In response to the Jade Helm military training exercises planned for this summer, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) will deploy the Texas State Guard to apparently serve as a shield against the Green Berets and other special operations units who, many conservatives fear, might threaten the freedom of red-blooded Americans living in the Lone Star State.
"It is important," said Abbott, in announcing the move, "that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed upon."
The subtext is, of course: There’s a decent chance they could be infringed upon.
And so the governor is figuratively wrapping his state in a gigantic tin-foil hat. Abbott's unprecedented move is one more chilling sign that the gonzo ideas imagineered by radio conspiracy theorist Alex Jones are hemorrhaging into mainstream American politics and beyond.
Sure, Jones is hilariously self-satirical to many of us who live safely outside the borders of his internet and radio cuckoo's nest. When he paints himself up like Heath Ledger's Joker from "The Dark Knight," or when he airs an entire show disguised as a shape-shifting lizard person from outer space (based on one of his actual conspiracy theories), it's really difficult to click over to something else. It's nearly impossible to not become inextricably ensnared by his tractor-beam of theatrical ridiculousness. Hathos compels us to click. We have to watch; mouths agape and our rational instincts utterly confounded by his purple-faced, menthol-throated rants about fluoridated water, the New World Order, the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Group and even the "demonic mustaches" allegedly worn by agents of the federal government.
Not too long ago, when Oklahoma was ravaged by a super-tornado, Jones dedicated a segment of his show to a theory that President Obama uses "weather weapons" to manufacture tornadoes; and, what's more, that he also deployed "helicopters and small aircraft" to "create and steer groups of tornadoes." Why, exactly, would Obama want to do this? Doesn't matter. And, by the way, why aren't we using this awesomely destructive -- and, in the real world, nonexistent -- power against, say, ISIS? (The answer is obviously -- because Jones believes Obama needs ISIS to exist in order to [insert another crazy conspiracy theory here].)
Incidentally, when Obama's not using tiny helicopters to move weather events endowed with the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb, he's busily manufacturing juice boxes to manipulate the testosterone levels of children, turning young boys gay somehow.
Empirical facts, such as that there's zero biological correlation between testosterone levels and homosexuality, clearly never stop Jones from either repeating or entirely inventing what amounts to tall tales for the digital age. Whenever cornered, Jones famously claims, "I've got the documents!" -- even though the documents are usually just print-outs of blog entries from InfoWars.com, Jones' official website.
That's the dangerous thing about Alex Jones and his empire. The ludicrousness distracts from the damaging reach of the truly awful theories he sells. If it was all contained safely within its shrink-wrapped bubble, that'd be one thing. But Jones and his theories are being rapidly mainstreamed. This is a testament to his skill as a broadcast huckster, though it doesn't require much salesmanship to transparently exploit the clinical paranoia of his audience for ratings and profit. Without saying a word, his disciples want to believe by default. Indeed, there are two key features of the InfoWars subculture: 1) absolute certitude that they and only they are aware of what’s really going on and the rest of us are mere "sheeple"; and 2) that the establishment will do whatever it has to do in order to discredit and shatter that certitude. The latter was Jones' explanation for why he wasn't able to appear on ABC's "This Week" with Martha Raddatz last Sunday: ABC, he said, intentionally hoodwinked him to embarrass him.
Fold the paranoia and certitude into some of the theories Jones and we get the following:
- Jones served as the media instigator during the Cliven Bundy fracas against the Bureau of Land Management, helping to nudge the pro-Bundy protesters toward an armed stand-off.
- Last year, Jones predicted an inevitable civil war between armed "patriots" and the government, during which "300,000 police will die."
- During nearly every show, Jones inevitably circles back to his theory that the Boston Marathon bombing was a false flag operation orchestrated by the government in order to further impose a police state inside the U.S. In service of this theory, Jones sent one of his goons, a former semi-pro wrestler named Dan Bidondi, to various press conferences following the bombing where Bidondi shouted "false flag" at officials including Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA).
- Perhaps the most vile and unforgivable Jones conspiracy theory orbits the horrible Sandy Hook massacre. Jones believes the tragic mass shooting never happened; that the entire event was literally a hoax. Not only were those children and their teachers not killed in cold blood by Adam Lanza, but the parents are conspirators in the hoax. If that wasn't horrendous enough, Jones believes the children never existed in the first place.
Exactly one year ago, 28-year-old Andrew David Truelove admitted to stealing memorial signs erected at playgrounds in honor of two of the slain Sandy Hook children, Chase Kowalski and Grace McDonnell. Why did he do this? Obviously because the children never existed, and the memorials represented fealty to a staged event intended to push anti-Second Amendment legislation. Worse, Truelove contacted McDonnell's still-grieving mother on the phone and calmly repeated the conspiracy theory. After that, Truelove decided to contact me personally with his story. His ideas were authentic Jonesian gibberish.
The Truelove episode and its accompanying vandalism can't be directly blamed on Jones, but the pervasiveness of Jones' ideas are entirely Jones' responsibility. Not only is he dependent upon the gullibility and activism of his listeners, but they're also dependent upon him to confirm their worldview. Meanwhile, there's a confluence of increasingly obstructionist small-government libertarianism and the Jones echosphere. Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), along with Gov. Abbott are perhaps the best evidence of this emerging Venn diagram.
For example, in the months following the infamous Benghazi attacks, Rand Paul marketed the conspiracy theory that the late Ambassador Chris Stevens was running weapons from Libyan rebels to pro-Al Qaeda units in Syria. Pure Alex Jones. It's worth noting that of the current field of GOP candidates for president, Paul is the only one to appear as a guest on Jones' show and to be glowingly endorsed by the host. Perhaps Paul should be asked about whether he agrees with various Jones theories, such as the one in which First Lady Michelle Obama is actually a transexual and that the president is bisexual. Do Jones' libertarian congregants know how blindingly homo- and transphobic their hero is?
Rand Paul, Greg Abbott and cable news networks legitimize Jones. In the estimation of his followers, if national politicians and presidential candidates think Jones is on the level, then he must be. When a show like ABC's "This Week" or former CNN host Piers Morgan invite him to talk on a mainstream telecast, it lends a patina of authenticity to Jones -- authenticity that he absolutely hasn't earned, nor does he deserve.
The salient question is this: how far will it go? How deeply into the mainstream will Jones' popularity bleed? It's difficult to know, but considering how Hillary Clinton is widely favored to win in 2016 and given how the Clintons tend to attract conspiracy theories like moths to a flame, it's a easy to foresee a further entrenching of Jones' theories within an opposition Republican Party, carrying with it all of that terrible baggage. And then it'll be unavoidable.