Alex Jones, the radio personality and conspiracy theorist who may be wider than he is long, is currently involved in a child custody trial in Austin, Texas with his ex-wife Kelly Jones. In the trial, Jones has been forced to reckon with his career of dangerous misinformation and pseudo-cult leadership, and he has attempted to do so with the argument that his entire public persona is an act, and with that defense, he joins a host of famous men who want to be taken seriously until they don’t.
At a pretrial hearing, his attorney Randall Wilhite argued that to use Jones’s Infowars personality to judge Jones as a father would be, according to the Austin Statesman like “judging Jack Nicholson in a custody dispute based on his performance as the Joker in Batman.”
“He’s playing a character,” Wilhite said. “He is a performance artist.”
Kelly Jones countered in her own testimony, “He is not a stable person... He says he wants to break Alec Baldwin’s neck. He wants J. Lo to get raped.”
“I’m concerned that he is engaged in felonious behavior, threatening a member of Congress... he broadcasts from home. The children are there, watching him broadcast.”
The case now depends on a jury’s ability to distinguish between the public and private Alex Jones, and whether the purported difference between the two personas might make a difference with regard to his parenting.
It’s overly generous to take Alex Jones or his attorney at their word, but to indulge them briefly, any reasonable consumer of media would have no valid reason to doubt that Jones believes what he preaches. Infowars purports to be a news-from-a-specific-deranged-viewpoint media company, and, in support of that role, has interviewed exactly one presidential candidate—the same one who later called Jones to thank him for his influence after he won the most recent election. Jones “reports” “facts” sold as absolute truth, even when there is no evidence to support them (more likely, there’s hard evidence disproving them)—most recently, Jones promoted the Pizzagate scandal which alleged that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta ran a child sex-trafficking ring in the basement of a pizza-and-ping pong restaurant in Washington DC. Jones later apologized for his role in spreading the conspiracy, which influenced numerous “concerned citizens” to call the pizza place with death threats; one North Carolina man traveled to DC to “self-investigate,” during which time he fired shots with an assault rifle inside the restaurant. The man was later arrested.
Jones has suggested that 9/11 was an inside job; he often makes commentary fueled exclusively by his “gut;” he’s paid Infowars viewers to wear t-shirts calling Bill Clinton a rapist; he is obsessed with the evils of birth control and the almost religiously redeeming power of male virility, leading to this spectacular spread on his website:
And, in addition to providing news for a large, increasingly politically-active chunk of the country, he’s also become an important influence on President Donald Trump, a man who is highly susceptible to flattery, reads very little, and carries the nuclear football.
His attorney’s request that a jury looks past Jones’s bombastic, paranoid persona—a persona that is having massive real world impact—and see him instead as a loving, attentive father, is one that a number of famously naughty men have attempted to employ in the past few months (and, surely, forever). Remember Hulk Hogan requested that his public wrestling character, one who boasted about his sexual exploits and the size of his penis, be viewed as a separate entity from Terry Bollea, private citizen—a major point in the argument was the revelation that Bollea’s penis was smaller than Hogan’s imaginary one. Similarly, during the election, Trump claimed that brutally sexist comments made about Carly Fiorina and others were made “as an entertainer,”—not as Trump the thoughtful man and potential world leader.
“It all goes hand-in-hand. And much of the—many of the statements—and, if you notice, I’m leading with women,” he said to Fox News in 2015. “Many of those comments are made as an entertainer, because I did The Apprentice. It was one of the top shows on television. I decided not to do it again because I wanted to run for president. But some comments are made as an entertainer. And, as everybody said, as an entertainer [it] is a much different ballgame.”
On the flip side, how many times have we been asked to separate a man’s art from his personal life? Mel Gibson, Woody Allen, and Roman Polanski, among scores of others, have all been granted the luxury of having their work separated from their flawed manhood, and any attempts at reconciling the two produce only a series of tired shrugs and a change in topic of conversation.
An asshole by any other name (Alex Jones, say, or Donald Trump), would suck just as hard. At what point can we stop with the dialectical backflips?