An observation from 30-plus years of reportage: Right-wing extremism as a worldview—especially the conspiracism that is its mother’s milk—is actually exhausting. The constant rage and hatred and paranoia that it’s always generating takes a tremendous amount of energy. It wears people out, inside and out. In the end, people who go down those rabbit holes become isolated and hollowed out.
Alex Jones is, as always in the conspiracist universe, the living embodiment of this unpleasant truth. The recent reportage for the SPLC’s Hatewatch examining Jones’ exposed cell-phone texts give us a clear view of the hell that is Alex Jones’ life: a “sick joke” sinking down a “black hole” and living “in hell.” And anyone in his orbit is “traumatized.”
In the wake of the billion-dollar civil judgement against Jones after losing the lawsuit filed by the parents of the Sandy Hook massacre victims he defamed and targeted, Jones has only somewhat reeled in his act. He still managed to host Kanye West’s bizarre Hitler-loving rant, and he recently told his audience of millions that “a gang of racist, foaming at the mouth Black people” are likely coming “to rape, rob, or kill you,” so you must “defend yourself and kill every person you need to protect your family if they're attacking you.”
During the course of the trial, Jones’ cell-phone texts were accidentally exposed as public information as part of the evidence gathered by the plaintiffs, and investigative journalists began setting about exploring different aspects of what they revealed. One analysis by Huffpost’s Sebastian Murdock found that Jones’ text exchanges with Tucker Carlson had an uncanny knack of working their way into Tucker’s nightly Fox News show.
The SPLC’s reportage on Jones’ texts, by Michael Edison Hayden and Megan Squire, is broader-based, and more intended to give readers a window into what the daily life of Alex Jones, the real person, is like. And it’s brutally unpleasant: abusing his employees, spying on his wife, threatening, and eventually apparently assaulting her; and becoming increasingly isolated:
He appears to chat with almost no one who could be described as a friend, disentangled from his activism or Infowars work. Nearly everyone with whom he corresponds, outside of a few people in his family, connects with Jones through their relationship to Infowars, either as an employee or as another pro-Trump influencer. He sends and receives messages with more than 120 people who fit that description. Jones speaks with over 40 people who provide what could be described as personal services to him, like his personal trainer.
So far, in addition to the tawdry realities of Jones’ daily life the texts reveal, the Hatewatch reportage has explored the significance of Jones’ long-running close relationship with the Proud Boys and their founder, Gavin McInnes—not to mention the national PB leader currently on trial for seditionist conspiracy, Joe Biggs, a former Infowars host—as well Jones’ long-running connections with talk-show host Joe Rogan, to whom Jones once recommended hosting an episode with pro-rape misogynist Andrew Tate.
One of the key interviewees for the project is a former Infowars employee, Zac Drucker, who provides key insights into what was going on in Jones’ world at the time he wrote the texts. He said that Andrew Tate fit neatly into appealing to Jones’ target demographic.
“Part of the audience that Alex glues to a little bit is the pro-masculine, masculine, misogynist, Christian alpha male type of deal,” Drucker said, comparable to Infowars guests like Gavin McInnes and Mike Cernovich. “They are presenting a ‘He-Man Woman Hater’s Club’ mentality that the right-wing attaches to fervently. Anyone who fits that bill is the type of person that Alex wants to have on.”
Hayden has discussed the reportage on a couple of podcasts that are well worth the listen, including his discussion with Jared Holt of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue on the Posting Through It podcast. Notably, Hayden talked about what a crappy quality of life lays in store for people following Jones’ path to media riches:
What we really wanted to convey is a clear warning to people who want to go this way and make money in this world that it is not pleasant. It is really bad. It is not a happy life. You can make a lot of money—and Jones really has, he really has made a lot of money; [Proud Boys founder] Gavin McInnes probably has too. But it’s not pleasant. It’s an unpleasant life. And I have no doubt that Jones is drinking—which according to some of his ex-employees begins around 9 a.m. He’s probably self-medicating in part because of the double lives he has to lead here.
It’s appropriate if not ineluctable that the father of modern conspiracist culture would succumb to the inevitable fate that awaits nearly every one of the followers who tries to live according to the worldview he prescribes. In my book Red Pill, Blue Pill, I described this syndrome as the narrative arc that is built into the conspiracist universe: initial feelings of empowerment, which only increase along with community and deepening, but descending into disorientation, dislocation, disillusionment, alienation, and ending in isolation.
It’s almost inevitable that people who remain within the conspiracist alternative universe for any extended period will eventually feel almost completely isolated because of the kinds of personalities the universe attracts: insecure, possessing low self-esteem about their place in the world, yet bellicose, angry, aggressive, and often egotistical. People within this universe form fast, intense friendships that often burn out quickly, leaving a trail of hard feelings, small betrayals, and personal antagonisms that remain buried in their psyches.
Eventually, the isolation becomes complete. The end point of the conspiracist narrative is a person who is cut off from everyone in the world—his family, his old friends, his coworkers, even his next-door neighbors—because they all are either suspected active members of the conspiracy or are hapless, gullible pawns. He has no political power because he does not vote and does not participate in any part of the process. He even is cut off from the rest of the culture because he no longer consumes any media except material that helps support the conspiracy narrative.
Hayden also appeared on the Did Nothing Wrong podcast, and explored the deeply misogynist world that Jones inhabits and enforces in his personal life. He also poignantly observes: “Everybody who’s got a grift going in the algorithm era has also got a scapegoat that they chase.”
And that’s the key: Chip Berlet long ago discussed how all conspiracist rhetoric fundamentally is a kind of scapegoating narrative. And the end product of scapegoating is eliminationism and genocide. Which always seems to be where the rabbit holes end up.
Be sure to listen to The Downballot where Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United, discusses her group's efforts to roll back the corrupting effects of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision as we hit the ruling's 13th anniversary. Muller tells us about ECU's short- and long-term plans to enact serious campaign finance reform; how the organization has expanded into the broader voting rights arena in recent years; and research showing the surprising connection many voters drew between the GOP's attacks on democracy and their war against abortion rights.