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tv   Frontline  PBS  January 18, 2022 10:00pm-11:00pm PST

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♪♪ ♪♪ >> narrator: in a time of disinformation... >> chi-comm laboratory experiment... >> narrator: and lies... the alliance between the conspiracy theorists... >> alex jones appeals to the worst parts of society, and he exploits them for his own benefit. >> narrator: the dirty trickster. >> subpoenas for trump confidant roger stone... >> narrator: and the president >> this election was stolen. >> a large group of americans took to the streets in support of a conspiracy theory. >> it poisoned our politics our democracy is suffering. >> narrator: now on frontline, “united states of conspiracy.” ♪♪ >>frontline is made possible by
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contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public badcasting. additional support is provided by the abrams foundation, committed to excellence in journalism... the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more at macfound.org. park foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. and by frontline journalism fund, with major support from jon and jo ann hagler. and additional support from koo and patricia yuen, committed bridging cultural differences in our communities.
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>> ladies and gentlemen, it is 10:39 central standard time, 11:39 eastern. and roger stone, who worked in four administrations, been involved in nine campaigns, he's here tonight. >> it's a moment of enormous tension. i'm working the phones very aggressively, working my contacts. >> but i've gotta shake your hand. what a strong showing regardless. >> i was in the studio with alex jones and roger on election day. and the metrics were off the charts about how many people were tuning into infowars, numbers that were comparable to the networks. >> narrator: alex jones-- extremist conspiracy theorist-- had rallied his audience behind donald trump. >> ...is saying trump is projected to win. >> as the night drew on, it became clearer and clearer that trump was likely to win. >> it is officially over,
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pennsylvania has been called. >> they had no idea whatsoever that trump was going to win. >> you've talked to the trump campaign... >> all of a sudden everybody was super elated. (people cheering) we had some staff members that was just running around the office in a big circle. i mean, people were like, "ahh!" i mean, going crazy that night. >> thank you. >> he's going to be speaking momentarily. >> cheers. love you. love you guys. love all of you. >> there was a combination of elation and confusion. and they realized that, "oh my god, we just played a role in making the president of the united states." >> here goes trump. turn it up. donald j. trump. >> he's going up to the microphones. he's going to be... >> the golden toad! >> i assume he'll mention the phone call he received... >> get ready, i tell you, he charges into a goblin's nest. >> this is amazing. >> as long as he doesn't... as long as he doesn't kiss a
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goblin, goblin's vomit, catch him in bed with a goblin. >> i don't think there's any danger of that. >> no. he defeated the goblins. he did it. (cackles) >> stone and jones believed that they had been instrumental in getting donald trump elected. or that certainly they had driven successful narratives that helped to... that helped to get him elected. >> i was exhausted, but euphoric. jones was exhausted, but he was downcast. >> it's almost 3:00 in the morning central time. and we now have president- elect donald trump. >> and i asked him why. and he said, "you don't understand. this is just the beginning." >> now we are bound forever. and if we don't deliver this plan, and free humanity, we will be bound to the ninth circle of
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hell. i'm bound to this truth and i will never stop delivering. >> and in that moment it was visible that there was a reaction, because he started crying. i mean his emotions were evident. they were streaming down his face. >> i've said it. i've already run my course. i already know my entire life purpose has been completed. i will continue on, but now i realized, i've won. >> alex jones is part of a bigger phenomenon. what people like alex jones and others showed us is that conspiracy theories are an effective political tool. they work. they help shape elections. they help shape public discussion. they help people decide what to believe. conspiracy theories work. >> all across the country, you will see a lot of conspiracy theories out there. >> narrator: alex jones helped usher in a new and dangerous era in american politics. >> american conspiracy theories
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are entering a dangerous new phase. >> narrator: one where the truth doesn't matter. >> covid-19 is a chi-comm globalist bio-weapon. >> narrator: where political opponents treat each other as mortal enemies. >> hillary clinton is a (bleep) damn demon! >> narrator: where lies and conspiracies flourish. >> pizzagate is real. sandy hook, it's got inside job written all over it. >> narrator: "the united states of conspiracy." >> ...slew of deliberate disinformation... >> disinformation is having a devastating effect. >> ...the same conspiracy theories that are being circulated... ♪ ♪ >> narrator: the story of how alex jones helped bring conspiracies into the mainstream began on the fringes of america in the 1990s. >> all right, austin, i... >> narrator: he was a late-night access tv personality in austin, texas, an obscure voice pedaling outrage. >> they are trying to make you dysfunctional, they are teaching you false thought systems...
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>> he began... >> okay? >> ...as sort of an underground phenomenon. >> society is insane to me, so i'm insane to your average dumbbell. >> you know, people in austin would sit home and get high in the middle of the night and watch this crazy guy vent about... crazy stuff. >> hillary clinton is a fascist worker of the rockefeller... >> narrator: unhinged conspiracy theory rants... >> biological attack is imminent. imminent! >> narrator: ...political stunts... >> they took me into custody and were going to arrest me for disturbing a public meeting. >> he was on the fringe. it used to be that would you have to be somebody who was deep, deep into conspiracy culture to know who alex jones was, you'd have to know things about lizard people. or teleportation pads, these crazy, crazy conspiracy theories. >> what about me? because i'm a woman, i've gotta stay? >> narrator: british filmmaker jon ronson is a renowned expert on extremism. he has been following jones for more than 20 years. >> he was diagnosed as having narcissistic personality
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disorder. and i think that's a factor, because i think that people with npd don't need to care as much about the truth and about society as, as other people do. i think they consider themselves more important than the truth. (rustling) ("carmina burana: o fortuna" by carl orff playing) >> narrator: jones promoted anti-government conspiracy theories in a series of homemade films. he'd also use a growing radio show to allege-- without evidence-- secret plots in crisis after crisis. >> the federal government financed and controlled this attack on the world trade center... >> narrator: the 1993 world trade center bombing... >> multiple bombs ripped through
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the alfred p. murrah federal building. >> narrator: the 1995 oklahoma city bombing... >> ...and, as usual, federal fingerprints were all over this tragic event. >> narrator: he called them "false flags." >> a big element of alex jones' show, and his theorizing generally, is that things are false flag attacks. that is, attacks perpetrated by the government or elements within the government to create fear, suspicion, division, or to bring us all under the sinister control of the new world order or the one world government. >> ...to create yet another crisis, this time to usher in a police state... >> narrator: jones' rhetoric resonated with people around the country who were looking for answers. >> conspiracy theory is a theory. it's an attempt to explain an event. and it says that things are not as they seem, right? and you explain it by picking up the dots, forming a pattern, and showing that that pattern indicates malignant intent by
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powerful people acting covertly. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: then a moment of trauma on live television. >> ...this tuesday morning, it's the 11th day of september, 2001. >> narrator: as a confused country watched. >> we want to go live right now and show you a picture of the world trade center, where i understand-- do we have it? no, we do not. we have a breaking story though. we're going to come back with that in just a moment. first, this is "today" on nbc. >> narrator: that day, broadcasting from texas, jones would seize on the tragedy. ("the imperial march" playing) >> you want answers? well, so does he. he's alex jones on the gcn radio network. and now, live from austin, texas... >> alex was immediately on the radio on all of his syndicated shows. >> to bring you up to speed on what's happened. at 8:50 a.m. e.d.t. a plane hits the world trade center. 9:30 eastern, second jet crashes into the world trade center. >> ...saying that, "this attack is an inside job.
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yes, the towers fell. but they were not felled by terrorists. they were destroyed by the united states government as a pretext to impose martial law." >> narrator: jones and other believers became known as the "9/11 truther movement." >> alex became the world's and actually, everything just got worse and darker. 9/11 conspiracy theorists were vicious and brutal. >> they're either using provocateur arabs and allowing them to do it or this is full complicity with the federal government, the evidence is overwhelming to bring you up to speed on what's happened. >> narrator: even for the radio stations that had hosted jones over the years, he'd gone too far this time. >> what you see after 9/11 is a country that is really, really hurting. people were grieving. where it was a moment where people wouldn't have imagined that you were going to take that moment, this national moment of
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mourning, and turn it into a conspiracy theory. (sirens blaring) >> i'll tell you the bottom line. 98% chance this was a government orchestrated controlled bombing. i've been telling you this was going to happen. just two weeks ago i... >> overnight, something like two-thirds of all the genesis stations dumped him. and it seemed like it was going to be a disaster for his career, and at first it was. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: but it was 2001 and alex jones quickly found a new outlet, a new way to reach a like-minded audience-- the anarchy of the web. >> more terrorism is on the way. september 11 was only the latest in a long line... >> narrator: where the 9/11 truther movement was alive and well. >> it was the manipulation of that national tragedy that really, really opened an eye for jones about how he could get a hook into his audience. (keyboard keys clacking) >> narrator: his website-- infowars.com-- became a hub for
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conspiracy theories. >> we all know a conspiracy theorist from the days before twitter or facebook. and those people were sort of isolated and shunned. and everybody felt like they had their number. but with social media and the internet, they find each other. >> you know why the bush crime family and the c.i.a... >> and they can push that message to millions of people. >> you know why the big cfr takeover... >> the interesting thing about the internet is that it builds community. you can find people who feed in to your negativity, or your fears, or your bigotry. and so that's what alex jones has been able to do. i mean, he's been able to mobilize people based on their fears; for many, their ignorance. >> narrator: as the tech giants grew-- facebook, twitter, spotify, instagram, google's youtube-- so did alex jones. >> information that you would
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have been very hard to get before, it suddenly became easy. >> we're on the right side of history. >> he wasn't really my cup of tea; it was young men who liked him because he was wild and he was funny. >> nellies, going, "ah, kill everybody." >> narrator: his audience was mostly white men-- it became known as "dude radio." every week millions watched his programs... >> i mean, it's just like scum, nazi filth... >> narrator: ...and his conspiracy movies. ("carmina burana: o fortuna" by carl orff playing) it was the type of controversial content that generated clicks. the more outrageous the better; the bigger the lie, the more clicks he got. and youtube's algorithms recommended his videos billions of times. >> in the near future, earth is dominated by a powerful world government. >> his films got out to millions and millions and millions of people. >> the dawn of a new dark age is upon mankind.
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>> when we put out a film, i remember "endgame," within like something like six or seven days receiving like 30 million views. it was ridiculous. i just remember constantly refreshing and it going up by thousands every time i'd refreshed. >> but charlie's tired of being held up like the devil. they got the tsa putting their hand down people's pants, infowars.com covers it all. we've got the banks bankrupting the u.s. >> narrator: spreading wild conspiracy theories had made jones a celebrity, but one question would not go away. >> how much of what alex says on the radio does he really believe? and is alex really crazy? if he's not crazy, and he says crazy things on the radio, and on tv and on youtube every day in order to exploit other people who are crazy, to make money for himself, then that doesn't look good at all. >> to announce dna force, ladies and gentlemen... >> narrator: but it didn't matter to jones or his audience. he had found a winning formula.
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>> he is the exemplar of a conspiracy entrepreneur. there's a whole new industry that's grown up. >> that's my second dose of that. i need to take it easy. >> he sells, you know, potency pills. he's into virility. and he sells body armor, and gold, and other things. >> narrator: at infowars.com, they sold gold, pills, and fear. >> radioactive contamination... >> he was smart, because he correctly realized that he had to sell a product. >> wars are not cheap... go check out the amazing specials... >> especially a survivalist product that people thought they would need under the coming, you know, nightmarish new world government, was very prescient. >> alex, overnight, made a huge amount of money. i mean somebody told me that he was bringing in like $100,000 a day. >> i will only give you the maximum... >> narrator: it was rock star money. >> the maximum truth. >> narrator: he decided to live like one. >> we went from the little
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house, to the slightly bigger house, to a really nice house to multiple houses. and you get all this money, and alex always wanted more and more and more. and i was like, "alex, what are you doing, we don't even do these things?" >> somewhere along the line he started making an awful lot of money. and so once that started happening, even if he had stopped becoming a believer, there was a very powerful incentive to continue doing what he was doing. >> i will go to... i will go to hell before i sit here and i watch this country and the world turned over to these savages. >> narrator: jones' audience was insatiable and he delivered. >> let me tell me something, you filthy traitors of the government, you pieces of crap. >> narrator: more conspiracy, more controversy, more crisis. >> i've had enough of these people. okay, so i've been containing this since last week, that's why i'm in here sweating. >> if you are always on the radio, if you are always on television, you always have to top yourself. you have to create a more wild, more extreme conspiracy theory,
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to keep your audience engaged. you can't just keep coming out with the same line every single day. and so you force-- you are compelled to push yourself to ever-greater extremes. (phone dialing out, heavy breathing) >> 9-1-1. state your emergency. >> sandy hook school, i think there's somebody shooting in here. >> narrator: for alex jones, there seemed to be no boundary to his increasingly extreme theories. >> they're still shooting. (siren blaring) >> narrator: no tragedy too awful to exploit. >> sandy hook elementary school. i believe there's shooting at the front. >> ladies and gentlemen, it is friday. thank you so much for joining us. the 14th day of december 2012. and there is a reported school shooting in connecticut. >> please! >> i need assistance here immediately! >> this is going to be a lot bigger than columbine. and this is already 18 dead children. >> narrator: in the end, 27
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killed, 20 of them elementary school children. jones seized on the deaths. >> boy, wouldn't you know, i mean, it's sick. you can go back in the last month, and i've said over and over again, and you watch, there's going to be giant school shootings. >> the moment you see a mass shooting event, the mindset inside is, it's probably a false flag operation. it might not be, but it probably is. >> if we start seeing tell-tale signs of it being staged, we'll let you know. you know, it has now come out that... um... it was a government program and that person was in a mind control program. >> and this is conspiracy without the theory that dispenses with... blatantly dispenses with any evidence or argument. it lives by sheer assertion. no evidence. no argument. >> ...and the doctor he was under was a head air force mind
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control doctor, and he was involved in darpa brain interface programs, and told people he was under mind control in the jail. >> he just kept adding more and more and more outrageous lies to the story. all the pictures of the children inside of it were fake. it was all a cgi construction. for jones, it didn't matter how absurd each new layer got. he would put anything on the air, as long as it kept driving the sandy hook story. >> newtown destroys suspected sandy hook shooter's home... >> narrator: even inside infowars, some of jones' own staff worried about what he was saying. >> but the media still lies and says he did. >> jones had no evidence whatsoever to prove that that didn't happen. and he said it many times because that's just what fit into his worldview. that's what, i mean, on some level it feel like that's what he wanted it to be. >> narrator: one of jones' employees, longtimeditor rob jacobson, brought his concerns directly to jones. >> i stopped him.
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i was like, "alex, man, they're going to come after you for sandy hook," you know? i was like, "look, man, you... this is crazy." and he just stopped and looked at me with no reaction. he had nothing to say to me. like he just stopped like a deer in headlights. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: and he wasn't alone. >> i think it's important to note the top editorial person inside of infowars desperately warned him, and tried to get employees to help warn alex jones that what he was doing was very, very bad. he didn't listen. >> i've looked at it and undoubtedly there's a cover up, there's actors, they're manipulating, they've been caught lying, and they were pre- planning before it and rolled... >> narrator: jones spared no one. he even went after the families. >> ...doing the fake crying. we've clearly got people... >> and alex jones looks at those tiny caskets... ♪ ♪ ...and these grieving parents... ♪ ♪ ...and decides that he's going
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to make their lives a living hell by selling this conspiracy theory that newtown is all a fraud, and that these... all of these people are actors. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: six-year-old noah pozner was killed by the sandy hook shooter, but his family became a victim of alex jones. >> my wife at the time, noah's mother, did a few interviews. and she became a... a target. he accused her of being an actor. >> i'm grieving, that's all. >> that became one of the cornerstone conspiracy points for sandy hook. >> thank you, i'm going to need it. >> the whole thing was fake. i mean, even i couldn't believe it. i knew they jumped on it. used the crisis. hyped it up. but then i did deep research,
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and my gosh, it just pretty much didn't happen. >> narrator: as jones added fuel to the fire... >> we've sent reporters up there, man, and that place is like "children of the corn" or something. >> narrator: online conspiracy theorists were attacking the families. >> from then on it was an absolute quest to destroy these parents. >> "what a loser!" "crisis actor trash." "oh lenny... you poseur." "take your life!" >> narrator: it spread on the web-- youtube, reddit and 4chan. >> "what kind of (bleep) name is noah pozner?" >> "probably to a (bleep) kibbutz just outside of..." >> they're haters. they're fools. they're trolls. anything they can do to trigger trouble in my life they have done. >> narrator: pozner changed addresses many times, tried to hide his identity, still they found him. >> i got a call from someone and i had just moved into new... a new apartment. he read me the address that i had just moved into and he read me my social security number. >> a woman began stalking mr.
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pozner and his family in south central florida, started threatening their lives. >> you're going to die, you (bleep). (bleep). jew bastard. >> narrator: she was an avid follower of jones and infowars. >> and she was soon sent to federal prison for what she was doing. mr. jones knew this, he understood this, he absolutely knew what was happening. he wanted lenny pozner to suffer harm. >> narrator: pozner was forced to live in hiding. >> whatever is happening to these families, clearly it didn't mean anything to him. it's obvious that, that jones isn't remorseful or apologetic for any of the things that those families had to endure from the words that he dispelled or the ideas that he spread. i genuinely don't think he cares. ♪ ♪ >> narrator: people close to jones were appalled about what he had done. it was the last straw for his wife kelly. >> i was very disgusted by what
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he said. i definitely told him, like, "what are you doing? why are you doing this?" and they were just so excited that they were getting so many views or whatever that they continued to do this. >> narrator: they filed for divorce in 2013 and have been in a bitter, sometimes public feud for years. >> isn't it fortuitous that we are... >> the king of conspiracy, radio show host alex jones... >> alex jones, the king of all internet conspiracies... >> narrator: the controversy over sandy hook had made jones bigger than ever. >> alex jones is pushing a lot of buttons... >> narrator: he was now tapping into not just the conspiracy world, but the country's culture wars and growing populist anger. >> and the answer to their 1984 slavery! >> narrator: in hard-right politics, he was becoming a player. >> ...total fraud, and the minute people are aware of it, it's over for you. >> i, barack hussein obama, do solemnly swear... >> narrator: and in the country's first black president,
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jones had another target. >> and, you know, the first black president from kenya, born in kenya. boom. >> narrator: jones pushed the discredited birther theory, questioning president obama's citizenship. >> in birtherism what you see is a group of americans who resent the fact that there is an african american president in the white house. >> boom, we're told there is no long-form, it doesn't exist. oh yeah, here it is-- it's fake. >> and alex jones, and all sorts of other people, they hand them this excuse that it's, "well, he wasn't born in this country, and this is really all a lie, and that he is actually not who he says he is." >> this is how they try to start the revolution. >> alex jones appeals to the worst parts of society-- and he looks for all the terrible things in society, racism, sexism, misogyny, and he exploits them for his own benefit. >> this is what they're trying to get going, this is a race war. this is exactly what we predicted... >> narrator: jones unabashedly exploited race, stoking fear... >> ...of nothing but white peoples' cars being stopped
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by mobs of black people. >> narrator: sounding alarms... >> record numbers of muslims are being brought in from countries known to be radicalized and who want to attack... >> alex jones is able to tap into some real deep, dark fears that white americans explicitly have about the future of their country, who's in it, who's controlling it, and their placement in it. >> narrator: he was promoting a politics of conspiracy and lies that would find its moment in 2015... >> resistance to tyrants is obedience to god. it's alex jones. >> narrator: ...when he invited a special guest on his program. >> he's written the "new york times" bestselling book, "the men who killed kennedy," you've probably heard of rogerstone.com-- good to see you again, buddy. >> alex, great to see you, thanks for having me. >> nobody had any idea at that point that this is somebody that would be coming back again and again and again... >> well, alex, first of all, i
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want to thank you because nobody has been more effective in terms of revealing the secret game plan of the party kingmakers. >> narrator: roger stone was a notorious political operator. >> roger stone is a self-described dirty trickster. >> narrator: a career dating back to richard nixon. >> he has a tattoo of nixon on his back... >> that's the purpose of my tattoo... >> roger is singular in the political landscape. he is a body-building, pot-spoking dandy swinger, who has had a profound impact upon shaping all of our lives through his savvy and cunning as a political consultant. >> he was the chairman of donald trump's exploratory campaign. he talked to trump this morning, you were telling me off air, trump's for real. >> narrator: in 2015, stone had an insight-- that alex jones' audience could help donald trump.
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>> you can't buy trump, you can't bully trump... >> alex jones, um, is a character. and he has a very, very, large, very, very loyal following out there in the blogosphere. >> and speak of the devil-- "hillary clinton for prison" shirts, we're only selling it, limited edition. >> his people are very >> it just looks like a campaign shirt, "hillary for prison 2016." >> stone was getting a big platform out of jones. >> where do you want to start, mr. stone? >> stone could come on jones' show and talk to what would ultimately be millions of people. i think that jones was getting some type validation from stone. >> they can call us conspiracy theorists, as you know that's a way to try to discredit us. all we are is truth-tellers. we speak from the heart like donald trump, we speak from the heart and let the chips fall where they may. (whistles, cheers) >> narrator: as the first
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republican primaries approached, donald trump was a longshot. stone wanted him to make an important connection. >> well, i don't usually get butterflies about a guest on the show. donald trump is our guest, ladies and gentlemen, for the next 30 minutes or so. he is the leading 2016 republican presidential contender, donald trump. >> it was a signal to jones' literally millions of followers that trump was the man to support in the republican primary. >> and i've got so many questions but, but first off, donald, thank you for joining us. >> thank you, alex, great. great to be with you. >> trump recognized the power of alex jones' audience and alex jones' base and had mirrored a lot of alex jones' policies and rhetoric in achieving... in getting to that frontrunner status in the first place. >> i know now from top people that you actually are for real. >> alex was only too happy to play sycophant.
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>> ...is epic, it's george washington level, and you understand that office. >> and trump basked in the glow of his adulation. and so i think it was purely transactional, and it worked out great for both of them. >> i just want to finish by saying your reputation's amazing, i will not let you down, you will be very, very impressed, i hope. >> he said, "i have so much admiration for you, you have such an audience." i mean, this is what trump cared about, "you have such-- you have such influence. we're going to be talking a lot. i'm going to be relying on you." >> i hope you can help uncripple america, thank you so much, sir. you will be attacked for coming on, we know you know that, thank you. >> thank you very much. >> alex jones, like president trump, they come from this fringe, they come from a place that people maybe poked fun of them, they come from this place where people maybe didn't take them seriously, but they've, they claw their way to the center of american politics. >> they've destroyed our economy...
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>> roger delivers legitimacy to alex jones, and alex jones delivers to trump a disaffected voter that trump desperately needed to bring to the polls in order to win. and that was, i think, in a lot of ways, the difference maker. >> narrator: jones boasted about his impact on the candidate. >> and i'll tell you, it is surreal to talk about issues here on air and then, word for word, hear trump say it two days later. >> i mean, sometimes it was like verbatim-- like, really, trump, really? you're taking his word for it? you don't have anybody else around you? >> as we've been saying for three years, hillary is the founder of isis along with obama. >> he founded isis and i would say the co-founder would be crooked hillary clinton. >> "was cruz's father linked to jfk assassination? cuban hired by lee harvey oswald bears striking resemblance to cruz..." >> you know, his father was
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with lee harvey oswald prior to oswald being, uh, you know shot, i mean, the whole thing is ridiculous. >> i think it was a super power trip for alex that was irresistible. >> so he's going to use executive orders to go after our guns. >> the president's thinking about signing an executive order where he wants take your guns away, you hear this one? >> someone in the mainstream, trump, using the words that jones had been using for decades, um... i think that emboldened jones and it changed him as a personality. >> these people are not frickin' humans, okay? hillary clinton is a demon damned to hell! >> he made a deal with the devil, she's the devil. he made a deal with the devil. it's true. >> the big shock was alex having the ear of a president-to-be. of all the people i've interviewed over 35 years, i can think of a, a lot of people i would rather have the president's ear than alex jones. it's a bit of a shame that one
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of the most, um, spirang people i've ever met is the one who's influencing trump. >> national convention kicks off in cleveland, ohio, tomorrow... >> eyes on cleveland, the 2016 republican national convention. >> narrator: almost two decades after pedaling conspiracy theories on late night cable tv... >> all right, let's just cover this thing. >> narrator: ...alex jones arrived at the republican national convention. >> that summer was particularly important for jones because he was on the rise at the time. >> i've come to see alex jones, put that on cnn. ha ha... >> god bless you, brother. >> god bless you, alex, thank you. >> normally you would expect alex jones to be outside the barricades with a bullhorn. but all of a sudden, there he was, making his way through, he was a part of things. because this was an administration that not only embraces people like him and like roger stone, and people
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who were kind of, you know, practicing the sort of conspiratorial dark arts... conspiratorial thinking is a feature of this president. (background chatter) >> narrator: inside the convention, jones immediately sought out controversy. he crashed the set of a live left-wing television show. >> it's that it overcomes every other demographic advantage... >> i'm gonna come sit in your lap. >> oh, jesus... >> hey, come on... >> hey, alex jones, how you doing? >> good to see you man... >> it's alex jones! oh my god, alex! >> jones had a contentious relationship with the young turks. they both decided to interrupt their live show. there were people everywhere and i remember trying to hold my camera up to film what was going on. there were people scrambling everywhere, people screaming at each other. >> first of all, let me explain something, all right? >> i mean, it was spectacle. it was, it was ridiculous, but i mean, honestly, that was par for the course. that was daily life with jones.
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you don't know (bleep)! what do you think, the lizard people are in charge? >> no, and you're pissed... >> for him, it was always like, "let's create chaos." because chaos is entertaining, people are going to tune into that. (people shouting) >> and they just decided to go for it. they had a preternatural sense that that would be a big to-do. (shouting) the objective is always to get clicks, to get eyeballs, and to convert that into financial gain. >> narrator: chaos, conflict, conspiracy. in 2016, jones and stone were rewriting the playbook of american politics. >> and that was another moment where you realize, this whole landscape has changed. and these individuals that could so easily be dismissed have become a force to be reckoned with. >> i'm never a lesser of two evils person, but with hillary there's not even the same universe, i mean, she is an
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abject, psychopathic demon from hell... >> narrator: with election day looming, on infowars, jones went all in attacking hillary clinton. >> people loved this conspiracist claim. if you needed more to lock her up, here was the more, but it was really a, a portrait of her as a woman who would do anything. anything. >> i will warn you, uh, this story that's been the biggest thing on the internet is a rabbit hole that is horrifying to go down. now, this is tied into podesta with thousands of emails with, "we're gonna have the six-year-old, the seven-year-old..." >> narrator: it was an internet conspiracy theory sparked by stolen emails from clinton's campaign chairman john podesta, claiming that references to "cheese pizza" were code for "child pornography." >> ... then why did the podesta emails mention the code word pasta for either "little boy" or "sex" 78 times? code word "cheese" for "little
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girl" 85 times? >> they were ready to believe just about anything about hillary clinton. >> do you think i'll do better playing dominos on cheese than on pasta? >> the belief that evildoers are meeting in secret to abuse children is really old. it's the blood libel. the best known example of that is from the middle ages. it's the idea that jews were meeting in secret to murder christian children and use their blood in rituals. and we can see elements of the blood libel in a lot of conspiracy theories, even through the present day. >> narrator: on twitter, they called the blood libel #pizzagate. >> pizzagate has elements of blood libel within it. >> narrator: the allegation: a child sex ring run out of the basement of a d.c. pizza parlor... >> so comet ping pong... >> narrator: ...comet ping pong. >> wikileaks have come out with podesta going to rituals where they drink blood and urine and semen. >> oh my gosh, jones is having
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the time of his life. >> yes, i have a responsibility to cover it and yes it's important... >> i mean, he was in high dudgeon. >> they hurt children, folks. >> he's crying. he's weeping, we're, like, this is pure evil. >> cover pizzagate, we have covered it, we are covering it, and all i know is, god help us, we're in the hands of pure evil. >> and it ran constantly, because it was a ratings-getter. >> when i think about all the children hillary clinton has personally murdered and, and chopped up and, and raped... >> narrator: his profile raised by trump and stone, jones was known as a "super spreader," a megaphone for internet lies and misinformation. >> i just can't hold back the truth anymore. hillary clinton is one of the most vicious serial killers the planet's ever seen... >> a match was struck on alex jones' show. and it goes from zero to 100 on google trends. 96 hours.
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>> thousands of emails, i'm not ready to accuse these people of this, it's up to you to research it for yourself, but you gotta... >> yeah, i mean, alex would always encourage people, like, "i can't do this alone." you know, he'd always encourage people to go out and do those things by themselves. >> narrator: some of them took matters into their own hands. >> to my girls... >> a volunteer firefighter in north carolina, edgar madison welch, hears the stories about pizzagate being promoted by alex jones and others and, uh, decides somebody has to do something about it. somebody has to save these kids. >> i love y'all more than anything in this world. >> he's basically making a goodbye video... his two daughters, like, in the car, on the way, driving north on 95. >> i can't let you grow up in a a world that's so corrupt by evil. >> i mean, he believed it. >> i hope you understand that
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one day. >> so this guy, welch... >> i love all y'all. >> you know, armed with an assault rifle, barges into the restaurant on a sunday afternoon, um... fires two shots as he goes looking for the mythical basement where the kids are supposedly being trafficked, um, and, of course, uh, never finds it. >> narrator: welch discovered there was no basement. no pedophile ring. >> get on the ground, lay front on the ground! >> narrator: welch would later tell a "new york times" reporter "the intel on this wasn't 100 percent." >> these conspiracies, some may think, "well, they're harmless." but then we have somebody who shows up at a pizza establishment with a weapon. i mean, there... people will act on these things, we will see violence from this sort of stirring up of hatred and division.
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and the pizzagate conspiracy theory is exhibit a. >> i'm going to read to you from a statement that's also posted to infowars.com, that i wrote yesterday... >> narrator: under legal threat from the owner of comet ping pong, alex jones would eventually retract his pizzagate claims. >> in our commentary about what had become known as pizzagate, i made comments that, in hindsight, i regret and for which i apologize to him. >> narrator: alex jones had become a powerful and dangerous voice, his influence confirmed with the inauguration in 2017. >> final preparations are underway for the inauguration... >> set to become america's 45th president today... >> beginning a new era, a new... >> narrator: he'd reached the center of american politics and power. >> live in washington d.c., here is alex jones. >> you make america great again
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and the whole rest of the planet, and have a new age of trade, low taxes and, and, and, and peace. >> economic growth and peace. today is a victory for the revolution. let's get in there. >> this is a giant playground for fans of conspiracy theories. >> narrator: conspiracy theories were now emanating directly from the white house. >> he had a larger inaugural crowd than barack obama. >> if they spied on my campaign, it will be one of the great... >> narrator: as president, trump veered from one unsupported claim to the next. >> claimed up to five million illegal votes cost him the popular vote... >> facing the backlash tonight for his denial of hurricane maria's death toll... >> president trump is someone who has realized that conspiracy theories work for him. if he's going to be able to keep his base happy, he has to continue to feed them red meat. and that red meat consists, a lot of times, of, of conspiracy theories. >> if you have a windmill anywhere near your house, they say the noise causes cancer, you tell me that one... okay? >> windmills cause cancer. but for fact's sake, that is
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just not true. >> there was no collusion, there was no obstruction, everybody knows it. it's all a big hoax. it's... i call it the witch hunt, it's all a big hoax. >> uranium deal to russia with clinton help and obama administration knowledge is the biggest story that fake media doesn't want to follow... >> narrator: jones was on a high. >> they write my stuff into speeches and trump approves it. it's like with trump, when he goes, "okay, yeah, yeah, that, that, that's right," i've had these conversations with trump, i start talking and he finishes the sentence, i finish the sentence-- it's weird, man. it's weird. >> and so someone like alex jones, who can come in with wild theories and, and donald trump repeats it as fact. you have newspapers printing it as fact. you have media and television shows repeating it as though it's fact. and then you have donald trump tweeting it as though it's fact. we are in a position where many americans are susceptible to not just false information, but lies
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that they believe is truth. >> narrator: but with influence came a new level of scrutiny. >> will you raise your right hand, please? do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? >> i do. >> narrator: those parents from sandy hook had been pursuing him in court. >> i simply had enough, and that was what needed to be done. >> i'm proud of bringing the lawsuit. uh, it brought a lot more attention to who he really is, and what his show represents. >> can you now admit that you've done an outrageous wrong to these parents? can you admit that? >> you know, the mainstream media is who always takes it and makes it a huge issue and then says that i'm saying it and gets me to respond. and it's lawyers like you and people that glom onto this for fame that then try to get the fame and then say that i'm the person that's promoting it. and it's obscene, in my view.
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>> narrator: it was at this point that jones shocked pozner's attorney. >> mr. jones claimed that the reason that he said that sandy hook was fake is because he was suffering from a kind of psychosis. >> that i've, you know, i, myself, have, you know, almost had, like, a form of psychosis back in the past where i basically thought everything was staged, you know, now i'm learning a lot of times things aren't staged. >> because it wasn't just about sandy hook. what, what he was saying is that, "there's a psychosis i have, some form of psychosis, that makes me believe that every event is staged." >> my opinions have been wrong but they were never wrong consciously to hurt people... >> in other words, for jones, it's a universal pass. >> narrator: under oath, jones made a reluctant admission. >> and, and, so over the years, i've... you know, especially as it became a huge issue, had time to, you know, really retrospectively think about it. uh... and as the whole thing matured, you know, i've had, had a chance to believe that children died, uh... and it's
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a tragedy. >> narrator: judges in texas and connecticut would go on to rule against him, and find him financially liable. >> one would have thought he might have been chastened by the legal action. but he's still out there, he's still pedaling his various vitamin dietary supplements. and still promoting these crazy conspiracy theories. (crowd chanting) >> narrator: by 2020, alex jones was exploiting another tragedy, the coronavirus pandemic. >> this is a chi-comm globalist bioweapon meant to shut down... >> narrator: the fire of conspiracies he had been stoking was raging. >> but they want to keep us locked in our homes... >> ...is a chi-comm laboratory experiment... >> total population control.
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>> what we are seeing during covid is that there is a humongous outgrowth of specific conspiracy theories. >> nothing has made elected democrats more powerful than the covid pandemic. they began as politicians, lockdowns made them god. >> everything from wearing a mask to social distancing... >> this has never, sean, been about following the science, it's never been about following the facts and the truth, it's been about control from day one. >> ... about vaccines and vaccination... >> we are on the verge, against all science, of mandating vaccines for children, that we are on the verge of east german-style "show me your papers." >> a lot of people who might very well have masked or taken vaccines, have been, um, propagandized into not doing it. and the result has been a hospitalization crisis that need not have occurred. a death toll that didn't have
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to be a death toll. >> narrator: for years, alex jones, roger stone, and donald trump had been pushing conspiracies, connecting them to mainstream politics. >> now let's start marching and i salute you all! usa! usa! >> narrator: it all climaxed on one day, january 6. >> in many ways, january 6 was the, you know, inevitable consequence. the inevitable logical outcome of the conspiracy theories that they were all spreading. >> narrator: they had a new conspiracy theory. >> they rigged an election, they rigged it like they've never rigged an election before. we won in a landslide, this was a landslide. >> the president pushed one bizarre conspiracy theory after another, one lie after another.
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>> make no mistake, this election was stolen from you, from me, and from the country. >> (chanting): trump won! >> january 6 was one of the few times that i can think of in american history where a large group of americans literally took to the streets in support of a conspiracy theory. it was really shocking. to realize not just that there were this many americans who believed that the election had been stolen from donald trump, but who were prepared to commit acts of violence and vandalism in support of that. (shouting) >> stand aside and let us in, you traitors! (explosion) (explosions) >> (chanting): trump won! >> the national guard has been called in to the capitol, the capitol is secure now. >> tensions are still high following the chaos at the capitol. >> i'm fearful that it's a prelude.
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conspiracism now is not coming just from the president and his followers, or conspiracy entrepreneurs, but it has become a malignant normality. and at every level of government, not just in the national government, but in the states and localities as well. >> narrator: a year after january 6, trump, stone, and jones remain at the center of the storm. >> the house committee investigating january 6 is widening its net. >> new subpoenas for trump confidant roger stone, conspiracy theorist alex jones. >> the subpoenas include demands for documents and testimonies knowledge about the attack.r >> former president trump threatening to invoke executive privilege to block the house committee investigating the january 6 insurrection. >> narrator: undeterred, the conspiracy theories keep spreading. >> the january 6 insurrection didn't kill the q conspiracy, it's emboldened it. >> so many individuals continue to believe what donald trump says, and continue to believe
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even new conspiracy theories. >> it's poisoned our politics, and as a result, our democracy is suffering, our democratic process is suffering. >> some of the people who breached the capitol were not trump supporters, and, in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group antifa. >> dr. fauci played a part in funding covid-19 and then he lied to us over and over and over. >> we're at an unprecedented fork in the road about how we're gonna deal with a political culture that has become so divisive and so polarized, that it's made, you know, political debate, honest political debate, almost impossible. >> the gop has largely declined to condemn conspiracy-addled extremism within its own ranks. >> this is about conspiracy theorists spreading lies that
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are undermining the republican party and american democracy, and endangering the health and lives of americans. >> january 6 isn't the end of the threat, it may be just the beginning as these conspiracy theories continue to spread online. >> go to pbs.org/frontline for more reporting othis story, including how conspiracy theories are fueling unrest. >> conspiracism has become an accepted way of exercising political power. >> listen to episodes of our podcast, the frontline dispatch: >> at congress, there is this real sort of sense of shell shock-ness... >> connect with frontline on facebook, instagram and twitter and stream anytime on the pbs video app, youtube or pbs.org/frontline. >> china is not the producer of this epidemic. >> narrator: frontline investigates the beginning of the pandemic. >> he had identified the virus and that it was not highly transmissible.
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>> i think he was just wrong. >> it seemed absolutely ridiculous that we couldn't release the data. >> narrator: the missed opportunities. >> that was the shot we had and we lost it. >> narrator: and how china responded. >> they haven't admitted anything. they haven't admitted any kind of mistakes. ♪♪ >>frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. additional support is provided by the abrams foundation, committed to excellence in journalism... the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more at macfound.org. park foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. and by frontline journalism fund, with major support from
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jon and jo ann hagler. and additional support from koo and patricia yuen, committed bridging cultural differences in our communities. captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org >> for more on this and other "frontline" programs, visit our website at pbs.org/frontline. ♪ ♪ frontline's, "united states of conspiracy" is available on amazon prime video.
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♪ ♪ ♪♪ you're watching pbs. ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪
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tiative. youth peace initiative is a youth-led, non-governmental organization promoting the inclusion of youth in peace and reconciliation processes around the globe. youth peace initiative. because a peaceful future starts with those who need to keep it. [music playing] vamik: history affects us whether we know it or not. i was born in cyprus, an island in mediterranean sea. there were greeks and turks. earlier, the island was an ottoman island.

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