Let me whisk you on a journey to an alternate universe.
A dark, scary universe where the government bombs their own citizens in “false flag” terrorist attacks in order to create an excuse to curtail civil liberties.
A threatening world where most people are “sheeple”, unwittingly controlled by the shadowy leaders of the New World Order, and only a few brave “patriots” know the truth and stand up for their freedom.
A world where your every spare dollar should be spent on firearms and ammunition, survival seeds, water purification systems, freeze-dried food rations and your subscriptions to the few media outlets brave enough to tell you the truth.
Welcome to the world of Alex Jones, and InfoWars:
This is a typical Alex Jones show, though I could easily have shown any other – the message is always the same, and the “urgent breaking news” the same recycled expositions carried over from one show to the next. Here’s the most recent:
To watch Alex Jones at work is to enter into a world where you are under permanent siege by the forces of darkness – it is by no coincidence that the Imperial Death March from Star Wars is used to open many of the segments.
I must admit that the show is strangely addictive, and without wishing to sound condescending to all of the true believers and regular listeners, I can understand the appeal. It’s nice to think of oneself as being part of a small band of people who understand the truth, who know what is coming and who are getting prepared. It’s nice to have that feeling of camaraderie and belonging. And when startling, inexplicable events such as the recent Boston Marathon bombing suddenly explode into the news, it can be comforting to be able to neatly fit the bad things that are happening into a pre-existing narrative that some of these conspiracy theories provide.
If one can understand the appeal of these conspiracy theories to the people who believe them, one can certainly understand their appeal to the people and outlets who ply their trade in peddling them. The idea that the Boston Marathon bombing was a deliberately staged “false flag” attack isn’t a widely held opinion, but the people who do believe things like this represent a very lucrative market for certain right-wing media outlets.
Aside from making money selling subscriptions to your news outlet by telling people that you are the only one that can be trusted to deliver the truth, you can also make money selling advertising space to the people who sell survival seeds and emergency food rations, and body armour, and home security systems, and all manner of things. There is a hugely vibrant economic ecosystem at work here. It reminds me somewhat of South Park’s hilarious takedown of the Jewellery Channel Shopping – Cash4Gold store cycle:
I think Rachel Maddow sums it up the best in her analysis on her MSNBC show. She basically concludes that as long as these fringe conspiracies remain at the fringe, they do no real harm (at least not to those who don’t buy in). But the problem comes when a conspiracy becomes too lucrative and tempting, and starts to be embraced by a major political party, as has recently been happening with the InfoWars-style theories and some elements within the US Republican party.
As Maddow notes, even notable politicians such as former Congressman Ron Paul will sometimes go on the Alex Jones show; not, I believe, because they truly buy into all of the conspiracy theories themselves (you can listen to Ron Paul squirm and prevaricate as Jones tries to gain the Ron Paul seal of approval for some of his wackier ideas in the segment below), but because they know they can pick up valuable support and engagement from the audience who do buy into the whole package:
This is disappointing from Ron Paul, a man whose stance in favour of liberty I respect immensely, and whose insurgent campaign for the Republican nomination for president I strongly supported. When good people like Ron Paul flirt with outlets like InfoWars, it weakens their message and makes supporters such as myself look stupid by association.
Nonetheless, I shall continue to join Alex Jones and his merry band for a few minutes every week, for the amusement value of the whole experience. It makes perfect background noise whilst doing something more profitable. You can leave the room while he is talking about secret underground biological weapon labs underneath shopping malls, the perils of the Large Hadron Collider, the imminent declaration of martial law, FEMA prison camps, the dangers of water fluoridation, or the New World Order. And when you come back, he will still be talking about secret underground biological weapon labs underneath shopping malls, the perils of the Large Hadron Collider, the imminent declaration of martial law, FEMA prison camps, the dangers of water fluoridation, or the New World Order…
There is a kind of beautiful, self-contained symmetry to the whole experience.
So think of me tonight, peeking through my drawn curtains, baseball bat at the ready, drinking my filtered water and eating my freeze-dried meal, and communing with America’s real patriot community.