Me and Mr. Jones
The pioneering director Alex Lee Moyer trains her gaze on the front lines of the info wars.
When they began beating down the doors of the Capitol building on January 6, 2021, Alex Lee Moyer didn’t expect to have been caught up in what looked like a revolution. But this was one of the hazards of the job. The filmmaker was there to document far-right rabble-rouser Alex Jones, whose rise to prominence as a voice of conservatism through a Trumpian lens made him a necessary component to that day’s events. As Congress met to count the state-certified votes of the 2020 election, Trump, his inner circle, and about 30,000 supporters convened for a Save America Rally. Jones spoke in addition to the former Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, and Roger Stone before the national-historic chaos ensued.
In the days and weeks after the Capitol riot, Moyer came under heavy criticism for being present at the storming of the US Capitol Building while Congress was in session. But it was just another day in what was an extraordinary project.
And it was a moment she could never have envisaged less than a decade ago.
Documenting America’s fringe
Moyer had already made her name in the American fringes through her incel-culture documentary TFW No GF, and Jones was an order of magnitude more popular than those she profiled for her prior movie.
“Alex is used to adversarial entities coming into his space, ” Moyer says. “He likes publicity. He does not shy away from publicity. He really still believes that all publicity is good publicity.” Nonetheless, Moyer faced a challenge to break into his inner circle.
Jones’s initial interactions with Moyer were superficial. He only allowed Moyer into his studio while he was filming his Infowars show. “He wasn’t giving me anything that he wasn’t already broadcasting himself,” she says. “The reason that he let me in the studio to begin with is because there were people in the conservative communities, and in some cases, some of the right-wing communities who had taken a shine to TFW No GF because of the subject matter.” The fact that Moyer had taken a neutral role – one critics say was an uncritical, gullible one – in the movie helped matters.
Still, Jones wasn’t going to give Moyer full, unfettered access from the off. “It started off with training wheels,” she admits. “I didn’t get to spend much time with Alex until the very end of the film, outside of the main stage in the studio there at Infowars.” She equates it to chasing a yeti: she was running after him with a camcorder, trying to muscle in as close to him and his security detail as she could to ensure she didn’t get lost in the baying and adoring crowds surrounding him wherever he went. Often, she’d miss the shots.
But eventually, she won Jones over. In part, it was persistence, and simply sticking around long enough. It was also showing dedication: she moved to Austin, Texas, to make the documentary and be closer to its protagonist. “It’s not like everybody welcomed me with open arms when I started making the movie, but over time, I established trust with those people,” she says.
One way of doing that was showing that she wasn’t a traditional Hollywood movie maker.
The route to Moyer becoming a self-taught video editor in Los Angeles wasn’t smooth. “I was looking for a way to find direction in my life, and I wanted to go to film school,” she says. “But that didn’t seem realistic for me.” Instead, she took an Apple weekend course on Final Cut Pro, editing music videos for local bands in Portland, Oregon. “For the next eight years, I pretty much cobbled together an existence that was partly DJing in clubs,” she says. She moved to New York City, where she would bartend and DJ at night while working as a studio manager at advertising companies during the day.
She gambled on the move to Los Angeles, where she began editing music videos – and came across Ariel Pink, the indie musician dropped by his label in 2021 for his supportive attendance at a pro-Trump rally and his comments about the Covid-19 vaccine. Perhaps Pink’s most famous quip is “I’m so gay for Trump, I would let him fuck me in the butt.” The two struck up a friendship, and Moyer realized quickly that she had the skills to produce more than just music videos.
But really, it was a Craigslist ad that changed her life. Scrolling through the site, she came across an advert from director Adam Bhala Lough seeking an editor for a new documentary he was working on. That movie would end up becoming The New Radical, a 2017 documentary about Cody Wilson, a major innovator of 3D-printed guns.
The New Radical captured a pivotal moment in America when things were quickening pace. It was a time when Bitcoin was moving out of the fringes into the mainstream; a time when whistleblowers, from Julian Assange to Edward Snowden and Chel- sea Manning, dominated media coverage. The New Radical emphasized these shifts not as marginal phenomena but rather as small ripples that ended up becoming major waves for the US. And it also captured the rise of Donald Trump. The New Radical’s premiere at the Sundance Festival in 2017 took place on the same weekend as Trump’s inauguration. Moyer remembers the Sundance audience being “full of rageful liberals.” She considered herself at that point in time a Democrat, too – but that was to change.
“Working on those themes related to the internet, and the intermingling of the internet and politics on that film, opened my eyes to the fact that I was much more interested in what was going on in the world in a way that I hadn’t been before,” she says. She decided to strike out on her own, making her movie, TFW No GF, in 2020, which looked at the world of young, disaffected white men – more commonly known now as “incel” culture. Moyer had entered this world through frog Twitter and irony Twitter, financing the movie with paychecks from cutting together music videos. She thought the movie was a Catcher in the Rye for the 21st century; naysayers believed it was a movie that gave a platform to evil, misogynist behavior. “It’s got a sort of dubious reputation,” Moyer admits, “but it’s a cult classic nonetheless.”
As part of the promotion of the movie, in interviews Moyer described herself as “redpilled.” She has come to partly regret saying that – in large part because of the reaction it caused. “As soon as I said that, I was summarily quarantined off into a ghetto of self-funded filmmaking for however many years it will take until Trump derangement subsides,” she says. But she still stands by the claim, saying that her work on The New Radical and TFW No GF had opened her eyes to something she hadn’t seen before. “I was reaching for the best words I could to describe the process of going from somebody who didn’t at all pay attention to anything that was going on, or think about any of the mechanisms of power underlying the underpinnings of our civilization,” she says. “It awakened me to serious issues in humanity that impact all of us – especially issues that have to do with the internet.”
Those issues, says Moyer, can be distilled down to a simple premise. “I saw a lot of people lose their minds,” she says. Moyer points to the villainization of Julian Assange, the Brexit vote in the UK to leave the European Union, and the election of Trump as US president. “Nobody understood how this could possibly happen,” she says. “It just seemed so alien to people in the progressive movement in the West how such a thing could happen. It was just a stunning series of events to behold, and I just was thinking about it a lot more critically than a lot of my quote-unquote ‘normie friends.’ Watching that unfold definitely set me on a more critical, more thoughtful, more intellectual path in my life than I had been on before.”
That path eventually led to Alex Jones. A far-right conspiracy theorist who has operated well outside the mainstream’s periphery in his Infowars studio for more than two decades now, controversy was practically his shadow. He was a logical subject for a documentarian looking into the internet-inspired alt-right, on whose hierarchy Jones has the topmost position
The resulting film, Alex’s War, is what she de- scribes as “the culmination of all this.” When asked what draws her to these characters, Moyer says she’s noticed a trend.
We all do, because we’re so many years into the culture wars, where you have people who dominate the establishment media and Hollywood; they like the sensationalism of some of these blossoming issues that are things we didn’t have to think about not very long ago. And I don’t believe some of these conflicts are being accurately depicted in the narratives and stories we’re telling each other – especially in liberal circles. I’m a former member of these circles, and I can see what’s actually going on here. There are deep sociological, and societal factors. Not everything can be broken down to calling somebody a sexist or making everything about identity politics, that some people are nice and some people are mean. I thought, ‘Well, God, somebody’s got to try to make an accurate documentation of these major thematic issues that are embattling our mass psyche right now.’
Moyer says, like everyone else, she’s overwhelmed by the way the world is changing. Just her approach when something keeps coming up again and again in conversation, in part to calm her own anxiety, is to confront things head-on. “Most people, they’re not interested in the true nature of the fact,” she says. “They’re not interested in the true nature of 4chan trolls, and not interested in the true nature of Alex Jones.”
“He thinks he’s on a quest to combat the New World Order,” says Moyer. “I mean, he says it every single day. He says it constantly. He says it 100 times in the movie. He’s fighting the globalists.
Fighting the info war
The movie has been criticized for not challenging Jones’s stance on the world credibly enough, and for painting a veneer over his more eccentric moments. Alex’s War, its critics say, should have had some of the more madcap moments and outbursts that Jones is known for simply because of the amount of time Moyer spent with the protagonist. Not doing so does a disservice to the truth, the movie’s critics claim, because it normalizes Jones’s behavior and beliefs.
Yet Moyer has spent more time with Jones than most people ever will – and more time than at least fifty percent of the population would ever want to. As a result, she learned what motivates him.
“He thinks he’s on a quest to combat the New World Order,” says Moyer. “I mean, he says it every single day. He says it constantly. He says it 100 times in the movie. He’s fighting the globalists.
He thinks that there’s a small group of people that are acting in concert, in the direction of transhumanism. He thinks that everything they do as an American is going to be wiped out by the efforts of this global cabal, known as the New World Order.”
Moyer’s quick to add that what Jones says is what he really thinks. She believes he could have done anything with his life, and it’s not all schtick. “It’s easy to see from the amount of options Alex Jones had as a young man that he could probably have gone into anything he wanted to do,” she says. “He was intelligent, he was good looking. He came from a good family background, squarely middle class. He could have gone into broadcasting and become the next Dan Rather.”
But instead, he took a turn rightward into the world of conspiracies – long before they entered the mainstream. Moyer says that Jones chose the hard path. “And not only did he choose a hard path, but he’s stayed on the path. It’s made him one of the most hated people in the West. And so when people are like: ‘He’s just making it up to make money,’ this is a prime example of people who are not looking clearly at reality,” she laughs. “They ascribe qualities to other people that almost don’t even exist.
“There’s no amount of money that’s worth the shitshow that Alex’s life has evolved into,” says Moyer. “Anyone who thinks he’s a performance artist is just trying to think of more reasons not to like him.”
At this point, Moyer steps back and temporarily pauses the interview, saying she can’t spend any more time psychoanalyzing Alex Jones. “I’m so sick of it,” she says. “Like, I’ve made a whole movie, so people can get an idea of it. If they want to know what he’s like, they can go watch the movie; they can choose to watch Infowars: he’s on the air about four hours, six hours a day.”
Moyer says she can’t and won’t speak for Jones. “Who I am and what I want from my life and who he is and what he wants from his life are not the same,” she says. “I can only speculate about what his motives are. I can just tell you the man is doing what he’s doing because he believes in what he’s doing.”
Given the amount of time Moyer has spent with Jones, how has that affected her own understanding of him? “Any time you get to know somebody, your perception of them changes,” she says. “It’s almost impossible to spend any amount of time thinking about and working with somebody, as I did with Alex and not develop, out of necessity, a rapport with that person.” Otherwise, she points out, your movie is not going to be any good. “There’s a certain element of going native, which I think is really key to good documentary making,” she says. While normalizing and rationalizing the behavior of someone like Alex Jones may freak people out, Moyer says it’s common for left-wing journalists to go and interview people she says are “much worse” than Jones. “Warlords, terrorists, serial killers, rapists.”
“So, you know, I got to know Alex,” she continues. “And the more I got to know Alex, the less intimidating he was. We’re always intimidated by sort of larger-than-life figures in the beginning. You know, he’s a big guy with a big gruff voice and a dubious reputation. And, you know, now, he’s just sort of like my weird uncle. I know that I’m not really allowed to say that, but that’s the best that I can describe our dynamic at this point.”
Moyer says Jones is invested in the movie’s success, regularly contacting her to see what the reception has been like. “He wants people to like the movie,” she says. “But you know, he’s got 100 plates in the air, and this is just one more thing for him.”
That odd dynamic relationship between Moyer and Jones is something that she worked hard to achieve – as she did with those she interviewed for TFW No GF. As people prominent in a section of society that has a longstanding, obvious distrust
of the traditional media, finding a way to win over interviewees to let a filmmaker into their lives was challenging. TFW No GF’s connections were brokered through friends, and helped by Moyer’s comparatively low profile at the time, and the fact that the movie started as an art project. “I didn’t have to explain away anything about myself at that point because the stakes were so incredibly low,” she admits. “I mean, I didn’t even have a camera crew for half of that movie. It was just me. So, there was not a lot of baggage.”
When it came to Alex’s War, things were different. Moyer’s key breakthrough – the moment she got Jones to trust her – came on January 6, 2021. She had traveled to the Capitol to cover Jones’s role in the protest. Moyer traveled to Washington, DC not realizing the place in history that the event was going to inhabit. She caught flak from the media, who noted her presence, and equated it with her support for the cause. Jezebel wrote: “These artists always reveal themselves: desperate for relevancy, clawing their way out of the pit they crawled into for a few unadulterated moments of attention.”
“Of course, I was there filming,” Moyer explains. “But I couldn’t talk about what I was doing because I was under NDA, and I didn’t want to spoil it. I just sort of let the articles come and go, but you know, Alex reads the news. And he scans everything, every day. And he saw that I had taken a little bit of shit. And also that I was discreet.”
Jones’s trust in Moyer paid off: Variety said in its review that “To call the film uncritical would be an understatement. It presents, without commentary, a documentary record of Jones’ career, from his earliest days on public-access TV to his rise as a talk-radio maven to his status as a rabble-rouser of insurrection, a man who was instrumental in stoking the rage that fueled the chaos and destruction of January 6.” Variety’s reviewer admits that “Moyer got incredible access to Jones, but you could argue that to do so she allowed her movie to fall down in its role.”
For Moyer, that reaction is expected. “I think that the reception has been whatever a person would anticipate,” she says. “If you had to ask somebody out of the blue, what they thought the reception was going to be for this movie, it’s pretty much been that: totally mixed.”
Yet love it or hate it, the filmmaker believes people are watching it. “People who are proponents of free speech value this film very much,” Moyer claims – adding, “that includes many people on the left.
“As for people in the mainstream, and normal– sort of lefty – kind of people who live in urban centers or whatever, I think that they are watching this movie, they’re not telling their friends about it. They’re hiding in the dark with their laptop under the covers at night, and never mentioning it to anyone because it’s that level of radioactive to them.”
Moyer says she values the reception she’s gotten for Alex’s War from the cinephile and art house communities. As for the criticism from mainstream voices that she didn’t balance out Jones’s polemical views in the movie, she says she doesn’t value that criticism. “There’s not any universe where that group of people would be happy,” she says. “I’m an artist. I want to make real cinema verité. I’m not here to appease a bunch of people who I don’t identify with, and who themselves are not creating any compelling work at all.”
The obvious follow-up question to that is if Moyer doesn’t identify with those people who criticize her decisions in framing Jones in the movie, who does she identify with? “It’s not about identifying with people,” she says. “It’s about identifying with the things that I like, and that makes my life a happier experience.” Moyer says she doesn’t feel the need to align herself with “whatever political scramble tribalism that’s happening right now.”
“That’s what people think I’m trying to do,” she adds. “But really, I’m just rowing my own canoe. I have no desire at all to be a part of anybody’s little group or movement, and if people are picking up what I’m laying down and like my films, great, that’s awesome. And if they don’t like it? Fuck ‘em.”
Political performance artists
Moyer has a clear vision of what Alex’s War and TFW No GF contribute to the broader cultural conversation. “I know that my work, once all this hubbub and panic has subsided or moved onto whatever the next hubbub or panic is, people will look back and appreciate this film and get a better sense of what was going on right now for it having existed,” she says. “If I get a little bit of blowback in the meantime, that’s fine. I have people who support my work, help me make ends meet, and that’s all I really need.”
That claim to marking a historic record through her movies is a significant one, and begs the question: will we see it as historic good, or historic bad, when looking back with the benefit of hindsight? And are there any risks in amplifying the voices involved in this – and ending up at an attempted overthrow of the peaceful transition of government?
Here Moyer comes out fighting. “No: it just is – and what the hell am I going to do? I’m some woman making a documentary. If people watch it, they’re going to glean a little bit from it, go out to dinner and forget about it,” she says. “They’re going to go to a party and say: ‘Yeah, I saw that movie. It was okay.’”
She acknowledges that the movie could incrementally impact their psyche – maybe. But she says that the idea that she has done badly by platforming Alex Jones is “the most anti-intellectual stance in the world. It’s only just used as propaganda for people to tell you that certain people are allowed to talk about things, and certain people are not allowed to talk about things,” she says. She points out that her potential audience is infinitesimally smaller than Jones’s, and that he has an enormous platform himself. Anyone who overlooks that, she believes, is hiding their head in the sand about the scale of his reach. “Hide your head in the sand and see how that goes for you,” she says. “How’s it been going so far?”
The open marketplace in creativity and culture will inevitably mean that some of those people finance projects that present alternative viewpoints to those previously shown by Hollywood, Moyer reckons.
As for where she sees things going, she says there’s a tussle going on between Hollywood and the alternative media. “It’s not just people in Hollywood that have money now,” she points out. “You’ve got a lot of people in the tech sector that have a shitload of money. And they don’t have the same value systems that people in Hollywood [have], and they’re not all just trying to cover their asses all the time.”
The open marketplace in creativity and culture will inevitably mean that some of those people finance projects that present alternative viewpoints to those previously shown by Hollywood, Moyer reckons. “I think these people should realize the wokeness thing and the prohibitive attitude has peaked,” she says. “I do think that people are starting to realize that not everybody who wants to do something different is, like, a Trump racist agitator. I think that there’s just a lot of normal people out there who want to see different kinds of content. And that’s what’s going to drive the market.”
Bluntly, she adds that “there are only so many Marvel movies you can make.”
Moyer’s cinematic trajectory has understandably invited the scrutiny of the mainstream. It’s caused Moyer to acknowledge the journey on which her work has taken her from her original starting point, and the effect it’s had on the course of her beliefs. But she doesn’t know what her life would have been like had she not answered that Craigslist ad back in the mid-2010s.
“I’ve never really thought about it,” she admits. “It would probably be a little bit easier, it would probably be a little bit more stable. I probably would have just kept on just doing editing jobs until I got a regular position at some media conglomerate, I mean, I probably would have just tried to create stability for myself.”
But even charting that course is challenging for her, because the world is so different to what it was back then – something we’re all living through and realizing. “I can’t even envision what an alternate timeline would look like,” she says. “I can hope for myself that I would be living a little less stressful life; a more stable, less stressful, less anxiety-filled path,”
That anxiety comes from the people she’s chosen to document – and the idea that by doing so, she shares their beliefs. “I just find myself having to defend and describe my motivations constantly like I’m doing right now,” she says. She admits that’s part of the program. “You make a movie, you do the kind of work I do, and then you have to show up,” she says. “You can’t be a little baby, and go, ‘Oh, I made it, but I’m not going to talk about it, I’m gonna go and hide.’”
Yet that’s what she wants to do. The person who documented Alex Jones – and humanized him to an audience that thinks he’s the Devil incarnate – gets sick of psychoanalyzing him. She gets sick of talking about him, and his movement. She gets sick of justifying why she was there on January 6.
“You know, sometimes, I think maybe I should just go make a movie about, you know, dogs or horses or something,” she says. “You know, just make it and forget about it.”
Chris Stokel-Walker is a British journalist whose work regularly appears in Wired, The Economist, and Newsweek.
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