In early March 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic began its onslaught across the country, Fox News host Tucker Carlson drove to then-President Donald Trump’s Florida resort to warn him to take the virus seriously.
“People you know will get sick,” Carlson said on his show later that night after visiting Trump at Mar-a-Lago. “Some may die. This is real. That’s the point of this script — to tell you that.”
The surprising warning was noticed by Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist best known for spreading lies about the parents of dead children and hawking overpriced supplements on his platform, Infowars. Jones texted Carlson a link on March 16, 2020, to a now-deleted Infowars article titled “Tucker Carlson Drove To Mar-A-Lago To Warn Trump Coronavirus Was A Real Threat.”
The subhead read “Fox News host saves America.”
“I tried man,” Carlson texted Jones back, according to a record of their conversation obtained by HuffPost.
Yet by the following month, as Trump continued to minimize the seriousness of the virus, the two right-wing media personalities appeared to follow the president’s lead, texting conspiracy theories with each other that downplayed the threat even as thousands of Americans were dying daily.
From Sept. 19, 2019, to May 1, 2020, Jones and Carlson discussed coronavirus conspiracy theories, traded a few jokes, and had at least one phone conversation after Jones expressed unfounded fears that Democrats were “working to get me arrested.” Jones also complained about The Daily Caller ― the right-wing publication founded by Carlson ― for not letting Infowars feature its content on the Infowars website.
“They won’t even take my money,” Jones whined to Carlson in a Jan. 15, 2020, text.
“Fucking crazy. I’m really sorry,” Carlson responded.
The texts were provided to HuffPost by Texas attorney Mark Bankston of the Houston law firm Farrar & Ball. Bankston confronted Jones in August after he obtained a copy of Jones’ cellphone during the Infowars owner’s first Sandy Hook defamation trial.
“Mr. Jones, did you know that 12 days ago, your attorneys messed up and sent me an entire digital copy of your entire cellphone, with every text message you’ve sent for the past two years?” Bankston asked Jones on the stand. “And when informed did not take any steps to identify those texts as privileged?”
Judge Guerra Gamble denied requests by Jones’ attorney, Andino Reynal, to have the messages sealed or destroyed. Reynal would later call it “the worst day of my legal career.”
HuffPost is publishing the full texts between Jones and Carlson, and has edited the pages to redact contact information.
“We have always favored public transparency in this litigation, and we think it’s clear that these conversations between Mr. Jones and one of the nation’s most widely watched political pundits are newsworthy and a matter of genuine public interest,” Bankston told HuffPost in a statement.
The texts alone are not the bombshell some media reports had hinted at, and the nearly eight-month period doesn’t cover Trump’s election loss or the subsequent U.S. Capitol attack. Jones also appears to have deleted several of his messages in his conversations with Carlson, but the texts still offer a glimpse into the burgeoning relationship between the two.
Carlson has repeatedly embraced the harasser of grieving parents, and went so far as to call him a “journalist” on Fox News in 2019 (Jones is not a journalist). More recently, Carlson wrote a glowing review for Jones’ book, published in October.
“If Alex Jones is just a crackpot, why are the most powerful people in the country trying to silence him?” Carlson wrote for the blurb. “No one bothers to censor the flat-earthers. Maybe Alex Jones is onto something.”
In a phone call with HuffPost, Jones said Carlson “has already outed himself as an Alex Jones fan.”
“I know this is a whole guilt by association, get Tucker Carlson who talks to Alex Jones, but that’s my private friendship, so I’ll leave it at that,” Jones said, before expanding on their friendship.
Carlson did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Jones, who said he’s been friends with Carlson for 10 years, told HuffPost Carlson isn’t concerned with stories about him.
“He doesn’t give a flying fuck,” Jones said.
The new texts further illuminate the blurring of lines between mainstream right-wing mouthpieces and the conspiratorial purveyors of disinformation working to amplify lies.
‘We’ll Be China Soon’
Despite Carlson’s warning to the president, and his plea on his Fox News program for his audience to take the virus seriously, by April 2020 he appeared to be trading unfounded conspiracy theories with Jones.
Early on the morning of April 27, Jones texted Carlson a link to an Infowars article that complained about a pharmaceutical company that was briefly suspended from Twitter after it posted a video that depicted an experimental ultraviolet technology designed to kill the coronavirus. YouTube also removed the video from its website for promoting unsubstantiated claims, but not before the video racked up more than 17 million views.
The idea of using UV light to kill the virus was briefly touted after Trump talked about shining a “very powerful light” inside the body to kill the virus.
“The whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute, that’s ― that’s pretty powerful,” Trump said during a White House press conference at the time.
Carlson replied to Jones’ text within the hour.
“I saw this. They’re clamping down. We’ll be China soon,” Carlson warned.
“Trump could vindicate himself by covering it,” Jones replied. “That’s why they are taking it down as you know.”
That wasn’t why Twitter had taken down the unverified claim (Twitter said in March of that year that it would remove tweets about the virus that “could potentially cause harm”), but Carlson agreed with Jones’ Infowars article.
“I totally agree,” Carlson texted. “If they can do this during a pandemic, they’ll definitely do it during a presidential election.”
Earlier that month, Infowars held a rally in Austin, Texas, attended by Jones and hundreds of his followers, demanding businesses reopen at a time when it was still unclear how the virus spread and thousands were dying. He had also started selling fake coronavirus cures, including a toothpaste, to his rube audience, which eventually led the Food and Drug Administration to issue a warning telling Jones to knock it off.
None of that seemed to sour Carlson on his friend.
The next morning, on April 28, Jones sent Carlson another link, this time to a viral video of two California doctors who claimed the virus was no worse than influenza, and that death rates were low enough to reopen businesses. The doctors, who own and operate urgent care centers, are not epidemiologists, and made their estimates based on their clinics’ clients, not a sampling of the general population.
The video amassed millions of views and was eventually taken down from YouTube for disputing the guidance of local health authorities, and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine and the American College of Emergency Physicians issued a joint statement calling the doctors’ comments “reckless and untested musings.”
Carlson, who had already done a segment on the doctors the night before, didn’t seem to care that their claims hadn’t been verified, and once again appeared to be in sync with Jones.
“This is our lede tonight,” Carlson texted Jones back later that morning.
And it was. That night, Carlson told his audience that YouTube’s removal of the doctors’ false and dangerous claims was yet another case of “Big Tech” censoring truth-tellers.
“Looking back when all of this is finally over, and it will be, it’s likely we will see this moment ― what YouTube just did ― as a turning point in the way we live in this country,” he ranted. “A sharp break with 250 years of law and custom.”
By that point, the virus had killed 65,000 Americans.
Nearly two months later, on June 10, Dr. Dan Erickson ― one of the two doctors involved in spreading misinformation ― went on Carlson’s show and appeared to walk back his “data” in a word-salad defense.
“When we first came out with our data, [experts] said, ‘These are wildly inaccurate,’ and they were raw data, and currently we’re putting our data in a more scientific format so they can biostatistically analyze it and we can sort of regive the data in a different format.”
Erickson then added that you don’t get the “strongest opinions and strongest solutions to come to the surface if we just shout down and take people off the air that have opinions that differ from what the masses are saying.”
“I’m smiling because you’re making a powerful case for what we used to call ‘diversity,’ which is no longer allowed,” he said. “The ironies mount.”
The death toll was then 115,000 Americans.
Democrats ‘Are Going To Crush Fox News’
On April 25, 2020, Jones appeared to seek Carlson’s approval when he texted an Infowars video of himself wearing a Facebook shirt and mock-apologizing to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder who kicked him off the platform in 2019. The video was titled “Alex Jones Signs HUGE Facebook Deal.”
When Carlson didn’t respond, Jones sent a follow-up text.
“Satire,” he clarified.
Carlson texted back seven hours later: “This is bitterly hilarious.”
It’s a common thread within the texts: Jones reaches out to Carlson hoping to get him to engage with Infowars content. And while Carlson could often be perfunctory with Jones in texts (“Tremendous” Carlson replied to a video Jones sent of himself voicing a digitally animated dragon with a racist Chinese accent), other times Carlson engaged in conversation with him.
For instance, Jones and Carlson texted on March 28 and March 31, but Jones appears to have deleted his side of the conversation. Jones told HuffPost he doesn’t remember if he deleted the messages or if Carlson’s texts could have been in response to prior phone conversations the two may have had.
“That’s just a snapshot of conversations, but I think it’s fair to say that most of the time I reach out to him,” Jones said. “I’m gonna leave it at that, but he’s not a big text guy.”
What remains are just Carlson’s responses, including one where he tells Jones ― who now owes more than $1 billion to the families of slain Sandy Hook victims whom Jones defamed for years ― that he should not have been kicked off social media.
“The clear indication is that there is at least some sort of editorial influence that Alex has — whether direct, indirect, even if it’s minimal — and it matters because Tucker is probably the most influential cable show host in the world, and Alex is a raving lunatic.”
– Dan Friesen, co-host of the Infowars analysis podcast “Knowledge Fight.”
“If Democrats win in November, they’re going to crush Fox News just as they’ve crushed the NRA. And we’re going to deeply regret letting it happen,” Carlson texted. “Everyone who thought it was fine that they deplatformed Alex Jones will look like a fucking moron.”
Dan Friesen is the co-host of the Infowars analysis podcast “Knowledge Fight” along with fellow comedian Jordan Holmes. The two have spent five years and more than 700 episodes staring into the abyss of the conspiracy theory program and reporting back their findings.
Friesen, who has reviewed the texts, told HuffPost the messages show a deeper familiarity between the two.
“It’s also that the power imbalance is pretty clear,” Friesen said. “You have a guy who is on top of his game [in the right-wing world] and someone who is not allowed on social media.”
It’s possible Jones has had an influence on Carlson, Friesen said.
“The clear indication is that there is at least some sort of editorial influence that Alex has ― whether direct, indirect, even if it’s minimal ― and it matters because Tucker is probably the most influential cable show host in the world, and Alex is a raving lunatic.”
Jones told HuffPost that he doesn’t need to “radicalize” Carlson.
“I’m not influencing Tucker Carlson,” Jones said. “The world is understanding that my worldview is closer to reality than mainstream media, so I don’t need to radicalize Tucker Carlson. He sees what’s going on in the world.”
‘Arrested? My Gosh.’
In their final messages obtained by HuffPost, Jones contacted Carlson on May 1, 2020, to share some “grave news.”
“Congratulations on being number one!” Jones texted. “I have some very grave news concerning the Democrats working to get me arrested. Hope we can talk today.”
Jones was never arrested, but just days earlier, on April 28 ― the same day he and Carlson texted about coronavirus misinformation ― Jones delivered one of his most unhinged and violent outbursts yet.
“I’m starting to think about having to eat my neighbors,” Jones said on Infowars days before telling Carlson he feared arrest. “You think I like sizing up my neighbor, how I’m going to haul him up by a chain and chop his ass up? I’ll do it.”
“But, I’m literally looking at my neighbors now and going: ‘I’m ready to hang them up and gut them and skin them and chop them up.’ You know what? I’m ready. My daughters aren’t going to starve to death. I’ll eat my neighbors. When my babies come into the equation, I will cook your ass up so fast and I’ll tell them: ‘Oh, I killed a cow out back, baby.’ Here it is because my babies ain’t gonna die for your crap, your failure. I will eat your leftist ass like corn on the cob, I’m ready. I’ll barbecue your ass flat. I will eat you. I’ll drink your blood. You understand that? I will hang your ass up and cut you into cutlets like a filet mignon and grill your ass before I watch my daughters starve to death. Let me tell you something right now. I swear to God, if it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to get my hands around your throat.”
Three days after the broadcast in which Jones threatened to drink the blood of his neighbors, he hoped to talk to Fox News’ golden boy over the phone.
“Arrested? My gosh,” Carlson responded to Jones. “That’s out of control. Are you free this afternoon?”
Jones was free, but not before he went to his Infowars studio to defend his neighbor-eating comments.
Standing behind Infowars hosts Owen Shroyer and Harrison Smith, a visibly rattled Jones said he’d only been joking, comparing his comments to the 18th-century satire “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift.
“It’s the global collapse that will cause the eating of the neighbors,” he said, blinking his eyes rapidly. “I would never eat my neighbors. It’s an allegory of the collapse of society.”
He then accused “the left” of wanting to burn babies.
Following his appearance on Infowars, Jones got his phone call with Carlson. Jones told HuffPost the conversation was “probably about the eat-the-neighbor thing, but I really don’t remember.”
Carlson came away from the call apparently unwavering in his alliance with Jones.
“Great to talk to you,” Carlson texted. The two exchanged emails to keep in touch.