A temperamental, free-wheeling conspiracy theorist with an eye for publicity, a record of bizarre, bigoted and bogus remarks, and an obsessive need to lash out at anyone who criticizes or accurately reports on him: This could easily describe either Donald Trump, the president of the United States, or Alex Jones, the Texas-based radio host and founder of the website InfoWars.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Trump and Jones have found each other to be useful allies in creating a universe of “alternate facts.”
During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump appeared on Jones’ radio program, congratulating Jones on his “amazing” reputation. But Trump’s reliance on Jones didn’t end there.
Trump, an unabashed liar and conspiracy theorist extraordinaire, repeatedly used InfoWars material to substantiate his own fallacious claims throughout his presidential campaign. “It is surreal to talk about issues here on air and then word-for-word hear Trump say it two days later,” Jones once boasted.
Before Trump, Jones existed decidedly on the fringes of American politics, and for good reason: He is notorious for his violent rhetoric and conspiracy theories, such as his belief that the Sandy Hook massacre, among other deadly tragedies, was staged by actors.
Olivia Nuzzi in New York Magazine notes that with Trump as president, Jones, who is slated to appear on Megyn Kelly’s new NBC program this weekend, cannot be ignored:
On his show Monday, Jones said, “Have you seen how the president sounds just like me? Have you seen how Steven Bannon sounds just like me? Have you seen how the whole paradigm’s globally shifting and you can’t hold it back?” I don’t think big pharma is trying to make fish gay, but Jones is right in at least one respect: When change occurs, as it surely is in American politics in the Trump era, it isn’t going to be stopped by journalists refusing to acknowledge it. And the truth is, the president has sounded like Jones. He has parroted some of his beliefs. His longtime adviser, Roger Stone, even guest hosts Infowars. Should Kelly — and should you — ignore that?
While Kelly certainly may not be the best person to question Jones, in part due to her own past as a conservative demagogue at the Fox News Channel, it was the president—not Kelly—who brought Jones into the limelight.
Jones is one of Trump’s most shocking sources of misinformation, but he’s far from the only one. While we dubbed Trump the “InfoWars candidate,” he has also relied on a host of other unreliable and often untrustworthy sources for many of his unverified claims: radio host Michael Savage, consultant and fringe media personality Roger Stone, the birther website WorldNetDaily, and the tabloid National Enquirer, just to name a few. Trump has also leaned on outlets like Breitbart, likely the source of his unfounded claim that President Obama wiretapped his campaign office, and Charles Johnson’s GotNews. If his son Eric is to be believed, Trump was motivated to run for president after reading a false chain email.
The ascendance of Trump and Jones didn’t come out of nowhere. Instead, it’s the inevitable product of a Republican Party that has increasingly relied on conspiracy theories generated by the right-wing media to push its political aims.
For years, we have seen how false reports move from fringe websites or commentators to larger right-wing websites like the Drudge Report to conservative talk radio to Fox News and, finally, to the lips of prominent conservative activists and Republican politicians.
This process was behind the “death panels” rumor, which moved from the writings of one conservative columnist to U.S. congressmen, senators, and the former GOP candidate for vice president. It’s also what happened in 2015 when the Republican governor of Texas and several other top GOP politicians, including presidential candidates, lent credence to the absurd claim that Obama was planning a military takeover of Texas, a claim that was originally circulated by outlets like InfoWars.
And then came Trump. Rather than distance themselves from Trump as he spread conspiracy theories about Obama’s supposedly phony birth certificate, fake name and secret Muslim ring, Republican politicians courted his endorsement and campaigned with him when given the opportunity. Trump should have been rejected as an extremist, but instead became a conservative icon, all with the help of his friends at Fox News and the GOP.
Megyn Kelly has a responsibility to hold Jones accountable when she provides him with a national media platform this weekend. But Kelly isn’t the one who lifted Jones to prominence. The Republican Party must reckon with the fact that it shares in the blame in pushing this pipeline of conservative misinformation and the rise of bizarre conspiracy theorists like Jones, and like Trump himself.