The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

YouTube banned Alex Jones. Logan Paul, one of the platform’s biggest stars, invited him back.

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones speaks outside of the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in September. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Logan Paul didn’t waste much time getting to the special guest on his podcast Wednesday evening. “He is the most banned person in the 21st century,” Paul said. Out came Alex Jones.

It was a moment of irony for YouTube and a victory for Jones. Kicked off YouTube months ago after spreading conspiracy theories about the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the Infowars founder now was about to speak to the audience of one of the platform’s biggest stars. Paul, whose new podcast, “Impaulsive,” already has 1.4 million subscribers on YouTube, posts a video of each podcast recording to the channel.

“Very good vibe here,” Jones said, complimenting his host. “Very nice."

The idea of the two men finding common cause was, on the surface, shocking when you consider their backgrounds: Paul is an Internet star with 18 million subscribers on his main channel, whose slapstick-style vlogs are popular with preteens. Jones is a conspiracy theorist who is being sued for falsely claiming that the Sandy Hook mass shooting was, for instance, “completely fake with actors.”

Alex Jones is being sued for his false Sandy Hook hoax claims. He blames ‘psychosis.’

But spend enough time in YouTube culture, and the pairing feels inevitable. On YouTube, conspiracies don’t live on the fringes; they’re fodder for some of YouTube’s biggest personalities. Paul himself made a documentary about Flat Earth believers in which he reveals he is not a Flat-Earther, a possibility he teased when hyping the documentary before its release. He and Jones do have things in common: Both are contentious online figures who have built businesses with an uncanny ability to attract attention above all other concerns. Both constantly plug their merchandise to loyal fans. (In Paul’s case, it’s hoodies with his logo. For Jones, it’s nutritional supplements.)

Jones and Paul have also rallied their audience around a common cause: that they, and their fans, have been wronged by a mainstream establishment, which doesn’t understand them. That is a connection that Jones drew almost immediately.

“I just know that you guys are super popular, been hearing about you for years, I’ve been seeing how they try to restrict your free speech for years, which is a bunch of bull,” he said, toward the beginning of the podcast.

Paul faced some restrictions on the advertising dollars he could earn from YouTube after he vlogged a dead body in a Japanese “suicide forest.” Jones, of course, had lost his YouTube channel, his Twitter account and his Facebook page (along with many other mainstream social media accounts), all for violating those platforms’ policies on hate speech and abuse.

“You’ve been de-platformed, you’ve been silenced, you’ve been ridiculed,” Paul said. He could have been speaking about himself. “What is it like being Alex Jones?”

“It’s awesome,” Jones said.

“The Internet has really woken up in the last nine months since I got de-platformed."

As researchers such as Rebecca Lewis have demonstrated, the extreme “fringes” of YouTube have long known that YouTube isn’t just a video platform. It’s a social network. If you can get your content amplified by a bigger creator — or one with an audience you covet, or someone more mainstream — it helps you grow, too. Jones might not have a YouTube channel anymore, but Paul’s audience now knows exactly where to find him.

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Jones has sought boosts from mainstream YouTubers with huge audiences before. He has courted PewDiePie, an incredibly popular YouTuber who also has outspoken grievances with how YouTube treats him and how the media covers him. He’s been a guest of Joe Rogan, a comedian whose widely watched podcast has been a regular platform for the broad array of figures whom the New York Times once called the “Intellectual Dark Web.”

Now here he was on Paul’s podcast. The host clearly had prepared some thoughtful questions. But thoughtful questions don’t necessarily matter with Jones, who doesn’t so much answer questions as run them over with a steamroller while shouting from the driver’s seat.

At one point Paul asked Jones about how “the thoughts that you implant in people’s minds . . . can grow to become something dangerous.” Paul’s question inspired Jones to embark on a wide-ranging discussion of Judas Priest, cancer in children, the Sandy Hook shooting and Megyn Kelly’s 2017 interview with Jones.

One of Paul’s co-hosts, Mike Majlak, who is from the area of Connecticut where the shooting happened, asked Jones whether he felt any responsibility because of the size of his platform.

“I made mistakes,” Jones said, “but what I’m saying is that they weren’t conscious.” He started talking in detail about his amazing YouTube numbers back in the day. Paul then asked Jones to answer the original question about responsibility, and Jones turned again to the common ground with his host. Sandy Hook, Jones argued, was his version of Paul’s suicide-forest controversy: a topic the media and the haters just won’t let go, no matter how much he apologizes.

Within a half an hour, Jones essentially had turned the interview into an Infowars broadcast. He talked about whatever he wanted: sexually explicit rants about Hillary Clinton and CNN’s Brian Stelter, gay frogs, the mainstream media, weapons of mass destruction. When Paul’s team questioned him, Jones told them what terms to search for on Google to prove his point. The results would pop up on a big screen behind them.

from 2017: In the great ‘meme wars,’ Alex Jones doesn’t care if he makes them or is them

It’s how Jones has run his own shows for years, speaking in a stream-of-consciousness style with piles of printed-out news articles on his desk and behind him on a screen. Don’t trust me, Jones will say, look it up.

“It’s weird sitting here with you . . . and see you make some really solid points,” Majlak said at about the hour mark, less than halfway through the podcast’s running time. A few minutes later, Majlak asked Jones about Pizzagate, a conspiracy theory involving politically connected pedophiles running a child sex-trafficking ring out of a pizza shop. (The theory once led a believer to fire an assault rifle in a Washington pizza restaurant.)

“If we order [pizza] from New York City,” Majlak asked, “what are we funding?”

Jones then spoke, largely uninterrupted, about Pizzagate. It was as if the podcast team was tired from the endurance race that is an Alex Jones interview. The interruptions, the fact-checking, the challenges from the segment with Jones on Sandy Hook were nowhere to be found.

Jones insisted on buying Paul’s whole crew a pizza. He had been drinking a glass of what he said was vodka. He was having a good time.

Toward the end of the podcast, Paul grabbed the microphone off the table and tried to challenge Jones about an idea that’s pretty central to discussions about online rhetoric: how the words someone chooses to use can harm others.

“You still say things that like in L.A. … quite honestly you can’t say,” Paul said. “I’ve heard you say ‘tranny.’ I’ve heard you say ‘retarded.'”

There’s a lot of crosstalk and repetition in the following minutes, but the conversation went roughly this way:

“So who are these tyrants in America,” who are deciding what he can and can’t say, Jones asked.

“Twitter police. Cancel culture,” Majlak replied.

Paul tried again: “Is it because you’ve been de-platformed that you just don’t care … [that] sometimes the words you choose can be offensive to people?”

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Jones got loud again, so Paul tried once more. “You’re not hearing what I’m saying,” he said, “I’m saying some of the words you choose inherently have such a negative connotation that they offend a large group of people.”

“Who is this group who tells me what word you can use?” Jones said.

Majlak jumped back in. He was feeling what Jones was saying about censorship: “Someone’s driving it. I don’t know if it’s they or them or the government.”

“Some of this,” Majlak said, using a couple expletives, “I agree with you on.”

Paul replied, “But that’s because you’re not an oppressed group!”

Two hours and eight minutes into the interview, Jones poured himself another glass of vodka and briefly walked off the set. As he barreled back to the desk, he said, “I can leave in 10 minutes or I can leave in five hours.” But his job was already done.

“Whatever you do,” Jones joked into the microphone, “don’t go to Infowars dot com.”

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