Alex Jones and Donald Trump: How the Candidate Echoed the Conspiracy Theorist on the Campaign Trail
As 2015 drew to a close, then-candidate Donald Trump made an appearance that was unprecedented in the history of modern presidential campaigns.
It was on InfoWars, the hard-right outlet run by extremist conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a trafficker in false information who had exploited national tragedies from 9/11 to Newtown. And it was brokered by Trump’s longtime associate Roger Stone, a frequent InfoWars guest, in a bid to win over Jones’ millions of viewers.
“Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down,” Trump told Jones, who for years had been pushing a message that “elites” and “globalists” are part of a secret conspiracy that controls the world. “You will be very — very impressed, I hope.”
A new FRONTLINE documentary traces how the alliance between Jones and Trump, facilitated by Stone, would help to bring conspiracy theorist thought into the political mainstream — ushering in the current era, in which misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic has spread like the virus itself.
That documentary, United States of Conspiracy, includes a striking sequence that illustrates how Trump adopted Jones’ claims — voicing them publicly in a way that shocked even InfoWars staffers as he ran for the highest office in the land.
“I mean, sometimes it was, like, verbatim — like, really Trump, really? You’re taking his word for it?” former InfoWars staffer Rob Jacobson says.
Embedded at the top of this story, the sequence juxtaposes clips of Jones sharing false and conspiratorial claims about then-President Barack Obama, Senator Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton with Trump making strikingly similar claims at rallies and in interviews.
The presidential candidate’s echoing of Jones on the campaign trail was a significant development in the mainstreaming of conspiracy theorist thought. And it stunned author Jon Ronson, a renowned expert on extremism who has been following Jones for 20 years.
“The big shock was Alex having the ear of a president-to-be,” Ronson says in the excerpt. “Of all the people I’ve interviewed over 35 years, I can think of a lot of people I would rather have the presidency than Alex Jones. It’s a bit of a shame that one of the most spiraling people I’ve ever met is the one who is influencing Trump.”
For the full story, watch United States of Conspiracy, which is now available to stream in full online and on-demand. From veteran FRONTLINE filmmaker Michael Kirk and his team, the documentary reveals how conspiracy theories have come to play an outsize role in American politics — and what that means for American democracy as the coronavirus pandemic continues, the country reckons with racism, and the 2020 election looms.
“Conspiracism has become a recognized and accepted way of exercising political power. It creates a polarization in the population that’s much deeper than partisan polarization — it’s a polarization about what it means to know something,” Nancy Rosenblum, co-author of A Lot of People Are Saying, says in the film. “I think it’s likely to spread across the political spectrum. And whether it returns to the fringes or not I think will depend on whether people in office can resist using it.”
Stream the full United States of Conspiracy documentary below, on the PBS Video App or on YouTube.
This story was updated to include an embed of the full documentary, and the fact that it is now streaming online and on-demand.