Alex Jones was already a cult hero when Texas Monthly profiled him nearly eight years ago, though at the time few in the mainstream media paid much attention to him or the sliver of the political spectrum he catered to. On his syndicated radio show Infowars, his various websites, and his YouTube channel, the Austin-based conspiracy theorist had tapped into a disturbing darkness creeping into the national zeitgeist. Rumors that Obamacare would create government “death panels” were being earnestly discussed on Fox News, as was the legitimacy of the president’s birth certificate, a preposterous red herring boosted by a certain reality-TV star who went on to bigger things. Jones’s delusional appeal seemed to be growing, which is why we headlined our feature “Alex Jones Is About to Explode.”
Boy, do we wish we had been wrong.
By 2015 Jones’s brand of paranoia seemed to be popping up everywhere, including the office of Governor Greg Abbott, who sent the Texas State Guard to “monitor” a planned U.S. military exercise known as Jade Helm after Jones and others (including, it seems, some Russian trolls) whipped up hysteria that the troop movements were a prelude to martial law. Former Republican state representative Todd Smith called the governor’s move “pandering to idiots,” but not everyone saw it that way. Donald Trump, the candidate who suggested that Senator Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination, sat for a half-hour interview on the Alex Jones Show, during which he said the host’s reputation was “amazing.” Jones, in turn, went all in for Trump, who reportedly called to thank him personally after the election.
It turned out to be the high-water mark for Jones, who has had a disastrous 2018. A highly publicized, years-long custody battle landed him back in court this fall, reminding the public of the previous year’s courtroom drama, in which his ex-wife used his rantings to portray him as an unfit parent and his lawyers parried by floating the idea that he’s playing a character when he’s in front of a microphone or a camera—that he is not, in other words, really as demented as he appears to be. It was a potentially devastating admission for a man who has built his multimillion-dollar media empire on the devotion of his legions of fanatical listeners, which is perhaps why Jones felt obliged the very same day to reassure his followers that he is 100 percent authentic—which is to say that he is exactly as crazy as he sounds.
To which the rest of the country responded, “We believe you!” It may be hard to remember now, but there was a time when Jones was considered a harmless oddball in some circles, one of the charming characters who kept Austin weird. Celebrated Austin director Richard Linklater, for example, put Jones in two of his films. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain invited him to record a lighthearted clip urging patrons not to talk during the movie. Nobody is laughing now.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the bloom came off the rose, but there was certainly nothing charming about Jones’s response to the horrifying massacre of adults and schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary, in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. Jones has long made a habit of questioning the official account of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and other tragedies, but his suggestion that the killings in Newtown never actually occurred—that it was an elaborate hoax staged to provide a pretense for gun control—proved to be a bridge too far.
Some parents of children murdered at Sandy Hook, to escape harassment from whack jobs who believed they were “crisis actors,” were forced to unlist phone numbers, delete social media accounts, and even move out of their homes. Last spring Jones was hit with three separate defamation suits brought by Sandy Hook parents who had finally had enough. In a video response, Jones claimed he now believed the massacre was real, a defense that was at best disingenuous—his show aired an episode titled “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed” as recently as 2017—and, from the perspective of the bereaved parents, was utterly beside the point.
Jones, who also has a fourth, unrelated defamation suit pending, has been in legal trouble before; in 2017, to settle a suit filed by yogurt company Chobani (which objected to “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists,” among other Infowars reports), he issued a rare public apology. But the barrage of litigation Jones is facing now threatens his livelihood as never before, as does another recent development. After years of handling Jones and his ilk with kid gloves, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube finally kicked him off their platforms altogether this summer, citing repeated violations of their policies against harassment and hate speech. For a man as dependent on social media as Jones, seeing those accounts go dark was like having a plastic bag tied over his head.
But that doesn’t mean we’ve heard the last of Jones. The doctored video that the White House press office used in November to justify the president’s truculent decision to punish CNN reporter Jim Acosta—for allegedly manhandling a White House intern (he did not)—was prepared by one of Jones’s minions. And what if Jones did crawl back under his rock and disappear? The fake-news genie can’t be so easily put back into the bottle. For the foreseeable future we will still be living in the world Jones helped create, a place where facts are infinitely malleable, conspiracy theories are the coin of the realm, and rage overruns decency. In that sense he has won, but in doing so he has made sure that the rest of us have lost. That’s why Alex Jones is our Bum Steer of the Year.