"Step right up folks and witness the magnificent medicinal miracle of Simpson & Son's Patented Revitalizing Tonic!" - Abe "Grampa" Simpson
Like right wing politicians, right wing talk radio hosts deal in fear, anxiety, and dread. The differences are all in the stage decoration. Rush Limbaugh's schtick is pure contempt: liberals are stupid fools who do stupid foolish things that make America worse. Laura Ingraham stalks the illegal immigration beat like she's getting paid by the deportation, but she puts a bright, sunny face on all of it. Glenn Beck peddles strait Apocalypse, but he's preached on the Book of Revelations for so long that the audience is starting to get restless. Alex Jones, by contrast, doesn't use any props, he's alone on the stage, ladling out pure fear.
If you've only ever read about Jones or seen him as a screaming man in one of his YouTube rants, you're doing him and yourself a disservice. You've got to listen to his show, and it's best if you do so on your local AM talk station, because that's where most of his audience found him and still hears him.
I'm certainly not suggesting you give him hours of your time. That would be wasteful. Just dip in for ten or fifteen minutes a few times. You can't miss him on the dial, his voice is the same kind of gargled ashphalt you hear in pickup truck commercials, only twice as fast and ranting about "globalists".
"Globalists" are Jones's ur-villain, the fiends behind everything from the 2001 terrorist attacks to the 2008 economic collapse to the death of Prince earlier this year, which he speculated might have been caused by "weaponized flu". And just who are these globalists? They're a shadowy conspiracy of rich people who are planning to wipe the rest of us out so that they can become immortal thanks to new technology. I'm going to repeat that because while mainstream media articles and interviews attempting to explain Alex Jones and his appeal are their own subgenre at this point, they rarely get to this part:
Alex Jones believes that the wealthy elite are planning to wipe out most of humanity so that they can become immortal.
Speaking as an aficianado of truly powerful bullshit, I am in awe of this. It's the perfect conspiracy theory. Fear of every imaginable kind fits into it without any awkward compromises or questions, yet it can never be dis-proven. It would've been just as plausible during the Gilded Age, or the Roaring 20s, or the Sixties, or any other snappily named American era. All it requires is that technology be improving (which it always is) and that bad things be happening (which they always are).Of course, this ultimate calamity never quite seems to happen, but where lesser con men (like Glenn Beck) simply ratchet up the tension to keep the audience interested, Jones has adopted a kind of happy warrior attitude that's much more durable. He styles himself as a resistance leader, as someone shedding light on terrible things and, therefore, slowing and preventing them. God is on his side, and if you the listeners can tell your friends and get more people to wake up about what's going on, then the globalists can be defeated.
It's a great pitch: doom and gloom, but with a kernel of hope at the center. And - wouldn't you know it - that kernel of hope can only be nourished by visiting his website, by buying the various products he and his sponsors peddle, and by getting more people to do the same.
Even by the shameless standards of right wing radio hosts, Jones shills for an incredible array of merchandise. There are nutritional supplements that promise to make your dick work better and protect your DNA from chemtrails and toxins. There are non-GMO seeds, canned food, and water filters of all kinds to keep your precious bodily fluids from being sullied by all the poisons being used against us. There's lots of survivalist gear to help you stay free when they shut off the power or send everyone to FEMA camps or whatever it is they're planning to do.
Whether or not Jones actually believes any of this is hard to tell. Acting like he does has made him a multi-millionaire, however, and that's good enough. It also brings us to Donald Trump, who is running essentially the same scam, but on a far larger scale. Consider some of their shared tactics:
- A Lone Elite Against the Whole Elite - Jones is always bragging about celebrities who agree with him and going on about secret information he gets from people "high up" in government, business, Hollywood, and other rarified circles. A big part of Trump's pitch is that he's the rich guy who can't be bought by other rich guys, who understands how corrupt the system is and therefore can fix it.
- High Quality Products And A Reputation for Honesty - Jones is constantly personally attesting to how great the pills and gear he sells are, and how he's giving you the same stuff he uses. It got overshadowed by plagiarism, Cruz, and all the other circus stuff, but one of the major themes of the Republican convention was how trustworthy Donald Trump is. We can laugh at the pyramid scheme lady or the avocado woman or the UFC guy, but they were there to attest to the loyalty and honesty of Trump. One of his old cronies even invoked the "his handshake is his contact" trope.
- You're Getting Screwed By Everyone But Me - Both Jones and Trump exploit people's fears that the world is rigged against them, and both of them offer their audiences a peek behind the curtain. This "trust no one but me" pitch works just as well with comfortable middle class folks as it does with poor people. Those who don't have anything know the system is rigged against them, and those who do have things are worried that they'll lose everything. This is why no one should be surprised that Trump voters are relatively prosperous.
- Yes We Can! - This part can seem counter-intuitive to casual observers, but it's essential to the "us-versus-them" framework within which Trump and Jones operate. Mainstream commentators concentrate on the doom and gloom for the misguided (if entirely sensible) reason that it makes up most of what Jones and Trump say. But true believers don't see fear mongering; they see victory at hand. By listening to Jones and buying the crap he's selling, you're resisting the globalists! By signing up for Trump University, or buying Trump steaks, or voting for Trump, you're helping to make America great again! Redemption is at hand!
To be sure, their pitches aren't identical. Trump hits racist appeals a lot harder than Jones; and Jones will condemn the bulk of Americans as useful idiots in a way Trump never would. But overall the two of them run remarkably similar scams, which is probably why they slobber all over each other whenever Trump goes on Jones's show. To see this in action, watch the last minute of this interview from December, where they take turns complimenting each other and plugging Trump's book:
Trump: [Having just finished bragging about how he's gonna win the election...] So, I wrote a book called Crippled America, it's doing fantastic business...I hope your audience goes out and buys it as Christmas gifts and everything else. And I just want to finish by saying, your reputation's amazing. I will not let you down. You will be very, very, impressed, I hope. And I think we'll be speaking a lot, but you'll be looking at me in a year or two years to give me a little bit of time to run things, but a year into office, you'll be saying, 'Wow, I remember that interview, he said he was gonna do it and he did a great job.' You'll be very proud of our country.
Jones: Well, I'm impressed! You're saying you're fully committed, you know there's no future if we don't take this country back. Donald Trump, I hope you can help un-cripple America. Thank you so much, sir. You will be attacked for coming on, and we know you know that, thank you.
Trump: Thank you very much.
The video - which has 1.97 million views on Alex Jones's YouTube channel - then immediately cuts to an add for Jones's in house brand of "body cleansing" dietary supplements to give you "true health". Even amid a presidential campaign, the two of them are always hustling. Remember when Trump used a post-primary victory "press conference" to crow about his his personal brand of steaks and wines? Same deal.
The fear that Jones and Trump echo and exploit is real. All those articles you've read about dying towns and a perpetually stagnant economy are correct. And America really is getting browner by the day, which freaks out an awful lot of white folk. Jones and Trump are in the business of addressing that fear by selling people a way to fight back.