Radiohost Alex Jones (and some of his audience) loves to attatch the prefix Proto- to everything: Quotes like these:

"he managed to reveal himself as a proto-fascist stooge"


" Proto-patriot Steve Quayle visits the Infowars studio and discusses the elites"


" it started as a lefty proto-new age event, the Burning Man of its day."


"The French got a bloody proto-Communist Revolution"

These are just quotes I found online. In his rants, there are far more.

In all these contexts, what does the prefix proto mean?

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    I think that some people use "proto" as short for "prototypical", though I can say about this case. – Hot Licks Oct 26 '17 at 13:07
  • Oops -- I meant "can't say". – Hot Licks Oct 26 '17 at 21:47

Well, it's not clear what Alex Jones means by it. But, the prefix "proto" usually means "about to become a", or "in the early stages of becoming a" - so we have, for example, a "protostar", a cloud of gas which is collapsing and will form a sun, but hasn't started nuclear fusion yet, and "protoplanet", which are a bunch of matter congregating together, which is believed to be about to turn into a planet but at the moment hasn't smushed up together enough yet.

So, the prefix "proto" could potentially be applied to lots of things, intended to mean "on the way to becoming that thing". So "protocommunist" means "He's not a communist now but he's turning into one", for example. Similarly with "protofascist" - he's not one now but he's will be a fascist later.

This is similar to the prefix "crypto", meaning "hidden", or "secret", which is used more commonly in politics to describe someone who already is, say, a communist, but is pretending not to be. It's possible Alex Jones is mixing the two terms up a bit.

It's less clear to me what "proto-patriot" and "proto-new age" mean. Is he saying Steve Quayle (who I know nothing about) isn't a patriot now, but he's in the process of turning into a patriot? This seems odd. "proto-new age" seems nonsensical, or redundant. "About to be new-age?" What could that even mean?

It's possible that this is actually a bit of a "a verbal tic": a mannerism, odd pronounciation, or a figure of speech which someone over-uses. This can be quite common with people who have to do a lot of spontaneous talking, as the host of a talk show like Infowars must do live on air all the time. We've all heard people who massively overuse phrases like "as it were", for example, to the point where they become meaningless and distracting. Jones' apparent fondness for the "proto" prefix might be a similar thing: sometimes he might use it by accident just to add emphasis for example.

EDIT: I happened to notice this bit of dialogue in the video game Grand Theft Auto 5 (released in 2013) last night, said to a character Trevor Phillips, a violent psychopath who hates hipsters (along with everyone else): "You're what the hipsters aspire to be - you're a proto-hipster"

The usage here seems to be like a "hero to hipsters", quite different to the meaning I discuss above. So, maybe there's a different meaning of the prefix which has entered popular culture (we can't just say it's Alex Jones now).

And, in fact, the dictionary just has "proto-" meaning "first, or earliest", so in this sense we could use "proto-" to mean "the original", or a "trailblazer" (that might be the usage intended above I think, in Grand Theft Auto).

Furthermore, the Free Dictionary has this:

  1. indicating the first in time, order, or rank

(my emphasis)

In this sense, of "first in rank", proto- becomes like "leader of" or "top ranking" - so a "protopatriot" is "the greatest patriot alive". My guess is that this is what Jones means when he uses the word.

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    I can understand it being a verbal tic, but why would they use proto-patriot in a laudatory, promotional manner in the video description (where the quote comes from)? It seems intentional. – TheAsh Oct 26 '17 at 12:40
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    I don't know. Like I say, it makes no sense to me. The most likely explanation is simply that it's being misused, and he actually meant something else. We can only guess what. Oh, and thanks, I did mean "verbal tic", not "vocal tic", I'll edit. – Max Williams Oct 26 '17 at 12:41
  • Probably he does not use the prefix correctly and means either "pseudo" or "quasi." – Jeff Morrow Oct 27 '17 at 15:31
  • Agree with the edit. |It seems correct. – TheAsh Oct 28 '17 at 19:09

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