Some years ago I spent a couple of days hanging out with a very unusual gentleman indeed.
He was a loud man. Very enthusiastic and jittery. A deep, gravelly voice. He told me he trusted me but also made it very clear that he did not trust me.
I was making a documentary about conspiracy theories and I was in Austin, Texas to meet the man who thought that 9/11 was an inside job and that the world was run by a new order that wanted to crush every hope and dream, like a boot stamping on a face for ever.
Well, he did not like the hidden masters that walk among us one bit. With a mixture of fear and anger, he would point out skyscrapers that he said looked like owls. This, he said, was a clear indicator that they had been built by Illuminati billionaires, who would often make buildings that looked like owls. I stared at the owl buildings, and sort of had to agree that they looked like owls, though really they looked like buildings.
I also remember that at one point we were walking down the street and he suddenly started using a bullhorn to scream at a house.
He was sort of known in Austin, the town that genuinely gave itself the slogan “Keep Austin Weird”. He had started a website and he had a radio show, I think. And young men in caps would come up to him and thank him for everything he was doing for the country.
Anyway, while I found this man eccentric, and couldn’t quite see what he was doing for the country, I liked him. People believe all sorts of stuff. And I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. I felt that while there was a professional distance, we both knew the deal: he would say stuff that sounded mad, I would take it seriously, and then we would go for a pint. We got on so well he took out a dollar bill and wrote his number on it, urging me to call him whenever. He even prank-phoned my friend and told him he was coming to stay with him for a month. He was funny. And he couldn’t really believe all that stuff.
But fast-forward to the present day, and Alex Jones has become markedly less funny. A man known across a world that has become a little worse because of it. Now, tens of thousands of men in caps thank him for all he is doing for the country, which essentially means spreading the darkest ideas possible. Saying the Sandy Hook massacre was staged with child actors. Saying that Michelle Obama is secretly a man. Saying that the US government has a chemical ‘gay bomb’ that turns frogs into miniature green homosexuals.
Sometimes, when I watch him screaming, with a rage that seemed contained and controllable before, I wonder what has happened. It’s like the extreme version of someone from your past – who was always a little unusual – popping up on your Facebook page with a post saying all dogs should be shot and Hitler had some good ideas. Still I wonder whether it’s an act, whether he’s tapped into something the country is feeling and can’t believe his luck that people believe whatever insane theories he comes up with next. Whether he’s had to up his game, and tell more extravagant tales and ever uglier nonsense just to keep up with the needs of his enthusiastic audience – which includes the current president.
And then I think back to the final evening I spent with him, when he seemed a little taken with me. He wanted to go for a Chinese meal, but he didn’t want me to ride with the crew. He wanted me to ride with him, in his pick-up. So in I got and off we went, driving through darkened roads towards the city and its terrifying owl-scrapers.
“You know, you’re taking quite a risk, driving with me,” he said, opening the cool box between the seats and taking out a beer.
“How come?” I said, though I think that question answers itself.
“Not long ago, they tried to kill me,” he said, staring straight ahead, his eyes burning a hole in the road. I nodded. We weren’t filming. He didn’t need to say stuff like this any more. This was the bit where he could knock it off.
“Who’s ‘they’?” I said, and he laughed and raised his eyebrows at me. “The government?”
“They flipped my truck,” he said.
Immediately I started thinking of car chases or mechanical interference. But Alex’s explanation was far more straightforward.
“They sent a tornado to get me,” he said.
They sent a tornado. I wasn’t quite sure how to react.
“I didn’t know they could do that,” I said.
“Look,” he said, pointing at a building far ahead. “Owl.”
And whenever I now see him, and though he is being banned from spreading his thoughts more and more, when people ask me whether he really believes all that stuff about gay frogs and alien-lizards in the White House, I think back to a Chinese meal in Texas, and to him seeing a tornado and thinking it had some kind of vendetta against him, and I think, “Yes. Yes, he does.”
Read the Danny Wallace archive here
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