Libertarians on TV
Conspiracy Theorists at Home on Public Access
So, you want to do a story on the crazy guys?" Alex Jones is not ignorant of what people are saying about him. They're whispering behind his back - well, no, actually they're saying it right to his face - that he's nuts. Despite that - or maybe because of it - he's also something of a rising star in Austin's media scene.
Alex Jones is the leading light in an extremely libertarian group of people who, if you have cable, you have no doubt noticed by now as you watch (or at least flip past) Austin's cable-access channels. They're ranting. They're raving. They're really, really mad. About big corporations. About big government. About the United Nations. About black helicopters.
There's a whole bunch of these guys. Another leading member of the cadre, Jeff Davis, estimates there are about 20 such programmers, depending on whom one considers to be part of the crowd. And there isn't agreement even among themselves about who belongs to the group; Jones has in recent months tried to disassociate himself from Davis and the others (more on that below).
But at this point, Davis and Jones are definitely the ones that garner the most attention - or at least, their faces seem to show up the most on Austin Access (ACAC) television. And Jones has stretched his reach beyond the grassroots world of cable-access to actually become a radio host on commercial radio, KJFK (98.9FM), the same station that brought Howard Stern and G. Gordon Liddy to Austin's airwaves.
"I would see something happen on C-SPAN, and I would actually hear it lied about in the mainstream media, mainly television," says the 24-year-old Jones on what influenced the development of his political philosophy. "Then I started asking myself questions. And when I wasn't that sophisticated, I saw the media continually bashing Republicans. So when I first came out, I wasn't for the Republicans, but I sensed that the establishment was for the Democrats. Now I see that I was absolutely wrong about that. It really is just a dog-and-pony show, and the Republicans and the Democrats are just two sides of the same coin. I don't care if it's Bill Clinton or Governor Bush, they're all elitist filth if you ask me."
Well, okay. No argument here. (In fact, it's hard to argue - once Jones gets on a roll, it's hard to get a word in edgewise, be you an interviewer or a caller on one of his shows.)
Davis has similar sentiments, if a bit more stridently expressed: "My general take is that the slave masters basically use big government and big corporations and big organized religion to play all the chords, pull all the strings, in this manipulative con game against the world population. It's not them against each other, it's all the same. We need to crush the whole Babylonian system and restore the constitutional republic."
But then perhaps they stray into the world of the paranoid. Jones insists that the fabled black helicopters that the armed militias have talked about have actually followed him home. Davis asserts that, "In two to four years, there will be announcements that foreign troops will be patrolling our streets to keep order." Both men are fervently against gun control - although both advocate world peace, and believe that wars are merely tools that the economic elite use to distract us, they also are quite sure that we'll need guns to protect ourselves from the coming of one-world government. And the Web page of Free Press International, a group formed by some of the show hosts, has a lot of talk about government cover-ups of UFOs and the Illuminati (http://www.realtime.net/~dream/wfp.html).
Sorry, we're not completely following you now.
But that's okay, Davis says: "The people thought Noah was crazy. The people have historically proven themselves to be wrong on every front. They voted Hitler into power. The mass majority is historically flawed."
Such radically anti-government thought may raise fears of the militia movement taking root in Austin. However, Jones in particular denounces the hate-motivated aspects of this movement which have been noted in the national press. When talking about what he calls the "patriot movement," he says that Austin's version is superior, "because we don't have the racists like a lot of the other patriot communities have around the country. And that [racism] is really a disgusting thing. ... My little sister is Korean, adopted, and my girlfriend is Jewish. ... The militia I know here in town ... don't brag, they aren't into petting their guns. ... Am I for blowhards and racists? Hell no." Also, when the homophobic Don Cool of Chronicle letter-writing infamy called in to Jones on cable-access, Jones defended gays' civil liberties and said that his only problem with gays was that "they keep voting for Bill Clinton."
Davis has a shadier past. In 1992, during one of his runs for Austin's congressional seat (he also ran in 1990 and '94), he was rejected by the Libertarian Party for allegedly saying, "Too bad Hitler did not succeed in killing all the Jews." Davis later said his comments were misunderstood and said, "I do not have a racist bone in my body."
He now says he has friends in militias and the Republic of Texas, but that he has no desire to be a member of any such organization because he doesn't want the long arm of the law to tie him to any violent acts they commit - he just wants to keep delivering his message in front of a TV camera or radio mike (he does shows on satellite and shortwave radio).
Both men actually reject the libertarian label put upon them. Jones calls himself "a classical liberal," in the mold of our founding fathers, favoring individual liberties and local control. Davis labels himself "a conspiracy factualist."
Lest you think these two are working side-by-side, be aware that there is a rift between the broadcasters, which has developed over the last year, and not all is well in the land of ACAC libertarian patriotism. Where they all once worked together - in fact, the Web site until recently portrayed them all as one big, happy family - now Jones and Davis aren't talking. Jones refused to comment on the matter other than to acknowledge it exists, saying it would just be a "distraction" from "the movement." But Davis was less reticent, though he, too, declined to discuss the reasons for the split: "Let me make one thing perfectly clear - Alex Jones learned from me," says the 38-year-old Davis, who has been broadcasting since 1992. "I don't watch his shows, I don't know what he's been saying. He's not the kind of person I want to be associated with, even though he spent some time tapping into my brain. I'm glad he's out there, he provides energy and information, but he's not somebody I'd pick to be a friend."
Jones, who started broadcasting about three years ago, vehemently denies being a Davis protégé, and insists that he developed his political beliefs through his own studies. And he is quick to distance himself from the UFO talk that so interests Free Press International and covers its previously mentioned webpage: "I can't prove UFOs, and don't really want to. When one lands in my backyard, believe me, I'll start talking about it. But I can prove that the Federal Reserve is private, I can prove that secret military teams are ignoring the Constitution and taking over local police departments that will take the money, I can prove the IRS abuses people. But UFOs? It's a diversion."
Jones is now the mover and shaker of the bunch, reaching an even wider audience on the higher-profile world of commercial radio. He started out with a brief weekend show, and now is on every weeknight from 7-8pm, and 7-11pm on Saturdays. KJFK operations director Brian Billich says that, "Regardless of whether you like the content of his program, he gets you thinking. He's developed a good buzz in the market for a little weekend guy."
Billich says public reaction has been "everything from `We enjoy him, it's nice to have somebody talk about these subjects,' to `What rock did you find him under?' They either love him or hate him. I listen to him, and personally, some of the things I can't fathom, but one way or another, in his world he's trying to find answers. It's not an act. He passionately believes in what he's saying, and he's not somebody who talks on a subject without researching it."
ACAC public relations coordinator Jim Ellinger says, "We get lots of public feedback on him. There's a certain entertainment value in Mr. Jones' show. It appears that a significant number of viewers find him entertaining to watch without necessarily buying into his belief system."
And that's something that annoys the hell out of Jones. "I may quit all this ... and just get away from all this crap, 'cause it's eating my brain," he says, while adding that he may get syndicated into some other cities soon. "The more success I get, the more it just becomes stupid, because a lot of the public says, `Yeah, attaboy,' but they're not going to do anything, they're not going to do what I've done. ... It's a crusade. And the sick part is, I can't quit the crusade for six months cause then it'll all fall apart and my ego doesn't want to turn loose of it."
photograph by Jana Birchum
KVET has received complaints before for such spurious smearing - most notably the evidence-deficient comments it allowed on the Sammy & Bob show which suggested that Councilmember Willie Lewis was a child molester (comments for which it later issued an on-air apology). Apparently, they haven't learned anything, and this column's insistence that KVET at least slap a little common sense into its show hosts has gone unheeded.
That previous request for temperance was misinterpreted by some as a call for censorship. It is not. Doggett, Sammy Allred, Bob Cole, and the rest can denounce the policies of environmentalists, Smart Growthers, and other progressives until they are blue in the face. More power to them, and god bless the First Amendment. But dragging somebody's name through the mud with ridiculous assertions and innuendo for no purpose other than to get a rise out of listeners is inexcusable.
When the Chronicle asked Doggett if he was serious about his Watson remarks, he clarified his comments by saying, "Clearly he wasn't going to [kiss her]. ... If I implied that he was going to, I'm sorry." However, as of press time, he has made no such clarification on the air.
Asked if such possibly libelous comments were a responsible use of Austin's airwaves, Doggett told the Chronicle, "Absolutely. What's irresponsible is the mayor to come on my show when he's running for election and then not come back once he's elected. ... He's a coward."
Well, gee, John, with you spewing garbage suggesting that the mayor is a lecher, it's not hard to imagine why he wouldn't want to come on your show. Of course, let's not forget that it was Doggett who testified in defense of the Republicans' Don Juan, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
The mayor's office has declined to comment on Doggett's remarks.
Updating a previous column's report on the conflict at KOOP (91.7FM) radio ( July 17, 1998): 58 of the station's programmers and other members have sent a letter asking for a recall of the current station board of trustees, and circulated a petition to call a special meeting of the entire membership some time this month to enact such a change. This was countered by an e-mail refuting the need for changes in the board or the station's mission statement, sent out by Paul Odekirk. For info on how to support the recall effort, go to http://pobox.com/bluejay/savekoop, or call Ricardo Guerrero at 795-5395. On the other hand, for info on fighting against the proposed changes, Odekirk's e-mail is email@example.com.
Also related to the KOOP controversy: On Friday, July 31, Jim Ellinger's Austin Airwaves program held an on-air going-away party for outgoing general manager Jenny Wong; this Friday, at 6pm, the show will air comments on the crisis by David Barsamian, the noted producer of the nationally syndicated Alternative Radio.