Alex’s War is both more and less interesting than knee-jerk reactions would have it, but director Moyer undoubtedly understands that a fascinating subject is the best cheat to make a successful documentary.
Usually, documentaries on right-wing figures come in the form of campy, hagiographic schlock like Dinesh D’Souza’s Hillary’s America (2016). Alternatively, they can appear in the liberal, shame-on-you takedown theatrics of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9 (2016) or the much better Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004). Both styles are indebted to the original boo-hiss films Americans watched during World War II (Hitler — Beast of Berlin, Hitler’s Children, et al.), as all of these films contain plotlines of political Svengalis hypnotizing the innocent into their camp with certain medium shots held long enough to cue the classic audience participation of yelling at the screen. Alex’s War, a new documentary about conspiracist extraordinaire Alex Jones, deliberately avoids both realms, opting for half-archival storytelling and half-verité documentation. Like the conspiracist refrain, filmmaker Alex Lee Moyer is “just asking questions” with Alex’s War, and the film is both better and worse for it.
The documentary shifts between two narratives, the first tracking Alex Jones’ involvement with the Stop the Steal movement (alleging that the Deep State of the U.S. government had stolen the election from Donald Trump), and the second contextualizing Jones’ life and work. This means a lot of those verité-style interviews and footage for the former, and the aforementioned archival footage for the latter. There’s no fancy nonfiction filmmaking here: shots are chosen for relevancy or, in the case of protest footage, sheer practicality. But Alex Jones’ presence dominates, and the feeling that the documentary might be slipping into a simple YouTube montage dissipates when Jones’ carny dork character shows up, such as when he pisses on the (now-exploded) Georgia Guidestones, followed by a direct-to-camera declaration: “I just peed on Ted Turner.” Jones is both geek and barker, Elvis and the Colonel. Moyer’s documentary rides on these moments of bravura; otherwise, this would come out resembling yet another streaming doc on political radicals and protests that get labeled as “important” and are then immediately shelved. But a fascinating subject is the best cheat to make a successful documentary, and Moyer has cheated wonderfully.
After all, there is no better representative of our new media landscape than Alex Jones, a gorilla of a man filled with American blood and Texan spirit. I have never seen someone so literally barrel-chested, nor have I heard that accent — which takes the rumbling gravel of a Sam Elliott and raises its pitch and fervor to that of a wounded dog — anywhere else before. He’s a child’s idea of a man and a foreigner’s idea of an American, and your opinion of him will likely depend on whether you see that as an insult or a compliment. He’s the loudest person you’re not supposed to hear, which is the best kind of subject to have.
That said, Jones is the main character, not the only one. The doc first focuses on Jones’ InfoWars team, mostly Owen Shroyer and Rob Dew, as they attend Stop the Steal protests in 2020. Shroyer is the Texas libertarian equipped with cowboy hat and American flag apparel who complains about heavy police presence before thanking a few officers. Dew is outfitted closer to the aesthetic of the crowd with his CNN parody shirt (most of those in the crowd are decked in both a shirt and hat with political messaging, some even carrying signs with paragraphs’ worth of information as they meander like a mobile Barbara Kruger piece), and appears less characteristically angry. It’s from Dew that we learn that he and Shroyer have no fixed position at InfoWars and that Jones runs his successful empire on an improvisatory basis. Other far-right figures appear alongside Jones: Ali Alexander speaks at the Georgia Capitol in a Kanye “JESUS IS KING” hoodie; Michael Flynn speaks at a rally on January 5; and MyPillow’s Michael Lindell appears for about two seconds for what I can only guess is comedic effect. By far the most fascinating supporting player is Jones’ oldest partner, Mike Hanson, the man who sneaked into and recorded the ritual play “Cremation of Care” in Bohemian Grove with Jones. Hanson acknowledges Jones’ penchant for showmanship while also confirming that both he and Jones were certain they were to be assassinated shortly after releasing their documentary Dark Secrets Inside Bohemian Grove. This all comes after a three-minute-long explanation of how he’s related to Davy Crockett, so Hanson strikes me as your regular kooky Texan.
The hits continue: Moyer covers a young Jones giving a Gary Cooper silent stare on his first public access appearance, his building a church on the site of the Waco siege, his early move to the Internet, his 9/11 prognostication, that clip from Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, his Sandy Hook coverage, the filmed deposition from the Sandy Hook lawsuit, the “Hillary for Prison” speeches of 2016, and, of course, January 6, 2021. If you know Jones, you know these moments, but seeing them sequentially does allow you to see something akin to character growth. The Gary Cooper Jones speaks with a heavy Texan accent and could’ve easily just stumbled off the set of Dazed and Confused. The Jones of 9/11 is a merry prankster whose stunning “inside job” predictions are marred from the joy on his face as he gets to ham up these claims on C-SPAN. And by 2016, now bearded and bigger, he leans into “Alex Jones,” a character known and beloved as a meme. The “Alex Jones as an Indie Folk Song” music even plays as Jones laments the liberals’ inability to take him seriously until they take him too seriously. But again, with Moyer’s documentary, there’s no editorializing, so draw whatever lessons from this progression you’d like.
Here are the lessons I drew. First, Texas plays a big part in the creation of Alex Jones. Early in the documentary, Jones focuses on his childhood in Texas as he experiences the whiplash of moving from a “violent” Dallas to a “peaceful, liberal” Austin in the ’90s. Both places were formative, as the war-of-all-against-all cowboy mentality of Dallas sequestered Jones to his books (he mentions reading entire encyclopedias of the occult and the wild west, a choice that makes too much sense to be real), and the openness of Austin allowed his ideas to run free, at worst as mere eccentricity. There are a lot of Texas pioneer mythos and weird Americana that serves as the undercurrent for Jones’ career and worldview, and only Austin, or rather, that idea of Austin, the Austin of Richard Linklater’s Slacker, could tolerate what Jones would make of it. I bet he’s still afraid of some places in Dallas where people don’t take too kindly to that shit. Next, there’s a real sadness in Jones recounting his character shift from Internet loony to the most dangerous man in the world. My friend, an Austin native, assures me that Jones has forever seen himself as playing a character and even used to brag about it, but I bet he does legitimately believe in elements of a New World Order, a 9/11 inside job, and the plots to control populations through supposedly benign means. Most Americans do, so why not Jones? But it’s impossible to maintain the ironic distance of playing a character and simultaneously control how people respond. “I went from five feet tall to a thousand feet tall,” he tells the camera. Though I’m sure the hulking Alex Jones doesn’t like feeling five feet tall, he does miss being a showman with an audience willing to meme-ify and enjoy his act. Now, he’ll have to spend the rest of his life downplaying and correcting his role in conservative culture, as he does at the end of the doc when he tries his best to lead others away from the Capitol building on January 6, only to be blamed for the insurrection anyway. There are only so many times you can call yourself the most wanted man in the world before it becomes true.
Alex’s War’s archival approach is ultimately nothing special (unless you’re completely unfamiliar with Jones) and the verité shots play like a concert film for both audiences: the right gets their culture legionary, liberals get their dangerous clown (their Joker, even). This can lead to a pretty fruitless discussion in documentary studies — at least in the space of a timely review — as to whether or not that’s “the point” of such a film, whether Moyer takes a side by not editorializing, and countless other unresolved questions about objectivity in media. Moyer previously found herself in this position with her documentary on incels, TFW NO GF, and Alex’s War will similarly not proffer itself as a decoder ring for these questions. But since the doc’s trailers have steadily been removed from social media (as most Jones content regularly is), a predictable culture war cycle surrounding it has spun once again. The film is both more and less interesting than this built-in reaction, and you should be just as hesitant to view this film as you would an illegal circus sideshow. The monstrous is just behind the curtain, but the perverse is within you.