AUSTIN, Texas — I grew up in Tennessee, so going to Texas wasn’t a completely unfamiliar thing. But trying to interview Alex Jones was.
Jones is a talk show host with a massive following, and one who has made a career out of rage-induced conspiracy theories. He is also an integral part of understanding how controversy has flared around the Jade Helm 15, a two-month military exercise planned for two months this summer across a swath of Southwestern states.
I wanted to explore the ways in which the military operation was exposing some of the deep divides in America and how distrust had reached such a level that large numbers of people believe the military might be coming into Texas as a first step toward declaring martial law.
Jones was the earliest and loudest opponent to the operation, and he used a daily radio show, which has some 1 million listeners, to bring so much attention to the topic that Texas Governor Greg Abbott called upon the Texas State Guard to monitor the federal military.
So in the days before leaving for Austin, I put in requests to interview Jones. I put in more requests once I was there. Over nearly a week, like a spurned suitor, I e-mailed. I called. I texted.
In a final effort to talk with Jones, I tried to find out where his studio is located. It turns out, Jones doesn’t want you to know where his studio is located.
“They’re usually pretty private about their operation,” said someone at Brave New Books, a bookstore near the University of Texas Austin that is literally underground (Photos of Jones hang on the wall and a sticker from his website InfoWars is affixed the coffee machine reading, “Wake Up!”)
I found various addresses where his studio might have been. One was a squat office building on the edge of town where workers hadn’t heard of Jones. Another location shared a building with a dental office but no signs indicating Jones was there. A third, where his studio was located several years ago, had become a school for dogs (a worker there has grown used to people coming there asking for Jones, but no one knew where he went next).
By this point, I had given up, resigned to the fact that Jones was not going to cooperate and got ready to fly home the next morning.
Then, at 9:56 p.m., an e-mail arrived from Jones’ news director, Rob Dew. It was the first communication I had with anyone from his operation.
That day on his show, it turned out, Jones had gone after the mainstream media. He was challenging both ABC News and Fox News to a live debate on Jade Helm (he also challenged two Fox News commentators to a bare-knuckle boxing match).
“I’m sick of these cowards. I’m ready to fly to New York City or D.C. right now.” he said. “Now, they know I’ll dominate, that’s why they won’t do it. Because they’re sacks of chicken crap. … I mean, I’ll just blast them with truth. They call it the avalanche technique of debate. And then it’s over. I will laugh at them.”
And now, several hours after Jones finished that show, here was Dew, putting the most unusual terms on an interview that I’ve ever received.
“You can interview him during the show,” Dew wrote in an e-mail. “Interested?”
I told him I was not particularly interested in going on the show live. Maybe we could meet before the show aired? Perhaps I could interview him quickly between segments?
Dew said that would probably be possible, but he would check with Jones.
By the next morning, Dew said the only way Jones would meet me in person would be if I came on the show live. Another option, he said, would be to have Jones call me on the phone that afternoon when the show ended.
Eager to see Jones, and his studio, in person, I initially agreed to come on the show. After checking with editors, we decided that would not be such a good idea. It places us at the center of the story and also airs an interview with Jones live on the radio well before our own article would be ready for publication. The trade-off didn’t seem worth it.
So within 15 minutes, I messaged Dew back, saying I wouldn’t appear live but still wanted to do the phone interview. He agreed, saying he would send me Jones’ cell phone number after the show.
A half hour after the exchange, on radio stations around the country, “The Imperial March” — the theme music for Darth Vader on Star Wars — played, and then Jones came on air.
“To quote the Beastie Boys, ‘I wear a hat, not a visor. I drink Budweiser!’” he said. “The reason I’m being silly is we have Matt Viser from The Boston Globe. He’s going to be joining us in studio today.”
As I sat in my rental car about a mile from Jones’ studio, I listened as he went on to criticize the media for what he believes are misquotes.
“We are not going to let you play your sneaky underhanded tricks anymore you back-biting crew of scallywags,” he shouted. “That’s just how this works. We’re done with you. We know you’re not media, you’re propagandists. And we are not backing down, we are not standing down, we are not going away.”
A few minutes later, Dew went on the air and pretended as if the text message from me — which he had acknowledged receiving 30 minutes earlier — had just arrived.
“He’s backing out,” he told Jones.
“We are going to shut down if we keep responding to all these reporters,” Jones said. “…That’s good. We’re done. I don’t have any time to talk to him now!”
“They want to have standup fight, we’ll have it!” he added. “But we’re not going to play patty-cake with these reporters.”
I did drive by the studio, which is in a nondescript brick office complex in southeast Austin that also includes an employment testing facility and a pest control company.
But when I attempted again to reach Jones that afternoon, at the time they had previously said he would be available, my messages again went back to going unreturned.