In 1990, computer scientists at the Swiss-based research center CERN developed the rudiments of what would become the modern world wide web with still-foundational concepts like HTML, HTTP, and the URL. They also created the first website, info.cern.ch. You can still browse it, even though it’s pretty crude by modern standards.
CERN made the software to create websites public domain in 1993, and the internet’s first conspiracy theory site probably popped up seconds later.
When conspiracy theory culture moved online, it was following a pattern of early crank adoption of new technology, from easy duplication of photos fueling the Dreyfus Affair to home video equipment making it easier to make and distribute conspiracy films. On bulletin board systems, email lists, Yahoo groups, blocky websites on long-gone providers, and text-based forums like USENET, conspiracy theories flourished. They grew so quickly that the USENET group alt.conspiracy was already getting nearly a hundred thousand monthly views as early as July 1994, making it one of the most popular parts of the early web.
Within a few years, conspiracy theories would start their slow creep from the fringes to the mainstream, fired by right-wing talk radio and the adoption of the internet. And with it came the usual attacks on wealthy Jews, and their “kings,” the Rothschilds. Overall, the Clinton years, the 9/11 attacks, and the Great Recession were all tremendous drivers of internet antisemitism. Once-fringe theories would become commonly accepted tropes, completely enmeshed with how we perceive history, finance, politics, and Judaism. What was shocking and scandalous in Paris in 1846, and genocidal in Nazi Germany a century later, was now so banal that tracking all of its variations would soon literally become impossible.
Much of the earliest internet is lost for good, so we may never know who posted the first Rothschild conspiracy theory online. The first discoverable reference to the family in searchable USENET archives, other than in posts about wine, might be an October 1994 post in, of all places, alt.sport.horseracing. A user posted a short block of text called “Rothschild: The Head of the Beast” that claimed that “Rothschild agents are like cockroaches crawling around your home. These cockroaches crawl all over Europe—they are everywhere. [ . . . ] They are constantly maneuvering and working for the Rothschild purposes.”
The Rothschild family round the pool at their home the villa Santa Margarita in Marbella, Spain, August 1980.
Slim Aarons/Getty Images
It was new technology, but an old message. The rant was cut and pasted from an issue of the New Age newsletter “Revelations of Awareness,” produced since 1977 by “Cosmic Awareness Communications” and devoted to interpreting and disseminating the messages of an apparently antisemitic Godhead figure. But the anti-Rothschild hate didn’t stay confined to Godhead-interpreting seekers. It steadily grew in places like alt.conspiracy on USENET, where threads liberally quoted The Creature from Jekyll Island’s “Rothschild Formula” while decrying the ever-present “Rothschild-Rockefeller Luciferian Conspiracy! [sic]” and demanding to know “How long is America going to put-up with David Rockefeller, and the rest of his peverted [sic] Establishment?”
As websites became easier to create, the cranks moved from message boards to homemade sites full of clickable links and floating graphics against backdrops that can charitably be described as “garish.” No matter what conspiracy you were into, someone would make a website for it, or you could make your own—delivering forbidden knowledge on “Secret Military Experimentation on Americans,” blood purification, the evil deeds of the “rogue” ATF, alien bases on Mars, Freemasons, light energy, the atmospheric research array HAARP, the DEA framing O.J. Simpson, the Hale-Bopp Comet’s starship companion, the danger of electromagnetic fields, and, of course, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
And if anyone could post someone else’s conspiracy theories on the web, then anyone could create their own. As new avenues of paranoia opened up, there came a new batch of conspiracy theory authors and influencers ready to dictate those conversations, and maybe even make some money in the process.
Rothschild conspiracy theories were often featured in one of the earliest popular fringe internet newsletters, Conspiracy Nation. Launched in 1994 by Brian Francis Redman, Conspiracy Nation made it clear in its first issue that it would be devoted to the chestnuts of the genre: a JFK debate, an interview with “Clinton Body Count” creator Linda Thompson, and articles profiling conspiracy theorist and anti-Rothschild preacher Texe Marrs. These were names that were all deeply familiar to the conspiracy community, and still are. In 2009, for example, Marrs released a video called Rothschild’s Choice: Barack Obama and the Hidden Cabal Behind the Plot to Murder America, claiming that Jacob Rothschild, the fourth Baron Rothschild, had personally selected Kenyan Muslim usurper Barack Hussein Obama as the United States’ next leader to oversee the ongoing financial collapse of the Western world. And it was a hit on early video aggregator sites.
Over more than six hundred issues, Redman and his contributors took on the pressing topics that the media “wouldn’t cover.” They had a particular obsession with the Clintons, of course, along with “the truth” about the Oklahoma City bombing and the Waco siege. But there were also attacks on feminism and communism, examinations of Bigfoot sightings and bovine growth hormone, and even movie reviews and rants sent in by readers. Of course, there was the usual obsession with Jewish wealth. In one series of Conspiracy Nation issues, Redman liberally quotes from Iowa congressman and People’s Party founder James B. Weaver’s 1892 book A Call to Action, full of attacks on “European speculators” and their role in demonetizing silver. Another extols Father Coughlin’s fight against “internationalism” as “a recurring scheme favored by those wanting to hog wealth and power.” Numerous issues make vague references to “European funders” or “globalist bankers” as the power behind the power.
Regular Conspiracy Nation contributor Sherman Skolnick was already something of a fringe celebrity, having started the Chicago-based activist organization Citizens’ Committee to Clean Up the Courts to rid the Windy City of its endemic graft and political corruption. He’s also a tragic case study in how paranoia can turn a well-meaning and tenacious crusader into a crank—making more unhinged accusations while accomplishing less and less.
Though he was confined to a wheelchair because of polio, Skolnick’s tireless reporting on real corruption in Illinois government helped bring down two state supreme court justices in 1969 and contributed to the legal case against one of the state’s many imprisoned governors. But by the time Conspiracy Nation launched, he’d descended down the rabbit hole. Skolnick trafficked in bizarre claims about the Clintons, filed scores of frivolous lawsuits against the City of Chicago and Cook County, and ranted about the domination of a global government run by a Rockefeller-Rothschild alliance. It all culminated in his posthumously published book of columns Overthrow of the American Republic, in which, among other Rothschild-involved schemes, he bizarrely implicated the “French Rothschilds” in a plot alongside the Jesuits and the Japanese underworld to take over Bank of America and fund the 9/11 attacks.
Baron Alphonse Rothschild, formerly of Vienna, with his wife and daughters after arriving in New York City as refugees on the British liner Samaria on July 8, 1940.
“Alex Jones took the scattered parts of conspiracy theory internet 1.0—the message board posts, the text-block newsletters, the technicolor-puke-looking websites—and put it all together in an entertaining and user-friendly package.”
There would be many others who found audiences pumping out paranoia on the early internet, of course. And their influence began to creep into every aspect of the rapidly growing conspiracy theory/militia/ antisemitism/New World Order nexus that blossomed with the botched raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco in 1993.
There were followers of the far-right survivalist and former Special Forces officer James “Bo” Gritz, whose acolytes at the off-the-grid survival camp he founded in Idaho routinely claimed a Rothschild-run New World Order was about to strip them of their freedom. There’s Henry Makow, a Swiss-born conspiracy theorist whose website devoted to “exposing feminism and the New World Order” has archives going back to 2002 containing hundreds of articles attacking the Rothschilds, including a 2004 piece claiming the Iraq War was engineered to “[advance] the Rothschilds’ program of world dictatorship as outlined in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. These Lucifer-loving bankers and their confederates would like you to believe the Protocols is a forgery. It is not. It is the blueprint of the new world order unfolding before our eyes.”
Conspiracy theorist Jack Otto’s mid-aughts radio show Radically Right pumped out a constant stream of crackpot theories about the supposed Rothschild-Rockefeller alliance while claiming the family were “fake Jews” descended from a lost central Asian tribe called the “Khazars” who converted to Judaism in the eighth century c.e. And Andrew Hitchcock’s 2007 book The Synagogue of Satan claimed to tell “The Secret History of Jewish World Domination,” invoking pretty much every extant Rothschild trope while adding a few operatically bizarre new ones like “on September 11, the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is orchestrated by Israel with the complicity of Britain and America, under the orders of the Rothschilds, which they in turn blame on so-called Muslim terrorists.” All it was missing was the Japanese underworld.
“The Rothschilds are so omnipresent on Infowars that the family has been mentioned on more than 1,300 different episodes of Alex Jones’ show”
But even though the internet was bringing conspiracy theories to a much wider audience, most people still wanted nothing to do with this stuff or the people who cranked it out.
That changed in Austin, Texas, starting in the mid-1990s, when Alex Jones became a public access phenomenon. He took the scattered parts of conspiracy theory internet 1.0—the message board posts, the text-block newsletters, the technicolor-puke-looking websites—and put it all together in an entertaining and user-friendly package that could easily be monetized through the growing number of distribution channels opening up on the net. And he frequently took calls on his public access show, letting listeners and guests opine on their own conspiracy theories that he would then run with—Bill Cooper was a frequent early guest. Jones put a good-looking, well-spoken, deeply passionate face on a genre heretofore dominated by elderly cranks and street-corner shouters pushing shopping carts. And if there was one cabal he blamed more than any other for the ever-impending triumph of the New World Order, it was the Rothschilds.
“Hang up, Red Shield!”
While promoting his book on climate change in 2007, London heir David Mayer de Rothschild—a swashbuckling adventurer and environmentalist with a six-foot-four frame, a history of dating Hollywood actresses like Cameron Diaz and more recently Angelina Jolie, and long-flowing hair— made one of the family’s few recent media appearances. For reasons that defy human understanding, it was on Infowars, talking to Alex Jones.
Lionel de Rothschild driving a team of zebras circa the 19th Century, who was a British banker, politician and philanthropist who was a member of the prominent Rothschild banking family.
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Image
The Rothschild and the Rothschild conspiracy theorist spent an hour locked in a hostile, deeply awkward, and seemingly endless “debate” about both his family history and the dangers of climate change—which Jones believes is nothing but a globalist scam to enact carbon taxes and mind control. During the interview, Jones seems giddy to actually have the ear of an “heir of the House of Rothschild,” and deluged de Rothschild with bad faith questions, bogus statistics, and off-topic rambles—before bringing up “the time of Waterloo, when your family was so active” and tying it to the myth of a massive Channel storm forcing Nathan Rothschild’s messenger to bribe a terrified sailor.
The family might be press averse, but they know these theories have been around for a long time and decided long ago that the way they respond to them is to not respond to them. Sure enough, de Rothschild ignored the Waterloo mentions and the dog whistles about “your money-changing family,” continuously going back to how we only have one planet and maybe we should stop treating it like a garbage dump. Likewise, Jones continued ranting at a level akin to the internet debate standard “if global warming is real, why is it cold outside,” finally dropping any pretense of civil conversation and shouting, “I’m not your slave, Rothschild! And your scam’s not going to work!”
With the Rothschild heir not taking the bait, Jones finally bellowed, “Hang up, Red Shield!” seemingly daring de Rothschild to abandon the call as music swelled, taking Infowars to a commercial break. Either because he was genuinely enjoying the experience, or because he was too polite to hang up, David stayed on the line, and the two grown men continued yelling over each other. Finally, mercifully, after forty endless minutes, the conversation wrapped up. Like any pointless debate involving a conspiracy believer, nobody’s mind was changed.
“Lord Rothschild, you know that your house will fail in the end,” Jones gravely proclaimed to David, who doesn’t actually have that title. “And I want to let you know that anyone who supports the New World Order and dehumanization is going to go to prison, you just need to know that.”
“Sure, thanks for letting me know,” de Rothschild responded in his crisp English accent, practically smirking through the phone. “I hope you can visit and bring me some food.” He finally hung up, and an outraged Jones mocked him some more before moving on.
Because the Rothschilds so rarely give interviews, it’s easy to look at the bizarre exchange between Alex Jones and David de Rothschild as a missed opportunity for Jones to get behind the locked door of one of the most secretive dynasties in the world. But Jones has no interest in the Rothschilds as anything other than what he perceives as the funders of the New World Order. And he never did, because nobody wants to listen to a show that tells you that the people you think run the world actually are OK, and maybe even trying to do some good for the world.
Jones’ endorsement of the Waterloo canard in his 2007 film Endgame was yet another manifestation of an obsession that probably started the first time he grabbed None Dare Call It Conspiracy off his father’s bookshelf and read its admonition to “remember that for over 150 years it has been standard operating procedure of the Rothschilds and their allies to control both sides of every conflict.”
Infowars shows as far back as 2003 are peppered with references to the Rothschilds “printing money,” controlling central banking, and being “a major part of the New World Order.” By 2008, Jones was referring to the Rothschilds as part of a “Germanic death cult that believes they are the true Zionists” in an interview with conspiracy theorist author Jordan Maxwell. In 2009, Jones included “European Rothschilds and Rockefellers” in a bizarre bit where he faked leaving a message on the voicemail of newly inaugurated president Barack Obama. Ironically, a Rothschild did actually make a rare foray into American politics in that election, as Lynn Forester de Rothschild, wife of then–London branch head Evelyn de Rothschild (the father of David de Rothschild), flipped from supporting Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary to endorsing Obama’s opponent John McCain due to her belief that Obama was “an elitist” who “has not given me reason to trust him.” The endorsement didn’t curry much favor with Jones, who loathed McCain as well.
Jones’ obsession with the Rothschilds isn’t just confined to his radio show. An un-bylined (and since deleted) 2010 article on Infowars referred to the Rothschilds and Rockefellers as “Trillionaires of The World,” supported by a slew of fake quotes and debunked conspiracy theories. The piece was met with dozens of comments that the Rothschilds should die in a variety of horrible ways—not an uncommon reaction among anonymous internet trolls discussing the family. Even the talk pages for Jones’ Wikipedia entry, where editors discussed what should and shouldn’t be included on his biographical page, became a battleground over whether Jones’s constant references to the Rothschilds are actual antisemitism or merely “talk about certain corrupt individuals like Kissenger [sic] and the Rothschild family as well as hundreds of other people of all races and beliefs.”
Jones would continue making references to the Rothschilds being “broken and destroyed” and “rolling over for the ChiComs” (Chinese Communist Party) in episodes well into the 2020s as Rothschild wealth had long since waned. The Rothschilds are so omnipresent on Infowars that the family has been mentioned on more than 1,300 different episodes of Alex Jones’ show, either by the host, one of his fill-in hosts, or a guest. But even as Jones kept attacking the Rothschilds, he shifted much of his ire toward a different wealthy Jewish philanthropist—George Soros. Many of those coming up alongside Jones in the growing firmament of internet conspiracy theories would take Jones’ deranged notions about the family down darker and stranger roads, leading to all manner of Jew-hating garbage.
Excerpted from Jewish Space Lasers: The Rothschilds and 200 Years of Conspiracy Theories, by Mike Rothschild; published by Melville House, 2023.