Dan Friesen—who, with Jordan Holmes, hosts the five-year-old podcast Knowledge Fight—has made thinking about Alex Jones possible for me, a person who can barely listen to people yell, let alone yell, growl, threaten, and scream. Friesen creates the podcast by consuming hours and hours of Jones’ often-unhinged show InfoWars, then cutting clips of key moments, which he plays for Holmes. Holmes, occupying the “less informed” seat, reacts, often with a much-needed gale of laughter. These long, long episodes of Knowledge Fight (there are currently 710) follow the patterns of Jones’s rhetoric meticulously, piecing together motifs and noting falsehoods and the repetition of falsehoods. Jones is prolix; they never run out of material.
The documentary Alex’s War, directed by Alex Lee Moyer, which was released last week, has been applauded by some (including Jones himself) for its supposed even-handedness and fairness in its treatment of the InfoWars founder. Glenn Greenwald quizzed Jones and Moyer at a Q&A after the documentary’s premiere in Austin in July, his presence a gift to Jones’ credibility that led to much furor in some online circles. But is Alex’s War admirably verité—Moyer told New York that one of her influences was D.A. Pennebaker’s hands-off 1967 Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back—or is it oddly credulous of a figure who has done nothing to deserve that treatment?
I asked Friesen—who, as a Jones completist, had already seen the documentary (and podcasted on it!)—to help me understand what the film was really doing. I reached him in his hotel room in Austin, where he was covering Jones’ latest legal proceedings in the matter of the Sandy Hook parents he had accused of being crisis actors—a trial which has become quite the media spectacle this week, making Alex’s War’s “view from nowhere” approach seem even stranger by comparison. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Rebecca Onion: What is your first, bird’s-eye-level takeaway about this documentary?
Dan Friesen: To me, it was very weird, and, I think, bad. There’s a person who’s lying—Alex Jones—who’s the main subject of the documentary. And he’s the only source of information about himself, and he’s lying. And the film gives you no reason to suspect that he’s lying. And so, taken at face value, unless you have an awareness of who Alex is, you’re ill-equipped to deal with the material being presented in the documentary, and to me that’s an indication of a lack of concern—a lack of thoroughness? I’m not exactly sure what it is, but it’s an irresponsible portrayal.
There’s the inclusion of some critical voices, but they are always presented extremely briefly, and as a Greek chorus of naysayers. The documentary presumes that you, as a viewer, agree with some of the basic premises of Jones’ worldview: that there is a globalist conspiracy of elites, and so on.
Yes, the way the documentary includes critiques is not meaningful at all. There are clips of a couple talking heads, like Trevor Noah, and they’ll say, Ah, look at this asshole. And flashes of out-of-context headlines you can’t read, and then the clip of Obama joking about Alex saying he smelled like sulfur. And that’s not meaningful critique of what Alex does, and it’s not any reason to call into question the premises that Alex is delivering to the documentary itself.
I know that Alex Lee Moyer and some of her defenders, like Glenn Greenwald or Matt Taibbi, have really been relishing the idea of the movie’s non-judgmentalness. But I honestly think it’s uncritical. I think it’s an almost comatose approach to making a film. It’s not engaging with what’s being said to you at all, as a filmmaker. You have no reason to doubt the existence of these conspiracies from the film. You have every reason to think Alex does have sources, knows all these things, can prove X, Y, and Z. It’s bizarre. It’s not earned.
Regarding the movie’s representation of Alex as a character, I was struck by the way that he tells his own story about his childhood, his adolescence. He lists all the different books he used to read, talks about reading Nietzsche and Greek philosophy. I know from listening to your show that he likes to talk about himself that way, as an autodidact, and it’s a self-mythologizing—a self-hagiography. And I thought to myself, Oh, they are buying into his own story about his own specialness.
I would love to get my hands on the raw interviews. I find myself conflicted because there is a censorship that’s going on with this documentary, one way or another. Either Alex is presenting a curated fake version of himself, to make himself seem more respectable or more normal. Or, Alex gave his story the normal way he does, where he talks about the devil trying to seduce him when he was a young man, and how he’s a psychic and God has revealed visions for him, and then the editors or Alex Lee Moyer decided to cut that stuff out, because it would make Alex look insane. I can’t really make up my mind about where the deception is, without knowing that.
That stuff is stuff he talks about all the time on InfoWars.
So clearly he’s OK with saying it in certain contexts. But is he self-aware enough …
Oh, his audience eats it up. Like the woman in the film, at a rally, who says he’s John the Baptist. The audience is already bought in to some of these premises, and Alex praying on air and fake crying is great for people who love him already. But I think this documentary is meant to hit audiences that aren’t indoctrinated. It’s meant to spread and normalize him to people who don’t know that much about it. And I think that’s why you wouldn’t want to have those things he does normally in the documentary. It would just turn normal people off.
Another thing that was missing, or almost missing with the exception of one quick mention, is the constant advertising on InfoWars‚ the shilling for supplements and food buckets and such. There’s one mention of one of the supplements he’s advertising, where he talks about how the FDA investigated the InfoWars website because there were too many five-star reviews.
Yes! The ad pitch included in the documentary has that defensiveness. It’s like, Everybody says I’m bad, but actually I’m good.
Meanwhile, the way that the supplement advertising recurs on actual InfoWars, Alex could be saying the most grim, intense stuff, building up tension and terror, and then he is talking about a supplement sale in the very next breath.
It highlights the insincerity of the intense shit he’s saying previously. If you watch his show pretty consistently you see that this is essentially a trick he does, where he tries to ramp up tense feelings, and then offers his products as sort of a tension release for the intensity he builds up. Oftentimes, it’s some story he’s telling about how you’re not going to have food, and the government’s going to take away your ability to buy anything, and the mark of the beast! and Satan will walk among us. And then: Hey! I have this survival bucket of food, and it’s insurance you can eat, and all this stuff. It reveals a lot of the intense content as a problem he’s offering a solution to with his ads. And that wasn’t captured at all in the documentary.
I’m interested in the younger footage of Alex in the documentary, because I know the transcription of Glenn Greenwald’s question to him at that Q&A about the early footage, and how Alex made the choice not to try to use his good looks and charisma to go big time and look for a mainstream TV gig, has gone a bit viral. But it’s not the first time the internet has seen Young Alex and gone a little wild.
Oh, sure, sure: Alex was hot!
But more than that, I think, the question was predicated on an insane premise, and that was that Alex could handle having a boss. It’s so laughable to imagine. I’ve listened to Alex’s material recorded during many spans of his career, and the notion of him ever being able to successfully navigate an environment where he had a boss, or he had advertisers that might threaten to pull out of supporting his show—he couldn’t handle that.
He also doesn’t actually have charisma. He has a lack of restraint that comes off as charisma sometimes.
Something that’s in your podcast quite a bit that I did not see at all in the doc, and that you just referred to, is Jones’ many failures. Constantly being out of money, constantly berating the crew …
Quitting on air ….
Events that InfoWars convenes that just don’t have that many people at them, and it just kind of looks pathetic. He is constantly on thin ice.
He has that feeling generally, but that feeling doesn’t work for the documentary. It wouldn’t serve the purpose of the image that’s being presented.
In the documentary it feels like, if he ever has a problem, it’s coming from outside.
Exactly. It’s everyone else’s fault! They’re all afraid of how cool and charismatic he is and are trying to take him down!
I think the basic choice was to say what everyone else is not saying. Everyone already says he’s a madman, so the thing to do is to make something that shows that the consensus is wrong.
There’s a self-servingness to that—a narcissism behind it: Aren’t we so brave that we’re willing to give Alex a fair shake! All you people can’t handle this kind of thing, but look, here we are. And it’s hollow to me, as someone who’s studied Alex, looked at him for five years.
Instead of a two-hour documentary, you’ve made hundreds of hours of podcasts, and you’ve come out with a completely different perspective.
I should say, Moyer never contacted me while making this, and if she had when she was thinking of doing this, I would have told her not to. I just don’t think it’s possible to cover the subject matter responsibly in that amount of time. Alex is really complicated, and if you’re going to have him talking in the film itself, you need to relay other information to the audience that allows them to make the kind of informed decision she says she’s allowing the audience to make. You would need it to be a miniseries—you need to deconstruct some of the stuff that he’s doing or saying. Or you’re just left with a liar lying.