On January 25th of this year, five days after assuming the presidency, Donald Trump tweeted that he would ask for a major investigation into “VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and even those… who are dead.” This statement provoked general consternation.
Firstly, what kind of person challenges the legitimacy of a contest that he himself won? Secondly, how did the president happen upon this (baseless) idea that American elections are beset by widespread, systemic voter fraud? Did he dream it up as a compensatory rationalization of his popular vote loss?
As it turns out, the origin of this conspiracy theory was a Facebook post by a paunchy, febrile Texan radio host called Alex Jones. Jones floated the “voter fraud” idea on social media, citing only a couple of cryptic tweets from someone claiming to be an expert on the subject.
From Twitter, to Alex Jones, to President Trump, and thence back to Twitter. (From Twitter the fake news comes, and to Twitter it shall return.)
This connection is hardly a coincidence. President Trump has been a guest on Jones’ show, Info Wars. Jones described the president and himself as “two saints of the same zeitgeist.” According to Jones, Trump actually called him the day after the election to personally thank him for his help on the campaign.
So who is Alex Jones?
If you’ve never encountered this maven of the far right, you’re not alone. Before Trump’s victory, it might have been sufficient to describe him as an obscure, peripheral conspiracy theorist with a penchant for public meltdowns. But since this otherwise unremarkable man has the power to influence the President of the United States, that question has become more complicated - existential, even.
It is, perhaps, unfair to call Alex Jones obscure. To an audience which he estimates at 20 million every week (“conservatively”), Jones is the arch-apostle of tell-it-like-it-is renegade journalism. He styles Info Wars as the forward command centre in the war against globalism, political elites, and various puppets of the New World Order.
‘Puppets’ like Hillary Clinton, whom Jones attacked during the campaign with a savagery that somehow managed to exceed even the bounds of hyperbole. “She is an abject, psychopathic demon from Hell,” Jones said, “that as soon as she gets into power is going to try to destroy the planet.”
Lest you think that was merely artful, exaggerated exercise of language, Jones makes clear that he does not use the word ‘demon’ figuratively. “People around [Clinton] say she is so dark now, and so evil, and so possessed that they are having nightmares… I was told by people around her that they think she’s demon possessed… She is a demon. This is Biblical.”
In times gone by, it would have been damaging enough for a presidential candidate to publicly associate with someone who made such remarks about their opponent. But Jones’ Info Wars is a smorgasbord of outrage, paranoia, and reckless ignorance that goes far beyond merely trashing the politically undesirable.
Take, for instance, Jones’ unconscionable comments about the Sandy Hook School shooting, a grotesque act of violence that took the lives of twenty small children and six teachers.
“There are only a couple countries where people can own guns. And in every case, governments have used school shootings…to restrict and then finally ban guns,” said Jones. “Within minutes of the shooting beginning in Connecticut this morning, before they even knew anybody was dead, they were on the news, the state-run media saying: ‘time to get rid of the Second Amendment.’”
Jones then went on to mock President Obama’s “fake tears” as he spoke about the incident, and in subsequent videos suggested that the whole shooting may have been staged by the government as a pretence for disarming gun owners. The dead children? The grieving parents? Actors. Puppets. Ciphers.
This is just a sampling of views espoused by the president’s media ally and de facto mouthpiece.
Considering that Jones has spent the last twenty years flinging himself against the government, you might think the cognitive dissonance would kill him now that he’s so cozy with the president. But this is not a man burdened by hypocrisy.
Alex Jones is one part demagogue, one part carnival huckster, railing against the chemicals in the water “turning the frickin’ frogs gay” and peddling chemical supplements out of the other side of his mouth, blissfully unaware of the irony.
Maybe this is where the president and the pundit truly find their fraternity. Both men are shameless salesmen of the provocative and the fantastic. Both have wangled their way into the political mainstream, against all odds, with theatricality, truculence, and more than a little contempt for the truth.