In the latest issue of The New Republic Michelle Goldberg tags Alex Jones, the conspiracy-mongering radio and internet host, as "the next Glenn Beck," presumably meaning that Jones will be the next mass phenomenon of multimedia extremism. Already, you don't have to go very far in many political discussion threads before someone recommends that you visit one of Jones's websites or watches one of his videos. Rather like an invitation into a cult whose innermost teachings are revealed only much later, you get only vague hints from his followers regarding Jones's storyline. If Goldberg has summarized it correctly, keeping it close to the vest is probably the practical thing to do, like not telling any aspiring Scientologist about the evil aliens until after they've paid a high price. To my knowledge Jones doesn't charge for his gnosis, but the full revelation could be just as disillusioning.
As Goldberg puts it, Jones "purports to reveal a eugenics-obsessed global elite bent on eliminating much of the earth's population and enslaving the rest. Members of a Satanic international network, Jones explains in an ominous voiceover, have been 'steering planetary affairs for hundreds of years. Now, in the final stage, they prepare for open world government.'"
There's nothing new to this, of course, but what's recent is Jones's position as a "truther," one who believes that the U.S. government carried out the September 2001 terrorist attacks on American soil. As a matter of consistency, he seems to believe (as I infer from Goldberg) that the government also bombed the World Trade Center on its own in 1993. He is legitimately non-partisan, believing Clinton, Bush and Obama, from what I tell, to be equally evil. "To him," Goldberg writes, "both Democrats and Republicans are puppets of the same set of rapacious moneymen who have hatched the New World Order conspiracy."
Alex Jones is the funhouse mirror image of those who believe that there is such a thing as an American Bipolarchy, that the shared monopoly of political power between two parties has harmed the country. While I would argue that the Bipolarchy is in part a structural accident, but one that has been exploited consciously for all it's worth by its beneficiaries, Jones seems to see the two parties as conscious agents of some still higher power with an Orwellian agenda of dominance for cruelty's sake. His anger is bound to be tempting to those who are frustrated with two-party politics, and Goldberg notes that he's been patronized by dissident elements on the "left" and "right" alike. She names Dennis Kucinich and Noam Chomsky as leftists who've appeared with Jones, while the great hope of many independents from last year, Rep. Ron Paul, has been a frequent guest.
The main point of Goldberg's article, however, is that elements of the Republican media, who might be expected to curse Jones, and in the past have, for his truther speculations, have grown more tolerant of him as he has inevitably focused his fury on a Democratic administration. He has appeared as a friendly guest on at least one Fox News program, and at least one Republican congressman besides Paul has made an appearance on Jones's own show this year. This is actually small evidence, but one might expect a Republican policy of zero tolerance of Jones because of his slanders of President Bush. The apparent lack of such a policy smacks of opportunism and hypocrisy -- the latter being the sin Republicans most like to attribute to others.
It's a sad fact that Jones's conspiracy mongering is one of the few forces in American politics that seems capable of transcending party differences. His is a debased form of populism that portrays "real" Americans not only threatened by "special interests" but under concerted, deliberate attack by them. One doesn't have to be "left" or "right" to feel profound powerlessness in today's America, or to feel tempted to blame this on a single malevolent and omnipresent power. Americans in particular may have an aversion to feeling controlled that may exacerbate their suspicion of actual powers in the world. But none of that excuses lying. Insanity may excuse itself, but unless Jones wants to confess himself mad such a preponderance of evidence exists to establish the facts of September 2001 that anyone who persists in conspiratorial fantasies must be called out as a liar. No movement against the Bipolarchy should be built on lies, and there should be no place in tea parties or any other independent movement for liars. As for Jones, he is probably not so much the next Glenn Beck as the Father Coughlin of our time.