Way back on Friday, President Donald Trump declared that several news organizations — ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, The New York Times — were “the enemy of the American people.” You know who’s not the enemy, in his book?
Jones, in case you aren’t aware, is the conspiracy-theorizing, flame-throwing nationalistic radio and internet star who’s best known for suggesting that Sept. 11 was an inside job, that the Sandy Hook school shooting was “completely fake” and that the phony Clinton child-sex trafficking scandal known as Pizzagate warranted serious investigation (which one Facebook fan took upon himself to do, armed with an AR-15).
Jones, 43, has been around for a while. Like every media outfit in the Trump era, his platforms have gotten record traffic and, he told me last week, seen increases in revenue, with ads for water purification systems and for supplements to enhance “brain force” and virility.
But he is apparently taking on a new role as occasional information source and validator for the president of the United States, with whom, Jones says, he sometimes speaks on the phone.
Millions of listeners and viewers tune in to Jones on his websites (Infowars chief among them), on Facebook and through old-fashioned radio, and their loyalty partly explains how Trump maintains a hard-core faithful who don’t believe a word they read about him in a newspaper like this one.
His audience, Jones told me, is “the teeth of the Trump organization on the ground — the information-warfare, organic internal resistance.” Sure enough, on Saturday the journalist McKay Coppins of The Atlantic tweeted from Florida, “Spotted at Trump rally: More than one InfoWars t-shirt.”
Where Jones’ content fits in Trump’s broad media diet isn’t clear. White House officials declined to talk about it in detail. (Hey, Mr. President, I’m trying.) But as Trump pushes full steam ahead on his effort to delegitimize U.S. journalism, he is lending credence to a number of out-there Jonesisms, adding yet another “pinch yourself, this is happening” element to our national journey into the upside-down.
You can look no further than Trump’s description of the press as “the enemy of the American people” Friday, which was reminiscent of Jones’ use of the same phrase in 2015, as Jones noted Sunday on Twitter.
Two weeks ago, Trump’s quickly debunked allegation that the news media covered up terrorism by Islamic extremists echoed reports on Infowars, including one headline that blared: “Scandal: Mass Media Covers Up Terrorism to Protect Islam.”
Before that, there was Trump’s false claim that millions of unauthorized immigrants voted illegally for Hillary Clinton, which Infowars had asserted in November and then repeated, giving “oxygen to the lies,” as CNN put it then. Then again, others in the right-leaning internet ecosystem had forwarded the illegal voting report, too.
Jones’ influence could be seen more directly last spring when Trump told a crowd in California that “there is no drought” — oh, yes, there was — and suggested that reports of one were part of a plot to protect a “3-inch fish.” It was very similar to reports in Infowars suggesting the drought was manufactured and promoting the fish theory.
Jones demurred when it came to his influence on Trump, which he said the “MSM” (mainstream media) overstated to undermine the president. “MSM tries to say Alex Jones is an eight-headed kook with all these warts and Trump’s copying everything he says,” Jones told me. “It’s just not true.”
For instance, he said, when he urged Trump to address illegal voting allegations during one phone conversation, “he said, ‘I already know, I’m making a speech in two days.’” (Trump, he said, “was an Infowarrior before I was born.”) Jones said that conversation had taken place earlier in the campaign, not on the phone call immediately after the election that my colleague Maggie Haberman reported on, in which Jones said the president had thanked him for his support. Jones told me that he had spoken with Trump since that call, though an aide to the president, communicating on the condition of anonymity, played down the frequency of their contact.
Either way, Jones is hoping his organization will qualify for a coveted White House press credential. He says it’s not something he’s pining for or needs, but he doesn’t see why Infowars shouldn’t get one when “Trump’s calling CNN fake.”
The White House said it had yet to receive a proper application from Infowars and therefore could not comment on whether it would get one. Jones said the delay might be related to a bureaucratic snag. “They say it’s going to get rectified,” he said.
One ally in his corner is Roger Stone, the longtime Republican operative and informal adviser to Trump, whose matchmaking brought them together and led to the 2015 Infowars interview during which Trump told Jones that “you have an amazing reputation.”
Stone said in an interview, “They are reaching millions of people, and these people are steadfast and loyal Trump supporters.”
Two of the major internet tracking companies, Quantcast and Alexa, reported that in January Infowars had an average of around 8 million (Quantcast) or 8.7 million (Alexa) global visitors, who viewed its pages nearly 50 million times. As of Sunday, Quantcast ranked its traffic above that of the fact-checking site Politifact.com.
Those numbers miss the audiences for his national radio show and his team’s videos on YouTube, where the biggest of his 18 channels has 1.2 billion views, and on Facebook, where they draw many millions of views. (One, by his editor at large, Paul Joseph Watson, lists 18.1 million views.)
Jones’ growth has astounded those who have followed a progression that began on cable access in Austin, Texas, in the early 1990s, moved to radio and then to the bigger national footprint he began building online.
“When I was first dealing with Alex, he had a staff of three people and was broadcasting his apocalyptic messages from” a spare bedroom “with choo-choo wallpaper,” said the author Jon Ronson, who wrote about Jones in his 2002 book, “Them,” and revisited him in “The Elephant in the Room” last year. “In the summer, he had a staff of between 50 and 75 people in this huge industrial space as big as a mainstream TV network.”
Jones says it’s hardly CNN-size (and, for the record, he says, he believes Sandy Hook may have happened).
Last week, Jones’ conspiracy workshop was busy making the case that the leaks that forced Michael T. Flynn’s resignation as Trump’s national security adviser were part of a “counter coup” by what he has called “criminal, corporate elements inside the CIA” working “ to basically overthrow Trump.”
It’s the sort of message that resonates with his segment of Trump voters because, Jones said, “the public doesn’t have any trust in the system.”
“They believe the social contract is broken,” he continued, “and they’re able to interact with the new diverse pantheon of the internet-based media.” In other words, with people like him.
It makes you wonder: If Watergate had broken in this media environment, would President Richard Nixon have had to resign? Would enough people have believed it?
I put the question to Bob Woodward, who broke that scandal for The Washington Post with Carl Bernstein. He said it would have turned out the same. “The evidence was so strong, because of the tapes — these things turn on the facts,” he said. “It would be: Can you get information and sources and testimony from witnesses and documents that show what happened.”
Given that no alternative reality was strong enough to save Flynn’s job, for instance, I’d have to agree. That said, if you live in Jones’ world, Flynn’s ouster would seem to be the height of injustice, delivered by the news media on behalf of those “criminal, corporate elements inside the CIA.” So, yes, you would see the press as the enemy.