“I’m just going to the heart of the inferno”: Interviewing Alex Moyer, Director of "Alex's War.”
The director of the controversial new movie about Alex Jones on media blindness, misleading labels, and America's mental health crisis
Alex Moyer has now made two movies in a row, TFW No GF and Alex’s War, that sound too much like journalism for today’s media. Even though most reviewers seemed to know exactly what they thought about both subjects before they even saw the films, Moyer was criticized for not planting enough signs telling them — and audiences — what to think about disaffected loner men, or InfoWars villain Alex Jones. The Guardian review of TFW No GF was typical, saying the film:
Pretends 4chan and other gathering places for this particular subculture are mostly harmless, perhaps populated with a few bad eggs. (By “bad egg,” I of course mean mass murderers.)
The movie does nothing of the sort, instead capturing a story of alienation that’s been running through our culture for ages. Moyer’s version merely shows the phenomenon worsening and expanding. She takes characters reduced in panicked media treatments to two-dimensional monsters and renders a nonjudgmental, tautly edited Herzogian treatment of who they are and how they came to be that way.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been enough to prevent her from being called an apologist for everything from right wing violence to misogyny. Even without reviews, she’s taking in interest, with Alex’s War topping Apple pre-order charts as of this writing. I asked her about the genesis of both movies and how she’s handled the schizoid public response:
Matt Taibbi: Can I ask when you got the idea, and what your thought process was about making TFW No GF?
Alex Moyer: Sure. This was back in 2018 that I started making that movie. And at that time, I don’t think I even knew what an incel was. I had done research for another film that I had worked on dealing with adjacent subject matter, so I was going online on Twitter and I was doing research and investigating at that time, elements of the dark web, IDW, all that stuff. What I was most drawn to, that I hadn’t seen anybody paying any attention to yet, were the amount of tweets and huge accounts that dealt almost exclusively with talking about being depressed and poor. It reminded me a little bit — It had a goth element to it, but it was much more genuine than that. But they weren’t really referring to themselves as incel. The etymology of that word is it’s a derogatory term… Much later on, even maybe well into when I was filming the movie, then I think there were some late adopters who co-opted it and decided that they wanted to identify as themselves, but certainly none of the people in my film identified as incels in a sincere way.
I thought I was making a movie about irony culture, but really the underpinnings were a mental health crisis, linked to socioeconomic factors in this country.
MT: This was completely on your own initiative?
Moyer: No one put me up to it. I shot the whole movie myself up until the very latter part of the movie. It was just me with a camcorder going out and meeting accounts that I thought were interesting and interviewing them. And it didn’t have any backing. I was paying for it with the paychecks that I made in my day job being an editor. And I didn’t really know what I was doing. I thought it was just going to be an art project.
MT: As I was watching this movie, it felt to me like if this had been 30 or 40 years ago, that these kids would’ve been punks, or going far further back, mods or rockers or something like that. They are left behind, alienated youth, which is kind of an old theme. What’s different?
Moyer: I was a punk rocker all through high school. Although at the same time, even though I was a punk rocker, I still am an outsider from these people, because they have actual real life challenges that I didn’t have to deal with. Also I’m not a boy.
So there’s that element of it too. There’s part of it that’s just about subculture and about a trend, and that these people are gravitating to this group because it gives them a sense of identity, but it’s in a time where their fundamental identity as being men and predominantly white in this case, is looked down upon. And they’re a little bit — I don’t want to say demonized because I just feel like there’s a stronger word. There’s like a better, more nuanced word than that…
Moyer: Vilified or just brushed aside, like castoffs. Especially these kids growing up in the environments that they grew up with, they shared a lot of similar facets. I didn’t know that going to meet them. I met them totally anonymously, not knowing anything about them until I got to go there and meet them. And it was amazing, the things that they really did have in common with each other, but I didn’t think then that I was making a movie about incels. To me, it was just an interesting way to spend a weekend in a way to get to know more about something that I was interested in. And then I would just sort out the details later on.
MT: So to clarify, you didn’t set out to make a movie about ‘incels.”
Moyer: No. Still, it’s not efficient for me in my career to always correct people and be like, “It’s not about incels.” 4Chan, irony culture, and theory bros. It’s not utilitarian for me to continue to nitpick with journalists. So I’ve just let it go. I’ve let people go ahead and call it the incel movie. And of course there are references to incel stuff in the movie, so, it’s not a totally off base observation for people to make. But for me, the people that I spoke to in the movie, I very sincerely considered to be my friends.
And again, I wasn’t approaching it from this like ‘I had studio backing’ or it’s ultra professional. These were people that I just honestly thought were cool and wanted to meet. And so for me to just call them incels, to me, felt demeaning and reductive. So I’ve never really leaned out heavily into that. And I definitely never wanted to be the pundit that talks on the subject. I didn’t want to go on Bill Maher or something and talk about incels.
MT: A lot of what you show is that these men were responding to an overwhelming flood of disapproval and dislike by popular media culture. Do you think that if this were the early 2000s, when Republicanism was dominant and the press was militaristic, that they might have had a completely different orientation? In other words, they seem to be very motivated just to do the thing that is the most shocking, and most enraging, to current audiences.
Moyer: Definitely. The other thing about it, is that a lot the right wing stuff is projected— I think maybe one of them considers himself to be right wing. And even then it’s in a very modern, Trumpy kind of way. I don’t think any of those people now, if you ask them how they identify, would say that they were right wing.
MT: The reviews suggest something totally different.
Moyer: I haven’t spoken to all of them on a regular basis, but to them again and again, especially with people like Kyle, it wasn’t really about politics. They just think that they’re goofing off… And with Charels I think it’s the same way. I think he was just having fun, goofing off, getting attention where he could get it.
MT: Getting a rise out of people?
Moyer: And Kantbot I think went from being right wing to deciding that it was lame and played out to be right wing. And now I think he’s still gravitated in the other way. Again, just like you said, I think he goes where it feels like the most provocative place to be. And I think that’s more of what the story is with those guys than it is about them having like these really genuine, heartfelt political leanings because, frankly, they don’t really have the intense life experience to have really deep convictions about politics like that.
MT: Right, except for the fact that they live in a vast American decline where things don’t work and opportunity is scarce. Is that a thing that unifies all of them?
Moyer: That’s something that I discovered and it was really interesting, and that really came together when I was editing. I saw it taking shape, but it really took shape in the edit room. I thought, wow. This really does work as a motif. And it really is something to be said about these places that are just overlooked, and about the people that are overlooked.
MT: The absent parents feel like a character in the movie.
Moyer: A hundred percent. Yeah. And it’s hard, because I want to protect people’s privacy. It’s important for me to protect my subject’s privacy. But they don’t have stable parental figures and they have sort of unconventional family lives. It’s not the same all the way across the board where it’s a single mother, but there were certainly people in the film that had a single mother. There were people in the film that had alcoholic parents. There were people in the film that had absentee parents. There were people in the film that had parents that were too old to connect with them. In almost all the cases, they were left on their own to be completely feral.
They didn’t seem to have models or a sense of needing to abide by a set of rules or something like what I had when I was growing up.
MT: Over the weekend, I saw Paul Krugman tweeting, more about MAGA followers. He was saying they are a whole political movement based on nothing. It made me think of that scene in the film where Viddy was talking about Charlottesville and he was saying, “Do people really think this happens for no reason?”
Was that another motif, this idea of a gap in people’s understanding of why these people are the way they are?
Moyer: Obviously, I’m not going to play coy like I don’t know that these are the people that fit the profile of being people who commit violence, school shootings and stuff like that. I was interested in touching on that in the film, but… knowing everything that I knew, and in seeing the legacy media talk about them in such absurd terms, about what the causes are, or what’s to be done — they were always ignoring what’s right in front of them, which is that there’s an entire generation of people who are being lost in the shuffle of this paradigm shift between the information age and the old world and the industrialized society.
That’s a big idea for most people to wrap their minds around. But there’s a mental health crisis in this country. There are a lot of people who get left to the sidelines, and then we wonder how, “Oh my God, how could this happen?”
It happens in countries all over the world, by the way. It happens also when it comes to gang violence or terrorism. We’re talking about people between the ages of 16 and 30 years old that are dudes. Those are the people that commit most of the crime in the world. And if those people don’t have any guidance in their lives or any constructive path or opportunity, they’re going to get into shit probably.
MT: In the response to the film, it felt like there were two groups of critics. One was saying that you glossed over the uglier parts. Another was essentially saying that it was illegitimate to even look at things like the root causes of the behavior of such people, or try to understand what was going on there. What’s your response to either of those criticisms?
Moyer: That’s the thing. The movie itself is a response to those things that are being glossed over. So those things are implied. And also, I do think that I touched upon all of those things, but I make it clear in the film that yes, we know that’s what people think, but that’s not what this movie is about. This movie is about individuals.
Later on, when I was able to start putting together a cut of the film, investors started coming to me, and nobody would invest any money because that was their same argument. They were like, “We need to have somebody who’s suffered at the hands of school shooters or women that have been harassed by a misogynist.”
I just said, “Well, no, this isn’t that kind of movie. This is an observational film about individuals. This isn’t a talking heads movie. This is a cinema verité observational film. It’s an immersive film.”
This is what I’m going to do with all of the documentaries that I make, by the way, including the one I just made about Alex Jones. It’s not meant to confirm your biases. It’s meant to actually show you what these people are actually like and then you can make an informed decision based off of watching the film. It used to be called journalism.
So that’s what I was setting out to do. And no, I didn’t have talking heads pounding home that they were school shooters the whole time. But if that had been the case, nobody would ask me about this movie or be talking about this movie because it would just be another forgettable piece of cable TV.
MT: Basically, people wanted you to make a scare doc like Reefer Madness, but not the camp version, the earnest original.
Moyer: Well, that’s what they’re doing. And people do that all the time now. I’m supposed to believe that that’s a liberal value or something. And I just don’t believe that. I’m the child of two journalists and when I was growing up, I heard all the time about how everybody has the right to express themselves and how we need opposing forces in the world to arrive at the best outcome, and how you don’t twist the truth for your own convenience and all of this. And my parents are lifelong Democrats who were telling me that. So, I know that it’s a brand new development and I know that it’s just a knee jerk reaction to Trump, or something. And that’s just not good enough for me.
MT: Absent the context with Trump and George Floyd, this feels like a very timeless American theme. Did it to you?
Moyer: I personally think it’s a really wholesome movie. I mean, I was thinking of The Catcher in the Rye when I was editing. These people who fall between the cracks and society not paying enough attention and they don’t just go away, they’re there.
MT: How much did the media reception bother you?
Moyer: At first the film was pretty well received and people actually thought that it was really interesting. And then the thermometer got turned up on all the culture stuff… There were really adversarial interviews. Rolling Stone called me and did an interview with me and the reporter was audibly pissed off that I even made the movie.
It wasn’t something I was prepared for. I was like, “Oh yeah, this is so great. My movie’s getting attention.” And then everybody decided it was a Nazi movie about incels or whatever. But I mean, it’s just so far from where my heart was when I was trying to make the movie. So it was really, really, really disappointing.
MT: If I were in your position (and I have been a little bit in your position before), I’d be mad. Did any of that play into the decision to do the Alex Jones movie?
Moyer: Yes. Because it pissed me off. I was like, okay, fine. If I’m going to be this person, then I’m at least going to not beat around the bush. And I’m just going to go to the heart of the inferno here and see if I can solve this Rubik’s cube of making people actually watch an authentic telling of Alex Jones’ story.
And it’s not a puff piece. Everyone’s going to say it is. I mean, so far everyone loves the movie, but they’re going to have to say that it’s bad. And then some people are going to change their minds. It’s done well so far, but yeah, it’s in that same spirit and I’m not going to pretend like it’s not provocative or that I don’t know what I’m doing. But it did make me pretty jaded coming out of that last movie. I was like, Wow, so people, no matter how careful I am and no matter how much integrity I try to execute this with, people are still just going to react like little babies. So I might as well make a movie about something that’s a huge challenge for me that I think is fascinating because I don’t have anything to lose.
MT: Right. Also that instinct to say that the subject matter itself is illegitimate has actually advanced since you made the other movie. So to do Alex Jones, people perhaps won’t even get to the point of watching the movie. It’ll be that forbidden.
Moyer: Oh no, they’ll watch it, they just won’t admit it. They’ll watch it secretly.
MT: You’re probably right. Thank you!
Moyer: Thank you.
I've been thinking that what we're dealing with is white trash racism, by which I mean racism against what's seen by liberals as white trash. Coming from Appalachia myself, where I've been fixing up my childhood home, there's a pervasive sense of being rejected by the degreed class, especially if you're white and male. Meanwhile in the liberal bastion I call home now, they're throwing the book at two young kids who drove over and left tire marks on a Black Lives Matter mural (consisting only of those words) that stretches on pavement in front of city hall. Prosecutors want damages over $100K plus five years in prison. Black residents say that it's traumatized them so much and made them feel so unsafe, they can't go to work somedays. The black population of my county is 1%. We're 33% Latino but they seem able to go to work. If these kids had felt that it was a statement their lives didn't matter, haven't we just proven them right? If it was a statue they felt demeaned their ancestors, we'd be celebrating them--if they were black. Instead, no one cares what led them to burn rubber on the city's most prominent declaration that they had no right to exist.
Thank you Mr. Taibbi. I don’t have extra funds, but I subscribe to you because you do interviews like this. If we are brave with words now, maybe the children will not have to be brave with bullets later.