Alex Jones has been on the news a lot lately, this time for verbally accosting senator Marco Rubio and later Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, resulting in a permanent ban from Twitter. Whenever Jones is in the news people in comment sections and conversations on social media wonder aloud about the mental health of the Infowars audience. While many of these conversations are mostly ableist jokes and guesswork, there are still valid reasons to be concerned about the effect that Alex Jones and Infowars have on the more vulnerable members of his audience. It is my personal experience that the work of Alex Jones can be very dangerous for those living with mental illness.
Like many, I have dealt with psychological problems throughout my life. But 2013-2014 was an especially difficult period for me mental health wise. That’s when I discovered the world of Alex Jones.
While dealing with mania, psychosis, and paranoia, Alex Jones’ fiery rhetoric touched on a fear I’d lived with for most of my life; the government is out to get me and I am being watched. I had come across him during more stable periods and while his 9/11 videos piqued my curiosity, I never bought into his overall worldview. Until I came across a video during a period of psychosis. In spite of my being a member of many of the marginalized groups he so frequently targeted, I began to dig deeper into the world that he assured us was real. What followed was over a year of terror.
I wasn’t sleeping, I was afraid to drink tap water, due to his insistence that it was poisoned by dangerous fluoride and radioactive materials, I was certain that any stranger that glanced at me for a second too long was an undercover agent. I feared cameras in all of my electronic devices; including my DVD player. I covered my phone’s mic in my pocket when talking to people in my day to day life. I refused to consider much-needed psych meds, knowing the omnipresent They just want to keep us drugged up and compliant. I would spend hours writing frantic and disjointed manifestos on Facebook or Twitter, muttering under my breath constantly, believing I was letting strangers, friends and family know The Truth.
It just so happened at the time that a therapist I was seeing also happened to be an “infowarrior”. Rather than recognize that a psychotic break was happening, she fed into my delusions, confirmed my worst fears, insisting she had seen the FEMA camps, giving me other conspiracy theorists to look up, even inviting me to a mountain retreat (that luckily I couldn’t afford to attend). The person I trusted with my mental health turned out to be only making it worse, rather than seeing what was actually happening.
Many make jokes about paranoia and tinfoil hats when discussing Infowars, not realizing how close their jokes are to the reality that some of us lived in. Alex Jones was like a charismatic cult leader, offering us truth and safety, leaving us terrified of the outside world, giving us all a sense of catharsis with his fury, all while gleefully taking our money.
I am not saying that Alex Jones’ audience, in general, is not dangerous (mental health issues or not, and most of his fans are not living with mental illness). That level of primal terror and pent-up rage that he inspires even in the neurotypical is what makes Alex Jones (and, by extension, his audience) more dangerous than many can imagine. The clearest example of this is the case of the shooter at the pizzeria in DC, inspired by the rants of Alex Jones).
What I am saying, however, is that banning him from platforms is the best way to keep his message from getting to vulnerable or dangerous people, many of us having only stumbled on to his videos due to easy access.
I was able to escape the Infowars bubble, thanks to moving to a state with better Medicaid-funded mental health programs and a long illness that kept me from spending so much time online. Since moving away from Jones, however, I still live with the paranoia that he made worse. Unlearning a lot of the things he put in my head was a struggle, but I was lucky to have a strong support system to help me through.
However, I live with an ever-present knowledge that even though I know better and I am on the opposite side of him on the political spectrum, it would be all too easy for his words to trigger another bout of paranoia-fueled mania and psychosis. This is why I will celebrate any attempt to remove his presence from large social media and shared media platforms, making it harder to access for vulnerable people.
Alex Jones’ impact on the mentally ill is something I feel needs to be discussed, and am happy to add my story to that discussion if it can help raise awareness about the psychological dangers he presents.