The Alex Jones Origin Story: On Austin Public Access TV, His Act Was Never an Act

"I think everyone kind of wanted to punch Alex Jones."

Alex Jones
Right from the start, Alex Jones was always the paranoid, screaming conspiracy theory guy. Malik Dupree for Observer

In the Sandy Hook deposition videos, Alex Jones looks like a broken man. His normal red-faced screaming self is very subdued as he’s being sued for bringing misery to the parents of murdered children at Sandy Hook. He claimed the massacre was a hoax. This lie, he created, is a lot bigger than, say, declaring Obama is a secret Muslim or Glenn Beck is a CIA operative. Jones perpetuated, to his army of loyal followers, that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a staged “false flag operation, the grieving parents were paid actors, and the children who were killed simply did not exist.

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You know, typical Alex Jones shit of sowing chaos in the world.

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Jones began his career in Austin, Texas, back in the ’90s, as a local cable access cult figure at ACATV (Austin Community Access Television). He built a rabid national audience by spewing out conspiracy theories and manically declaring all major calamities as inside jobs. Donald Trump appeared on his show a few years back and praised Jones’ barking-at-the-moon style by saying, “Your reputation is amazing.” Jones, in turn, helped usher the conspiracy-theorist-in-chief into the White House.

Now, in 2019, Jones has been kicked off almost every major social media platform and has been removed from iTunes and Spotify. His reputation is no longer amazing.

The lawsuits contend that Jones showed a reckless disregard for the truth which caused distress to the parents of the Sandy Hook victims. In his deposition, Jones blamed his mental state on “the trauma of the media and the corporations lying so much,” adding that a “form of psychosis” made him believe events, such as the Sandy Hook massacre, were staged.

In the videos, in which Jones’ is being grilled by lawyers, is he simply putting on an act?

“I was told he was advised to say that psychosis thing,” said Charlie Sotelo, who was a producer alongside Jones during his ACATV days (and as you’ll learn later in this story, once punched Alex Jones in the face). “He’s always exaggerated the meaning of anything he uncovers. He’s daisy-chaining these wild ideas,” Sotelo continued. “He’s trying to get views. He’s trying to get attention. And whatever was said, that’s just the way it came out that day.”

To best understand Alex Jones, we need to first understand his origin story; Observer spoke to people who knew him when he first started broadcasting on ACATV, where he burst onto the scene as the same, albeit much less polished, raving lunatic that we know today… who has always had a problem with the truth.

Alex Jones of InfoWars talks to reporters outside a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing concerning foreign influence operations' use of social media platforms, on Capitol Hill, September 5, 2018.
The Alex Jones we know today is pretty much the same Alex Jones who had an Austin public access TV show in the ’90s—only now, he has a national audience. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Alex Jones’ Early Days Creeping Out Fellow Employees

To set the stage, ACATV in the ’90s was pure Austin at it’s weirdest. Sure, the internet was around, but not in the way we know it today. So the local public access TV, channels 10 and 16, were populated by a never-ending string of shows: eccentric, religious, bizarre and just plain unlike anything anyone had ever seen.

“Basically the whole thing was a typical Austin thing,” said Kerry Awn, a local comedian who also had a public access show at the time called The Ronnie Velveeta Show.

The ACATV broadcasting ethos was: “Hey! Have your own show—just come on down and do it,” Awn explained.

Such local homespun public access oddities included an accordion-wielding singing Austrian, a fundamentalist preacher who wore a toilet seat around his neck, and of course, a 22-year-old Alex Jones who ranted about black helicopters, the illuminati, and how NASA faked the moon landing.

Right from the start, Jones was always the paranoid, screaming conspiracy theory guy—who’d be setting the rest of the world straight—and never yielded to common sense, truth or fact.

“He was amusing at first in a crazy, tin foil hat kind of way,” said Shelly Tumbleson, another former ACATV producer. “But then came the very uncomfortable realization that what we saw on TV then wasn’t an act. In the coming months, I would meet him in person and find that he was the exact same person off-camera as he was when he was in front of one.”

“I remember him taking classes, I remember going on the air. He was easily rattled in those early days,” relayed Sotelo. “He was defenseless; he was 22-years-old and putting himself on TV for the first time.”

From the onset, Sotelo said Jones’ whole act was, “I’m burdened by how much knowledge I have—and I have to share it with you guys because it’s my duty—and he was burdened by his responsibility to society.”

On his early shows, Jones would sit behind a desk in front of a star map of the universe and take calls, ranting red-faced into a camera about the police state, the New World Order and exposing the shadowy elites.

“It was all made up. It’s just an act,” Sotelo said. “I don’t feel he believes what he’s saying. I think he’s just looking for the thing to say… that’s going to get him through this particular broadcast… and next time, he’ll worry about next time.”

Now that Jones is famous, people seem to approach him with some sort of credibility; fame makes people think he’s a journalist or someone with more expertise than just a right-wing media figurehead. In the early days, as with his later conspiracies about Sandy Hook, Sotelo could see through the act; the more Jones screamed, the more people would listen.

“I didn’t approach him like, ‘Oh, he’s this expert guy.’ I just approached him like this kid who was saying whatever he could think of, so it was painfully obvious to me the whole time,” said Sotelo. “He’s just saying whatever is popping into his dumb slow head right now.”

Over the years at ACATV, Jones developed a thicker skin: “He just got better at it. He figured out how to broadcast,” stated Sotelo, who saw early on that Jones’ agenda was to profit from being entertaining, shocking or compelling—despite validity of truth. “It just got to the point where it was indistinguishable,” Sotelo continued, adding that it should be apparent that this is a guy with some sort of emotional or mental condition. “I can see the difference because I knew him before he was on TV.”

According to Awn, Jones was initially trying to spoof such media figures as Rush Limbaugh, Morton Downey Jr. and paranormal radio host Art Bell.

“It was kind of a take off one of those guys,” said Awn, who saw his formula as,”I’ll take something with a kernel of truth in it and just build around it.

“He seemed like one of these guys—whose dad was a doctor [dentist, actually] or kind of rich—that as a kid, he got everything; that he got a car when he was 16, a Mustang or something,” Awn said of his first impression of Jones. “You know, everything was kind of given to him. That was my impression back in those days.”

Jones would sometimes even appear as a guest on Awn’s public access show, “He did impressions. He did Darth Vader,” recalled Awn—who thought Jones was going to steer towards a different career path. “He really wanted to be a stand-up [comedian] is what I can gather.”

“What he was doing was kind of a shtick. He knew it was show business,” said Awn. “And then, he got real big—and now he probably believes it all.”

Within the first month of launching his public access show, Jones’ persona began to spill out off-camera to the other employees at ACATV.

“He’d pretend to be hugely popular and hugely well-known,” said Sotelo. “He’s just the sort of guy who was always bullshitting and always talking about how great he is, how everyone loves him, how famous he is… Every word out of his mouth was just self-aggrandizing.”

From the very beginning, Sotelo knew Jones was trouble. He’d walk into a room and see Jones cornering an ACATV employee: “Alex is right next to their desk talking some bullshit to them… ‘I did this and I did that…‘ Talking about his 185 IQ…”

Sotelo noted that the common look on fellow coworkers’ faces when cornered by Jones was always, “Kill me, kill me—please kill me now.”

“He was a joke. Everyone avoided him. He’d just corner you and just wouldn’t let you go,” said Sotelo. “He was like a child who couldn’t understand that everyone could tell you’re lying. It was just constant tall tales. It was just the way he communicated; he didn’t know how to be normal. He had to be boasting. He had to talk about how accomplished he was—or how popular he was. I mean every single thing out of his mouth was image manipulation.”

Sotelo believes that Jones’ entire psyche comes from a place of deep insecurity. He also sees Jones, and his personality disorder, in tune with another controversial figure he helped push into office.

“He’s pretty much Donald Trump.”

For the first few years, people kept watching Jones’ public access show because he was so absurd—there was no plausibility; he was clearly just a raving madman.

“I always thought it was hugely irresponsible for him to say [whatever] he wants on the air because people believe it, and then their worldview is shaped by it,” said Sotelo.  

Yes, after a while, people started believing the rantings of Jones and took everything he said to be gospel—be it the government weaponizing weather or Hillary Clinton’s Pizzagate pedophile ring.

“What started off as, ‘Ha! Look at this silly joke,’ ended up being, ‘Oh no, this guy’s going to be a monster!'” said Sotelo. “And he just got good at that. And people started buying it.”

Sotelo saw that Jones would sometimes use the same reports to mean two different things—depending on what he was saying at the moment. Jones also began manipulating TV segments from 60 Minutes; he’d add a new voiceover that contained a different narrative, such as the military forcing people into FEMA concentration camps, and tried to pass it off as his own.

“It was utterly surreal and creepy,” recalled Tumbleson. “His dialog was rambling, incoherent, angry and showcased his ongoing separation from reality.”

Tumbleson said he posted a note at the studio scolding Jones—pointing out the legal ramifications of passing off someone else’s intellectual property. Jones tore down the note within the hour.

But what really gave Jones credibility were endorsements by local Texas celebrities.

Comedian Bill Hicks embraced him over his rants about Waco. Mike Judge appeared on his show. Richard Linklater used him in his films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly.

“I know all those guys,” said Sotelo. “It affected my relationship with a couple of them because I wasn’t quiet about how irresponsible [Jones] is.”

Sotelo also noted how Kelly Nichols, Jones ex-wife, really deserves the credit for building his media empire. She was the first one who got him TV attention, she got him on the internet, and also became the webmaster of InfoWars. Nichols basically focused Jones’ whole career.

“He wouldn’t have been able to put it together without her. Her career was making him a thing. And she did it. Straight up. Without her, we would not know who he was today,” said Sotelo. “She deserves more than half of his money.”

Alex Jones addresses media and protesters in the protester encampment outside The Grove Hotel, which hosted the annual Bilderberg Conference, on June 6, 2013 in Watford, England.
Alex Jones was propelled into the national spotlight with the help of some Texas celebrities who liked his weird antics and his ex-wife, who focused on taking his career to the next level. Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Alex Jones Gets Punched in the Face in a Parking Lot

The shows that appeared on ACATV had an interactive component; in the days before internet trolls, viewers were allowed to call in live. So imagine how this would go down with a young, unknown, ranting Alex Jones.

A loose collective of local weirdos, who called themselves Anathema Enterprises, were obsessed with prank-calling Alex Jones. Their m.o. was to disrupt the show with a barrage of abuse on the call-in lines.

The pranksters, led by a man named Clayton Counts (who went by the moniker: SpaceHitler), would phone in just to fuck up Jones’ show, screaming “DIE! DIE! DIE!” or calling him “Jarhead Jones,” which infuriated him to no end.

The result? “Alex would melt down and freak out,” said Sotelo. “He would lunge at the callbox to disconnect them; he would get into fights with them. He was a mess.”

And then, there was an incident that took place in the parking lot of the public access station that characterized the way Jones would sensationalize and spin stories in the decades to come. Police records show the incident took place in 1997.

Jones held an open house at ACATV, where he invited viewers down to the station and provided a little food spread.

“It was just an attempt to get friends and fans and all that,” said Sotelo. But the only people who showed up were Jones’ phone hecklers. “The ‘Die! Die! Die!’ guy showed up [with] one of his other friends and kind of a younger scrappy kid.”

Apparently, Jones recognized the main heckler’s voice, got aggressive and said something like: “You’re the guys who are constantly disrupting my show, I’ve had about enough of it!”

When Sotelo showed up, the group was in the ACATV lobby trading insults. But what really set Jones off was a singular word directed at him by one of the hecklers. The little scrappy guy uttered a singular word: “Jarhead”

“And Alex twisted up his face—like he was in a movie—and said, ‘Do you want to step outside!?‘” Sotelo recalled.

Jones then bolted to the door, quickly walked to his car, grabbed something from underneath the seat, and shoved it into his belt loop.

According to Sotelo, Jones then started ranting to the scrappy guy: “This is my place of business! I have a gun! I can shoot you! You are threatening me at my place of business! I can hold my ground here!”

The scrappy guy took a step back, which emboldened Jones, who puffed out his chest and continued to threaten the guy. “And the guy just goes, ‘You know what? Fucking just shoot me then!'” explained Sotelo. “He just pops him with a roundhouse.”

“It just stunned Alex,” Sotelo continued. “Alex was just dazed for a couple of seconds. And the guy just hit him again—two solid shots to the face. And Alex starts hitting back, and it’s like he’s just throwing his hands straight forward; it’s really inept.”

Not only was the little scrappy guy kicking Alex Jones’ ass, but he was also shit-talking to him between punches: “Oh, you’re a professional fighter.” POP! “Oh, you do this for a living.” POP!

“He hits Alex, no exaggeration, eight to 10 times in the face—and all of them were good,” recalled Sotelo.

As the pummeling continued, Sotelo had a moment of sympathy—as it’s not pleasant to see anyone, even a bully blowhard, being annihilated—and yelled, “Alex, go inside!”

Jones looked over at Sotelo and got hit in the face once again.

“And Alex is just out of control on adrenaline. He’s just entirely jacked up,” Sotelo remembered.  

When the three hecklers finally hit the road, in true Alex Jones fashion, he immediately started ranting about the incident, building the story to fit his own exaggerated narrative.

There was four or five of them… They had a knife… And they were trying to…

Jones then came up to Sotelo and said, “Why the fuck are you on their side!?”

“And he spits blood,” said Sotelo. “He spits saliva and blood. It hits my mouth. It hits my shirt, my brand new shirt, I just got for Christmas—that I was going to wear on TV for the first time.”

Jones then threw a hugely ineffective punch in Sotelo’s direction.

“His forearm hits the side of my neck,” Sotelo recalled. “I’m furious. He’s just streaming blood. There’s a lot of blood to be had.”

There was only one natural thing for Sotelo to do.

“So, I punched him in the face!”

“I think everyone kind of wanted to punch Alex Jones,” Awn recollected. “Alex was always kind of loud—pushy bully kind of guy. I think Charlie [Sotelo] just had enough.”

When the cops arrived, they got everyone’s side of the story. And Jones was completely out of control. As the other witnesses tried to give their accounts, Jones couldn’t stop interrupting and screaming they were liars—to the point where the cops basically said, “We will take you to jail! You’re interfering with an investigation.”

The officers just hated Jones.

“Because he was annoying as fuck man,” explained Sotelo. “He was hopped up on adrenaline. He was 20 years less mature than he is now. And he wouldn’t shut up. He was telling clearly a tall tale.”

One officer looked Sotelo right in the eye, and said, “We saw the tape and if you want to press charges, we can take him to jail right now.”

“And [the cop is] nodding ‘yes,’ vigorously,” said Sotelo.  

Alex Jones Austin Police Report

In the police report, Jones’ account reads like a ranting InfoWars segment about chemicals in the water that are turning frogs gay.

Jones’ sworn affidavit to police says there were not three, but four to five men (“counter culture Generation X types”) and says the ringleader “had a double-edged military type killing knife… He is very strange looking. He has eyes that look like a goat… He has pasty white green skin… I am in fear of losing my life.”

Alex Jones Austin Police Report

“They got his side of the story,” said Sotelo. “It was fantastical. Because there were no goat people…”

The police report also states, at the time, Jones was working for his dentist dad at Castle Dental.

“And his dad got there just in time and yanked him back and allowed the cops to talk to everyone,” Sotelo explained. “He was exasperated with his out-of-control son, and he was literally the only adult in the room.”

Jones’ dad paid off Sotelo: “Yeah, he wrote me a check for $100. I was sure it was for the shirt, but now I think it might have been in exchange for not pressing charges.”

Alex Jones Austin Police Report

This type of parental interaction seemed to be a recurring theme in Jones’ life. On a recentThis American Life episode about Jones’ high school days, Jon Ronson reported on how Jones’ dad paid off another guy who got in a fight with his son as a means to avoid pressing charges—perhaps a clue that those weren’t the only two times that Alex Jones’ father had to pay people off to avoid legal action. Shortly after the high school fight, Jones’ father moved his entire family from Dallas to Austin because of the incident.

In recent years, as he’s done all along, Jones has tried to change the narrative about the parking lot fight. He told The Austin American-Statesman back in 2013 that it was all, “Total fiction, pure bull, absolute, just fraud. The whole thing is just fraud.”

That’s right, to Jones, who rambles on how the government uses psychedelics to communicate with aliens, being punched in the face in the parking lot of ACATV was “fake news.”  

Apparently though, Jones has not learned his lesson about picking fights in public. This past March, Jones started ranting and raving inside Lucy’s Fried Chicken in Austin—trading insults with diners by calling them “libtards” and spewing about “free speech in America.”

But instead of a fight, like he had back in the ’90s, Jones was laughed out of the establishment. On his website, Jones said diners cursed at him while he ate and then heckled him when he tried to leave.

“They baited me like a matador does with a bull,” he said to justify his tirade. “Go listen to your NPR and all your other bullshit,” he yelled. “America and the world is awake to anti-free speech scum like you and bullies like you.”

Surprisingly, Jones failed to mention how all the diners had goat eyes.

“It’s not an act. It’s never been an act. It never will be,” summarized Tumbleson. “The only person convinced that Alex Jones is an act is Alex Jones, and that’s only when the light of consequences are shined upon him. The act he puts up is the few solitary moments when he pretends to be coherent—like when he’s in front of a judge or at a deposition. THAT is the act.”

“He tries to portray all this showbiz shtick now because a bunch of lawyers are just breathing down his neck,” concluded Awn. “Maybe he should have stayed local. In Austin, he could have been tolerated, you know, as an oddity.”

For Sotelo, the biggest danger of Alex Jones’ influence is his ability to create an army of people who have mistrust in everything, who feel they can’t win because the system is always stacked against them. So, they look toward Alex Jones to direct them by listening to the bullshit that comes out his mouth, so he’ll tell them where to steer their lives—and sometimes, as we have seen, that cul-de-sac leads them directly to the parents of Sandy Hook victims.

“And that just seems profoundly irresponsible to do because once you start believing stuff, you start incorporating things, and that’s your world to you now,” said Sotelo. “And it’s all for his own glorification.”

Harmon Leon is a freelance journalist and the author of eight books. Pre-order his latest book, Tribespotting: Undercover Cult(ure) Stories, now!

The Alex Jones Origin Story: On Austin Public Access TV, His Act Was Never an Act