Many chaotic moments have occurred inside the Quicken Loans Arena this week - most notably the thunderous boos that greeted Ted Cruz last night and coincided with a technical glitch that made all the LED screens in the arena flicker and die, giving Cruz the aura of a supervillain bent on destroying not only the Trump campaign but the very building itself. But amidst all this onstage bedlam one moment in particular felt personal to me. It happened on Monday - Make America Safe Again night - right at the end of Pat Smith's speech. Pat Smith lost her computer programmer son, Sean, in Benghazi in 2012. It was a heart-wrenching speech. At one point she yelled - her voice raw, as if sandpapered by years of grief – “I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son.”
And then came the moment. It started with a woman on the delegate floor yelling out, “Hillary for prison!” And Pat Smith replied, “That's right. Hillary for prison. She deserves to be in stripes.” Hillary for prison. With those three words Alex Jones - the man who coined the phrase - finally made it onto the stage of the Republican National Convention and right into the heart of mainstream American politics.
I’ve been following Alex Jones’s career for nearly twenty years, because I am basically his Simon Cowell. Back in 1999 I had the idea, for my book Them: Adventures with Extremists
, to try and sneak into the private summer camp Bohemian Grove where members of the ruling elite – Dick Cheney, George Bush, Henry Kissinger, et cetera - were long rumored by conspiracy theorists to undertake a ritual that culminated in a human effigy being thrown into the fiery belly of a giant stone owl.
“That can’t be true,” I thought. And so I decided to try and sneak in and see for myself.
I didn’t want to go alone, for two reasons:
a. I was scared.
b. If I failed alone, there would be no story. If I failed alongside the charismatic fledgling conspiracy talk show host Alex Jones, at least I could write about him failing.
We didn’t fail. We got into Bohemian Grove and secretly filmed the ritual. Alex subsequently released a video - Dark Secrets Inside Bohemian Grove – documenting our infiltration and massively embellishing an already truly bizarre evening. What we actually saw were a bunch of rich old Republicans dress in robes and hoods – like posh Klansmen – and solemnly undertake a very stupid pageant. In Alex’s rendering, however, we might have seen actual human sacrifice. Alex’s take proved hugely successful and essentially launched his career.
This week – and I could never have predicted this - Alex’s extreme conspiratorial rhetoric is seriously influencing the RNC. Donald Trump publicly declared himself a fan back in December 2015, appearing on his show and telling him, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”
This extraordinary lurch into zealotry has galvanized swathes of Republicans here, whilst disturbing many others. On Tuesday I got talking to a young ‘Never Trump’ supporter - a delegate’s guest from North Carolina. I saw him being yelled at in the Q’s corridor by a man wearing a Make America Great Again hat. “You’re going to hand the election to Hillary!” he was screaming. After he stomped off, the kid looked rattled.
“It’s like a cult has taken over the GOP,” he told me.
Yesterday I bumped into Roger Stone, a close friend of Donald Trump’s and the man who first introduced him to Alex Jones. I told him what the young man had said – about how it felt like a cult had taken possession of his party.
Roger Stone smiled. “Give me that fellow’s name so we can get him an IRS audit,” he replied.