Conspiracy theories are as old as societies. Alex Jones has turned himself into a media mogul with his rising brand InfoWars.com. With the help of the internet and a favorable social climate (ever-growing tribalism of left-right American ideological camps and struggles in institutional media), Jones has ballooned his audience to more than 10 million weekly over his various media.
And with Jones' hammer of intense suspicion, all sorts of things have looked like nails: tap water, public schooling, cellphone signals, weather and pretty much every government and large corporation. Yet, within the noise, there have been many signals.
Jones' was the first media I heard reporting on Hillary Clinton's poor health during the 2016 presidential campaign. Some scoffed and accused him of sexism. Then Clinton collapsed at a 9/11 commemoration, causing all to take note. Jones and his media also reported on government eavesdropping on a massive scale, and then a man named Edward Snowden came forward.
Also during the 2016 presidential campaign, Jones continually reported on Donald Trump's exploding popularity, while practically every other media observer predicted an easy Clinton victory. Specifically, Jones pointed out the frequent inaccuracy of polls — another thing he was right about.
When he's been proven right, and when established national media have failed to report stories and angles Jones covers, American has taken note and turned to InfoWars. But the same factors that contributed to Jones' rise have produced his current predicament.
Coming out in favor of anti-establishment candidate Trump has placed Jones on the "wrong" side of the political left. (Despite years of his railing against big pharma, big tech, the military industrial complex, the "elites" and many other groups that liberal-leaners might also attack, Jones continues to be mislabeled as "right wing" in practically all media.)
Then, six months ago, Jones earned a strike on his YouTube channel for doing something he'd done several times previously: express skepticism toward a firsthand account of a school shooting. "False flag" operations are events governments manufacture to help sway the public to agree to a policy. Jones has believed high-profile gun violence incidents have been attempts by the U.S. government to confiscate Americans' firearms.
This time, Jones' conspiracy claim wouldn't go under the radar. This student whose account Jones questioned would become a prominent activist, and news of Jones getting punished for the offending video was met with cheers on left-leaning websites and message boards. From then on, Jones' work — past and present — has been scrutinized.
Another of Jones' taboo beliefs is that mass immigration is directed by a worldwide elite class. This has him pointing out the negatives of illegal immigration and immigrants themselves (sometimes distastefully). This meant another strike and more cheers for his trouble, which meant more scrutiny, which has meant more suspicion from him, which has meant more public pressure from those angry at his positions, demanding media companies to ban him.
Within one 24-hour span earlier this week, Facebook, YouTube and Apple banned almost all traces of Jones' media presence — no more YouTube channels, no Facebook pages, almost no podcast distribution. With this momentum, other companies followed. Spotify removed Jones' podcasts. Disqus disabled all commenting on his websites. MailChimp disabled his e-mail distribution. LinkedIn removed InfoWars's company page, as did Pinterest.
Jones is being disappeared. And in a twist of logic, those angry at Jones' presence online are asking the remaining tech companies — namely, Twitter and Instagram — why they don't drop Jones, the sentiment being, "Why are you condoning Jones' hate?"
Jones' story is a vivid representation of America over the past 10 years: the rise of independent voices, the decline of establishments, a public looking for answers, a public also increasingly easy to offend, a world moving online and the capability of those at the top of a few internet companies to work in concert to silence anyone.
The shame here is that these people at the top did listen to the those who labeled Jones as "other," as a hate-peddling villain in their morality tale, not to be seen by them — or anyone.
Truth is, Alex Jones has been Alex Jones for the past 20 years, offering his versions of the world, ranging from shocking to intriguing to comical to offensive. He may be wrong a lot of the time, but he has proved value as a journalist and certainly (through his audience) as a barometer of America at large. Perhaps the next round of (decentralized) internet tech will prove more robust to hype. And perhaps power over our online lives will be distributed beyond the hands of a few.
Brandon Ferdig is a Minnesota writer, videographer and speaker. He shares his work at ThePeriphery.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.