Mr. Friesen and Mr. Holmes decided to counter Mr. Jones’s version of entertainment with their own. The two men met through Marty DeRosa, a Chicago comedian. Mr. Holmes, 33, grew up in the small Northern Illinois town of Princeton. His parents were members of the No-Name Fellowship, a religious cult. The cult disbanded after the child of one of its members died after being denied medical treatment.
“My entire life was influenced by a loud, large, brash con man cult leader,” Mr. Holmes joked.
At the University of Missouri, Mr. Friesen, 36, got interested in American storytelling, including the conspiratorial stories Americans tell themselves.
He listened to Mr. Jones occasionally “from the 9/11 days,” when the Infowars host claimed to have predicted the attacks, Mr. Friesen said. “Then, once I saw him getting involved in Trump, it felt weird,” Mr. Friesen said.
Mr. Jones’s plunge into presidential politics intrigued Mr. Friesen, who compared Mr. Jones to Charles E. Coughlin, a Catholic priest and similarly rambling, charismatic radio broadcaster during the 1930s who spiraled from populism to virulent anti-Semitism to obscurity.
For Infowars, a return to obscurity might be looming. After a dizzying audience surge during Mr. Jones’s live broadcast of the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, daily traffic to the Infowars website has plummeted, to about one-quarter of that day’s views and well below where it was in recent years, according to an analysis by SimilarWeb, an internet tracking company.
Traffic from social media has never fully recovered from Mr. Jones’s removal from most big platforms in 2018 and 2019, for violating policies against abusive behavior, and posts promoting violence or hate. Websites like Infowars can attract casual readers chasing viral posts on social media. But those referrals have decreased significantly, with less than 1 percent of all traffic to Infowars coming from social media, according to the SimilarWeb analysis.