‘What Alex Jones Has Peddled Is Now Nearly Indistinguishable from Right-Wing Talking Points’

Janine Jackson interviewed Media Matters’ Angelo Carusone about the Alex Jones trial for the August 12, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.


 Alex Jones isn't sorry and won't change

MSN (8/9/22)

Janine Jackson: A Texas jury levied $45 million in punitive and $4 million in compensatory damages against Alex Jones, on behalf of the parents of Jesse Lewis, a six-year-old, one of the 26 people whom Jones insisted to his followers—not once but over and over again—were not shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, because they never existed, their mourning families really paid scammers faking grief in a ploy to take away gun rights.

Responses to the verdict included both reporting calling it a “punishing salvo in a fledgling war on harmful misinformation” and headlines declaring “Alex Jones Isn’t Sorry and Won’t Change”—a reflection of the fact that the Alex Jones phenomenon involves more than the particular piece of work that is Jones, but also the array of people who platform and profit from his actions.

Angelo Carusone has been tracking right-wing media machinery for some time. He is president of Media Matters, and he joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Angelo Carusone.

Angelo Carusone: Thank you.

JJ: Before this trial, as he tried to forestall it, Jones at one point called for one of the Sandy Hook family’s lawyers, called for the lawyer’s head “on a pike.” And then, after the verdict, he was back on his show, saying that it was all an attack on him by “globalists.” Alex Jones learning anything was probably never on the table, but did we? Did you learn anything new about Jones or his operations from this trial?

AC: I think we knew that he was making a lot of money. What we didn’t know until the trial—this is I think what’s really significant about it—is that he’s making not just a lot of money, but he’s doing some really shady things with it.

So, for example, the estimates from their forensic analysis was that he had somewhere between $250 to $300 million in assets. Now, Jones would declare he’s bankrupt. But when you start to unpackage that a little bit, what you’ll find out is that there’s a company which owns a lot of debt to Alex Jones called PQPR; he’s the primary owner of it. And starting right when the buzzards started circling around Jones a couple years ago, he began moving tens of millions of dollars, sometimes payments of $50 million, $60 million, to this company that now owed Alex Jones a debt itself.

So it’s pretty interesting, I think, just the financial part of this is interesting. I think, if I were to sum it up, I would say the one thing we learned is the scale of the revenue that he’s made in this period of time, and then also, essentially, it confirmed that it really is much more of an infomercial at this point than it is a traditional-type programming.

JJ: And you’d think when journalists are looking at it, “follow the money” is kind of a prime directive, right? And here, that would be very interesting. And then even the business plan, if you will—stoke anxiety and then sell survival gear at 100% markup—that’s not really a new plan, as it were.

AC: No, it’s not. The part that is interesting is that he’s managed to convince and capture the attention of some very significant conservative donors. And that means that he has access to donations. In addition to people buying his products, he solicits donations multiple times a day. A lot of times a day.

But he’s gotten pretty hefty Bitcoin donations from anonymous sources, upwards in the realm of $8 million. He got a big $8 million donation in May, a single one, but he’s had other big ones of that scale over the last couple of years.

And one of the donations that always jumps out to me is in the lead up to January 6; this was in November, he was trying to secure a permit for a demonstration in DC. This is before it was even organized, and somebody gave him a half-a-million dollar donation, anonymously, so that he could file for one of the original permits that later ended up getting transferred over for that big January 6 event.

So that part I think is novel and unexplored, just how much people that are in this orbit are willing to give to him from a donations perspective. And once you get a few of those deep pockets, that gives you a lot of operational capacity.

JJ: And my general sense is that you think it’s a mistake to focus overwhelmingly on sifting out what’s special and specific about Alex Jones, at the expense of seeing why and how his playbook, if you will, has been normalized both in the Republican Party and through right-wing media. This is a story where the bigger picture really is the story.

Angelo Carusone

Angelo Carusone: “The content that Alex Jones says on a fairly daily basis is essentially mirrored and reflected through establishment Republicans.” (image: C-SPAN)

AC: Yeah, I think that’s right, actually. If we were to have this conversation 10 years ago, I would say that Alex Jones is sort of an island unto himself. And occasionally Glenn Beck would steal some of his stuff and sort of launder it and sanitize it a little bit, and do it on his Fox News show back then. But he was really sort of on an island unto himself.

And one of the things that’s different between then and now is that the content that Alex Jones says on a fairly daily basis is essentially mirrored and reflected through establishment Republicans and the traditional right-wing media.

So the “deep state” notion, which is not controversial anymore—everyone says that on the Republican side — that somehow there’s some conspiracy inside government, even now more so with the Mar-a-Lago search warrant. That’s an Alex Jones conspiracy.

And just last night, Fox News was pushing this idea that there was this globalist meeting between Soros and Garland and Biden and all these foreign prime ministers who decided that this was going to be the playbook to take out Donald Trump and subjugate America. But that’s conspiracy stuff that he’s been pushing.

And then the last one is the right-wing media, both talk radio and Fox. They’ve also been pushing this idea that the evidence was planted inside the safe in Mar-a-Lago. They didn’t even know the evidence, didn’t even know what was planted, but they’re already conjuring up a conspiracy.

So that’s very much what Alex Jones has peddled in. And now it is nearly indistinguishable from the traditional right-wing and conservative talking points. And I think that’s the part that’s significant about all this, is that the big players now are doing Alex Jones. Everything is InfoWars. That’s basically what I would say.

 InfoWars' Alex Jones Is a 'Performance Artist,' His Lawyer Says in Divorce Hearing

NBC (4/17/17)

JJ: I have to say, I thought that something would change in 2017, when Jones was in a custody fight with his ex-wife and she said, I don’t want my kids around this guy, you know, he’s calling for people to have their necks broken. He said he wants Jennifer Lopez to be raped. You know, I just don’t want my kids around him. 

And Alex Jones’ lawyer at the time said that Jones is a “performance artist,” that he’s “playing a character,” and to judge him by what he says on InfoWars, his lawyer said, would be like judging Jack Nicholson by his portrayal of the Joker in Batman.

Now, I’m not naive; I’ve been at this for a minute. But I have to say, I was still surprised that after that, media went right back—not just right-wing media, but centrist elite media—went right back to calling Alex Jones “controversial,” calling him “bombastic.”

Even now, it’s weird to read that Jones acknowledges today that Sandy Hook happened, as though we need to credit any particular relationship between what he says and reality.

I guess I hold some blame for not just right-wing media, but so-called mainstream media, for not, at that point, once his case was, “I don’t believe any of this, and you’d have to be stupid to believe anything that I say,” why didn’t the picture of him change? Why didn’t we start talking about him differently?

AC: And that’s the part that I find so frustrating. And I think that gets back to why I do what I do, and I’m glad you guys exist, too, is that there are some real problems with the way the news media has handled this, and they’re reflective of deeper issues.

They tend to privilege the right wing in a way that I think is ultimately destructive. And at the moment that he acknowledged that it was all an act, I think he should be treated accordingly.

And I was with you, because at the same time that that story happened, let’s not forget that Pizzagate was still fresh in the minds of so many of the Beltway media. Many of them used to frequent that pizza establishment in Washington, DC. Alex Jones was one of the big drivers of the Pizzagate conspiracy. It’s specifically the establishment that was targeted.

And so I thought, to your point, that when he made that argument and said that stuff, and it became so clear that that was his defense, that they would change their narrative, because it would be juxtaposed with the reality of the experience that just happened, but it didn’t.

 You Literally Can't Believe The Facts Tucker Carlson Tells You. So Say Fox's Lawyers

NPR (9/29/20)

And Tucker Carlson gets the same pass, right? I mean, Fox News won a lawsuit just two years ago, a little more than that, where their defense was no reasonable person would believe the things that Tucker Carlson says, and yet, the news media doesn’t talk about him any differently either.

And I think that this is part of the inertia that exists in the coverage. It’s not that I encourage them to debunk them all the time, but I do think that what they do is they have a very limited set of boxes that they can apply to individuals, and they very rarely change those.

You know, there are plenty of establishment individuals that get quoted, and they’re treated as “Christian” organizations or “conservative” when, in fact, they’re officially designated hate groups, right?

So it is a deep problem in the news media that they both don’t have the language, and when they do have the language, there’s still so much inertia and hesitancy, I think, in shifting their coverage. I think there’s a little bit of the right wing “working the refs” that ends up poisoning the coverage, too, that is a real problem.

JJ: I’m going to have to end it there, but we’re absolutely going to pick it up again.

We’ve been speaking with Angelo Carusone. He’s president of Media Matters. They’re online at MediaMatters.org. Angelo Carusone, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

AC: Thank you.