In 1999, before the prospect of a Trump presidency had even been joked about on The Simpsons, Welsh journalist Jon Ronson and Texas conspiracy theorist and talk show host Alex Jones embarked upon a strange and memorable adventure. Together, they infiltrated Bohemian Grove, a “private summer camp” for “members of the ruling elite” and even managed to film a ritual in which a human effigy was burned in a large stone owl. Seventeen years later, amid the din and chaos of the 2016 Republican National Convention, Ronson finds that his one-time cohort is now wielding considerable influence within the Republican party, not despite his extreme views but because of them. The journalist sorts through his feelings about this in an editorial for Cleveland Scene. “I could never have predicted this,” Ronson admits.
“Hillary for prison” is a slogan that has been heard on the convention floor this week, and it’s an idea that Ronson attributes directly to Jones. On Monday night, one woman in the audience yelled those very words during a speech by Pat Smith, a grieving mother whose son had died in Benghazi and who blamed Hillary Clinton personally for that. In an astounding turn of events, Smith repeated the phrase she’d heard from the audience. Just like that, Jones’ ideas had infiltrated the Republican mainstream. That moment, Ronson said, “felt personal to me,” more so than anything else in the convention.
The journalist also takes the opportunity to reflect upon the Bohemian Grove caper from 1999. Bringing Jones along, Ronson says, was a way of hedging his bets. “If I failed alone, there would be no story,” he writes. “If I failed alongside the charismatic fledgling conspiracy talk show host Alex Jones, at least I could write about him failing.” The gambit succeeded wildly, however, and helped build Jones’ reputation. Now, as the GOP seems to have undergone a swift and terrifying metamorphosis, Ronson may be feeling twinges of guilt at his part in helping to create a monster.