Libertarian presidential candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson has reached 10 percent in national polls, inching closer to the 15 percent threshold needed to qualify for the debates, largely by positioning himself as a responsible alternative to GOP nominee Donald Trump for fiscally conservative voters. But does Johnson deserve that label?
One of the most prominent critiques levied against Trump in recent weeks is that has brought the ideas of the "alt-right," a fringe conservative ideology the Southern Poverty and Law Center has labeled a hate group, to the mainstream. Central to this accusation is Trump's association with new media broadcaster Alex Jones and his Infowars site.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton tore into the right-wing radio host during a speech in August criticizing Trump's "alt-right" appeal.
"This is what happens when you listen to the radio host Alex Jones, who claims that 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombings were inside jobs," Clinton said during the event in Nevada. "[Jones] even said that the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre were child actors — I don't know what happens in somebody's mind or how dark their heart must be to say things like that. But Trump does not challenge these lies. He actually went on Jones' show and said 'You're reputation was amazing. I will not let you down.' This from the man who wants to be president of the United States."
Johnson also has ties to Jones after appearing on his show several times. When asked about the connection, the campaign told International Business Times this week it does not approves of Jones' views.
"Gov. Johnson has appeared on a number of shows over the years on which he did not agree with the host — and Alex Jones certainly falls in that category," said Joe Hunter, Johnson's communications director.
Apart from campaigning against gun control and railing against NSA surveillance, Jones uses his daily broadcast, which airs online to seven million unique listeners per month and is also syndicated on over 100 radio stations, to perpetuate conspiracy theories about 9/11, President Barack Obama's citizenship and religion, and the supposed New World Order of global corporate interests working to oppress the population. Within this election cycle, Jones has been one of the biggest promoters of the conspiracy that Clinton is in poor health and that the November election will be rigged.
Clinton implied that Trump appearing on Jones' show legitimizes those ideas in a way not befitting of a serious presidential candidate and chastised the candidate for praising Jones' reputation. The New York Times Editorial Board agreed in an editorial published Tuesday.
Johnson, meanwhile, has been appearing on Infowars since 2012. As the Libertarian candidate in that year's presidential election, Johnson joined Infowars' David Ortiz as well as Jones himself, often dodging or challenging allusions to political conspiracies in order to discuss his fight to get on the main debate stage against Obama and then-Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
Johnson dodged conspiracy-adjacent questions in a 2014 interview with Jones. During a conversation about government overreach in the coal industry, Johnson made a point about the importance of letting the free markets dictate the fate of the energy industry, but did not fully refute Jones when the host suggested Obama's policy was part of a malicious effort to weaken the coal industry and the working class.
"You could use coal right now as an example. The EPA writes rules against carbon emissions declaring carbon as a pollutant. Because of that they are putting the coal industry out of business. They are doing that administratively," Johnson said at the time.
Jones answered: "[Obama] said that. He said, 'you can have a coal plant, but we are going to bankrupt you.'"
"That is essentially what he is doing," Johnson eventually conceded, though he noted he was not familiar with such a quote.
In that same interview, Johnson praised the host for disrupting mainstream media narratives.
"Keep up the vigilance," Johnson told Jones. "I appreciate what you do out there. I appreciate the things that you say — the awareness. I was at an event last night where a woman was a Democrat and now she's a Libertarian because of Alex Jones, which I thought was terrific."
To be sure, while they may agree on a number of hallmark libertarian issues, such as NSA surveillance and gun control, Johnson has never publicly embraced one of Jones' conspiracy theories the way Trump has in 2016 with the Clinton health rumors and threats of a rigged election.
More recently, the relationship between Johnson and Infowars appears to have soured. Jones has been vocally supportive of the Trump campaign, blasting Johnson for accusing Trump of racism and for running on an immigration platform that he says amount to "amnesty." He has gone as far as to accuse the Libertarian candidate of being a "sleeper cell" for the Clinton campaign.
Jones' criticism of Johnson dates back as far as Johnson's Infowars interviews, Johnson's campaign said this week.
"Not in 2014, nor at any other time, did Gov. Johnson suggest that he agreed with all that Mr. Jones says or purports on the air," said Hunter. "Again, his interviews with Infowars were opportunities to reach an audience. Nothing more, nothing less."