On Election Day 2016, I sat in the passenger seat of Alex Jones’s Dodge Hellcat as we swerved through traffic, making our way to a nearby polling place. As Jones punched the gas pedal to the floor, the smell of vodka, like paint thinner, wafted up from the white Dixie cup anchored in the console. My stomach churned as the phone I held streamed live video to Facebook: Jones rambling about voter fraud and rigged elections while I stared at the screen, holding the camera at an angle to hide his double chin. It rarely worked, but I didn’t want to be blamed when he watched the video later.
Four years earlier, Jones — wanting to expand his website, Infowars, into a full-blown guerrilla news operation and hoping to scout new hires from his growing fan base — held an online contest. At 23, I was vulnerable, angry and searching for direction, so I decided to give it a shot. Out of what Infowars said were hundreds of submissions, my video — a half-witted, conspiratorial glance at the creation and function of the Federal Reserve — made it to the final round.
Unconvinced I could cut it as a reporter, Jones offered me a full-time position as a video editor. I quit film school and moved nearly a thousand miles to Austin, Tex., fully invested in propagating his worldview. By the time I found myself seated next to Jones speeding down the highway, I had seen enough of the inner workings of Infowars to know better.
Before we left the office, Jones instructed me to title the video “Alex Jones Denied Right to Vote” when uploading to YouTube. He knew before we left that they wouldn’t let us walk into a polling location with our cameras rolling. I don’t think Jones even intended to vote. Rather, he hoped to turn this into a spectacle, an insult to him personally, another opportunity to play the self-aggrandizing victim.
“Look at this great city shot,” he said pointing out the window at Austin’s skyline. As soon as I pulled the camera off him, he reached for the white Dixie cup. Is this really how I’m going to die? I thought to myself, imagining the scene: Jones veering too close to the guardrail, ranting about George Soros and Hillary Clinton. Sirens echoing in the distance, flashing lights reflecting off oil-soaked pavement as he grabs the camera and utters his final words, “Hillary … rigged … the car.” His listeners would have believed it. Years earlier, I would have believed it.
Fortunately, there were no sirens or flashing lights, and I was relieved when “Vote Here” signs began to appear. A line stretched out the door of the polling place, in a local strip mall, by the time we arrived. As I expected, Jones was told multiple times that he couldn’t film at a polling place, and he decided to leave. Walking back to the car, still taking sips from his white cup, he began noticeably slurring his words. A friend of Jones’s who tagged along — for “security purposes” — offered to give me a ride back to the office. Jones revved his engine, tires squealing as he sped out of the parking lot.