The far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been banned from Facebook, Apple, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Spotify and even PayPal for violating those sites' policies against hate speech. But Jones continues to have a platform to sell expensive dietary supplements through one of the world's biggest online retailers: Amazon.
Just as Amazon provides massive third-party sellers — such as Starbucks, Coca-Cola or Apple — with their own online storefronts, Jones' Infowars Store has a home on the site, too. There, he sells products such as "Super Male Vitality" drops, "Lung Cleanse Plus Spray" and "Prostaguard" pills.
"Thank you for supporting the Infowar!" the storefront states above its listings, suggesting that Jones is not just selling supplements but providing a path for consumers to fund his extremist causes. Meanwhile, Amazon provides support to Jones and gets a percentage of all the sales — called a "referral fee" — as it does with all third-party sellers. For supplements priced over $10, the referral fee is 15%.
Neither Amazon nor Jones responded to NPR's requests for comment.
One of the only other major sites to provide Jones with a platform is eBay. "Your purchase directly supports Alex Jones and his Infowars operations," the eBay storefront states above a similar group of Infowars dietary supplements. However, eBay is a small fraction of the size of Amazon, and brought in a little more than $10 billion in revenue in 2020, compared with Amazon's $386 billion. NPR also contacted eBay for comment but did not receive a response.
Jones is known, in the words of the Anti-Defamation League, for "spreading violent, bigoted conspiracy theories," which is what led several tech platforms to ban him years ago. Among the theories he pushed: the baseless idea that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, which killed 26 people, including 20 young children, was a "hoax." Afterward, families of the slain children said they experienced waves of harassment that have lasted for years. Jones later stated in a deposition that he was experiencing "like a form of psychosis" at the time and said that "my opinions have been wrong, but they were never wrong consciously to hurt people."
Jones has also been a supporter of former President Donald Trump and embraced the false conspiracy theory that the election was "stolen." Jones marched in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, though he did not breach the U.S. Capitol building. According to The Wall Street Journal, Jones also helped coordinate a $300,000 donation to support the rally at the Ellipse, where Trump spoke before the riot. The Journal reported that he also gave nearly $100,000 of his own money to a pro-Trump event the night before, where he also spoke. Jones has also repeatedly featured the leader of the anti-government militia the Oath Keepers on Infowars. Other members of the Oath Keepers are now facing conspiracy charges related to the Capitol riot.
Since Jones' businesses are private, exact figures about the amount of revenue he generates, including through Amazon, are unknown. But court records and news reports suggest that much of Jones' fortune, which he can use to fund his far-right causes such as that rally, comes from marketing dietary supplements. In addition to Amazon, he also sells supplements directly through his own site.
In 2014, his businesses brought in $20 million, according to court testimony cited by The New York Times. The Times also viewed some of his financial documents and reported that most of that money came from supplements that year. The German magazine Der Spiegel profiled Jones in 2017 and reported that about two-thirds of his income came from product sales, including supplements. A filmmaker who worked with Jones in 2019 told the Southern Poverty Law Center that Jones bragged about making $60 million in a year, though that figure is unverified.
"He is making, at a minimum, tens of millions of dollars," said the SPLC's Michael Edison Hayden, who has looked into Jones' finances. "As far as I can tell, the dietary supplements are the absolute bread and butter, the foundation of his entire business at this point."
On his shows, Jones pitches the supplements as not just a health item, but a contribution to his political movement. "There's a lot of people that need my help, and it's gonna take money to do it," Jones said recently. "Please buy products from us whenever you can." He then pivoted to hawking his "Alpha Power" — recently sold on Amazon and available with Prime shipping in some areas — which he said, "I can't even tell you, it makes me so aggressive and virile, it's ridiculous."
The dietary supplement industry is largely unregulated in the United States. But Jones' supplement business has gotten scrutiny from government agencies. Near the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Jones marketed colloidal silver products — such as a "Nano Silver toothpaste" and a "Superblue Silver Immune Gargle" — as treatments for COVID-19.
Leading medical authorities say colloidal silver is not safe or effective for treating any medical condition, let alone COVID-19. At high enough doses, colloidal silver can permanently turn a person's skin blue. So the Food and Drug Administration sent Jones a warning letter, demanding that he stop making false and misleading claims about his products. The New York attorney general also sent Jones a cease-and-desist letter. The products cited by the FDA were sold on Amazon back then but no longer appear on the site.
It's unclear why Jones has so far evaded scrutiny from Amazon.
In recent years, Amazon has blocked some products it deems hateful. After a white supremacist murdered nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, Amazon removed listings for Confederate flags. This month, Amazon said it would no longer "sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness."
But the retailer has struggled to combat false and misleading claims by third-party sellers as well counterfeit products and other items found unsafe by regulators. A 2020 NPR investigation revealed that amid the coronavirus pandemic, more than 100 dietary supplements sold on Amazon made misleading and potentially illegal claims that they could treat viruses.
The SPLC's Hayden said that Amazon has generally been reactive — rather than proactive — when dealing with problematic products and sellers, often waiting until public pressure builds.
"So Amazon is going to turn a profit, and they're going to turn a blind eye until somebody else points it out," he said.
Editor's note: Amazon is among NPR's financial supporters.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been banned from most major websites for violating their policies against hate speech. Among the baseless theories that Jones has promoted on his show Infowars is that the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 was a hoax. More recently, he promoted efforts by former President Donald Trump to overturn the results of the election. But Jones still has a platform to sell expensive dietary supplements through one of the world's biggest online retailers, Amazon, which we should note is an NPR corporate sponsor.
NPR investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach has been looking into the business arrangement between Jones and Amazon. And Tom joins us now.
TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So if I search for Alex Jones on Amazon, what would I find?
DREISBACH: Well, you would find an online storefront for his brand of dietary supplements called Infowars Life. Now, Infowars is a third-party seller on Amazon, just like a lot of major companies and small mom and pop-type operations. And on Amazon, Jones and Infowars sell supplements, like one called Brain Force that is supposed to boost your memory. He also previously sold a toothpaste, including on Amazon, that he claimed could fight COVID-19 - falsely, according to scientific experts - and that led to a warning letter from the FDA. It's no longer available.
But Jones is really not just pitching dietary supplements. You know, at the top of his Amazon storefront, it says, thank you for supporting the Infowar, suggesting that he's providing customers a way to fund his extremist causes. You can also hear that in this recent pitch that he made on his show.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE ALEX JONES SHOW")
ALEX JONES: We also need funding - more funding than ever because I want to expand. There's a lot of people that need my help. So buy the products. You need them anyways. Vitamin Mineral Fusion back in stock - 50% off, free shipping still. Alpha Power is sold out.
DREISBACH: So he's really framing these dietary supplements as a means of supporting his politics.
SHAPIRO: So any sense of how much money he's making off of this Vital-Mineral Infusion (ph) and Alpha Power stuff?
DREISBACH: (Laughter) Yeah. The company behind Alex Jones and Infowars is private, so they don't have to disclose revenue figures. But it's been widely reported that Jones makes tens of millions of dollars a year. The New York Times reported that he made about 20 million in 2014, and the majority of that, they reported, came from sales of these supplements. We don't know how much of that comes from sales through Amazon. He also sells through his own website. But however big the number is, Amazon does get a percentage of the sales. So it is making money off this arrangement.
SHAPIRO: And you say this is being used to fund his extremism. Can you get any more specific than that?
DREISBACH: Well, Infowars creates a huge amount of video content every day. That's where he's made his most extreme statements, not just about mass shootings like Sandy Hook. He's repeatedly attacked LGBTQ people and immigrants. He's hosted white supremacists on his show. You know, recently, since the January 6 Capitol riot, he's come over - under even more intense scrutiny. He has in the past repeatedly invited the leader of the extremist militia the Oath Keepers on air. And now the Justice Department has brought conspiracy charges against other members of that group for their alleged role in storming the Capitol.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that Jones helped coordinate funding for the Trump rally in Washington on January 6 before the riot. And that was where Trump gave the speech that was considered incitement by many people.
SHAPIRO: Does Amazon have rules against this? What's the company saying?
DREISBACH: They did not respond to my repeated requests for comment. Neither did Jones. So it's overall unclear why they're still hosting him. They have banned products for hate speech in the past. But they are getting criticism. Just a few moments ago, I heard from the office of Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut. That's where the Sandy Hook shooting happened. And Blumenthal called Amazon's decision to provide a platform for Jones acutely alarming and added that Jeff Bezos should ask himself who and what he is willing to profit from.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach.
DREISBACH: Thanks, Ari.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHAZ BUNDICK MEETS THE MATTSON 2'S "DISCO KID") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.