Aug 11 2017

Alex Jones – Snake Oil Salesman

Patent-medicine5If Alex Jones lived 150 years ago he would have traveled around with a horse-drawn wagon selling his patent medicine with a medicine show featuring amazing stories about hacking his way through the jungle to find cures and sitting down with Indian medicine-men to learn their secrets.

Today he has his own TV show where he tells amazing stories of conspiracies in order to sell dubious supplements.

I have to admit, Jones had me fooled for a while. I was only paying slight attention to the nonsense he spewed on InfoWars, enough to know that he was a raving conspiracy theorist. I paid closer attention when he claimed that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a false flag operation. Anyone as popular and flamboyant as Jones is likely supplementing their true belief with showmanship. I now, however, think it’s more likely that Jones is pure showmanship.

One important piece of information came earlier this year surrounding Jones’ legal battle with his ex-wife. During the case his attorney stated:

At a recent pretrial hearing, attorney Randall Wilhite told state District Judge Orlinda Naranjo that using his client Alex Jones’ on-air Infowars persona to evaluate Alex Jones as a father would be like judging Jack Nicholson in a custody dispute based on his performance as the Joker in “Batman.”

“He’s playing a character,” Wilhite said of Jones. “He is a performance artist.”

That is an amazing admission. But as I wrote at the time, Jones entire schtick is that nothing is as it seems. Everything is a false flag, a deception, a conspiracy of the powers that be. His admission that his raving conspiracy theorist is just a character and he is a performance artist has appeared to have no impact on his audience.

John Oliver provided the other piece of evidence, or at least context. On a recent segment he showed convincingly that InfoWars is all about selling supplements and other dubious products with amazing claims. Further, the products he sells just happen to target the very problems he rants about on his show. They are putting poison in our water – and by the way, would you like to buy our water filter?

A recent report on Buzzfeed adds another, completely unsurprising, bit of information to this story. They report on testing done by Labdoor, which is an independent testing company that ranks supplements for consumers. They are a commercial entity, like Consumer Reports, but from what I can find they seem legit. Some of their rankings may be subjective, but their testing is pretty straightforward and the protocol they claim sounds reasonably rigorous.

They tested a number of supplements sold on InfoWars. What they found was that the labeling was accurate as to content. They found no problems with adulteration, substitution, or contamination (common problems in the supplement industry). However, what they did find was that the active ingredients were simple vitamins and minerals and often at fairly low doses.

The con is that they are taking simple vitamins, giving the product a flashy name and claiming amazing results, and then jacking up the price many fold. Buzzfeed reports:

But just because the products’ ingredients matched their labels doesn’t mean they lived up to Jones’ claims. Survival Shield X-2, for example, “is just plain iodine, the same stuff doctors used to pour on surfaces as a disinfectant,” Labdoor’s results read.

When the company tested Anthroplex, which retails for $29.95, it found that there was so little zinc that “if you’re extremely zinc deficient, the value…is not going to be significantly helpful.” The report notes that “you could actually get another zinc orotate supplement for around $5 WITH an impactful serving size,” before concluding simply that “this product is a waste of money.”

This is also nothing new, and is, in fact, a staple of the largely deregulated supplement industry. You can put just any random vitamins in a pill, call it “Joint Health Formula” or whatever, make or imply claims that it promotes good joint health, report testimonials from alleged customers that it cured their arthritis, have some guy in a white coat say they recommend it, and then charge $60 for $5 worth of vitamins.

This is what Jones appears to be doing, but with a conspiracy theme. Take plain-old iodine, and call it “Survival Shield X-2” and market it to a bunch of preppers. Brilliant.

Of course, as Oliver reported, Jones pretends he sells this stuff just to stay on the air, and the message is what’s important. But given all the available evidence, the most parsimonious interpretation, in my opinion, is that selling the supplements and other crap is what matters. The message is just the vehicle for making money as a modern patent medicine salesman.

Jones has also chosen his target audience very strategically. Conspiracy theorists tend to have a loose relationship with reality, all evidence is subjective, and they have obvious buttons to push.

The InfoWars tagline is that, “There is a war on for your mind.” It seems closer to the truth that the only war is for your pocketbook.

 

 

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