Somebody is “putting chemicals in the water that turn the frickin’ frogs gay.” The Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax perpetrated by a group of pro-gun-control parents who faked the murder of their own children. The September 11 attacks, too, were somehow a sham—never mind for what purpose or by whom. FEMA is planning to force God-fearing Americans into concentration camps. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff is a “fairy” and a “cocksucker…sucking globalist dick.” Hillary Clinton secretly ran a child sex-trafficking ring out of the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, DC.
Such are the musings of the Infowars impresario, Alex Jones. But if you think Jones is merely crazy, he’s got you fooled, too. Like his most prominent fan, who currently resides in the Oval Office, Jones is a practiced grifter who specializes in preying on the ignorance and insecurity of his customer base. Sweaty outbursts and erratic gesticulations aside, Jones brings to his swindle a coldly calculating eye and a genuine talent for shameless manipulation.
As a lengthy Buzzfeed profile demonstrated earlier this year, Jones’s unhinged rants are closely tied to the products he hawks in his Infowars store to the kind of losers and lunatics who fear the presence of fluoride in their toothpaste. (I’m not kidding: He sells fluoride-free toothpaste.) According to the former Infowars employees that Buzzfeed interviewed, it was the job of his staff to find failing products, negotiate sweetheart deals, and then make up nonsensical threats to frighten gullible rubes into buying this worthless crap. (“I’ve seen him undercut a company that sells survival straws for $25, force them down to $10, and sell them at $50,” yet another ex-employee told Buzzfeed.) When Jones was forced in a recent child-custody case to explain what he was up to, his lawyer admitted that his client was merely practicing “performance art.”
One might say much the same about Donald Trump, though we can’t know for sure. Both he and Jones enjoy a genius-like talent for finding words that reach into the hearts and minds of America’s surprisingly large lunatic fringe, not only playing them for big bucks, but also weaponizing them against common sense, social peace, and democracy itself.
Sometimes they operate as a tag team. In late 2015, Trump appeared on Jones’s show and called the host’s reputation “amazing,” while Infowars’ Hillary for Prison T-shirts proved a popular fashion statement at Trump’s rallies. On election night, Trump fixer (and fellow Roy Cohn protégé) Roger Stone clinked champagne glasses with Jones as Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “My Way” played on the air.
Another high-profile fan, Matt Drudge, frequently links to Jones’s latest screeds and thereby magnifies his voice many times over, far beyond the 5 million listeners and viewers he claims. On occasion, the falsehood in question will make its way to Trump, and from Trump to the wider world. In November 2016, Drudge pushed Infowars’ lies about alleged illegal voting in the US presidential election by 3 million people. Thirteen days later, Trump tweeted the baseless claim. Jones explains how this works: “I put out a video, a message to Trump, and then two days later he lays out the case. It’s like sending up the bat signal.”