After the show, Jones sits in his studio and monitors hits of his own name on Google News, which seem to pop up every few seconds because of the Charlie Sheen media explosion.
Jones is an entertainer—he studied broadcasting at a community college—and hardly unambitious. At one point, he suggests we title this story “Duh—Winning!” He has a staff of 25 and recently built a TV studio for his webcast. He has big dreams of starting an online social network and even a newspaper distributed in major cities. His sense of the Internet, where he has a massive Google footprint of alarming news clips and full-length YouTube movies like The Obama Deception and Fall of the Republic, is that it’s a virtual feeding pond for his ideas.
“I’m just throwing pebbles in the pond, and over time it starts making bigger and bigger waves,” says Jones.
The pond is ready. The one-two punch of the financial collapse and the election of a man whose last name rhymes with Osama mainstreamed conspiracy in the form of Fox News’s Glenn Beck.
Jones couldn’t help but notice. After I asked for examples of how Beck ripped him off, Jones went ahead and created a YouTube video titled “The Glenn Beck Secret,” showing how Beck allegedly lifted Jones’s ideas, one after the other. In Jones’s view, Beck has repackaged his ideas to serve GOP talking points, a tricky way of keeping people tethered to the two-party paradigm that lulls the masses into believing government actually serves their interests (“a control grid used to manipulate the people”).
When Beck, for instance, talks about Google as overly close to government agencies and therefore in cahoots with “hard-core leftists,” Jones points out that he preceded Beck in reporting that Google was an “NSA-CIA spy center,” and Jones, the truth-teller, didn’t try separating it from Bush’s wiretapping, which Jones sees as part of the same manipulation machine. “Glenn Beck has ripped us off on the Google boycott and then spun it deceptively,” he says.
Jones takes Beck’s success personally. “It’s very, very painful to see this biological android, a complete actor, reading off teleprompters and singing and dancing around and prancing around, a fairy dancing and prancing around, using my material,” he says.
In the chaotic, largely leaderless media environment, truth standards are in the eye of the beholder, and this has consequences. Polls show that public faith in institutions like Congress and the media are at an all-time low.
“Eleven percent,” says Jones. “Gallup.”
“There’s been a total loss of confidence, to the point now that the public is awake,” explains Jones, “but almost in a twisted, psychologically drugged state where people don’t trust anything.”
And not coincidentally—remember, nothing in Jones’s world is a coincidence—the rise of Jones’s show tracks closely with the price of gold. In 1999, when the price of gold bottomed out at $252.55 per ounce, Jones had about 200,000 listeners on an average day; now the price is above $1,400, and he has upwards of 3 million listeners through radio and the Internet. Gold advertisers account for roughly 25 percent of revenue for Jones. “I grew up with gold,” he says. “It grew up with me.”
Another noncoincidence: Jones’s main sponsor is a gold company, called Midas Resources, owned by his longtime business partner, Ted Anderson. Midas, which literally sends its customers gold bars and coins in the mail, also advertises with Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh. In one sense, Jones’s whole program can be seen as an advertising front for Midas, urging listeners to find shelter in precious metals, the symbol of comfort and certainty for currency obsessives, as he keeps up the drumbeat of dark and forbidding news that paints the world as a place where survival gear and water purifiers may be necessary any minute now. As an investment, it was pretty smart: Midas has become one of the top five gold companies in the U.S., says Anderson, and the revenues for “The Alex Jones Show” have grown “a hundredfold,” Jones says, in the past decade.
Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor whom President Obama appointed as his “regulatory czar” in 2009, published a paper the year before about the dangers of conspiracy theories, and people who suffer from what he called “crippled epistemologies,” to public trust and the political system. Among his examples were 9/11 Truthers and the widespread myth that AIDS was spread by the government.
“They do not merely undermine democratic debate,” he wrote, with a co-author, Adrian Vermeule. “In extreme cases, they create or fuel violence. If government can dispel such theories, it should do so.”
Sunstein’s conclusions eerily foreshadowed the case of Jared Lee Loughner, who had marinated in online conspiracy theories before going on the shooting spree that killed six and badly maimed Congresswoman Giffords. Loughner’s case was much murkier than any white supremacist’s, and therefore scarier. His mélange of interests included Marxism, Mein Kampf, 9/11 Truth, and Zeitgeist.