It is tempting to think that once people drink the Kool Aid of right wing lunacy, they remain poisoned forever, never to escape. But there are a few who do realize at some point that the whole thing is a sham and leave that world. Josh Owens is one such person. He was very close to Jones, initially drawn to him in 2008 as a young man of 19 by the fact that Jones gave simple answers to the complex problems of how society works, since Jones’s basic idea that there is a vast conspiracy of elites who are tying to keep you down can be repeatedly repurposed to ‘explain’ pretty much any event that occurs anywhere.
Owens worked as a cameraman for Jones from 2013 to 2017, filming his program, making ads for him, and was sent by him on ‘assignments’ to various places to gather evidence of the conspiracies at work. Jones would act like a journalist and tell the listeners to his show that he had ‘intel’ from sources he could not name that nefarious activities were going on in those locations. In an article, Owens wrote that over time, he learned that even if the team found nothing there, it did not matter. Jones would simply make up stuff to fit what he needed..
When I worked for Alex Jones from 2013 to 2017, I spent the majority of my time behind a camera. My days consisted of recording bombastic diatribes at his studio in Austin, Texas, or traveling the world to embellish, misrepresent and manufacture stories to suit his biases. On occasion, I accompanied Jones to protests and rallies, peering through the lens as he gripped a megaphone and roared out absurd and often dangerous ideas to his exuberant followers.
It’s been about five years since I came to my senses and quit working for Jones. During that time, I watched from the sidelines as he began to face a reckoning for decades of callous, harmful behavior.
Meanwhile, I spent that time coming to terms with my own complicity, trying to understand through therapy and self-examination why I’d once been so willing to believe the madness. I wrote publicly about some of my experiences for a piece in The New York Times Magazine. I was deposed by lawyers representing the Sandy Hook families in the Connecticut case. I spoke to journalists, writers and filmmakers, hoping to provide context and clarity to the inner workings of Jones’ conspiracy machine. But it felt like the negative effects of my past far outweighed my futile attempts to make amends. The damage had been done.
I don’t fault individuals for being skeptical of institutional power, and I understand that simple answers are preferential to uncertainty. When I first started listening to Jones in 2008, at age 19, I myself fell into that alluring trap. I believed that vaccines were potentially dangerous, that fluoride in the drinking water lowered IQ levels, that Monsanto was creating genetically modified foods that led to higher rates of cancer and illness, and that an ultra-rich, clandestine group was behind it all in order to keep the populace sick and servile.
But over time — as I stood behind a camera and watched Jones ignore, conflate, misrepresent and fabricate information — my critical thinking skills improved. Unfortunately, my education in media literacy came from learning how to circumvent it in others.
Owens was interviewed by Micah Loewinger from On The Media where he discussed in more depth what it was like working for Jones.
Owens ends the interview by giving this message to Jones’s followers.
Alex Jones doesn’t care about the people that he speaks to on a regular basis. I don’t know if a lot of those people are looking for that community that I was looking for. They’re looking for that validation, but all I can say is I can promise you, you aren’t going to find it there.
To his credit, Owens acknowledges his culpability for the damage that he has done. He feels that he does not have the right to ask for forgiveness from the people whom he has harmed and will simply have to live with the shame and regret.
Alex Jones is clearly a sociopath. What emerges from the description given by Owens is that he also seems manic and possibly even psychotic, an extreme example of The Paranoid Style in American Politics, the title of the book published by Richard Hofstadter in the 1960s.