a band of fellow travelers in Congress, the Sandy Hook lawsuits didn’t go away, and they released a tide of public opprobrium unlike anything he’d ever seen before. Jones wasn’t the first person to suggest the Sandy Hook shootings were a hoax carried out with the help of “crisis actors”—that idea was first promulgated by James Tracy, a former professor at a Florida university who’s become infamous as a Sandy Hook truther. But as one of the lawsuits against him put it, he was a “chief amplifier” of the claims. (During a deposition, Jones weakly tried to suggest that he’d suffered from a form of psychosis when promoting Sandy Hook hoaxes: “I, myself, have almost had like a form of psychosis back in the past where I basically thought everything was staged, even though I’ve now learned a lot of times things aren’t staged,” he said. “So I think as a pundit, someone giving an opinion, that, you know, my opinions have been wrong, but they were never wrong consciously to hurt people.” That defense didn’t go far.)
“It was always a surprise to me that he didn’t face a reckoning sooner,” said Josh Owens, a former video producer for Infowars who quit in 2017 and wrote an essay for the New York Times Magazine about his former boss. In some ways, the Sandy Hook claims didn’t particularly register for Owens, in part because he didn’t work on those stories and in part because, as he put it, “He said that about everything: Everything was a false flag, everyone was a crisis actor, there was always an ulterior motive.”
At the same time, Owens added, he’s also not prepared to say that Sandy Hook will be Jones’ final undoing. For the moment, Owens says he’s watching the apparent unraveling of the Infowars empire with interest—and skepticism. Jones has an endless capacity for reinvention, he said, which may well save him from what, on the surface, looks like a particularly steep decline.
“I'm hesitant to say he’s faced a reckoning, at least in his own mind. I think being deplatformed, sometimes people find too much comfort in that. He still has his audience. I know it’s difficult for him to reach new people, but he seems to still have people paying attention to him.” (Jones also has his own streaming website that has theoretically allowed people to continue viewing his content, though it clearly doesn’t get a fraction of the eyeballs that, say, YouTube does.)
In the short term, Jones’ legal teams are appealing the default decisions in Texas and Connecticut, and seeking to keep financial information about Infowars sealed. That’s not unusual, says Friesen. “I think there’s a real consistency throughout his career—he doesn't want people to know the inner workings of stuff.” And as NPR reported earlier this year, Infowars Life, the supplement arm of the company, is still, incredibly, selling its products through Amazon, an enormous platform that surely helps to bring in cash. (It’s worth noting, however, that many of Infowars’ products on Amazon aren’t anywhere near the top of the bestseller list in their categories; it’s evidence that either the Jones base doesn’t use Amazon to buy his products or his Brain Force and Super Male Vitality pills don’t have the draw he’d like them to.)
There are also significant signs that Jones is angling to make new, more powerful friends who will keep him cemented into the media ecosystem. He recently appeared as a guest on Red Scare, the podcast helmed by supposedly leftist female hosts who are spending an increasing amount of time palling around with the far-right; he was joined by filmmaker Alex Lee Moyer, who’s frequently seen in the company of the red-pilled set and who’s promoting a new documentary about Jones, set to be released in early 2022. Jones also recently appeared on a group podcast with Joe Rogan, whose show he’s appeared on several times, and whom he lavished with flattery and attention, saying at one point, “I’m kissing Joe’s ass, because he’s a political genius.”
There’s a distinct paradox at work here: Having influenced the heights of power, Jones is now reaching for continued relevance through people whose careers he helped to shape, people who are far closer to the cultural mainstream than he’ll ever be. Rogan is the most popular podcaster and political commentator in the United States, and can pull out Jones-influenced ideas at will—for instance, recently floating the theory that Jan. 6 was the work of a government provocateur. And people like the Red Scare hosts can pose with Jones while shooting guns with him in Texas as a way to try to boost their own supposedly transgressive image while also fixing him—a sweaty, shouting moon—in a new part of the media galaxy.
Regardless of what happens to his old boss, Owens, Jones’ former video editor, is still working through the guilt he feels for having been part of the Infowars empire.
“I’d love to not be thinking about Jones, but I don't think I'm there yet,” he said. “I’d love for my epitaph to not read ‘Once worked for Alex Jones.’”
Owens has a curious memory of the night Trump was elected, the evening Jones counted as among the most meaningful of his life.
“I was in the office. I had a pit in my stomach. It was the most ridiculous outcome. I didn't think it was gonna happen. Everyone else was celebrating. Jones was crying. He was so upset. I don’t know why. He did a video after him and Roger Stone got off the live show where he was saying he had all this weight on his shoulders.”
It can be tempting to think, with the benefit of hindsight, that Jones understood his increased influence might crush him. (And indeed, that seemed to dawn on him during the Trump presidency—or, at the very least, a growing contempt for the ex-president himself. In a leaked video from January 2019 published by the Southern Poverty Law Center earlier this year, Jones railed, “I wish I never would have fucking met Trump. I wish it never would have happened. And it’s not the attacks I’ve been through. I’m so sick of fucking Donald Trump, man. God, I’m fucking sick of him.”)
Owens finally managed to quit after four years at Infowars, due in no small part to his longtime partner, he said.
“She stuck with me through all the bullshit,” constantly reminding him of the horror of what he was promoting. “It’s a testament to surrounding yourself with thoughtful, empathetic people, and your family not giving up,” he said. “It’s easier to say that in retrospect.”
In his essay for the New York Times Magazine, Owens wrote that after he quit, Jones called him late one night, confessing that he, too, often felt like packing it in. “You think I want to keep doing this?” Owens wrote that Jones told him. “I haven’t wanted to do this for five years, man.”
He didn’t pack it in, though; he continued and continued until he was miles-deep in a hole of his own malign creation. But Owens still can’t picture a day when he doesn’t manage to claw himself back out, into the version of the limelight where he seems most at home.
“He’s like a cockroach,” Owens said, with a mix of resignation and what sounded, at least a bit, like pity. “He keeps coming back.”