The shocking fact you need to know about Alex Jones is that he’s 43 years old. What happened? Maybe yelling stretches your face out. Perhaps knowledge of vast conspiracies has overtaxed his system. Or maybe he looks like a 43 year-old who got mutated in a tanning booth explosion 53 years ago because only his character is forty-three. The guy who plays him is older. Did you not realize, as I had not, that Alex Jones of Infowars and The Alex Jones Show is a character played by the performance artist Alex Jones? That’s what custody claimant Alex Jones’s lawyer recently argued in Travis County District Court, in the matter of Jones v. Jones. I quote the Austin American-Statesman:
At a recent pretrial hearing, attorney Randall Wilhite told state District Judge Orlinda Naranjo that using his client Alex Jones’ on-air Infowars persona to evaluate Alex Jones as a father would be like judging Jack Nicholson in a custody dispute based on his performance as the Joker in “Batman.”
“He’s playing a character,” Wilhite said of Jones. “He is a performance artist.”
Hold the phone—is Alex Jones breaking kayfabe? Never break kayfabe. The only time it’s okay is when your kids are on the line, as in the 1980s WWF storyline where Macho Man Randy Savage pretended to break kayfabe by wearing a suit and appearing in family court as Randall Saváge, but then his essentially macho nature broke through and he hit his kids with a chair. Anyway, if you ever wanted to pin down Alex Jones and ask him whether he believes all the conspiracies his show presents as news, now is the time in Travis County.
The former Mrs. Jones argues that Jones is unstable, citing what seemed to be threats of violence against Rep. Jason Schiff (D-Cal.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, during an on-air rant. A few days after that broadcast, Jones argued that his remarks were:
“clearly tongue-in-cheek and basically art performance, as I do in my rants, which I admit I do, as a form of art. When I say, ‘I’m going to kick your ass,’ it’s the Infowar. I say every day we’re going to destroy you with the truth.”
The problem with this defense is that no one else really says that. It’s fundamental that we knock the shit out of our elementary schoolchildren with reading and mathematics. But the other problem is that Jones has deployed two contradictory arguments, here: he was speaking metaphorically, and he was speaking “tongue-in-cheek.” The first argues that his words had broader meaning. The second argues that he simply didn’t mean them, and his audience knew that.
This brings us to the perennial question about the man who said the Sandy Hook Massacre was fake and recently suggested that Barack Obama’s children “aren’t even his kids.” Does he believe this stuff? He doesn’t supply evidence for his various conspiracies. He posits them as frameworks for interpreting current events. Often, this events are mundane—what a less paranoid person might call meaningless. The not-even-his-kids theory started out as a conversation with fellow epistemological nightmare Mike Cernovich, in which they agreed that Obama’s had mostly likely visited French Polynesia because it has “no criminal extradition treaty with the United States.”
Or it’s real nice down there. A sensible person does not immediately think criminal extradition when he hears the ex-president went to the tropics. But a person who plays an unhinged superpatriot in a world of nested conspiracies would. He would seize the chance to flesh another one out. In that person’s performance, “Where’s my sandwich?” always becomes “Who paid you to get rid of my sandwich?” This is the fecund atmosphere of Jones’s show, where conspiracies burst forth like mushrooms after rain.
Of course, it’s also the way a genuinely unstable person thinks. We’ve got a name for people who see conspiracies in ordinary events but do not broadcast their remarks on the radio. Imagine Jones said this not to Mike Cernovich on his radio show but to you on the bus:
Think of how ballsy it was six years ago with Google and Facebook and they all went to that big hotel north of London where they had Bilderberg the next year, this was in the news later, and organized the Arab Spring and the overthrow of all these secular governments and blowing up churches and he actually — his family laundered the money in and it all came out in court.
I’m no clinician, but I hear disordered speech. This question—is Jones putting us on, or is he crazy?—seems relevant to an increasing number of personalities at the intersections of politics and entertainment. Did Glenn Beck believe his own bullshit? When Donald Trump says millions of immigrants voted illegally, is he cynically manipulating people or credulously buying what he heard? Does fake news know it’s fake?