Mr. Friesen and Mr. Holmes decided to counter Mr. Jones’ version of the conversation with their own. The two men met through Marty DeRosa, a comedian from Chicago. Holmes, 33, grew up in the small town of Princeton in northern Illinois. His parents were members of the no-name fellowship, a religious cult. The cult broke up after the child of one of its members died after being denied medical treatment.
“My whole life has been influenced by a loud, tall, brazen cheat cult leader,” joked Holmes.
At the University of Missouri, the 36-year-old Friesian took an interest in American storytelling, including the conspiratorial stories Americans tell themselves.
He occasionally listened to Mr. Jones “from 9/11” when the Infowars host claimed to have predicted the attacks, Mr. Friesen said. “Then when I saw that he was getting involved with Trump, it felt weird,” said Mr Friesen.
Mr Jones’ leap into presidential politics intrigued Mr Friesen, who compared Mr Jones to Charles E. Coughlin, a Catholic priest and similarly sprawling, charismatic radio station in the 1930s who went from populism to virulent anti-Semitism to darkness.
For Infowars, a return to the dark could be looming. After a staggering audience surge during Mr. Jones’ live broadcast of the Capitol uprising on Jan. 6, daily traffic on the Infowars website has dropped to about a quarter of that day’s views, well below what it has seen in recent years, an analysis by SimilarWeb, an internet tracking company.
Social media traffic has never fully recovered after Mr. Jones was removed from most major platforms in 2018 and 2019 for violating guidelines on abusive behavior and posting posts promoting violence or hatred. Sites like Infowars can attract casual readers who follow viral posts on social media. However, according to SimilarWeb analysis, these referrals have decreased significantly as less than 1 percent of all traffic to Infowars is through social media.