At the start of “Alex’s War,” a documentary about Alex Jones, the infamous talk-news conspiracist guru of InfoWars is described by assorted media outlets as “a performance artist,” “paranoia porn,” and — in the words of John Oliver — “the Walter Cronkite of shrieking bat-shit guerrilla clowns.” All of which, of course, is accurate. Yet none of it fully captures what an important figure Alex Jones has become, even as he’s been fully deplatformed. (The deplatforming, of course, only helped his cause by him. It shored up and even mythologized his image by him as The Man Speaking Truth to the Power That Doesn’t Want You to Hear Him.)
A couple of decades ago, when he was on the rise as the ranting scourge of “globalism” and other evils, most of us dismissed Alex Jones as an outlier and a self-promoting blowhard who was ultimately a trivial voice shouting from the wilderness of his extreme beliefs. There was no denying that he had the charisma of a right-wing fire-breather like Michael Savage. But the defining quality of Alex Jones was willingness — more than that, a compulsion — to lend credibility to conspiratorial nonsense. The Oklahoma City bombing was, he said, an inside job, brought off with the cooperation of the US government; so it was 9/11. These beliefs, or so it seemed at the time, were on the fringe of the fringe.
As it turned out, though, Alex Jones, with his raving fruitcake paranoia, was an avatar of the new age. He has remained, in some horrible way, consistent in his beliefs, always blaming the government — and, by extension, the globalist cabal — for whatever disaster befalls. The assertion, which he clung to for years, that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was staged, another hologram in the government’s grand plan to control us, may have sounded, on the face of it, like the belief of someone who was losing his mental faculties. Yet how much of a leap is it from that level of warped reality to the trope that Jones became head cheerleader on two years ago: that Joe Biden stole the election? And that’s a belief that has taken over the Republican Party, not to mention a good slice of the American electorate. While Alex Jones was, and is, a bat-shit guerrilla clown, the truth is that to a disturbing degree it’s now his world dele, and we just live in it.
“Alex’s War” is a movie that helps us understand how that happened. Directed and edited by Alex Lee Moyer, it’s a rather strange film, in that it’s two hours and 11 minutes long, and for that entire time we’re immersed in the world according to Alex Jones without anything in the way of mediating voices. To call the film uncritical would be an understatement. It presents, without commentary, a documentary record of Jones’ career, from his earliest days on public-access TV to his rise as a talk-radio maven to his status as a rabble-rouser of insurrection, a man who was instrumental in stoking the rage that fueled the chaos and destruction of January 6. Moyer got incredible access to Jones, but you could argue that to do so she allowed her movie to fall down in its role. “Alex’s War” never overtly takes Jones to task. It never frames his celebrity as part of a larger social virus of dark fantasy and misinformation. It does not show you a thing about his personal life, or anything about his business of using politics to sell health supplements. “Alex’s War” is so free of judgment that an Alex Jones fan could probably watch it and think, “He slays!”
So how could this be a responsible movie? In the following way. “Alex’s War” is not a piece of pro-Jones propaganda. It’s closer to a piece of media-age vérité that assumes we know what the facts are, and that we don’t need to have our hands held as Jones spews forth his red-pill view of reality. Still, one might ask: Doesn’t this neutral perspective create a danger of making Jones look more reasonable and compelling than he is? I’d argue that that’s the film’s strength. Alex Jones is a compelling figure — to millions of his followers. He’s not just an alt-right talk host you might disagree with; he’s a cult leader, the way Donald Trump is. In both cases, if you don’t grasp the fundamental appeal of that, you’re just keeping your head in the sand.
Jones now looks like a retired pro-football lineman or an aging biker, with a brawler’s build and a beard grown to offset his thinning locks. We see him leading protest marches in Washington, DC, and Atlanta, where he helped the “Stop the Steal” movement take root. As he stalks the streets shouting hoarsely through a bullhorn, he has a commandingly world-weary bruiser-of-the-people, freedom-fighter-as-martyr vibe. At 48, he carries himself like a rock star of the dispossessed. If they made a biopic about Jones (and they should), the actor to play him would be Russell Crowe.
But “Alex’s War” also features a great deal of archival footage of Jones in his earlier days, and this stuff is fascinating, because you see how he evolved, and also how far ahead of the curve of the new down-the-rabbit- hole America he was. Born in 1974, he grew up in Rockwall, a wealthy small town on the outskirts of Dallas, where he was an athlete, a street fighter, and a delinquent. His family moved to Austin (to get him away from the tough vibe of Dallas), and he has resided in that liberal bastion ever since. As a teenager, Jones may have been a punk, but he was also a voracious reader, consuming comic books and science fiction and big fat tomes about history and fascism, as well as “Julius Caesar” and Gary Allen’s “None Dare Call It Conspiracy ,” which the film quotes from: “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” (It would be hard to think of a statement presented as the holy truth that is so wrong.)
During this period, friends of Jones’ family included a US operative who would talk about clandestine missions, as well as someone involved in the government’s secret research on psychedelics. You think: Fair enough. But then Jones says, “My dad had friends who were in the John Birch Society, so there was a background noise from them about the one-world government, the cashless society, the plan to break up the family, and all this.”
That’s an astonishing quote, since it includes most of Jones’s shibboleths. Jones is always talking about the “research” he does (that word is a tic with him, as if he were the Woodward and Bernstein of uncovering the New World Order). But what that quote reveals is that he swallowed most of his whole-hog ideology as an adolescent straight from the John Birch Society, a club of anti-Communist, anti-Semitic late-’50s cranks who were marginalized out of the conservative movement by William F. Buckley. You only need a couple of short lines to connect the dots from “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” to the Birchers to Jones. That’s his research.
In the ’90s, when he was still young (he turned 20 in 1994), Jones was strikingly good-looking in a Hollywood way. With his blond hair and regal smirk, he resembled a sunny-jock version of Bruce Davison, with a touch of a lost Bridges brother. He was a natural camera object, and talking into the camera he felt right at home. He had a money stare: tight-lipped, thousand-yard, with unbreakable eye contact. From the start, he was a dystopian fabulist, which became his form of showbiz. We see him at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing, sowing the seeds of conspiracy — which, as he now realized, you could do with anything. “Why has the media ignored two seismograph reports from the University of Oklahoma that show two distinct explosion patterns?” he asks. “I am not sitting here claiming to have the answers, but I know this: They don’t want you to know something. They’re keeping something from you.” Welcome to the new truth!
Yet it wasn’t all conspiracy. Jones was like a preacher, and what he was preaching was a religion — “stop the dehumanization.” And really, who doesn’t think contemporary America is dehumanized and only growing more so? Who doesn’t feel at times, in this society, overly controlled — by technology, by the corporatization that rules the technology, by the government that works hand in glove with the corporations, by not one but two political parties that seem increasingly out- of-touch with the needs of average people? Jones, like Trump, tapped into all that. But what gave it meaning was the way that Jones, a political carny barker, used conspiracy to reverse-engineer history. To him, every disaster, every predicament, everything about our world you don’t like had been planned and caused. By whom? by them. The globalists. The pedophiles. The technocrat corporatists who want to use vaccines to sterilize the population.
Jones had an interface with traditional media — and built his legend — when the BBC filmmaker Jon Ronson recruited him to infiltrate the Bohemian Grove, the annual two-week gathering of the rich and powerful on a 2,700-acre campground in Monte Rio, Calif. He and his cameraman, Mike Hanson, snuck in by pretending to be fat-cat members of the elite, and once there they filmed a Bohemian Grove ceremony, “Cremation of the Care,” during which the members wear costumes and cremate a coffin effigy before a 40-foot owl. Jones’ interpretation of this — that the men were doing it to expiate their sins — was sheer conjecture, but there’s no doubt that when this footage was shown as part of the BBC’s “Secret Rulers of the World,” it looked like something out of “Eyes Wide Shut.” It became the cornerstone of Jones’ “proof” that the world was being overtaken by a cabal of globalist creeps.
Yet Jones, by his own admission, finds most of the proof he seeks within himself. We see his broadcasts from him on Sandy Hook, where he said things like, “My gut tells me people controlling the government were involved with this. And it’s not even the gut, it’s the heart. It’s right here in my heart: I know things, I feel things.” Ah, research! The obscenity of the Sandy Hook rants, in which he claimed that the massacre was “a giant hoax,” were a paranoid wrinkle too far. The parents of the Sandy Hook victims filed a defamation suit (they’re seeking $150 million in damages), and as a result of that lawsuit it was reported only today that the parent company of InfoWars has now filed for bankruptcy. We see clips of Jones in a deposition, doing the worst sort of dissembling — apologizing for what he said, but not really. Not denying the denial of reality. He has become the Olympic champion of fake-news doublethink. But the other champion of that is Donald Trump, who we see asking the crowd on January 6, “Does anybody believe that Joe had 80 million votes?” He’s using Jones’s Sandy Hook logic. I feel it, so it must be true. Forget the globalists. This is the New World Order.