Radio Conspiracy Theorist Claims Ear Of Trump, Pushes 'Pizzagate' Fictions

Dec 6, 2016
Originally published on December 7, 2016 1:20 pm

Alex Jones has a following. His radio show is carried on more than 160 stations, and he has more than 1.8 million subscribers on YouTube.

And he claims to have the ear of the next president of the United States.

Jones is also one of the nation's leading promoters of conspiracy theories — some of which take on lives of their own. He has been a chief propagator of untrue and wild claims about a satanic sex trafficking ring run by one of Hillary Clinton's top advisers out of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C.

Days before a self-described "investigator" entered the pizzeria and fired off several rounds, Jones suggested he might investigate in person.

"I may just have to take off a week and just only research this and actually go to where these places are and stuff," Jones said. "Fact, I'm looking at getting on a plane. ... I can't just say something and not see it for myself. They go to these pizza places. There's like satanic art everywhere."

The Daily Beast reported the shooter was a fan on Facebook of Jones' Infowars website. Jones did not respond to requests for comment on the incident or his other theories.

Jones has claimed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were an inside job, that the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax, and that President Obama would round up people into concentration camps.

"He comes out of this kind of '90s fusion paranoia background where it's really more about opposition to the powers that be from any old direction," says Jesse Walker, author of The United States Of Paranoia. "It really is this idea of people's autonomy and freedom and health being threatened by this grand amorphous force that's within the big institutions of society but larger than them."

Walker contends Jones' all-encompassing assault on authority does not fall neatly along conservative or liberal lines.

That said, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, says his attacks inspire a strong following among racists.

Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC's intelligence project, calls Jones a gateway drug for white supremacy, though she says he does not espouse explicitly racist views. Many white supremacist leaders tracked by the center have written that Jones' broadcasts open their minds to new thinking as they adopted their racist philosophy, Beirich says.

Jones says he has a friend and ally in Donald Trump. Last December, Trump appeared on Infowars for an interview just weeks before the first Republican primaries. In that interview, Trump praised Jones for having an "amazing" reputation and his audience for its support.

After the election, Jones said Trump called to thank him for his support, a claim the Trump camp, notably, neither confirmed nor denied.

Jones' influence can be seen in other ways as well. Trump has claimed 3 million people voted in the presidential election illegally — another theory that would require a wide-ranging conspiracy of public officials from both parties, for which there is no proof.

And the man named by Trump to serve as national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, has repeatedly pushed unfounded conspiracy theories online.

His son, Michael Flynn Jr., who had been working on Flynn's involvement in Trump's transition, frequently retweeted Infowars. According to CNN, his Facebook and Twitter profile photographs previously showed him in an Infowars T-shirt. On Tuesday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence confirmed to CNN's Jake Tapper that the younger Flynn is no longer involved in work for the transition team.

Use the audio link above the hear the full story.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Alex Jones has a following. His radio show is carried on more than 160 stations across the country. He has more than 1.8 million subscribers on YouTube, and he claims to have the ear of President-elect Donald Trump. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, Jones has frequently promoted toxic conspiracy theories, theories that sometimes take on lives of their own.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Let's start with what just happened down in Washington, D.C. A guy goes to a pizza joint packing heat, prepared to release kids held in a satanic sex trafficking ring run by one of Hillary Clinton's top advisers - completely untrue, by the way. The man fired off several rounds. Thankfully, no one hurt - also, no imprisoned kids. The shooter told police that he was there to investigate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEX JONES: Pizzagate is real. The only question is, exactly what is it?

FOLKENFLIK: That's Alex Jones of Infowars last month. He's been a chief propagator of untrue and wild claims about email exchanges involving Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta. Those emails were hacked and then posted by WikiLeaks in October.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JONES: We're one of the first groups in the WikiLeaks back in early November to expose the Satanism and the occult and the code words for pedophilia.

FOLKENFLIK: In fact, days before that self-described investigator shot up a pizzeria, Jones suggested he might investigate in person.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JONES: I may just have to take off a week and just only research this and actually go to where these places are and stuff. In fact, I'm looking to get on a plane. I can't just say something and not see it for myself. They go to these pizza places. There's, like, satanic art everywhere.

FOLKENFLIK: The Washington, D.C., chief of police said the Pizzagate theory was fictional - in other words, a lie - though it was spread widely online. The Daily Beast reports that the shooter was a fan of Infowars and Alex Jones on Facebook. Jones did not respond to requests for comment on the incident or his other theories.

Jones has previously claimed that the September 2001 terror attacks were an inside job, that the deadly shooting at a Connecticut elementary school was a hoax, that President Obama would round people up into concentration camps.

JESSE WALKER: He comes out of this kind of '90s fusion paranoia background where it's really more about opposition to the powers that be from any old direction.

FOLKENFLIK: Jesse Walker is author of the book "The United States Of Paranoia" about conspiracy theories.

WALKER: It really is this idea of, you know, people's autonomy and freedom and health being threatened by this grand amorphous force that's within the big institutions of society but larger than them.

FOLKENFLIK: The Southern Poverty Law Center concludes that Jones appeals to right-wing extremists. The center studies hate groups.

HEIDI BEIRICH: He's in a way the gateway drug to white supremacy in the United States.

FOLKENFLIK: Heidi Beirich is the director of the center's Intelligence Project. Beirich says Jones has not espoused explicitly racist views, but she adds this.

BEIRICH: Most of the white supremacist leaders that we track talk about their pathway to sort of radicalization. They would consider that their pathway to the truth. And a lot of them specifically discuss how reading Alex Jones or watching Alex Jones or being on infowars.com opened their minds to other ideas.

FOLKENFLIK: All of which makes Jones an astonishing person for Donald Trump to court, yet candidate Trump appeared on Infowars last December just ahead of the primaries.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I just want to finish by saying your reputation's amazing. I will not let you down. You will be very, very impressed I hope. And I think we'll be speaking a lot, but you'll be...

FOLKENFLIK: After the election, Jones claimed Trump called.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JONES: And I told him, Mr. President-elect, you're too busy; we don't need to talk. But we still spent over five minutes. He said, listen, Alex; I just talked to the kings and queens of the world, world leaders; you name it. But he said, it doesn't matter; I wanted to talk to you to thank your audience and all...

FOLKENFLIK: Trump's aides have notably not denied the call took place. About the pizzeria shooting, Jones has a theory about that, too. It may have been a put-up job, he says, intended to distract from other scandals, a conspiracy theory as unproven as the others. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.