Protesters at the annual Bilderberg conference, which has been held at the Westfields Marriott hotel in Chantilly, Virginia. Photograph: Rex Features
As the demonstrations targeting the Bilderberg conference of international leaders in Chantilly, Virginia, drew to a close on Sunday, dozens of protesters gathered around one man, hoping for a picture or an autograph.
"Alex, what's next?" one protester repeatedly yelled.
"God bless you, Alex," said a number of others, as they stood outside a service entrance to a heavily guarded Marriott.
The object of their adoration was Alex Jones, an Austin, Texas-based radio host and counter-culture icon. A stout man with close-cropped hair, Jones was dressed in denim, his temples soaked with sweat.
Throughout the morning black sedans and SUVs would leave the property amid jeers from the crowd. The passengers, the demonstrators believed, were members of an international elite intent on establishing a "new world order".
Police had confined the protesters to patches of grass on either side of the entrance, and at one point prevented anyone from crossing one side to the other. Then Jones arrived.
"Get 'em, Alex," said one woman, as Jones made a beeline for the police. Surrounded by his media crew – who live-streamed every moment with their cell phones – Jones spoke to the officers. Moments later he managed to cross the street, with dozens of his supporters behind him.
The protesters saw the achievement as a victory, cheering, chanting and pumping their fists in the air.
Jones quickly took control of the situation, using his unmistakable voice– amplified by a megaphone – to launch into a full-throated denunciation of the global elite, the erosion of rights and liberty, and the establishment of federal "reeducation camps".
"The best bullhorner there is," one protester said of Jones's oratory skills. When Jones began describing how he likes to use multiple megaphones end to end, a demonstrator called him "the people's L-Rad", a reference to a sonic weapon police departments sometimes use against protesters.
Without Jones's radio show and website it is difficult to estimate how many demonstrators would have turned out to protest against the off-the-record Bilderberg meeting over the past three days. T-shirts bearing the name of his programme and references to his work were staple elements throughout the rally. Demonstrators would repeat a tag line from his show: "What's the answer to 1984? 1776!"
"Alex has been, more than anyone by far, instrumental in waking people up to what's going on in the world today; the Bilderbergs, the destruction of our constitution and our rights, mass poisoning, mass vaccinations," said John Kopel. "He's done it all."
"Even if you don't like his style, what he's done for the freedom movement in America is immense," Kopel said. "That's why I'm here. I look at his website every day. He's an inspiration."
"He's incredible," said Carmine Diiorio, who travelled from Baltimore to protest at Bilderberg. Diiorio carried an elaborate hand-drawn sign that his 15-year-old daughter made.
The sign caught Jones's eye. As the radio host approached to get a closer look, Diiorio yelled, "Death to the new world order, Alex!" Jones delighted in the artwork, had his crew take photos, and later signed it.
"He's only one person but it really gives you a testament of what one person can achieve," Diiorio said.
Jones is not without his critics, who say he uses his influence to promote paranoia and conspiracy theories, based on incomplete or self-serving research. His focus on secret societies with ties to devil worship and mass eugenics programs, controversial 9/11 theories and the power of the Illuminati, have been ridiculed and dismissed by figures on both sides of the political aisle as well as journalists and independent observers.
With respect to this year's Bilderberg protests – the most well-attended ever, by most accounts – Jones said his show was "central to kicking it off".
With a network of supporters that often relies on Jones for their news, the radio host says he does face challenges.
"You do get off balance when you're trying to talk to sources, get reports out, take photos, shoot video, sign autographs. It's like a balancing act," Jones said. "It does tend to fracture the thought process. Very stressful."