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In the great ‘meme wars,’ Alex Jones doesn’t care if he makes them or is them

(Image from YouTube)

When Alex Jones really gets going, his tone (loud, angry) is often as important — maybe more important — as the actual words he’s saying. Which is perhaps why a parody video that swapped out Jones’s voice for that of a calm, Bon Iver-styled folk singer was so effective. Remove a lot of what makes Jones Jones, and you’re left with the words “literal vampire potbelly goblins are hobbling round coming after us.”

Alex Jones Rants as an Indie Folk Song

This is what Alex Jones' rants would sound like as a Bon Iver song.

Posted by Super Deluxe on Friday, July 14, 2017

Jones says he couldn’t be happier about the parody, which has more than 7 million views on Facebook alone.

“People say it’s a hit piece. No, it’s not,” Jones said in one of two reaction videos to the parody on his YouTube channel. “This stuff only helps me.” In one of the videos, Jones films himself watching the parody and laughing along with it — to prove he “loves” the video as much as he says he does.

“I am extremely proud that in the meme wars that are going on in this country and worldwide, my show is probably the dominant material being used in all of this,” he added. “And quite frankly, whether it’s people that are supportive or folks that hate me, I don’t care.”

Jones, along with his Infowars empire, has spent years in his own little bunker on the Internet, peddling conspiracy theories to other conspiracy theorists. The 2016 election season changed that in a measurable way: Jones’s audience, which included the now-president of the United States, grew.

What we learned from enduring a week-long news cycle about Alex Jones

Jones joined YouTube in 2008. In January 2015, he had 1 million subscribers and about 13 million monthly viewers, according to Social Blade. Both numbers have since doubled.

Two million YouTube subscribers is pretty good, although the biggest stars on the platform have millions more. But beyond numbers, the pro-Trump Internet of which he is a part has grown in influence, as the symbiotic relationship between them and the media that covers them grows stronger. Their outrage campaigns become news stories; their messaging campaigns defending Trump (or targeting people seen as his enemies) are repeated by those close to the president. Trump himself has said that Jones’s “reputation is amazing,”  and the Trump reelection campaign linked to Infowars in a recent email to supporters.

The Trump Internet, and particularly Jones, are good at taking up space, in other words. And Jones often talks about his expectation that Infowars is on the verge of taking up even more of it. When he speaks about why he “loves” the Bon Iver parody, he speaks as if he’s anticipating a Great Awakening.

“I know it sends people to hear what I’ve actually said, what I’m actually doing. I’ve been through this so long, I know. And the people making it, by the way, they know it’s helping us. They’re huge fans,” he said. “The liberals are now listening and they love it, and we’re actually waking them up, through the celebration of making fun of each other.”

“You go look at the comments — I read hundreds of them on Facebook and on YouTube of the 8, 9 million views, and it’s ‘I used to hate Alex, I love him now.’ And ‘I wouldn’t listen to his show, and it actually makes a lot of sense.’ ”

Jones then delivers a pastiche of conversations he said he’s had with people at companies like Super Deluxe (the creators of the new parody), where Jones claims he’s been told, “We’re totally controlled, we hate it.”

For his audience, it doesn’t matter whether these anonymous conversations actually happened or not. (Jones only speaks in generalities; the people he quotes somehow speak a lot like Jones himself.) What matters is the invitation to get excited about Jones’s rising profile, the suggestion that his audience is bigger than anyone thinks.

Anyway, this is the part of the story where PewDiePie and his 50 million YouTube followers come in. On Tuesday, Jones tweeted this:

I’m going to make an educated guess, based on the brief Twitter evidence available and Jones’s own previous statements, about what’s going on here.

PewDiePie’s Twitter account tweeted a notification that the star had “liked” Super Deluxe’s parody of Alex Jones on YouTube. Someone with Infowars saw this. Because Jones believes this parody is helping him reach more people with his message, attention from PewDiePie is good. What would be even better? More attention. Here’s someone from Infowars, explaining more behind their thinking in reaching out:

And then PewDiePie followed Alex Jones.

I don’t think Jones would have pursued any random-but-popular YouTuber as aggressively, just for liking a parody video about him. But PewDiePie is a bit different.

PewDiePie has been of huge interest to the Trump Internet ever since February, when a Wall Street Journal report about Nazi themes in some of PewDiePie’s videos resulted in the YouTuber losing advertising deals, a show on the subscription-based YouTube Red and a partnership with Maker Studios. While PewDiePie did apologize for the jokes, he was incensed about the coverage that started the controversy in the first place. He said the Wall Street Journal took him out of context to attack him and “decrease my influence” — an interpretation that wasn’t uncommon across the platform.

The Trump Internet followed all this and thought that PewDiePie sounded a lot like them when he talked about the media. When the YouTuber started liking the tweets from Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson, Watson suggested that PewDiePie had been “redpilled” — a term used in a couple of different contexts on the conspiracy-minded Internet to suggest that someone has “woken up” to the “truth.”

PewDiePie’s work is buried in layers of irony, and I’m not going to speak to what is or isn’t going on in his head. But for the Trump Internet, the intent is clear: Getting a YouTuber with 50 million followers to have Alex Jones on his channel would be another sign that the awakening they’re anticipating is already here.

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