A week ago it's almost certain I'd have had to introduce most people to Alex Jones. Since he went off his rocker at Piers Morgan in a rant about guns, he's been trending almost non-stop on UK Twitter, and the chances are a good many more people have now heard of him.
I've known of Alex Jones and his Infowars site for a few years now, never developing much of a liking for the man, largely because of the part of his personality that was remorselessly on show in the CNN interview with Morgan. Max Kaiser, who has a regular slot on Russian network, RT, and is a media friend of Alex Jones, offered Twitter support in talking about the stand-off with Morgan, who he referred to as a "shirt lifting ponce". There are innumerable valid ways to insult Piers Morgan without raising the idea that he's gay or that, if he was, there'd be some sort of problem with it. In Jones' aggression, and Kaiser's remarks about sexuality, the extremist wing of alternative media demonstrated why they are seen as unappealing and ugly by the majority of the watching world. Of course, it wouldn't necessarily do to assume that any or all of these men (Morgan included) were being entirely genuine in his conduct, the ever extreme and incoherent Glenn Beck has already come out in criticism of Alex Jones the lunatic, a reminder that whatever the overlaps, these media personalities are designed to appeal to audiences and generate revenues. In order to do this they have to be controversial, and they have to distinguish themselves from one another.
Aside from this, there is a sad story that will be buried in Jones' idiocy, and that is the fact that he often has a very valid point. Few would argue with the injustice by which western taxpayers are now paying the wages and bonuses of bankers who might justifiably have been locked up for fraud. Money laundering on behalf of Mexican drugs cartels, the fixing of Libor, credit ratings agencies sharing their ratings criteria with banks, the strong connection between the US Treasury and former Goldman Sachs employees; these are the pet projects of Jones et al, no sane person would argue against condemning such abuses of power, and you could read about the same issues in the pages of most mainstream newspapers. On other issues Jones is even quite forward thinking; agribusiness and corporate control of food, disaster capitalism and the corporations that benefit from post hurricane and flooding cleanups (Naomi Klein makes similar points), the unsavoury Islamist-monarchist-tribalist melange of Libyan rebels would have been discussed by Jones while mainstream media was still in an orgy of freedom fighters vs. tyranny. Whether it be the official secrets act that will guard postmortem results from the murder/suicide of Iraq WMD scientist, David Kelly, for another seven decades, the now-accepted truth that American involvement in Vietnam was justified by a staged incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, or Israeli plans to drum up international support by bombing the populations of their allies in the Lavon affair, there is also a lot of historical evidence for the fact that - as Jones would suggest - we are often too trusting of our governments. By presenting himself as a raging idiot, Jones discredits both the need for radical change in society, but also the validity of much of what he raises on his own website. For a man who speaks of The Media as a tool of the Global Elite and their plan to demonise dissent and establish a New World Order, Jones certainly made no great effort not to walk into the sort of trap he makes a living talking about.
His views on gun ownership in particular are insightful. Certainly on this side of the Atlantic, either through ignorance or misconstruction of the argument, much has been made of the idea that Americans have a constitutional attachment to guns as part of a hunting culture. That Americans are culturally attached to guns and hunting is beyond doubt, however, the constitutional element of gun ownership is more specifically so that Americans can protect themselves against a tyrannical government. As Jones told Morgan, "the Second Amendment isn't about duck hunting", and it's precisely the idea of armed insurrection that secures a place for automatic weapons and military hardware in the hearts of millions of Americans. Curbing gun ownership can't be addressed without discussing this fact, and by only talking about gun ownership as a tool of hunting, gun control advocates will very easily be accused of helping to disarm the nation in readiness for subjugation by the federal government.
More useful is to look at the emotions behind this particular brand of politics. For one, Jones clearly envisages himself at the forefront of a movement for a better society, although that said it's unlikely anyone would ever regard their personal goals as being a worse society. Slavoj Zizek's "Save us from the Saviours" seems pertinent. Beyond all question is that his media promotes and encourages a willingness to fight for our freedom, the problem is that the fight seems to be just as crucial to the vision as the freedom, debates about freedom-to and freedom-from do not even begin to exist, and so the movement ends up co-opting the innocent and impressionable minds of many people of the not unreasonable opinion that, well, the world could be a bit better. Whether Alex Jones cares more about the population at large, or simply his significance within that population, is up for debate. As with much media of a similar genre, the self-perception of his audience could be typified as a downtrodden but informed cadre, bravely resisting the hordes of ignorant "lemmings" and "sheeple" (I do, I confess, quite like "sheeple" as a portmanteau of sheep and people). Whatever case there is to be made for the invaluable role of ignorance inside a modern political economy, such a scathing and loveless judgment of the masses leaves one questioning whether (or even why?) these antagonists would ever want to improve the lot of a population they seem to resent so intensely. The need for firearms - an almost convincing substitute for power within a disempowered politics - is much more symbol than tool; Waco 1993, when homemade bazookas still proved no match for federal use of tanks, is evidence that no amount of horded firepower can resist a federal onslaught. You soon find yourself of the opinion that Jones and his followers value the notion of heroism, and even martyrdom, more than they value the notion of progressive change. Positive campaigning and harnessing consensus seem to be low on their list of priorities, and it's telling that Jones' website is already murmuring that he is being primed for assassination following his brave outburst.
In his excellent book, Deer Hunting with Jesus, Virginian Joe Bageant dissects the mentality of the early American settlers, brining a wild and foreign land to heel, a Darwinian utopia based upon survival of the fittest. Jones' threat - that the American Revolution of 1776 will be revisited if firearms are taken away - is evidence of how many Americans still live inside this history, and for every Twitter liberal whose cyber bubble condemns Jones the lunatic, people must be aware that a different bubble will be praising Jones the hero for saying it as it is in the cradle of leftist media. I know many gun owning Americans who dislike the NRA and who would never become members, these are the sort of people who will talk about the NRA's business case for gun proliferation, and indeed Jones' normal tenacity for capitalist vested interest seems to be suspended where the NRA is concerned. Millions of pragmatic American gun owners will argue for gun control far more effectively than any number of outraged and ideologically driven liberals, and we should beware the polarisation that frequently sinks sensible politics. As media entities, both Jones and Morgan have a vested interest in the former and not the latter. It would seem harsh to assume that Jones himself does not care at all about the causes he espouses, if his capacity for self-reflection is a match for his self-promotion, he'll soon realise the disservice he's performed.
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