Opinion: The scariest part of Alex Jones’s story

It’s an unthinkable statement for a grief-stricken parent to testify that his 6-year-old son, murdered while in school, had actually lived, and that she was the woman who gave birth to him. and nurtured him for the too few years he lived. But that’s the testimony Scarlett Lewis gave this week at a hearing to determine damages against Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist and media personality. (Jones was held liable for defamation in a default judgment earlier this year.)
After 20 children and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Jones began weaving sinister plots that the shooting never happened and the broken families were just actors. . The plot sparked years of harassment as conspirators targeted grieving parents, who had to hire security guards to protect themselves. Since the libel suits were filed, Jones has apologized and claimed he was in the grip of a “form of psychosis” that led him to believe the conspiracy theory.
The Sandy Hook plot made Jones the radio equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church, which staged vile anti-gay protests at soldiers’ funerals. But within just a few years, Jones would be part of the right-wing power structure, from his talks with future President Donald Trump to his alleged role as an organizer during the Jan. 6 insurgency.
More than that, many in the Republican Party and the Conservative movement are increasingly looking like Jones, with talk of false flags, crisis actors and pedophile rings now a mainstay of right-wing rhetoric. And while the Trump presidency opened the door to Jones’ integration, it’s important to understand just how ripe the GOP was for Alex Jonesification.
From its beginnings in the 1940s and 1950s, the modern conservative movement has adopted a conspiratorial mindset. Books that argued former President Franklin Roosevelt allowed the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor to unite the Americans behind him in the war, to the anti-fluoridation conspiracies of the John Birch Society, to the Communist witch hunts on every corner of the McCarthy era, conspiracy theories have become an essential component of conservatism in America.

But with the exception of McCarthyism, the conspiratorial right has remained distinct from the Republican Party. Even right-wing politicians, especially those contemplating the presidency, have avoided the wild-eyed conspiracy theorists popular with their conservative base.

That changed in the 1990s, as politics, entertainment, and conspiracy became increasingly intertwined. Pat Robertson, the televangelist who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, published his conspiracy tract, “The New World Order,” in 1991. Drawing inspiration from decades of “one world government” conspiracies , Robertson detailed a coalition of the Trilateral Commission, the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Group, Freemasons, and others working toward one-world governance and, ultimately, the end times. . It was a New York Times bestseller.
Robertson was not the only Republican presidential candidate to warn against the new world order. It became a staple of Pat Buchanan’s speeches during his three presidential elections between 1992 and 2000. And while the phrase spoke of worries about the geopolitics of a post-Cold War world, it also nodded conspiracy theories that were becoming increasingly popular. not just among the conservative base, but also for elected Republicans. During the Clinton years, members of Congress conducted investigations into black helicopters (a staple of 1990s conspiracies) and developed countless conspiracy theories about Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Outside of Congress, the newly powerful right-wing radio of the 1990s and 2000s also paved the way for an embrace of Jones. Glenn Beck’s radio show swept through conspiracies at breathtaking speed, ranging from Common Core to George Soros to Agenda 21, a conspiracy theory based on the United Nations. It mixed politics and conspiracy not only in its content but also in its advertising.
Warning that the end times were near, that disaster lurked around every corner, Beck pushed everything from gold to food storage to “seeds of survival”, all aimed at helping listeners to survive the imminent collapse of society. (In the years that followed, Beck admitted that he “unfortunately helped tear the country apart.”)
These threads came together in the Obama years, as Beck became one of the most prominent voices in the Tea Party movement and conspiracy raged on the right. It provided a real opportunity for someone like Jones to make headway in American politics. While his farcical Sandy Hook plots failed to gain traction in Republican circles, others did, such as 2015’s Jade Helm 15 plot. Jones turned routine military drill in Texas into a new conspiracy theory, falsely telling his audience that it was a secret. government efforts to prepare for martial law.
This conspiracy theory quickly escaped InfoWars circles, making its way into right-wing radio and Republican politics. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered state militia to monitor the exercise. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, preparing for a presidential bid, also legitimized the plot, saying that even though the military assured him it was a routine training exercise, “I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty, because when the federal government has not shown itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens do not trust what it says.”

Cruz’s pivot helps explain why the space between Jones and the GOP collapsed in the 2010s. The Republican Party spent decades arguing that the government was corrupt, even illegitimate, and became increasingly more dependent on right-wing media for party messages. So it took very little effort to swing into the world of wild conspiracies – especially once, with the election of Trump, Republicans realized there would be no price to pay for doing so.

The past few years have suggested the bill is coming to an end — Trump lost the presidency and Congress, Jones lost his libel suit, and several right-wing outlets face hefty libel lawsuits for their campaign plots. This, however, has not yet dampened the party’s conspiracy.

Indeed, Alex Jones may never speak at a Republican convention or be part of Fox News’ primetime programming. But he doesn’t have to. His conspiratorial thinking, rhetoric and style are now well integrated into the Republican Party, a legacy not just of the Trump years, but of decades of conspiratorial politics.

About Harold Hartman

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