Donald Trump mentor and right-wing extremist, Alex Jones confessed that what he does in his show is just “satire,” VICE reported Wednesday. Jone’s revelation is guaranteed to anger Trump supporters who believed his bullsh*t and voted a man whose erratic behavior is a threat to national security.
Jones and the rest of right-wing-conspiracy-mongers working in America today follow the same strategy: They say whatever they want, and if they’re called on it, they can always claim they were joking.
A particularly blatant example of this came this week during Alex Jones’s custody battle with his ex-wife, who claimed Jones was an unfit father because of the insane things he said on his popular radio program, Infowars. In response, Jones’s lawyer claimed the Infowars host was actually “a performance artist playing a character,” albeit a character who shared the real Alex Jones’s name, occupation, and general outlook on life.
As VICE notes, “Jones is not the first right-winger to complain about being taken too literally. During an extremely ill-considered appearance on the Colbert Report, FOX News diatribe machine Bill O’Reilly was asked who would win in a fight between him and fellow FOX host Sean Hannity. “I’m effete. I’m not a tough guy,” he said. “This is all an act.” Colbert responded with a meta-commentary on things to come: “If you’re an act, then what am I?”
Then there was the obvious nod to the fact that Colbert himself became famous by portraying a right-wing pundit who at one point blurred the lines between fiction and reality.
However, Colbert’s winks were always obvious, and his core audience always understood his meaning. And though Colbert’s audience was largely liberals who wanted to laugh at the right-wing blowhards the comedian was satirizing, Pundits like Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Jones are playing “characters” that appeal to people who mostly share their views.
This can get very confusing. Rush Limbaugh has been relying on sensationalism and bombast for decades, but almost no one would question whether he believes what he says. In 2008, Glenn Beck moved over from CNN to FOX News and made a splash for being even more provocative. In constantly railing against progressivism a “cancer,” he basically invented the kind of punditry that birthed stars like Milo Yiannopoulos, who would later use the same word repeatedly to describe feminism.
Notably, Beck went on a full-blown apology tour after realizing he helped create Donald Trump.
That fits the pattern of right wingers distancing themselves from their most hateful rhetoric. After Yiannopoulos got fired from his job at Breitbart for appearing to defend pederasty, he claimed that his schtick was a joke.
It’s doubtful that many people turn to Yiannopoulos or Jones for satire. Certainly the guy who showed up at a DC pizza restaurant with a gun to “investigate” the pizzagate conspiracy that Infowars helped spread didn’t think he was watching a comedy program. (Jones later apologized for his coverage of the nonsensical theory.)
Of course, it’s one thing if the average Infowars listener doesn’t know if he or she is being sold entertainment or news. It’s much more terrifying when the president of the United States (himself a Jones fan) is playing the same game where it’s unclear how seriously or literally we’re supposed to take him.
During a campaign event in July, Trump suggested that Russian hackers should go looking for Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails, then after an outcry claimed he was being sarcastic.”