Alex Jones’s show Infowars often feels like a dark comedy.
According to the conspiracy theory–fueled media titan, there’s a “fungal epidemic” causing everything from rampant brain tumors to Crohn’s disease. Sesame Street’s new autistic Muppet was really designed to normalize autism, a disorder caused by vaccines. Bill Gates’s global health philanthropy is a mass eugenics effort. The HIV/AIDS epidemic was created by the US government. Claims about global warming are based on “fake science” and only “promoted by politicians to scare the public into accepting a vast expansion of government to supposedly stop ‘global warming.’”
The conspiracy theories are plentiful, and Jones rolls them out — in his trademark guttural rasp — with mind-boggling rapidity.
But Infowars is not a comedy. Jones’s website (also called Infowars) now attracts more than 6 million unique US users each month, and Jones has a YouTube following of 2 million subscribers, which rivals that of many major media outlets. He can count the president of the United States among his acolytes. (“You have an amazing reputation,” then-candidate Donald Trump told Jones in a 2015 interview.)
I recently watched several hours of Jones’s show to understand his wild and dangerous health claims. But one question kept running through my mind: Who are his fans, and why are they so pissed off at the medical and scientific establishment? How much of what Jones says do they actually believe?
I went to Reddit and posted requests in Alex Jones–related groups, asking to connect with people who regularly tune in to Infowars online or on the radio. Some who responded accused me of working for a “fake news” and “liberal propaganda” outlet. But others were generous with their time, offering to talk via phone, Reddit, and email.
The Infowarriors I spoke to didn’t fit the stereotypes. Most said they believed in climate change and the benefits of vaccines. Some were former NPR listeners who felt the mainstream media had let them down. Others were looking for interesting and alternative opinions online. Still others championed science and were glad scientists are marching in the streets this week.
Here are excerpts from the most enlightening exchanges.
This fan from south Louisiana hopes Trump will tackle climate change
Peter is a cop from south Louisiana with a science degree from the University of New Orleans. When we talked, he quoted the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and told me about his travels around the world — to China, Egypt, Tunisia, Austria. (We changed Peter’s name and the names of the other fans in this article. All of them agreed to talk only under the condition of anonymity because of privacy concerns and fear of repercussions in their professional lives about their political views.)
Peter started following Alex Jones during the 2016 presidential election. But there were a couple of pivotal events in Peter’s life that primed him for being open to the messages on the show.
First, the George W. Bush years taught him to think critically about media coverage. “There was all of the vitriol toward mainstream media coming from the left in agitation with its support for these various wars. So I didn’t forget the media wasn’t to be trusted,” he said, referring to the New York Times misreporting about Iraq and the criticism that ensued. NPR, which he used to listen to regularly, turned him off for “how apologetic they were toward the Obama administration’s wars and how vitriolic they were toward Trump.” (He now views NPR as “a DC-based think tank … [with] political positions [that] are just as contrived and preapproved.”)
The second incident that primed Peter for Jones: living through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The “mismanagement of Katrina is something I will never forget,” he says. And he’d long been skeptical of “mainstream media.”
On the show, Jones rails against “fake news” on mainstream media and suggests government is controlled by an international faction called the New World Order — big banks, billionaires, mainstream media, pharmaceutical companies — that is working against the interests of regular Americans. So these views resonated with Peter.
A registered libertarian, he thinks his vote for Trump is maybe the first he’s ever cast for a Republican. But Peter liked Trump because he seemed to be outside of the “DC establishment.”
There’s one issue where Trump and Jones rub Peter the wrong way: They each deny climate change and support funding cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency. “As a Louisianan, I’m sensitive about environmental issues,” Peter said. “I don’t want to see Louisiana falling into Gulf of Mexico.” He wishes the left and right would come together to address the problem — and fast. “I want to see coastal Louisiana protected. I don’t want to see pelicans [dying]. … A lot of the earth is falling apart, and it’s going to take a lot of fucking effort to [fix it].”
This fan is rooting for the March for Science
Mark is a software developer who started listening to Jones after 9/11.
Around that time, he was on a political forum and people were posting links to Infowars. “Most of what [Jones] was talking about was bizarre stuff — but he basically singlehandedly raised awareness about the Illuminati and Bilderberg. A lot of conspiracy stuff, so take it with a grain of salt. But it was interesting to listen to something other than mainstream media even if most of it was ‘out there.’”
Jones’s criticisms of medicine — that it’s too profit-driven and that it does more harm than good — have resonated with Mark, too. “Medicine is good,” he said. “But there is a problem with big pharma … I have my doctors always trying to prescribe medicines that I don't feel are necessary. I know overmedication is a huge problem. A lot of people are addicted to opioids. I think medicine has become big business, and when that happens, much like for-profit prisons, the financial incentive is to put people on [treatment] so they get the recurring revenue.”
These days, Mark — who backed Bernie Sanders in the most recent election — views Jones as “a major shill for Trump and the alt-right.” So he tunes in to Jones less often, mostly when he hears the odd show playing on local radio at night. But he still appreciates how Jones’s alternative views “get some crazy thought processes going.”
When asked about Jones’s denial of climate change, Mark told me it disappointed him. “Climate change is real. I don't think rational people can deny it. But here's how I approach Alex Jones: 90 percent of what he says is purely disinformation and propaganda, but the 10 percent where he speaks the truth is enlightening.”
That’s part of the reason Mark also supports the March for Science. “When you have a leader like Trump who denies basic knowledge, you're going to have a lot of bad things happen.”
Nikolaj from Denmark hopes a Trump-like figure will rise there
The majority of the people who tune in to Infowars online do so from America. But there are international fans, like Nikolaj, an IT worker from Denmark.
“I have been listening to Alex Jones on and off for many years,” he said, “but I have been watching the show regularly since the primaries for the last US election.”
A libertarian, Nikolaj was careful to say Infowars is not the only media outlet he follows. “I believe that you are just as much of an idiot if you only watch Infowars as if you only watch CNN.”
But he likes the show for its “different perspective on things” and because it’s “not politically correct. They call stuff out as they are without having to wrap it in bubble wrap or ignore it altogether.”
Still, he too was annoyed by Jones’s denial of climate change. “Climate change is real, and it does bother me that Alex Jones — like every other conservative American media [player] — doesn't realize it.”
On vaccines, Nikolaj’s views diverge with those on Infowars again. “I don't buy into the conspiracy that vaccines are some tool for creating autistic children or whatever the conspiracy is, and I would have no problem getting my own children vaccinated if I have some one day.”
What does appeal to him is the message that the establishment has failed. “Corrupt politicians both in the US but also in Europe stay in power and can continue being corrupt without any repercussions. Almost all the politicians at the Senate/Congress level work only for special interests, and their own political gain.”
As for the media, he doesn’t trust them either. “The media has let people down for many years, but now in the age of the internet it's really more a race to the bottom,” Nikolaj said.
How could media regain his trust? “[“They] would have to be the frontrunners of the truth.”
For now, Nikolaj is hoping a Trumpian candidate will rise in Denmark. “My interest in American politics has been influenced by Trump. Because suddenly there seemed to be an outlier in the election, and not the same suits that have done nothing but been in government for their entire life. I hope we get a guy like that in my country one day.”
Infowarriors are too numerous to ignore
The handful of fans I heard from for this story aren’t necessarily representative of the millions of people who listen to or watch Alex Jones. Others may be fervent climate denialists and vaccine refusers.
Nonetheless, these conversations were informative. I learned that Jones’s listeners felt let down by government, medicine, and the media. At a time when trust in many of America’s institutions has been on the decline, this wasn’t entirely surprising. But they tuned in to the show for a range of reasons, not just out of disgruntlement: Sometimes Jones was simply entertaining, or his rants gave them new angles on the news.
Many also believed in science and the advances it delivers, which maybe shouldn’t be surprising. Public trust in science has actually held fairly stable over the past couple of decades (though trust in medicine has declined significantly).
Right now, though, we’re living in a frightening moment — particularly for those who believe in the importance of science and worry about the fate of the climate. We have a president who has called global warming a hoax and who has perpetuated an unproven link between vaccines and autism. These sentiments from the White House are enough to bring thousands of scientists to the streets in protests scheduled for more than 500 cities and towns around the world. As Mark told me, “When you have a leader like Trump who denies basic knowledge, you're going to have a lot of bad things happen.”
Mainstream politicians on the left have mostly ignored the rise of fringe media figures like Jones, while Trump has embraced them. But the Jones fans have become too numerous to shove aside. And they raise some valid concerns: Mainstream media could do a better job, as my colleague Dave Roberts has written, of being “fair and consistent referees of policy and ideological disputes within the public square.” Medicine, in many cases, has failed to help people and sometimes does more harm than good. There are vested interests that have an outsize influence on lawmakers, and government sometimes fails people, which justifies some of people’s frustration with Washington.
This erosion of faith in institutions is something Trump identified and tapped into during the most recent election. He was clearly listening to some of the dark and deeply held views that are out there, instead of mocking them or ignoring them. It’s probably time for the rest of us to start listening too.