Alex Jones: Conspiracy Victim or Evil Mastermind?
Alex Jones is no stranger to conspiracy theories. As watchers of his access television shows and listeners to radio shows are well aware, he is devoted to exposing the many conspiracies he believes are threatening our freedom. But to listen to some of Jones' critics, there is a new conspiracy afoot -- and Alex Jones is behind it.
Jones' rants -- formerly heard on KJFK radio and still aired on the Austin Community Access Center's (ACAC, formerly ACTV) television stations, the Internet (www.infowars.com), and his syndicated radio programs -- have become a regular fixture in our town's cultural landscape. Jones rails against what he sees as government and corporate threats to our individual liberties, with predictions that the jackboots will be kicking in our doors and hauling us into internment camps any day now -- in fact, he alleges that this is already going on. He points to the deaths of the 80 Branch Davidians in Waco in 1993 as an example of federal police run amok. Jones recently led the effort to build a chapel on the grounds at Mount Carmel.
But a group of current and former ACAC programmers contend that their freedom -- specifically, their right to free speech and to disagree with Jones -- is what is really being threatened, thanks to what they call Jones' heavy-handed tactics. The programmers' allegations -- which they have made very public by both broadcasting them on ACAC shows and posting them on Web pages -- are that Jones has used both ACAC policy and legal maneuvers to intimidate them or get them thrown off the air.
Jones and his supporters counter that Jones is the real victim. They claim that his critics are harassing, threatening, and even physically assaulting him. These allegations go back pretty far -- more than four years -- but recently resurfaced when ACAC programmer Charlie Sotelo received a 90-day suspension from station airwaves when his The Show With No Name was found to be in violation of station policies regarding commercialism. (Sotelo is an employee of the SXSW Film Festival & Conference, which is partially owned by Austin Chronicle publisher Nick Barbaro and editor Louis Black.)
Jones and Sotelo both admit to a great dislike for one another, and at least one fan of the show says that Jones admitted to filing the complaint which led to Sotelo's suspension. But both Jones and ACAC executive director John Villareal deny that charge. Asked what role Jones had in Sotelo's suspension, Villareal replies, "None whatsoever. The guy [Jones] gets too much credit. There were two phone calls [filing complaints], and neither of them were from Alex."
Villareal won't disclose who the two callers were, saying that ACAC policy allows complainants to be anonymous. At press time, The Austin Chronicle was trying to obtain the names under the Texas Open Records Act, but the city maintains that ACAC is an outside contractor hired to run access television on the city's behalf, and thus is not subject to Open Records laws.
Villareal's statement appears to be at odds with a conversation that Jones had with Casey Monahan, a fan of The Show With No Name, at Eastside Tex-Mex restaurant El Azteca. As Monahan, the director of the Texas Music Office, tells it: "I saw [Jones] at El Azteca, I asked him what the deal was with it, and he told me he filed a complaint, and that somebody else did too."
Jones believes that Monahan may have misunderstood him. "I did file a complaint on him for busting into my studio," Jones says, referring to an incident in May when Sotelo accused Jones of doing studio recording that was so loud that the noise was bleeding over into Sotelo's live broadcast of The Show With No Name (which Jones denies). "The guy [Monahan] stopped me ... and asked me, 'What happened to Charlie Sotelo?' And I said 'The guy's crazy, he busted into my studio, and I filed a complaint on him.'" But Jones says that complaint, which he says he later withdrew, was unrelated to the one that got Sotelo suspended.
The bad blood between Sotelo and Jones goes back about four years, to a fight that occurred in the ACAC parking lot. Jones' detractors cite the incident as an example of his inability to tell the truth.
The Parking Lot Incident
There are two different versions of the incident -- Jones claims that a group of four thugs, one wielding a knife, accosted him outside the studios and physically attacked him because of his beliefs. Sotelo and others tell another story, saying that Jones challenged a man who was ridiculing him, whom witnesses will only identify as "Steve" or "Mystery S." They claim that Steve accepted Jones' invitation to fight, and then thrashed Jones handily. The account, as related by ACAC producer Max Kane, can be read on a Web page maintained by another producer, Shelly Thumbleson (www.synaesthetic.com/jarhead.html).
According to Sotelo and the Web page account, after "Steve" left, Jones told police he had been attacked with a knife. Sotelo refuted this, and says that Jones then spit blood on him in retaliation, for which Sotelo allegedly punched Jones.
Jones describes it differently: "The police showed up. They started listening to these people's propaganda. The other people fled. They went and watched the [security] tape, and then they went and wrote the report and then the investigation was pursued on the attackers." Jones said the investigation was never resolved.
Both sides claim that security videos at ACAC support their version of the fight, but ACAC said the tape is no longer available.
In addition to creating tension between Sotelo and Jones, Thumbleson's Web site alleges the fight exacerbated a feud between Jones and "Steve's" friend, Clayton Counts. Counts is notorious, for lack of a better word, for making prank calls to ACAC call-in shows, especially Jones' show. Counts, who still maintains an Internet account on the server of the now-defunct bookstore Fringeware, said he suspects that Jones then called in the FBI and made bogus claims that Counts was a terrorist and possessed child pornography and got the bureau to raid Fringeware to get Counts' address. According to the Web page, the bureau later dropped the investigation.
As in the Sotelo case, Jones' accusers have failed to produce any hard evidence of his connection to the raid. The most solid link is Jones' claim, made on one of his ACAC shows, that "I've got the FBI and the Austin Police Department" investigating the fight. And again, Jones again denies any connection to the raid, pointing out that Fringeware was an advertiser on his KJFK radio show.
Also on the Web site, Thumbleson recounts an incident from early in Jones' tenure at ACAC, when a Jones show featured a clip from 60 Minutes, but with a voiceover replacing the show's original dialogue. Thumbleson says he posted a letter at the studio scolding Jones and warning his fellow producers that such a stunt might expose ACAC to legal liabilities. According to Thumbleson's site, "The letter was torn down by Alex Jones within the hour" -- a claim Jones dismisses as "pure propaganda."
Another who feels he took abuse from Jones is Christian Side Hanke, who broadcasts under the name Christian Side, and has belittled Jones' opinions on his show The Response. In retaliation, Hanke says, Jones has targeted him with legal maneuvers. One concerned what Hanke says was a false police report for stalking. Jones also explored the possibility of a wrongful termination lawsuit when he was canned by KJFK, and had Hanke deposed to see if he might have contributed to the firing.
Hanke says the "stalking" occurred when he went to a protest Jones attended for the purpose of contesting Jones' rhetoric. "After the first protest I attended, I received a call" from a police detective, Hanke says. "The detective was laughing about it."
Hanke says Jones came close to filing a lawsuit against him after he read, on-air, an e-mail which he says originated as an Internet newsgroup posting from an insider at KJFK and which was subsequently forwarded to him. The e-mail says Jones "was fired because he is an immature little punk who cries until he gets his way."
During the deposition, Jones' lawyer Steve Gibbens tried to link Hanke to the firing, asking him repeatedly if he had any sort of communication with staffers at KJFK, and questioning him about a statement he had allegedly made that "It's my mission to get [Jones] off the air." Hanke replied that any such statement would have been merely an attempt to challenge the truth of Jones' on-air claims, and not a specific plot to get him fired.
"The guy is kind of weird," Hanke says. "The fact is that everyone has to be a scapegoat for something. This guy's sitting here saying on the air that I've hung a cat on his door or something. Whenever he was trying to sue me, I've always sort of let things go. But I have a tape of all the times he said 'this guy's a stalker' ... calling me a stalker in public. And I was like, okay, I'm going to take all these tapes and sue him for defamation right back. ... [It's] nothing more than a pure, unadulterated false charge, and it escalated."
Jones says Hanke has it backward: He claims he is Hanke's victim, and that Hanke has threatened him via television and phone messages. "We filed an exploratory motion in court to let him know we were serious," Jones says. But Jones' suit never happened; Hanke says Jones simply couldn't afford to pursue it any further and begged to be left alone, but Gibbens claims that the suit remains "in a holding pattern."
The anti-Jones camp claims that if a fellow producer crosses Jones, he will watch their program obsessively until he finds a violation and turn that person in. Seeming to support that contention, Jones' producer Mike Hanson turned over dozens of hours of videotape of Side's show to the Chronicle, and said he had more.
On the other hand, Jones' detractors could be accused of obsessively watching Jones as well -- Side and Kane gave me their own tapes, and another producer named Beau Henry, who once considered himself a Jones ally, actually produced a "documentary" detailing Jones' activities.
The documentary focuses on a 1997 conflict between Jones and producer Chris Ramirez in which Ramirez aggressively challenged Jones at the ACAC offices regarding the veracity of claims Jones made on his show. Shortly after the argument, complaints were filed against Ramirez for alleged commercialism on his show; Ramirez was subsequently banned from telecasting on ACAC twice, the second time permanently. The documentary suggests there was a link between the argument and the suspension. The Chronicle was unable to contact Ramirez for comment.
"There was a purge of everybody [at ACAC], that had nothing to do with me," says Jones. "The complaint was filed by somebody about him ... He was suspended for talking about Taco Bell prices. I just love these people -- they get on, they break the rules, I don't complain on them, and they accuse me of it.
"And then the guy did some things on the air that were so horrible about me you couldn't imagine, and we started monitoring. He was saying that if I was out in the crowd to shoot me or throw gasoline on me at a rally. Boom, he got suspended for that. Yes, being here six years, I have filed two or three complaints."
Kane, who formerly directed Ramirez's show, says that Jones and other ideologically similar programmers, such as Terry "Liberty" Parker and Jeff Davis, "are more or less a plague on free speech. ... If you watch any show, you can find technical violations."
"I am the abused one here," Jones responds. "I am not part of any rivalry. I'm just attempting to do my show. I just want to be left alone."