Long before he was the preeminent conspiracy theorist of the Trump era, Alex Jones was a lowly public-access TV host in Austin, Texas.
“He was this hyper guy that we’d all kind of make fun of,” celebrated director Richard Linklater tells The Daily Beast, wincing a bit when the InfoWars founder’s name comes up. “But he wasn’t so virulent, he just had all that energy.”
It was 17 years ago when Jones walked into an audition for Waking Life, Linklater’s beautifully animated mediation on dreams. He walked out with a small part as a version of himself. “I just thought he was kind of funny,” Linklater says, laughing uncomfortably.
Jones, who also popped up in Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly five years later, can be seen in Waking Life driving down the street and speaking into a microphone that projects his voice into two large speakers on top of his car. As he rails against the “corporate slave state,” his face goes from pink to blue to bright red.
That terrifying “energy,” as Linklater puts it, is familiar to anyone who has watched his more outrageous rants on, among other things, his belief that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a “false flag” operation, that the U.S. government was poisoning the water to turn the frogs gay, and the easily disproven theory that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were running a child-sex ring under a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant.
“You know, I haven’t talked to him in years,” said Linklater, who spoke to The Daily Beast from the Bay Area, where his new film, Last Flag Flying, had just played at the Mill Valley Film Festival. “I talked to him a bit during the Bush-Cheney years. He always positioned himself as anti. So when you’re anti, he’s your bedfellow.” For instance, when he would say, “Look what the government’s doing!” during the Bush era, Linklater would think, “Yeah, he’s kind of right.”
That sentiment did not extend, however, to Jones’ conspiracy theories about the September 11th attacks. While promoting his 2013 film Before Midnight, Linklater said of Jones, “He’s really smart” and “I like the way he thinks.” But when pressed by HuffPost Live interviewer Jacob Soboroff, he added, “I don’t believe 9/11 was an inside job,” as the film’s star Julie Delpy made a pained face beside him.
Of course, that was before Jones aligned himself with the current president. In December 2015, Trump appeared on Jones’ streaming sideshow, telling the host, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.” In return, Jones pledged his support to the candidate and even served as an informal adviser to the campaign at points.
Linklater says he finds it profoundly strange to see Jones “taken seriously on a national level,” adding, “I would have never thought I’d see the day when the president of the United States knew who he was, much less going on his show. It’s crazy, it’s insane, but it fits our times.”
“I was surprised to see him position himself as a defender of a regime,” Linklater adds of Jones. “He’s a bomb-lobber. He’s a blow-shit-upper from the outside.” Comparing Jones to Steve Bannon, who struggled and ultimately failed to find his foothold as part of the administration, he says, “It’s not where they belong, because they’re not good at that.”
“It’s just weird to see him defending such power and authority, it’s not his usual setting,” Linklater continues, before giving one last piece of insight into Jones’ mind: “He probably secretly wished Hillary would’ve won. Then he’s not the defender, he’s the opposition.”
Stay tuned for our full interview with Richard Linklater about the complex notions of patriotism in his newest film, Last Flag Flying, coming next week.