[4/17/17] At a recent pretrial hearing, attorney Randall Wilhite told state District Judge Orlinda Naranjo that using his client Alex Jones’ on-air Infowars persona to evaluate Alex Jones as a father would be like judging Jack Nicholson in a custody dispute based on his performance as the Joker in “Batman.”
“He’s playing a character,” Wilhite said of Jones. “He is a performance artist.”
But in emotional testimony at the hearing, Kelly Jones, who is seeking to gain sole or joint custody of her three children with Alex Jones, portrayed the volcanic public figure as the real Alex Jones.
“He’s not a stable person,” she said of the man with whom her 14-year-old son and 9- and 12-year-old daughters have lived since her 2015 divorce. “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,” she said, referring to his recent comments about California Democrat Adam Schiff. “He broadcasts from home. The children are there, watching him broadcast.”
Beginning Monday, a jury will be selected at the Travis County Courthouse that in the next two weeks will be asked to sort out whether there is a difference between the public and private Alex Jones, and whether, when it comes to his fitness as a parent, it matters.
For Naranjo, who has been the presiding judge of the 419th District Court since January 2006, it is about keeping her eyes, and the jury’s eyes, on the children.
“This case is not about Infowars, and I don’t want it to be about Infowars,” Naranjo told the top-shelf legal talent enlisted in Jones v. Jones at the last pretrial hearing Wednesday. “I am in control of this court, not your clients.”
But for Alex Jones, at the peak of his power and influence, what emerges from the art deco courthouse on Guadalupe Street might shape whether he comes to be seen by his faithful as more prophet or showman.
Infowars as evidence
Alex Jones is an Austin original who, 21 years after he got his own show on Austin public access television, has become an unlikely popular and political force in the Donald Trump era, an ingenious and indefatigable conjurer of conspiracy theories about sinister global elites seeking to enslave the masses, who found, in Trump, a hero open to his shadowy narratives.
“Alex Jones and his Infowars’ umbrella of radio shows, YouTube and Facebook broadcasts, Internet website and tweets turned out to be Trump’s secret weapon,” Roger Stone, probably Trump’s oldest and closest political confidant, wrote in his book “The Making of the President 2016.” “His fiery words have struck a chord in the nation and he speaks for millions. In fact, more people follow Alex than watch Fox News or CNN.”
In addition to broadcasting his radio show on some 150 stations, Infowars.com had 7.6 million global unique visitors between March 16 and April 14 according to Quantcast, which measures web audiences and ranked Infowars.com 387th among all U.S. websites, not far behind Texas.gov, MLB.com and PBS.org.
The Alex Jones YouTube channel has more than 2 million subscribers and more than 1.2 billion video views.
But Jones’ most important listener is the president of the United States.
During the campaign and into his presidency, many of Trump’s most defining themes and questionable assertions either originated with or were popularized by Infowars: Hillary Clinton for prison. Hillary Clinton is gravely ill. Bill Clinton is a rapist. President Barack Obama founded ISIS. The election is rigged. Millions of immigrants voted illegally. The news media covers up terrorist attacks. The “fake news media … is the enemy of the people.” Obama spied on Trump.
In December 2015, thanks to Stone, Trump appeared via Skype on Jones’ show.
“Your reputation is amazing,” Trump told Jones. “I will not let you down.”
Since Trump became president, Jones has purported on air to be in regular direct telephone contact with the president, apologizing for not always being able to answer the phone when the president calls. Last week, Jones said that the president had invited him to Mar-a-Lago but that he had to beg off because of family obligations.
Recently, Jones faulted Trump for falling for the “false flag” that it was the Syrian government, and not its enemies, that deployed chemical weapons against civilians, but he says he understands the political expedience involved and remains hopeful that Trump will reclaim the anti-globalist mantle.
Naranjo, meanwhile, said she had never seen or heard Jones on Infowars until Wednesday’s hearing, when Kelly Jones’ legal team started previewing Infowars videos it would like to play for the jury.
The first was a clip from a July 2015 broadcast in which Jones had his son, then 12, on to play the latest of some 15 or 20 videos he had made with the help of members of the Infowars team who, Jones said, had “taken him under their wing” during summer days spent at the South Austin studio between stints at tennis and Christian camps.
“He is undoubtedly cut out for this, and I intend for him to eclipse what I’ve done. He’s a way greater person than I was at 12,” said Jones, turning to his son. “I love you so much, and I didn’t mean to get you up here, sweetheart, and tell people how much I love you, but you’re so handsome, and you’re a good little knight who’s going to grow up, I know, to be a great fighter against the enemy.”
“So far this looks like good stuff,” Wilhite said. Naranjo OK’d it for viewing by the jury.
But Bobby Newman, the attorney for Kelly Jones guiding the court through the Infowars clips, was laying the groundwork for the argument that there is no separation between Alex Jones, father, and Alex Jones, Infowarrior.
“This is the world he has planned for his kids,” said Newman, quoting Alex Jones at a recent hearing insisting that what he says on the air is what he believes.