Just three days after Elon Musk reinstated Alex Jones on X, his reboot of Twitter, the bigot and conspiracy propagandist has gained over 800,000 followers.
Twitter suspended Jones’s account on Sept. 6, 2018, and archives show Jones with roughly 900,000 followers at that time. Jones initially signed up for Twitter in 2010. It took Jones eight years to reach 900,000 – and in span of days, he nearly doubled it to 1.7 million.
Musk has claimed that under his leadership, X is prioritizing the removal of “bots,” software that impersonates human followers on social media platforms, but critics dispute whether anything has substantially changed since he rebranded Twitter. An August story from Mashable found that accounts with zero followers swarmed to Musk, composing over 70% of his follower count. It is unclear how many of Jones’s new followers are active, individual human users of X. Still, the increase of visibility buoys the career of one of America’s most notorious radical-right propagandists when he needs the help.
Five years and three months have passed since Twitter suspended Jones, a time in which he has faced a financially crippling judgment for spreading lies about the families of children murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, worth over $1 billion in damages. Jones has also encountered personal hardship and deepened his ties to the radical right, playing a critical role in hyping disinformation during the run-up to the pro-Trump attack on the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.
Before Jones lost access to such platforms as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, his visibility on mainstream websites played a critical role in keeping business afloat. With Musk’s decision to reinstate the extremist, he will no longer be relegated to his website and platforms like white nationalist Cozy.TV. He joins a number of the right-wing extremists Musk has allowed back into mainstream visibility, including anti-Muslim bigot Laura Loomer.
Joan Donovan studies disinformation and co-authored the book Meme Wars, which focuses on how once-fringe content like Jones’s made its way into mainstream culture. She told Hatewatch that his return to the mainstream expands the reach of potentially dangerous content.
“[Jones’s return] exponentially expands the reach of hate, harassment and incitement. But it doesn’t take a sociologist to connect the dots between Musk-Tucker Carlson-Alex Jones Redux. In so many ways, these men all need each other to represent a full-spectrum information war, where the public are all tuned into Channel Z, led by this alternative influence network,” Donovan said.
Breaking ‘The Matrix’ for the radical right
Musk and former Fox News personality Tucker Carlson have emerged as two of the most influential figures in the Biden era when it comes to mainstreaming radical-right content, as evidenced by their role in giving Jones new life.
Carlson, who on the same day announced the creation of an independent streaming network bearing his name, hosted Jones on Musk’s X for a 90-minute interview on Dec. 7. There, he presented a softer image of the extremist than is commonly seen on the news and allowed him to spread unverified claims about Joe Biden and other figures.
During the interview, Jones spread his usual brand of conspiracy propaganda, this time tinged with anti-trans bigotry, with Carlson nodding along.
Shortly after Carlson published the clip, Musk ran a poll on X asking whether to reinstate Jones. He reinstated him by Dec. 10. On that night, Jones appeared on “Spaces,” a livestream audio feature on that platform, along with Musk, disinformation specialist Jack Posobiec, presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy and pro-rape misogynist Andrew Tate.
Photo illustration by SPLC