The controversial film accused of ‘good PR’ for America’s most hated man

·10 min read
Alt-right broadcaster and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones - AFP via Getty
Alt-right broadcaster and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones - AFP via Getty

“It’s a controversial film,” says the documentary maker Alex Lee Moyer. “And I guess I’m a controversial director at this point. But I’d much rather be doing that than turning out something I felt was inauthentic.”

It was never going to be easy to make a documentary about one of the most hated men in America, but for Moyer, the director of Alex’s War, a new feature-length film about the right-wing broadcaster Alex Jones, the timing could not have been more difficult. Jones has been a divisive figure in US media for decades. Almost every day, he broadcasts for hours on his TV channel, InfoWars. In strident, confrontational language he rails against the “New World Order,” the left, the political classes and countless other perceived conspiracies and opponents. 

His views range from the dangerous – he has said that 9/11 was an “inside job,” that Barack Obama was not an American  – and the obviously false – that Hillary Clinton was running a paedophile ring out of a pizzeria – to the merely eccentric, like his belief that the US government was “putting chemicals in the water that turn the friggin’ frogs gay.”

To Jones’s supporters, he speaks truths that others do not dare. He has won millions of listeners and viewers, many of them at the extreme end of the disenfranchised working class that Trump appealed to. If you are inclined to believe the world is biased against you, Jones provides no shortage of ammunition. At its peak his broadcast company, InfoWars, was said to be worth between $135 and $270m dollars, raking in $800,000 a day, partly from selling equipment to help its audience prepare for the apocalypse it says is imminent. Many British viewers first became aware of him in 2013, when he appeared on Piers Morgan’s CNN interview programme to rail against Morgan’s campaign on gun control. “1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms,” he shouted at Morgan.

To most, Jones is a fantasist, a racist and conspiracy theorist, whose lies at worst help to undermine democracy in the US. He was an ardent supporter of Trump, and has been banned by most mainstream media platforms, including Facebook and YouTube. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which reports on extremism in the US, has called him the “most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America”.

He was a hate figure even before the school shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school, Connecticut, in 2012. Jones responded to the atrocity, in which 20 children and six adults died, by saying they were a hoax. The children had been played by actors. To anyone who still thought of Jones as an eccentric sideshow, the joke was not funny anymore. Parents of Sandy Hook victims sued him. Last week, ten years after the attack and a week after Moyer’s film was released, a jury found in favour of the bereaved parents. Jones was ordered to pay a total of £40.8m to the parents of the victims. Earlier this year, in advance of these hearings, InfoWars declared bankruptcy.

“You believe everything you say is true, but it isn’t,” said the judge, Maya Guerra Gamble, addressing Jones. “Your beliefs do not make something true.” Moyer did not realise that her film, which presents a less polemic view of the broadcaster than other films, would come out just as Jones was at the peak of his unpopularity.

“We didn’t realise the trials were going to be such a spectacle,” says Moyer, down the line from New York, where she has been trying to promote her film in the teeth of a gale of fresh hostility towards Jones. “We should have known better. We didn’t mean to time it that way. I can’t say it’s been a positive thing for the film to have that happen a week after the release. It’s not a good look. The optics are so bad with that trial. The situation is radioactive on so many different levels.”

Moyer, by proxy, has been accused of not being hard enough on her subject, or even of being an outright apologist for Jones. The Guardian emphasised that the film was made “with the cooperation” of Jones. “[Critics say] I’m a mouthpiece for him,” she says, “that it’s all just a PR stunt that he’s paying for with his own money.”

Jones famously suggested that Barack Obama was not an American - AFP via Getty
Jones famously suggested that Barack Obama was not an American - AFP via Getty

Moyer’s critics say her film does not go far enough to attack Jones. Instead, her film is designed to let his words and actions speak for themselves, and trusts the viewer to make up their own mind. It makes a contrast with the work of Louis Theroux, for instance, another documentary maker who has investigated the American right, but who builds his films around his own character, including himself challenging his subjects on their beliefs.

The documentary starts with Jones’s early life in Texas, painting a picture of a young man who was a voracious reader, ploughing through sci-fi and Shakespeare before developing an interest in the Nazis. Jones credits a book called None Dare Call It a Conspiracy, by Gary Allen, with opening his eyes to the secret all powerful forces running the world. In the book, Allen, a conservative commentator who wrote speeches for the segregationist 1968 presidential candidate George Wallace, argues that modern western economic systems, with income tax, central banks and government debt, were designed to help a small group of insiders control the broader population.

But it wasn’t until the 1993 Waco siege that Jones started sharing his conspiracist views on air. His belief that the world was being run by a shadowy cabal was confirmed by a visit to Bohemian Grove, where he recorded footage of something he thought was a Satanic ritual. The film alternates between Jones’ past and present, using interviews and archive footage, and building up to the far-right invasion of the Capitol building in Washington DC on January 6th last year.

Jones addresses a crowd of pro-Trump protestors as they prepare to storm the grounds of the Capitol Building - Getty
Jones addresses a crowd of pro-Trump protestors as they prepare to storm the grounds of the Capitol Building - Getty

Although we see Jones calling for the crowds to avoid the Capitol itself, he was present at the march and a fervent advocate of the idea that the election had been stolen. Moyer builds a picture of a charismatic man and a gifted broadcaster, increasingly radicalised by his own rants, regardless of whether they are based in truth. Like Donald Trump, Jones can be very funny, as when wondering if the New World Order was taking DMT and communicating using clockwork elves, or tearing his shirt off live on air.

Aside from his reprehensible rantings about Sandy Hook, 9/11, the “stolen” Biden election, the Covid hoax and Hillary Clinton, Jones holds no shortage of other bizarre and baseless views. Yet from the film, you get the impression that there is a kind of demented kamikaze bravery to his relentless assault on received truths. Governments do lie. How many of the people who hate Jones believe the official version of the death of Jeffrey Epstein?

“You can say that because you’re an Englishman,” Moyer says. “I have to be extremely careful about how I describe him. The whole thing is fraught. But in some ways yes, he is very brave. But they wouldn’t call it bravery here. And a lot of people get outraged when you describe Alex with any kind of positive descriptor at all. They think that if you give Alex Jones just one inch of generosity about his character that society as we know it is going to implode. There are already pieces about the movie fact-checking it. I thought it was taken for granted that not everything that Alex says is a fact. It seems redundant to me.”

Neil Heslin, father of a six-year-old Sandy Hook shooting victim, becomes emotional during his testimony in the trial against Jones - Reuters
Neil Heslin, father of a six-year-old Sandy Hook shooting victim, becomes emotional during his testimony in the trial against Jones - Reuters

Jones cooperated with the production, granting new interviews and allowing Moyer’s crew to follow him around. “I had already resolved to make a film about him, it was just a question of whether he was going to be a part of it,” says Moyer. “I managed to convince people in his circle that I would make an honest piece of work about him. And I had wheedled my way onto InfoWars to promote my previous film, TFW NO GF. I showed that I wasn’t going to do him dirty, and he eventually agreed to it. He has turned down a lot of other filmmakers – he turned Werner Herzog down, according to one of his stories – so I was flattered and honoured that he took the leap.”

“It was a long process of establishing trust,” she says. “I now consider us to be friends, but I don’t feel like we became friends until after we completed the film, because there was always this question over what the outcome of the film was going to be.” He has seen the film a few times, she says. At the time of writing, Jones is battening down the hatches and preparing for more litigation over his Sandy Hook smears.

“I’m sure there are things in it that make him uncomfortable, but he never tried to micromanage it,” she adds. “He’s always complaining he looks fat in it. He knows that this is good PR, even if he is just sort of falling on his sword in the film.”

This is not Moyer’s first dance with controversy. Two years ago the director, 38, released her debut feature film, TFW NO GF. The title is an internet-speak abbreviation of “That Feel When (You Have) No Girlfriend”. Rolling Stone called the documentary “deeply uncomfortable.” It focused on what the press likes to call “incels”, involuntary celibates, that cohort of young men in the West, especially in America, who feel overlooked by society. They spend a lot of time on the internet, where they feel more empowered than in real life. There is some overlap, at least, between that group and Jones’ fanbase. Critics said Moyer indulged a subculture that was often violent and misogynistic. A more generous reading of the film is that it presents a group of people often ignored by the mainstream media who represent an influential cohort in the culture.

Jones steps outside of the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas - Reuters
Jones steps outside of the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas - Reuters

“I’m just trying to broaden people’s horizons about what’s possible in making content,” she says. “[I want] to give audiences a little more credit, especially after we’ve been through all these insane situations and traumas. We can speak honestly about these issues and not be spoon fed our information by corporations.”

As for Jones, Moyer says that despite all the time she spent with him, she is hardly closer to understanding what makes this strange figure tick. “At the end of the day he’s just a human being,” she says. “It is hard to overstate the amount of pressure that’s on him [in America], and to what extent he has been vilified. On the flip side, and you don’t hear this in the legacy media, but he has a massive cult following, and is really loved by many people. When you go out with him in real life occasionally there will be hecklers and trolls, but there are also people giving him a thumbs up and a pat on the back.

“I think Jones would like a little bit of redemption, but he’s not expecting it,” she adds. “The controversy is energising to him. He doesn’t shy away from it. He’s willing to confront the accusations and the controversies head on. But there’s nobody he can pass the torch to after he goes. He’s a singular personality. I think he’s going to keep going until he drops dead.”

Alex's War is streaming now on Amazon Prime