Featured image for How To Brand An Alt-Right Grift

How To Brand An Alt-Right Grift

by Rudy Sanchez on 11/21/2022 | 8 Minute Read

Over the last few years, conspiracy theories have become so prominent and consequential in social and political discourse that it is no longer possible to dismiss them as the ideations of kooks and fringe weirdos.

Unfortunately, conspiracy theories now inform a significant and influential part of the country’s right wing. Politicians like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene have embraced unfounded conspiracies like QAnon. Following the 2020 election, the Q-verse has broadened to include anti-vaxxers, natural healers, mystics, flat Earthers, and, paradoxically, sovereign citizens. But also in the mix are those that believe in shady, fictional cabals of global elitists like the Illuminati. Since the 1960s, right-wing conspiracy mongers like The John Birch Society and Pat Robertson have warned of Satan’s plan for one world government and a “New World Order” carried out by multinational and private groups of powerful people like the Trilateral Commission, Bohemian Club, Bilderberg Group, and the United Nations. The idea of global elitists pulling the strings behind the curtain usually has anti-semitic undertones and shades of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a long-enduring conspiracy theory itself.

Even twice-impeached President Trump tapped into the spirit of conspiracies by refusing to concede his 2020 defeat. Trump soldiers like his personal attorney Rudolph Guiliani and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindellstoked the flames of a stolen election conspiracy. Trump also sent constant fundraising emails to support an “Official Election Defense Fund” financially. Donors thought they were funding the fight against nonexistent voter fraud. Instead, the millions in donations went to the Save America Political Action Committee, which then spent the money on contributions to former chief-of-staff Mark Meadows’ charity, the America First Policy Institute, a think tank that employs former Trump officials, and the “Trump Hotel Collection,” among other non-voter-fraud-related causes.

Needless to say, the alt-right makes for an easy mark.

Of course, marketing to this receptive audience that will believe nonsense and conspiracies is plenty different than marketing Coca-Cola to the general public. It requires a distinct set of skills from the dark arts of branding, a balancing act of using lies and anger to boost morale and stoke fears among the true believers before hitting them with the pitch.

Put a charismatic and entertaining pedlar that can weave just enough real bits of information with deception in a bombastic and quickfire manner, and you have a money printer filled with hate ink. 

No one embodies this branding strategy better than perhaps Infowars head Alex Jones. Jones has created a slippery reality through his media network where the Democrats are part of a shadowy global conspiracy to take away fundamental American rights. The narrative isn’t consistent, and often Jones will take a headline from a legitimate news outlet (sometimes an editorial) and turn it into a story where he fills in the details with previous lies he remembers and new ones made-up on the spot.

Alex Jones can then slip in pitches for nutritional supplements and survival goods. Infowars and these products are a natural fit; supplements make exaggerated but legal-with-a-disclaimer health and wellness claims, and survival gear is overpriced paranoia paraphernalia. People who believe the Deep State is getting ready to confiscate everyone’s guns and round them up in FEMA camps will likely think a capsule full of dried herbs will make them smarter or more virile. Those same folks will also want to be ready with buckets of food and non-GMO heirloom seeds for when AOC cancels you on social media and the banks close your accounts over what you say online.

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There are plenty of other grifters in alt-right land, but none is so explicitly toxic as Alex Jones. Other media personalities like Tim Pool, Jordan Petersen, Ben Shapiro, and to a lesser extent, Joe Rogan also spread misinformation, foment hate, instill fear, and make piles of money doing so, but manage to maintain their messages advertiser-friendly. Alex Jones has never relied on mainstream advertisers. From the early days of Infowars, Jones was limited to more fringe advertisers like shady gold seller Midas Resources. Jones tapped into his personality to create a political narrative that he deftly parlayed to sell white-label supplements at a high markup by necessity.

“I think charisma is critical in getting visitors to the Infowars online store. But I don't think that would be enough if it weren't for a lot of the ways that the messaging of the show feeds into the actual sales,” explains Dan Friesen, host of Knowledge Fight, a podcast that critically examines Infowars, Alex Jones, and the alt-right world. Friesen has also consulted plaintiffs in the Heslin v. Jones Sandy Hook defamation case. “So much of the Infowars branding is motivated by the ‘world is going to collapse’ content. Buy survival food. The dollar is going to collapse, so buy gold. Because of the globalists, you’re dumber than you should be, so buy my iodine.”

In the Infowars Store, there are several sub-brands, such as Life, Emeric’s Essentials (Emeric is Jones’ middle name), and Dr. Jones Naturals (Alex’s father is a retired dentist that worked for the CIA in Infowars lore). They even have a handful of 3rd party brands for items like survival food and freeze dryers. The different subbrands overlap in products, such as toothpaste, and even within the same subbrand, such as Infowars Life, there is no unified design tying labels to the brand. Everything from comic-type font to blocky serifs gets used on bottles. Some use hexagon callouts, while others use octagons; a few supplements use ingredient illustrations, but most don’t. There's a dizzying array of color palettes and graphic patterns, making it all seem haphazard and definitely not an Infowars' private label.

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Copy for Brain Force.

Visually, most products like Infowars’ offerings aimed at the alt-right aren’t winning design awards. Then again, alt-right products aren’t stocked by legitimate retailers, so the priority is different. The emphasis is really on the message and the fight against supposed tyrant globalists like George Soros. Copy on the page for Infowars’ iodine supplement “Survival Shield X2” reads, “The globalists want you to be run down and unhealthy so they can dominate your life. Fight back with one of nature's greatest essentials.”

Nonetheless, packaging has to be distinct from what is widely available at conventional retailers. Given the set design for Infowars, Alex Jones could develop a slick visual identity for his products, but why bother? Instead, their supplements rely mostly on quackery and nonsense.

“The Infowars products have to seem like something you can't get anywhere else,” Dan said. “Alex Jones has iodine, but it's ‘deep-earth iodine.’ He has turmeric, but it has the most curcuminoids. Jones will say, ‘you could get this anywhere, but mine is better.’”

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“The second component of the Infowars product branding is bringing up ingredients that no one knows they don't need,” Friesen added. “I remember when Jones would talk about his bone broth, he would mention how there are chaga mushrooms in it. His audience doesn't know that they don't need those mushrooms. There's that illusion of the mysteriousness of the product or that it's better than what you could get at the store.”

Many of the products Jones sells are for non-existent, placebo feelings that he has triggered in his audience. "He talks about iodine deficiency in people and how it can lower IQ," Friesen explained. "The implication is that if you take his iodine, you will get smarter, whereas the people with an iodine deficiency are generally in the developing world. And it's a condition that affects people in the womb and their childhood. It's a developmental thing. And everybody is fine. Most people are fine because of (iodized) salt. But Jones exploits normal feelings, like insecurity, and then sells fake products solving fake problems. And several Infowars products have that same kind of pitch to them.”

In alt-right land, the messaging is the branding. The conspiracy pumps sales. When Alex Jones had Sandyhook denier Wolfgang Halbig on Infowars to perpetuate the false-flag conspiracy theory Jones promoted, sales jumped 500% from the previous day on his website.

The alt-right conspiracy theorists see life as war, and the enemy is more powerful but also weaker than the righteous. On Infowars, Alex Jones’ disciples are concurrently pushing back against the globalists while losing ground to them. The highs and lows make for a rollercoaster that keeps the audience engaged, resulting in more sales.

“It's a tactic that more authoritarian-leaning propagandists have used over the years. There's the idea that you have a simultaneously overpowered but impotent enemy,” Dan said. “You're constantly in a state of winning and losing simultaneously. It's a way of keeping the Infowars audience in a pocket that they have a difficult time escaping. Who doesn't love the excitement of ‘we're about to win’ mixed with, ‘oh, no, we're about to lose! We better work harder. We better redouble the effort.’ Both ends are surely exploitable.”

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Now that Jones and Infowars have been pushed off most platforms for his constant promotion of lies about mass shootings like Sandy Hook and stolen election conspiracies, it’s harder to find examples of Alex Jones’ delivery style without giving Infowars foot traffic besides Knowledge Fight. The Piers Morgan gun “debate” is still available on YouTube and is a prime example of Alex Jones’ rhetorical style. More recently, Jones couldn’t help himself when asked on the witness stand, “do you sell vitamins?” Instead of simply answering “yes,” Jones went into a sales pitch in open court.

“Jones is good at distracting people. With a little bit of a sleight of hand to make you not realize that he's conning you," Friese said. “‘Look over here. I'm gonna' yell, and you'll get excited about my yelling.’ Next thing you know, you're buying pills. It's shocking that he could be making millions of dollars on these supplements, but he's had a captive audience for 20 years. It creates a bond, a parasocial relationship."

Jones’ audience also thinks he's saving the world. That is powerful,” he added.

Recent lawsuits surrounding Infowars’ promotion of the Sandy Hook false-flag conspiracy have given us a peek into how important the message is in driving sales. Court documents in a defamation lawsuit against Jones and Free Speech System (FSS), the parent company of Infowars, revealed over $165 million in sales revenue between September 2015 and the end of 2018, with particularly lucrative days whenever Sandy Hook was featured.

If having a media empire, throngs of fans, an armored truck, and loads of money from selling overpriced nutriceuticals sounds like a good plan, I have some bad news. Jones’ lies about Sandy Hook, including that the children weren’t killed and the parents were actors, have caught up with him. After defaulting in two trials, Alex Jones has racked up a billion dollars in damages.

Still, it’s necessary to look at Infowars’ branding and identity design to have a better understanding of the alt-right and how “the gay frog guy” can turn misinformation, fear, and anger into profits. 

Instead of using delightful and captivating design, the emphasis is on building a brand that stands against some shadowy enemy that’s coming to get you. But even if they did sport beautiful branding, would it matter? Media personalities like Steven Crowder, Ben Shapiro, and especially Alex Jones feed their audience hate against those not like themselves to boost subscriber counts, ad rates, and profit. These are not people trying to buy the world a Coke. Instead, the alt-right sings a bigoted call to arms.

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