For some young people, myself included, the name Alex Jones is not unfamiliar. He’s the guy from the gay juice-box video. In one of the most classic items in the Infowars canon, Jones declares juice boxes to be filled with “estrogen mimickers” designed by the government to turn straight men gay (this gem being in close competition with “This is a Human” and “In Bed with a Goblin”). He then proceeds to dissect a juice box on camera to pinpoint where the hormone chemicals are being injected into the lining of the container. For years, my friends and I would regularly return to these inebriated diatribes for a few laughs, and occasionally a serious discussion on how anyone could believe any of this absurdity. For us, the uptick in Jones’ presence in the mainstream is bothersome, to say the absolute least.
Jones’ rise to prominence is entwined with his cozy relationship with the sitting President of the United States. In between fetid smears against terror victims and outbursts of infantile rage, Jones spends his time advising Donald Trump on policy issues. According to Jones, Trump has dubbed him “one of the greatest influences I’ve ever seen…It’s greater than you know. Just know that your influence is second to none.” Unlike most of Jones’ claims, this is a credible one. The words “Your reputation is amazing” came directly from Trump’s lips in a 2015 interview between him and America’s Rasputin (Jones claims that Trump “has called sometimes and talked about politics, or thanked me, stuff like that”).
That the two should develop a friendship shouldn’t be much of a surprise; they have so much in common. Trump and Jones both share views on the “murders” of Antonin Scalia and Vince Foster, the presence of Islamic training camps on American soil, and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s establishment of the Islamic State. Alex Jones was the first to speak on the “rigging” of the 2016 election, as well as Hillary Clinton’ts apparent health crisis, not Donald Trump.
But perhaps the most revealing example of Trump/Jones common ground is the infamous birtherism assertion. If it were not for conspiracies, this one in particular, Donald Trump would not be the President. This racist, stupid attempt at an entry into the political arena ended up working, as numerous public opinion polls demonstrate. A 2011 Gallup poll found that someone who subscribed to the birther conspiracy was much more likely to entertain the idea of a President Trump.
Putting aside the very real element of race in this, how is it that so many people believed this unsubstantiated allegation? How is it that so many people continue to go along with every other nonsensical claim made by the President? An article in Political Psychology attempts to offer us some insight into these attitudes. This study of conspiracy theorists found that blind acceptance of conspiracy theories is caused by “feelings of alienation, powerlessness, hostility, and being disadvantaged.”
Such an argument supporting this in regard to Trump voters could have been made during the campaign. Blue-collar workers who had been displaced due to the combination of technological progress and corporate-centric international trade deals were naturally drawn to the presidential ticket most representative of economic nationalism. This group of voters was willing to consume their side of paranoia if the main dish was financial security and economic protection against offshoring, unemployment, and economic policies which seemed to threaten their livelihoods. They shared a set of beliefs that oddly mirrored the Alex Jones agenda: the class of wealthy businessmen and politicians aren’t concerned about the average men and women of the United States. They have their own plans, their own objectives, and are perfectly willing to steamroll anyone who gets in their way.
Their grievances are, in part, genuine. Trade deals have been crafted with the knowledge that jobs will be lost in the United States, and are nevertheless enacted with largely bipartisan support. Furthermore, such deals are sold to the American people as a sort of mutual strengthening of economies between the US and other countries with whom we trade. Workers who have experienced the exact opposite result have a reason to be upset.
However, their solution to these problems is misguided. Electing Donald Trump won’t solve their problems, and will make it harder to continue regurgitating claims about a gang of globalists intent on wiping out the middle class. Now that the man who was supposed to blow up the establishment is sitting in the Oval Office, how can right-wing populists still keep making the same arguments?
They can’t; Trump has a responsibility to make good on the promises he made, an impossible task considering the nonsense laced into just about every one of them. Political distractions work in his favor, but once the fog clears, the natives of Trumpland may begin to get restless. The logical conclusion would be to conjure up more conspiracies in order to redirect anger away from him, but launching them against the establishment would be mighty difficult considering Trump’s current job description.
The natural path to take is to lob conspiracies at someone else: the grassroots opposition. Trump has already dabbled in this by claiming that anti-Trump protestors were left-wing operatives paid by Democrats. These arguments can continue to be made regardless of Trump’s job performance.
Trump and co. would not be the first to come to follow this line of thinking. In a trend brilliantly parodied in Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, Joseph Stalin blamed many of the ills of the Soviet Union on Leon Trotsky and his followers. In an attempt to rid the Communist Party of opposition (or as the Stalinists labeled them, “fascist agents”), thousands of Trotskyists were exiled from the Soviet Union. At the behest of Stalin, an untold number were purged from Communist parties worldwide.
Spanish dictator Francisco Franco illegalized Freemasonry in 1940. According to him and the Francoists, Spanish masons had been among the political elite of the Republican Regime, which had been overthrown in the Spanish Civil War, and were working with Communists and Jews to take out Franco.
Serbian autocrat Slobodan Milosevic claimed that pro-democracy demonstrations were the work of “well-paid student activists” working with the CIA. The leaders of the democratic uprisings against the Ukrainian government in 2004 and 2005 were slandered as “drug addicts…who are led by well-paid foreign conspirators”. The list goes on and on.
Franco, Milosevic, Stalin, and their ilk weren’t simply playing a political game when they expelled their “other” of choice. They believed their own conspiracy theories. Srdja Popovic, a member of the pro-democracy OTPOR movement in Serbia, obtained access to documents kept by the Serbia secret police regarding the activist group:
The officers of the State Security Agency really had been looking for what they termed an ‘OTPOR analytical center,’ a sort of grand HQ, which they were convinced lay in Washington DC. In reality, we ran OTPOR from the living room of our parents’ apartment…Milosevic had been misled by his own propaganda.
Americans on both the left and the right feel the need to debate whether Donald Trump is using his tweets and television appearances to distract from the evil he conducts behind the curtain, or whether he is what he appears to be: a baby learning how to walk. I place myself firmly in the camp of the latter: like Milosevic, Trump believes his own propaganda. He does not believe Barack Obama was born in the United States (despite his weak, arm-twisted “apology”). He does not believe ISIS came into being without the direct help of the previous administration. And he does not believe that protestors amass in the streets through their own volition, expressing a broiling anger and confusion that will not go away, no matter how much you tweet at it.
Trump and Alex Jones opt for conspiracy theories because they’re easy, and the victimization complex that they share offers an odd sort of comfort; it absolves the believer of personal responsibility and doesn’t require them to read about or look closely at a complicated issue. Trump’s cohorts, on the other hand, understand the political opportunities lying dormant in demonizing one’s enemies using absurd theories.
I should note that the Political Psychology study also found that “a willingness to follow authoritarian leaders may contribute to beliefs in conspiracies”. Alex Jones now finds himself in a situation rich with irony. In building a career centered on lambasting the powerful, he is now on friendly terms with the most powerful man in the world. In an attempt to keep up the false persona of a victimized martyr, Jones will drive his followers into the arms of a lying authoritarian who has in the past, and likely will again, conjure up wild and harmful theories aimed at large portions of the population.
Photo: Sean P. Anderson/Flickr