It’s noon in Austin, fully 100 degrees out, and the documentarian Alex Lee Moyer is sitting in a downtown hotel a few hours before the premiere of her new film. Alex’s War is an access-driven portrait of the muscle-bound conspiracist Alex Jones, and yesterday Moyer traded places with her subject, appearing on his Infowars show to plug it. “Every time there was a commercial break, they were really trying to push his boner pills,” she says. “He’s like, ‘The globalists are trying to ruin the American family. That’s why it’s more important than ever to have children.’ ” Having spent months recording Jones, Moyer mimics his hoarse, manic drawl with affection.
Moyer’s own expression is generally deadpan, and at times it’s hard to tell if she’s masking worry or ennui. Promoting Alex’s War had taken on a circular quality with various media and technology institutions seeming unsure about whether to platform a movie about a deplatformed individual. The film’s production company has claimed that Deadline declined to cover Alex’s War because of its “approach” to a “prickly” topic and that major social networks limited its ability to advertise. The specter of censorship has elevated the film’s status on the right, while its taboo quality has raised its cachet among a segment of the dissident left. The premiere was set to be a blockbuster anti-Establishment crossover event capped by a discussion between the two Alexes, moderated by the journalist Glenn Greenwald.
Moyer is attracted to alienated figures on the fringe of the internet. Her first documentary, 2020’s TFW NO GF (as in “That feel when no girlfriend”), follows a group of incels (though she doesn’t like the term) influenced by message-board culture. Moyer had found the prevailing media coverage of this cohort to be simplistic. “When you see people on the news talking about how it’s just ‘men that hate women,’ I knew that was totally reductive and stupid and disingenuous,” she says. “I thought somebody should actually look into it.” Rolling Stone called the film “deeply uncomfortable.”
For her next project, Moyer chose a subject with higher stakes. Jones had recently been banned from the big social-media platforms, both limiting his reach and cementing his villainous status in the public imagination. “I thought to myself, Why hasn’t anybody made a good movie about him? There are all these CNN hit pieces and things like that, but they are very one-note,” she says. Moyer relocated from Los Angeles to Austin, Jones’s hometown, and persuaded him to let her shadow him. She titled the project Alex’s War, she says, because using his first name would force viewers to see him as a real person rather than a caricature.
“This is somebody who has a past,” she tells me. “This is somebody who used to be a child.” Consciously or not, the invocation of children could not be more loaded. Last year, a Texas judge found Jones liable for defaming the parents of two murdered Sandy Hook Elementary School students by repeatedly claiming the 2012 massacre was a hoax, and he is now on trial in Austin to determine how much he must pay one set of parents. Sandy Hook changed the general perception of Jones from lunatic carnival barker to callous tormentor, someone who deserves to be cut off from the tools that allow him to reach a large audience.
Moyer’s biggest influence in making Alex’s War, she says, was D. A. Pennebaker’s 1967 Bob Dylan documentary, Don’t Look Back, and its total lack of commentary: no narrator, no talking heads. Making a similarly dispassionate, vérité film about Jones is a kind of meta-referendum on the very issues Jones’s removal from social media brings up. “When you talk about censorship and who should be allowed to speak and who shouldn’t,” she says, “the biggest case study is Alex Jones.”
Moyer, 38, is a little cagey about her personal life, though she discloses that her parents were journalists and that she moved around a lot as a kid, attending high school in Fresno and college at Portland State. She watched The X-Files, researched serial killers and conspiracies, and generally respected misfits. Disdain for authority “was normalized back then,” she says, whereas now, people “worship power and believe in toeing the line for the state.” Liberal outlets, she thinks, have unwittingly lent credibility to figures like Jones thanks to their credulousness about official narratives. “The things they’re calling conspiracy theories are just going to be news items six months from now,” she says. “ ‘There were WMDs.’ ‘COVID came from a bat.’ ”
Backlash against new liberal pieties has created an opening for what has been called both the “new right” and the “post-left,” among other attempts to describe a rising strain of subversive populism. Moyer is excited about this vanguard but wary of being lumped in with a tribe. “I don’t view myself as part of any of this — not Dimes Square, not the new right, not the crypto people,” she says. “These are just the people who have expressed interest in what I’m doing, and so, by default, that’s who ends up in my gravitational pull.”
Some 200 people are at the premiere, which is held in a performing-arts center whose location was not disclosed until the last minute. The event is cross-pollinated with edgy figures you either have never heard of or consider the most essential minds in the discourse. A row down from me is Anna Khachiyan, the co-host of the droll, lib-skepical podcast Red Scare. Her partner, Eli Keszler, did Moyer’s score. Closer to the screen is the indie rocker Ariel Pink, whose label dropped him after he appeared in D.C. on January 6, 2021. The hosts of the cult film podcast The Ion Pack are here, as is Hadrian Belove, whose company, Play Nice, produced Alex’s War and who gained some infamy last fall for a “post-woke” film festival he ran in New York. (Play Nice has gotten funding from Thiel Capital; Moyer stresses to me that Peter Thiel is not one of her investors.) Also present: the first-gen alt-right influencer Mike Cernovich, “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander, and the neo-reactionary intellectual Curtis Yarvin. He’s sitting beside a magazine journalist, who, anticipating backlash, urges me not to identify him. (It’s not Thomas Chatterton Williams, whom Gawker would erroneously claim was in the house, adding a bonus layer to the fake-news discourse.)
It’s fitting that the movie debuts in Austin, once the capital of American weirdness, where conspiracists were seen as a benignly eccentric native species. Jones himself appears in Richard Linklater’s 2001 movie, Waking Life, projecting rants from speakers affixed to the roof of his car. And it’s apt that Greenwald, a hard-core free-speech advocate with a reflexive suspicion of American power, flew in to moderate. What unites the factions in the room is a dedication to extreme epistemological openness overlaid with a disaffected relationship to elites.
Jones clomps into the theater, and Moyer’s film begins. The documentary — bracketed around the events of January 6, at which Jones was present — can be baggy, lingering on ancillary figures involved in the riot. More compelling is the archival footage of a younger Jones, whose charisma and broadcasting talent are obvious, however misapplied. Appearing on local-access TV and eventually getting his own radio program, Jones is seen fomenting a recent history of conspiratorial thinking, fixating on the New World Order and arguing the government was behind Oklahoma City, 9/11, and more. (In a striking moment, Joe Rogan calls into Jones’s radio show on September 12, 2001, calling him irresponsible.)
Jones repeatedly ducks out of the theater and misses most of the sequence about Sandy Hook. After the credits roll, he says he was mortified to see himself onscreen looking like “Jabba the Hutt on PCP.” Still, he appears honored by his brush with the semi-mainstream. Before heading to the after-party, Jones repeats Moyer’s earlier claim that the film is second only to Top Gun: Maverick on Apple’s presales charts. “I don’t know if it is still No. 2 behind Top Gun,” Moyer interjects. “But let’s just keep saying it is.”