One afternoon in the spring of 2017 Alex Jones furiously lunged at his video producer.
Robert Jacobson, at the time Jones' longest-serving employee, was walking down a hallway at Infowars' south Austin office when seemingly out of nowhere the show's infamous host accosted him.
Jacobson had just finished editing a video of Jones riffing on the day's news — the sort of misinformation-filled rants that were a staple of the company's daily output. But he had apparently added the wrong advertisement for one of the many snake oils the host was hawking at the time.
Jabbing his fingers into Jacobson's face he yelled: "You're not going to ruin me, Jacobson. You're not going to ruin me!" According to Jacobson, Jones had to be restrained by another Infowars staffer in case he actually hurt him.
When Jacobson started working for Jones in 2004 he was best known as a TV figure on Austin public television. On Austin Community Access Television Jones perfected the high-octane rants about Waco and fluoride in the water that propelled him to an audience of millions on Infowars.com and platforms like YouTube and Facebook.
Jacobson had moved to Texas after being fired from a sound engineer job at the legendary recording studio Hit Factory, where Paul Simon recorded the album "Graceland" and Bruce Springsteen recorded "Born in the USA." Depressed and looking for adventure, he moved to Austin and was introduced to Jones by an acquaintance.
"I did watch Alex quite a lot," Jacobson recounted in an interview with Insider. "I was always into the conspiracy theory kind of stuff."
Enamored by Jones's showmanship, Jacobson began editing Jones' documentaries before becoming a producer on his show. He edited Jones' films that suggested 9/11 was a false flag operation and "Endgame," which baselessly claimed a group of powerful elites planned on exterminating 80% of the world's population while investing in technology to enable them to live forever.
Jacobson said he still takes pride in the work he did for Jones at this point, only for the craftsmanship of the videos he produced. It could be high-adrenaline work, like they were David taking aim at Goliath. Jones' conspiratorial, fact-challenged worldview deeply appealed to the lost, disaffected, youths he often recruited to work on the site. In interviews with Insider, Jacobson and three other Infowars employees said between bursts of anger he was also charismatic, generous, and at times even a father figure. He took employees to movies and invited Jacobson to family holidays.
"He has a lot of charisma, yeah. And that doesn't go away once the camera's off. He doesn't just slump his shoulders and kind of slink into the corner," said Jacobson, who worked for Infowars from 2004 until 2017.
"He's still very charismatic, very friendly to people he wants to be friendly with, of course."
But by the time of the altercation Jacobson and Jones's relationship had started to sour.
Eventually, Jacobson gave a deposition critical of Jones during his first Sandy Hook damages trial last July in Texas. He told the courtroom he was testifying because of his guilt in not doing more to challenge Infowars's coverage of the school shooting.
As Jones' empire crumbles, and he faces a $1.4 billion judgment from lawsuits filed by the Sandy Hook families, the ex-staffers' experiences help explain how Jones wielded his will and charisma over three decades to become the country's best-known purveyor of lies and misinformation.
Alex Jones did not respond to Insider's request for comment.
The Punching Game
On his first day at Infowars in the spring of 2013, 23-year-old Josh Owens, who had just won an online competition on the conspiracy site to come work at the company as video editor, expected Jones to disconnect from junior staff members such as himself.
Instead, he was surprised when the host invited him alongside other staffers to a premier of "Iron Man 3" at a local Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
Owens, who grew up in a rural town an hour outside of Atlanta in what is now a district represented by Marjorie Taylor Greene, had been questioning his fundamentalist Christian beliefs. He was drawn to what he saw as Infowars' extreme anti-establishment ethos.
"Jones was a guy at the time who was saying the world is filled with liars. The basis of our understanding of the world is constructed by a lie. But he had a path to an explanation," Owens said.
At the theater, Jones asked Owens to sit next to him and ordered him a Royale with Cheese — a cheeseburger named after a John Travolta line from "Pulp Fiction." But the group was soon asked to leave because Jones was constantly checking the Infowars website on his phone.
Owens said he soon saw a darker side to Jones. One of Jones's favorite pastimes was playing a round of the punching game. It would often start by Jones passing around a bottle of Grey Goose vodka among his staff. He would insist that one of them repeat a made-up phrase like "succulent plump" or "juicy giblet."
"He would talk to them like they were babies like 'say this, say this,' and he wouldn't stop until you did it," Owens said.
Eventually, the game would devolve and Jones would ask one of the staff to hit him. "He would ask people who are beholden to him and he had power over to hit him," Owens said. "And when they said no, he kept pressuring until they said yes."
Sometimes as Jones appeared to grow more heavily intoxicated, things escalated.
"He would convince someone to hit him by badgering them consistently, and then he would get to hit them back. And they would trade punches back and forth. And there were times where people got, you know, visibly injured," Owens said.
To Owens, the punching game was one of several methods he used to manipulate and intimidate Infowars staff. Questioning Jones could also provoke a sudden and ferocious rage, he said. According to Owens, Jones would sometimes "pound his chest" and destroy office equipment. Sometimes, even physically hurting people.
"He was a very volatile person, his behavior was manic. So, one second he would be laughing and joking around and the next second he would be in a blind rage," said Owens.
In April 2017, Owens left Infowars. In the 6 years since leaving, in essays in the New York Times Magazine and interviews in The Atlantic, he expressed contrition for the rabid misinformation he was involved in spreading.
For some Infowars staffers the job was a chance to learn from a charismatic radio figure and hopefully break into the industry themselves, even if they weren't true believers. One such employee, George, who requested to use a pseudonym because he feared retribution from Jones, began working for the site in the late 2000s with aspirations of one day having his own radio show.
"I was trying to get my own radio show. I really respected the way he created his own kind of infotainment dynasty. His whole thing I thought … it was genius," George said. "At the time I was like, maybe I can use these resources here and Jones can help catapult my radio career and I can go to the next level and do something similar to what he did."
He was in his 20s with little money to his name and two kids. Jones paid more and offered better hours than most broadcasting gigs. "He saw that I was perfect prey for him because I was kind of vulnerable," George said.
Jones would give out surprise bonuses often to reward good work.
"If you dance to the beat of his drum he'd be like … I'm giving you a $500 bonus," he recalled.
While George first thought Jones might be "kind of difficult" to work with, he found him an easy boss at the beginning. George appreciated Jones' penchant for the theatrical even if he didn't believe Jones's conspiracy theories.
"I would just be giggling my ass off because I was like, 'This guy's a joke.' The stuff that he would say and the way he was so animated, it was like theatrical to me. I just thought it was hilarious man," George said.
At times, he thought Jones's cynicism went too far. In one incident, George said he watched as Jones shamelessly accepted a woman's entire social-security check during a "money bomb" event in which the show raised money from dedicated listeners.
"This old lady is like, 'Alex, me and my husband, we're on social security and we're finding we're in the last stage of our lives and we believe everything you're saying and we know you're trying to save the country … We're on a fixed income and everything but we are gonna send you our whole social security check this month, just to help,'" George recalled the woman saying.
"And he goes, like 'Oh, thank you … you're saving the lord. God bless ya,'" Jone said, according to George.
George recalled thinking at the time: "Jones, come on, man, you're really gonna exploit these old folks like that? That's fucked up."
"But that's just what he did," George said. "He didn't give a damn, he just wanted the money, he wanted the credit, he wanted the fame."
Jones was promoting increasingly extreme conspiracy theories in his relentless quest to reach bigger audiences and drive greater profits. Eventually, they crossed the line into illegality.
But as George worked with Jones, he says a switch flipped and he became just another lackey for Jones to verbally abuse.
"It went from him being really nice to me and like, showing me a lot of love … to just being an asshole and treating me like he did everyone else," George said. "Once he had someone and felt like he had control of them, then he would just be an ass."
And Jones never took George under his wing, to help him become a radio host himself. That's a dream that died a long time ago for George, who now works in a related, but different, industry.
"I tried to get my own little public access TV show as well, and have a little blog and things like that. It just didn't work out for me," he said. "I still hate that I'm never going to achieve it. To be involved creatively in a radio program."
Holidays with the Joneses
In 2005, Jones invited Jacobson to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas at his family home in Austin. Jones had extended the invite to the New York City transplant after learning he had nowhere to go during the holidays. For the next few years, Jacobson became a fixture on the Jones family holiday table.
One Christmas Jones brought a small plastic airplane to his parents' house. At dinner, as his parents, wife, and children talked amongst each other, Jones would toss the plane and watch it fly across the room — all while making whizzing sounds with his mouth. His wife Kelly and his parents repeatedly asked him to stop, but Jones didn't seem to care.
"Alex would do weird things," Jacobson said. "I believe he made his parents uncomfortable. A lot of the time he'd act strangely at the dinner table, you know, say odd things and whatnot."
On other occasions, Alex and his father would talk about history or political trivia. But Jones had the habit of interjecting and adding his own conspiracy theories to the conversation, Jacobson said.
"I would never be able to carry on a conversation with him really," Jacobson said of Jones. Most of his time was spent chatting with Jones' relatives about books.
By 2015, Jacobson became one of Jones' oldest employees but their relationship began to deteriorate.
In August of that year, Jones invited David Duke, the former grand wizard of the KKK, on Infowars as he was gearing up to run for the US Senate.
During the appearance, in which Duke accused Jews of controlling the media, the banks, and the Federal Reserve, Jones put Jacobson — who is Jewish — on air to challenge Duke.
In a later filing to the Austin Equal Opportunity and Fair Housing Commission, Jacobson accused Jones of racism and said the host put him on the show without his consent.
In other videos Infowars hosts referred to Jacobson as the "Resident Jew." Other staffers passed around a flier with Jacobson's face superimposed onto a caricature of an orthodox Jew with big bold print that read "The Jewish Individual."
But Jacobson said Infowars' antisemitic culture wasn't always obvious to him.
"After reflection, after the Photoshop was handed out, it suddenly occurred to me just how antisemitic everybody was. Yeah, I suddenly realized, you know, I reflected about all these moments in my life, and the same kind of treatment that I endured naively," Jacobson said.
By the end of his tenure, Jacobson's worldview had also shifted. He'd been reading books like "1776," a chronicle of the revolutionary war by historian David McCullough and other mainstream history books in an attempt to debunk them with perspectives more aligned with Jones. But eventually the books became more compelling to Jacobson. "I would actually find other books to read inside the bibliographies," he said. Eventually, he began questioning Jones and asking "Why would Alex leave this stuff out?"
He also had less patience for Jones' unhinged fury. The final straw was that day in 2017 when he lunged at him for the seemingly honest mistake of which advertisement to include in a video.
'You cannot say that people didn't die'
To many staff members who were present during the early days of Infowars, the site was a "close-knit" team. Christopher Jordan, a former Inforwars sound editor described staffers as "square in the trenches with [Jones]. And on the other side of the glass."
To Jordan, Jones was "one of the good guys."
"He reminds me a lot of my dad, like somebody that you'd like to go out and just hang out and have a beer with," Jordan said.
But he remembers butting heads with Jones about Sandy Hook. Following the infamous 2012 mass shooting at the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school, some of Jones' staffers repeatedly warned the host about the potential consequences of claiming on-air that the tragedy was staged by the government as part of a plot to restrict gun rights, or that the grieving parents of the 20 children who were killed were "crisis actors."
The false claims led to a campaign of relentless harassment against the grieving parents. (Jones has claimed that he merely "investigated" theories about the attack and bore no responsibility for the parents' suffering or fears for their safety.)
Jordan and Jacobson both said they warned Jones of the likely consequences of defaming the Sandy Hook victims. But Jones was drunk on greed and ambition — and viral misinformation was good for business. He ignored their entreaties and doubled down on the claims.
"You cannot say that this did not happen. You cannot say that people didn't die. Like, you can't do that," Jordan said he told Jones, adding that Jones responded with indifference.
Jordan said that, despite deep disagreements with Jones, he felt no personal animosity towards him.
Jacobson also said he challenged Jones about promoting the false claims.
"It's a totally different league and dimension," he said he told Jones, contrasting the claims the site promoted about the atrocity with earlier coverage that often bordered on the tongue-in-cheek.
"I told them straight to his face. 'They're gonna get you, they're gonna get you, you know?' And that's really all I could say to Alex. He just stared at me. Like, sort of like somebody in the crossroads," said Jacobson.
Jacobson said that he spent several years looking for a new job, and believes the stigma of working at Infowars made him unemployable.
"The job search went on for a long, long time. And you know, at that point, I mean, Alex, the relationship between me and Alex really was horrible," he said.
According to Megan Squire, a Deputy Director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, working at a conspiracy site like Infowars is often like joining a club or a social group that is extremely difficult to leave.
"The people we talked to that worked for him said that almost all of his employees, if not all of them, felt that they were just trapped in this crazy," Squire said.
This difficulty is compounded by the fact that Jones' employees are reliant on him for their livelihood. "They have to be able to see and access an off-ramp, some kind of way out," she added.
Eventually, Jones fired Jacobson on a thin pretext — being late for work.
Jacobson eventually left Texas for San Diego, spending several years moving around the country doing stopgap jobs. He worked for free editing a movie, drove cabs for Uber and edited videos on UpWork.
Five years after leaving Infowars, he landed a job editing videos for a local news station in New Orleans. He never omitted working for Infowars, which he lists on his resume under its parent company Free Speech Systems LLC, but said his managers nor colleagues never asked about his past at the organization.
"I really did have a fear of not being able to find another job knowing what Alex was up to. I was like what sane group of media professionals will hire me?" he said.
Jacobson said he still fears for his safety from Jones and his followers.
"These people have guns and they're no joke. They're absolutely infatuated with Alex. They worship him. It's an irrational level of commitment they give to Alex and an irrational level of trust," he said.
At the end of the day, Jacobson said, Jones acted like the normal moral and legal constraints didn't apply to him. And for a long time, they perhaps didn't.
Owens also said he felt guilty about his complicity in promoting the Sandy Hook conspiracy theories during his time working there.
"Working for Jones was like drinking from a firehose. The amount of work was overwhelming and there was rarely time to focus on one thing. But none of this excuses my involvement. I worked for Jones, contributed to the harm he caused others and take full responsibility for my actions," he said.
Ultimately, he says, a "complete shift in my personal beliefs and a self-reckoning" led him to quit. Even Jones' offer to double his salary couldn't persuade him to change his mind.
'He's addicted to himself'
As his fame grew, Jones was courted by the rich and powerful. Rock stars and celebrities like Megadeath singer Dave Mustain and Ultimate Fighting Championship star Tim Kennedy visited his studio. They were soon followed by political figures seeking to court the anti-establishment, conspiratorial audience who revered Jones.
In 2015, Jones interviewed Donald Trump, whose campaign for the presidency was launched on the back of the racist "birther" conspiracy theory.
Prompted by the disinformation and conspiracy theories that flooded their platforms during the 2016 election, Jones began receiving increasingly frequent warnings from social-media companies that his content had been removed or restricted for violating the rules.
But a series of lawsuits brought by the Newtown families, leading to that $1.4 billion judgment against Jones last year, changed things for Jones. In 2018, the years the lawsuits were filed, he was banned from YouTube and Facebook for violating their rules against inciting violence.
The trials offered a rare look inside Infowars. As it was broadcast live, Daria Karpova, a former Inforwars producer testified.
She claimed that Jones had trusted writers to fact-check reports, and had not done so himself. She also said the backlash from the site's falsehoods about Sandy Hook had badly impacted Jones' health.
"This whole Sandy Hook thing has weighed heavily on him because people don't know the shooter's name, but they think Alex Jones murdered those children," Karpova testified. "People hearing the words Sandy Hook, they automatically think Alex Jones," she added.
The former employees who both admired and came to loathe Jones remain skeptical that Jones has reached the end of the road.
"In Alex's mind, it's his world," Jacobson said. "He gets away with everything. He's smarter than everybody. He runs everything. He controls everybody. That is how it works in Alex's mind, and if he loses control, things get ugly real fast."
"My hunch is that he'll never stop," said George, "He'll never stop doing his bit. He's addicted to himself."