Alex Jones and the War on the Minds of the Working Class

In our postmodern landscape, ‘expert’ knowledge seems to be increasingly subject to the skeptical individual. Given the embeddedness of the means of knowledge production within exploitative relations of material production, sometimes this skepticism is for the better, and can serve as a stepping-stone to the critical reflection often necessary for challenging ruling ideologies. But there is also a hidden danger in the demise of expert knowledge. This same skepticism can be distorted and channelled in patterns that reaffirm and magnify inequalities. The Austin based radio show “InfoWars” achieves this distortion well. According to the data intelligence platform Quant Cast, the site reaches approximately six million viewers monthly.

Yes, this is a serious article about InfoWars. For many of us, it’s easy to laugh off the unhinged theories of Alex Jones, a self-proclaimed leader of the alt right, as inconsequential and absurd. Yet, demagogues like Jones maintain formidable influence over the minds of many working class whites by channeling their frustrations in patterns that amplify raced and gendered inequality.

Under our current economic arrangement, a minute few maintain superior power and privileges over others. The elites that benefit from this arrangement use their superior power and resources to maintain material inequalities and shape dominant discourse to their benefit. Class inequality also exists within the heart and mind, and can be painted onto the body. In this way, the stratification inherent within a classed social arrangement produces a variety of physical and psychological harm for many people. Feelings of disappointment, anxiety and self-doubt can develop within the subject as they attempt to obtain normative standards of value and happiness in an arrangement that does not accommodate their efforts. In this way, class inequality is internalized, and feelings of failure are cultivated within the individual. The conditions and compulsions underwriting this individualized internalization are shaped, implemented, and upheld in dominant institutions. As far as these feelings are attributed to the subject, rather than projected on material relations, the anxiety and discontent experienced by many people solidifies, rather than challenges existing economic conditions. These harms can be channeled and directed for political gain. In the midst of emergent worker solidarity throughout the 1920s, capitalists collaborated with the KKK to construct a simplistic narrative that fostered a racist and nativist zeal, thus alleviating life’s hardships and economic insecurity by providing a multitude of scapegoats on which to place one’s misfortunes. This nativist and racist ideological systems serve the interests of those in power by obscuring the underlying structural sources of class injury, as workers misattribute the sources of their troubles and anxieties to groups of people they consider different.

The writers of InfoWars displace the structured nature of injuries in a similar manner to similar effects. Routinely at the center of their claims is the suggestion that the subject is not in control of their circumstances, and that there exists a group of powerful elites that control the political process, who bend truths to serve their own interests at the great expense of others. In this way, the writers of InfoWars exploit anxieties corresponding to a loss of control. By providing this alternative narrative, the writers of InfoWars present a means by which these anxieties might be assuaged, albeit in a manner that does not fundamentally deconstruct the exploitative relations of production at the heart of this loss. The mitigation and transference of injury onto racialized subjects reproduces existing systems of inequality, and the powerful actors implicated by the writers of InfoWars are not challenged in a manner that fundamentally disrupts their power. Moreover, this transference generates divisions within the working class, creating groups of hyper exploitable laborers.

It seems ironic then, that one of Jone’s favorite rants involves globalization. Indeed, Jones and his followers benefit from the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to the global south. The myriad of snake oil products offered in the InfoWars store are almost certainly produced by hyper exploited laborers abroad, and the working class whites that buy into the image of boogeymen “globalists” are the very consumers that benefit from the global transformation of labor. Jone’s rhetoric is effective in that it offers comfort without confrontation. Yet, in order to truly dismantle the origins of injury, the listeners of InfoWars must recognize their participation in a global system of inequality and confront their place within an exploitative relations of production.

Michael Brinkman is a sociology student at North Carolina State University that studies social psychology and gender inequality.