Here’s a conspiracy theory for you: the ruling class created Alex Jones to discredit any serious questioning of its rule and to confuse the masses. In other words, he is part of an organized counterinsurgency operation. That would make a lot of sense. The production value of his programs is quite high for somebody who not only dwells on the lunatic fringe of political discourse, but who is rather unremarkable. The only things impressive about the man is that he is apparently incapable of suffering embarrassment and can blow a gasket without stroking out.
When I watch Jones, I feel that I am seeing the fruit of a significant investment made in manufacturing notorious a mediocre demagogue who can simultaneously (1) marginalize criticism of power by making it categorically appear conspiratorial—indeed, making conspiracy theorizing itself a suspect thing—and (2) keep alive the reactionary element in capitalist society and (3) never break much beyond the margins of his own small but committed audience (he presents no real danger). Hell, I run the risk of marginalizing myself by even suggesting that Jones and his programming is staged. That’s conspiratorial thinking! But think about it, if only as an exercise: Here is a phenomenon that functions to make all radical analyses of economic and political power look suspect. A little too convenient, right?
However he comes to us, Alex Jones gets in my way. The shadow of his project affects my teaching. I spend too much time in my office and in hallways after class explaining the difference between Jones and serious analysis of institutions and power. When I talk about corporate control and propaganda, government and business surveillance, CIA black sites and psychological operations, coups and assassinations, and the myriad of other things the powerful do to maintain and expand their grip over our minds and lives in order to stuff full their bank accounts, I draw more than an occasional look of bemusement.
Students come up to me after class and recommend Alex Jones and other so-called “conspiracists” to me as if I am part of the crowd. “Have you seen Loose Change?” “You should really check out the documentary Zeitgeist.” “What do you think about the way the Twin Towers collapsed? Do you think it was a false flag operation?” When I show legitimate documentaries in class, such as The Corporation and Manufacturing Consent, I have to preface the viewings by explaining that the company that produced the films, Zeitgeist, is not associated with the faux-documentary Zeitgeist. If I don’t, then some students openly assume the association, which has the effect of lumping me and the documentaries with the right wing lunatic faux-libertarian fringe.
All this endears me to some and alienates others, neither of which is a desirable outcome. It’s amazing how many of my students over the years have watched these faux-documentaries and, more frighteningly, how the “ truths” these projects reveal have “changed their lives.” Tragically, these students tend to tilt left. The other effect is to cause students to dismiss serious critical thinking, thinking it “conspiracism.” It’s the latter group that is most difficult to reach (I can usually show the former why Jones is a crackpot). Most students don’t have an opinion either way, but the tragedy here is that they are politically disinterested.