Alex Jones remains a toxic influence on American politics and society despite an apparently shrinking audience and dwindling sales at his Infowars online shop, plus mounting losses in a bevy of lawsuits. After decades of spreading anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry, Jones now wants to stage a comeback by positioning himself at the front of a new wave of hatred—with the help of powerful friends like Republican U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene.
“Alex Jones Broke The Groomer Gate Scandal … in 2008?!” read an incredulously phrased headline on a story published by Infowars in April. The post links an audio recording by Jones— in which he claims elementary school teachers are giving explicit sexual instructions to 6 or 7 year olds—to today’s “groomer” panic. “Grooming” refers to a behavior whereby pedophiles ingratiate themselves with a potential underaged victim. But right-wing pundits, including Jones, Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and the viral Twitter account @LibsofTikTok, now seemingly want to expand the definition to include openly LGBTQ+ teachers or anyone who speaks with young people about the existence of transgender people and gender diversity.
Jones got his start in the ‘90s on Austin public access television before transitioning to radio and, by 1999, an online presence at Infowars. A 48-year-old originally from the Dallas area, Jones has routinely engaged in homophobia over his long career, sometimes with perversely humorous results, as in 2015 when he condemned “chemicals in the water” for “turning the friggin’ frogs gay.” More seriously, he also helped spread the dangerous, homophobia-laden Pizzagate conspiracy that culminated in a shooting at a pizzeria. So far in 2022, Infowars has accused a wide variety of groups of grooming or sympathizing with groomers, including educators, former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, the Disney Corporation, corporate media, and the “left” in general.
Of course, Jones didn’t actually invent Republicans’ current obsession with looking for a groomer in every liberal school teacher. That’s much bigger than Jones, according to Ari Drennen, LGBTQ program director at Media Matters for America.
“Basically, this is a coordinated right-wing attack on LGBTQ acceptance,” Drennen said.
As with his infamous support of conspiracies relating to the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, Jones rarely starts these trends but instead latches onto and amplifies them. If anything, his talent lies in taking the pulse of the far right, then saying something loud and inflammatory based on it to garner attention. It’s been enough to make him very wealthy at times. HuffPost estimated the Infowars store earned as much as $165 million between 2015 and 2018, mostly from nutritional supplements and sales of survival gear, but that figure seems to have fallen since. Between April and May, an anonymous donor sent Jones $8 million worth of Bitcoin.
The exact size of Jones’ audience is difficult to gauge. He’s been booted from mainstream air waves and streaming services, so his platform is largely limited to the sites he controls. Now, he primarily publishes on the Infowars homepage, along with a little-used YouTube alternative he created himself. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s analysis of traffic to the Infowars online store suggests his reach has dwindled since these “deplatformings” but that he still saw a significant boost around the 2020 elections and the January 6 insurrection.
But Michael Edison Hayden, senior investigative reporter and spokesperson for the SPLC, cautioned against focusing exclusively on numbers. “He still has the capacity to be a sort of ‘tastemaker,’ to use a crude term, in the realm of selling conspiracies because of who he is, and his stature in the far-right swamp,” Hayden said. “He’s an elder statesman of bullshit.”
Drennen agreed that mingling with powerful figures, from Tucker Carlson to podcaster Joe Rogan, is one source of Jones’ power. Jones recently bragged about eating dinner with Rogan and claimed that Carlson filmed part of a documentary about masculinity on his property. And he still nets big-time guests like Representative Greene, who in many ways launched her political career on his show. She’s appeared on Infowars at least three times in 2022, according to Media Matters. In February, on her first Infowars appearance of the year, Greene accused transgender people of grooming children and called for vigilante attacks on them, Drennen reported.
“She accused mothers of turning their children trans as an accessory, which she compared to handbags,” Drennen said.
Returning in March, Greene denied calling for violence on her previous appearance, insisted she doesn’t “hate transgenders [sic],” then went on to suggest most trans people are groomers. The groomer meme has its roots in right-wing fearmongering over gay and lesbian educators in the 1960s and ‘70s, and even the satanic panic of the ‘80s. But the groomer scare may be better suited to the 21st century, when LGBTQ+ acceptance is high, since it allows people like Jones or Greene to claim they don’t hate all trans or queer people, just the ones preying on children.
Jones, who comes from a Christian fundamentalist background, believes that pedophilia is so prevalent in the queer community that he’s deployed the acronym “LGBTP,” with the final letter standing for “pedophile.” He often speaks of demonic influences on political figures. Dan Friesen—who co-hosts the podcast Knowledge Fight that dissects Infowars episode-by-episode—says Jones has repeatedly likened gender-transition to the forced sterilization of young boys. While Jones was forced to apologize for spreading the Pizzagate panic and has lost multiple lawsuits relating to the spread of misinformation and conspiracy, it’s done little to soften his rhetoric.
“He doesn’t believe trans people are real, he believes it’s a performance or a fetish,” said Friesen. Jones regularly misgenders transgender people on his show, or treats trans people and drag queens as equivalent. And those are just the times when he’s not suggesting trans people represent a plot to undermine humanity. For example, in a typically bizarre rant on his July 2, 2020, broadcast, Jones claimed that the ultimate goal of the transgender rights movement, which he likened to a “cult,” was to turn young children into “cyborgs” and “trans robots” by putting chips in their brains.
Jones did not respond to a request for comment sent via the Infowars website.
Friesen believes Jones helped set the stage for growing groomer concerns with one of his pre-pandemic obsessions: Drag Queen Story Hours. While many conservative outlets used these events to create outrage, Jones returned to them again and again, for months at a time, falsely claiming that drag queens “have their way with” children at the events. In reality, they just read them storybooks. Tracy Shannon, the leader of the far-right organization MassResistance Houston, who successfully shut down multiple Drag Queen Story Hours, also appeared as a guest on Infowars.
Back in 2022, Friesen compared Jones and others’ use of “groomer” to the right-wing fixation on “Critical Race Theory,” which Jones has also bought into. “It’s a buzzword you can use to brand your racism as something other, and it’s the same thing with homophobia and transphobia and ‘groomer.’”
It’s also no coincidence that the groomer label often targets schoolteachers, as Republicans are at war with public education these days using a broad range of pretexts.
With anti-trans and anti-queer rhetoric at such a fever pitch from Jones and friends, the danger is growing every day. In December, law enforcement officials arrested a man who threatened mass murder at the 2021 New York City Pride March. At least 14 trans women have been killed so far in 2022, including Cypress Ramos, a drag performer in Lubbock who was found dead in a burning storage unit in February. After Republicans spread false claims that the shooter in the Uvalde school massacre was transgender, men attacked a 17-year-old transgender woman in El Paso.
“I’m very concerned that we are going to see more violence motivated by this rhetoric,” Drennen said. “When you have people like Tucker Carlson saying that someone should come in and ‘thrash’ LGBTQ teachers, their audience is listening.”