On a rainy morning in October, Fox News reporter Doug McKelway sat in the passenger seat of a car cruising around the Washington, D.C., Beltway, delivering a live update to Fox & Friends.
McKelway was there to report on the arrival of what was supposed to be thousands of truckers protesting the Obama administration, an event that Fox and other conservative outlets had already given a significant publicity boost.
"What are you seeing there? Are there truckers all over the place, Doug?" asked Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
Struggling against a janky satellite connection, McKelway explained, somewhat awkwardly, "We had expected to see literally dozens if not hundreds of trucks preparing for this protest. Instead, we saw maybe two, maybe three."
"So far, it's a light turnout ... but you never know. It could surge," co-host Brian Kilmeade reassured viewers.
It never did.
While the failed "Truckers Ride for the Constitution" was portrayed by conservative outlets like Fox as a gathering of Americans with reasoned objections to the Obama administration, it was actually co-organized by a fringe conspiracy theorist who apparently believes, among other things, that President Obama and Osama bin Laden are literally the same person.
That the rally had become mainstream news in the first place despite the outlandish views of its organizers -- to the extent that Fox News had a reporter driving around attempting to offer live reports on it -- was emblematic of the way fringe figures and conspiracy theories permeated the media in 2013.
"The Year Of Alex Jones"
In April, Drudge Report operator Matt Drudge logged in to his often-baffling Twitter account and told his followers that he had "privately told friends  would be year of Alex Jones," adding that while they had never met or spoke, Drudge found his show to be "one hell of a broadcast in such homogenized media!" That Jones' broadcast is unique is beyond question, but what sets it apart is mostly Jones' ability to take current events and run them through his conspiracy theory blender.
Declaring 2013 the "Year of Alex Jones" was something of a self-fulfilling prophecy for Drudge, as his website has served as Jones' traffic pipeline for years. By the time he sent his tweet in April, Drudge had already linked to at least 50 separate articles on Jones' Infowars website in the first few months of the year. (A Media Matters study found that Drudge had linked to at least 244 separate articles on Infowars between 2011 and 2013.)
So how did Jones spend the "Year of Alex Jones"? By doing what he usually does -- going on bizarre rants and spinning fantastical conspiracy theories. Among Jones' 2013 lowlights were suggesting that a devastating May tornado could have been the result of a government "weather weapon," because the government "can create and steer groups of tornadoes"; claiming that the September shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., and a subsequent shooting near the Capitol could have been false flag attacks staged by the government; and explaining a convoluted conspiracy where globalists were using unrest in Syria in order to further their goal to replace humans with human-machine hybrids.
Drudge had company in mainstreaming Jones this year. The radio host was invited onto both CNN and Fox News for interviews at various points, and House Republicans proposed legislation based on a Jones-popularized conspiracy theory that the government was stockpiling ammunition for nefarious purposes.
When Drudge made his proclamation about Jones, the host was fresh off accusing the government of being the "prime suspect" in April's Boston Marathon bombings. But Jones certainly wasn't alone; the Boston bombings brought out the worst in many conservative media outlets.
Glenn Beck, for example, spent several segments obsessing over the supposed involvement of a Saudi national in the bombings, smearing a victim of the attacks and calling for people to demand impeachment over the surrounding government cover-up. (Beck's theory, for the record, was total nonsense.)
And being Glenn Beck, that may not even qualify as his most absurd conspiracy theory of 2013. In May, when a man opened fire in a Houston airport before Beck was scheduled to give a speech at the annual NRA conference, Beck told his viewers that there was "a very good chance" the shooting was a "setup" like "the burning of the Reichstag."
Other media figures engaging in Jones-esque conspiracies this year include:
- Gun activist Larry Pratt -- who has also made several appearances in mainstream outlets this year to discuss gun legislation -- joined fringe radio host Stan Solomon while the latter laid out his theory that the Obama administration was planning to "put together a racial force to go against an opposite race resistance, basically a black force to go against a white resistance, and then they will claim anyone resisting the black force they are doing it because they are racist."
- Rush Limbaugh cited an unsourced report on a random conservative website to claim that Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett was the key decision-maker during the 2012 Benghazi attacks.
- Conservative bloggers suggested that a picture of Obama shooting skeet that was released by the White House early this year was Photoshopped. Their evidence included that Obama wasn't wearing a hat to block the sun from his eyes like "most shooters" do, even though the president was wearing sunglasses in the photo.
- Conservative columnist and frequent Hannity panelist Erik Rush cited the "unresolved Trinity United murders" -- a conspiracy theory about President Obama and his associates murdering members of Obama's former church to conceal the president's supposed hidden homosexuality --as a reason Obama himself may have "orchestrated" the 2012 attacks in Benghazi.
The Year In Which President Obama Resigned Twice
Had all gone according to plan, fringe activists would have caused President Obama to resign at least twice this year.
Starting in September, the aforementioned "Truckers Ride for the Constitution" group started organizing an event to clog traffic on the Beltway near the nation's capital, hoping to prompt the president's resignation.
The event was given a boost by conservative sites like the Drudge Report, Fox Nation, and others, including WND. Co-organizer Zeeda Andrews was even invited onto Fox News (and Glenn Beck's show) to promote the rally. During her appearances, she discussed why she wanted Obama removed from office: because "he is a threat to our national security." Her concerns about the threat to national security posed by Obama were apparently quite grave, considering she apparently believes the president is, somehow, the same person as Osama bin Laden.
After Andrews and the rally received major publicity from conservative outlets, Media Matters took a look at her presence on social media sites and found that she believed, among other things, that "Obama is a secret Muslim; that the Boston bombings were a 'false flag'; that the CIA murdered BuzzFeed journalist Michael Hastings; and that the Department of Homeland Security is stockpiling ammunition in order to slaughter Americans."
In a comment posted to YouTube, Andrews told people to "do your research" about how "Osama Bin Laden is our President Obama":
The fact that these soldiers were set up to die in a no return operation is obvious they had knowledge that Obama didn't want leaked. This is the Seals that killed Osama Bin Laden. I don't believe this story. He is alive call me crazy but, Osama Bin Laden is our President Obama do your research. The CIA has been preparing for this since he was a boy. They have same height, bone structure, hands and ears both are left handed the Osama face was created by Hollywood. The fox is in the hen house.
The "we'll drive in circles, which will cause Obama to resign" plan apparently made as little sense to the truckers who were supposed to join as it did to befuddled onlookers, considering barely anyone showed up for the rally.
That Obama was still in office after the failed trucker rally opened the door for another failed attempt by fringe activists to prompt his removal. In November, WND columnist Larry Klayman organized a "Second American Revolution" that sought the resignations of Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker John Boehner. While the gathering fell roughly 999,870 people short of its goal to get "millions to occupy Washington, D.C.," the attendees did include a man wearing a George Washington costume.
And there should be no shortage of fringe rallies in the new year. Activist and conspiracist Adam Kokesh had planned an armed march on Washington, D.C., in July of this year, but it fell apart. Afterward, Kokesh told Alex Jones that he was hoping to organize a march on July 4, 2014, with the goal of achieving an "orderly dissolution of the federal government."
Which seems likely.