In professional wrestling, everyone’s in on the joke. It’s not real, at least in the sense that it’s not meant to be taken seriously.
But in the far-right media, nobody appears to be in on the joke—the joke, in this case being InfoWars host Alex Jones.
That’s not an opinion, or any kind of hot take form us. That’s actually via his lawyer.
Jones, who’s emerged in recent years as a leading voice in (very) conservative media, is preparing to argue that his public persona is fake. He’s a "performance artist," Jones’ lawyer told a court, during a recent hearing in preparation for a child custody trial between Jones and his ex-wife.
The lawyer reportedly used an analogy to Jack Nicholson playing the Joker in "Batman," arguing that in a child custody case, Nicholson wouldn’t be judged based on having once played the Joker, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Whether arguing that Jones is the Joker (or a joke), the fact that he’s taken very seriously by his fans is an undisputed reality.
For those who might’ve lived a blessed life free of Jones, he’s the radio host and CEO of Infowars.com, best known for peddling conspiracy-based "news," like a "report" that the Sandy Hook massacre never happened. Jones also tends to go off on bizarre rants and, sometimes, rips his shirt off.
Jones (or at least his lawyer) is making this argument at what’s arguably the height of his fame. Once just another shock jock, Jones built a strong following among anti-establishment conservatives that would later be seen as a major source of support for Donald Trump. Since his election, Infowars in particular has emerged as a reliably pro-Trump outlet. There were even reports that the Trump White House would be issuing press credentials to Infowars.
Infowars, however, is Alex Jones, much in the way that Glenn Beck (in many ways the precursor to Jones) turned himself into a multimedia presence that catered to the far right. But where Beck’s toned down his rhetoric and even seemed to take a step back from the spotlight, Jones is constantly front-and-center of his empire.
And that person—Alex Jones, of Infowars—according to Jones’ lawyer, is just an act.
To bolster his case, Jones is echoing a similar claim from a high profile trial that happened just more than a year ago— Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker.
Hogan at the time claimed that his privacy had been violated by the website’s posting of a short clip of a sex tape depicting Hogan and the wife of a friend. Gawker claimed Hogan’s own speech concerning his sex life made the footage newsworthy. Hogan then claimed that those public statements were part of his persona, and that the tape was of Terry Bollea (Hogan’s given name).
A Florida jury sided with Hogan, awarding him more than $140 million—a finding that would force Gawker to be sold off. And Jones certainly can seem like a professional wrestler, growling into a microphone, or even confronting his rivals in person.
If Jones can use the Hogan defense, then the equivalence is clear: For Alex Jones and the far right, there’s little (if any) difference. The world Jones inhabits is filled with cartoonish figures with shifting alliances and few journalistic scruples. Look at the adventures of figures like Milo Yiannopolous and Tomi Lahren, the latter of which became a far-right star after finding that embracing the fringe put her on television. Their calculated personas rival anything seen on the WWE—just replace spandex with business casual, and the wrestling ring with Twitter.
It’s a pretty nihilistic way to look at modern media, though not one entirely without its fans. Jeff Zucker, president of CNN, recently responded to criticism of the channel’s willingness to put on less-than-qualified pro-Trump voices by saying that they’re all "characters in a drama." That drama? It’s pushed CNN to the most successful run in its history.
How does journalism or the search for truth factor into all this? For Jones’s character, it’s a combination of the honesty of the jester and the "I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore" rage made famous in "Network." Jones seems to ask: Can you trust your anchor if he’s not tearing his shirt off? (Looking at you, Wolf Blitzer.)
Whether Jones wins in court isn’t terribly important to the media world (it is extremely important, of course, to the future of his family). In the Trump-based reality in which we now live, Jones is trustworthy even if he does end up telling a judge that his public persona is entirely fabricated. Besides, a Jones supporter might retort, all of media is fabricated.
It’s just that Jones is just the most honest liar. Take his word for it.