AUSTIN – Who is the real Alex Jones?

That’s the question at the center of a contentious child custody battle playing out in Travis County Court between the online/radio provocateur Alex Jones and his ex-wife Kelly Jones. The radio host’s lawyers have characterized his boisterous online persona as “performance art” and a “character” he plays, while attorneys for the ex-wife maintain the shows are proof that he’s unfit to parent the couple’s three children. Kelly Jones is seeking full custody of the children.

Jones, who began his career in the early ’90s as an Austin-based public-access television show host, got a surge of publicity last year during the presidential campaign when then-candidate Donald Trump applauded his work and repeated some of Jones’ theories, including allegations that there was widespread voter fraud in the election against Trump. “It is surreal to talk about issues here on air, and then word-for-word hear Trump say it two days later,” Jones said during an August broadcast.

But if Jones’ signature online rants are more performance and less impassioned convictions, it could alter the ego he’s spent decades building up, said Brian Rosenwald, a University of Pennsylvania lecturer who’s working on a book on conservative talk radio. It also goes to the core of the growing debate about the blurred line between entertainment and information that’s defining today’s media, he said.

“It’s performance theater,” Rosenwald said of the proliferation of popular conservative talk show hosts like Jones, Rush Limbaugh and others. “But if the authenticity of a host is undermined, it could be devastating.”

A self-proclaimed libertarian, Jones, 43, has built a steady audience the past two decades by trafficking conspiracy theories ranging from the U.S. government blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 to the 9/11 terror attacks were an “inside job” planned and carried out by the federal government. His flagship site,, draws more than six million unique global visitors a month and his YouTube channel has more than two million subscribers.

More recently, Jones proliferated the theory that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, which left 20 children and six adults dead, never happened and that child actors played the roles of the school-aged victims. In November, he clarified his stance, stating, “I don’t know what the truth is. All I know is that the…