Monday, May 27, 2024 May 27, 2024
93° F Dallas, TX

Alex Stein: Do Not Share

Alex Stein discovered a new internet trick that has brought him fame. It’s time to stop feeding this troll.
| |Illustration by Lesley Busby
Alex Stein
Lesley Busby

A reality show called The Glass House debuted on ABC in June 2012. Contestants lived together in a house while an online audience manufactured drama by voting on which activities would occupy their time for a given episode. One of those contestants was Alex Stein, a twentysomething Dallas native. In the first 20 seconds of the show’s first episode, Stein looked into the camera and said, “America, should I turn into the most epic villain in the history of reality TV?” He later shared his strategy: “Nobody in this house is going to do what I do. Because I got no shame.” 

Stein was the first contestant voted off the show, which was canceled after one season, and he went on to appear in two more reality shows. Now 36 years old but with the same preppy, boyish appearance—brown hair swooped to the side, he could pass as a younger brother to Tucker Carlson—Stein has found a new way to get attention. He has become a conspiracy-spouting QAnon stunt troll.  

You probably saw the viral video of him at an open microphone portion of a Dallas City Council meeting in February, wearing scrubs and rapping about the COVID-19 vaccine. “All day long, I want to vaccinate your mom. I want to stick it deep in your arm,” Stein rapped to the baffled council members. Dallas Morning News City Hall reporter Everton Bailey Jr. first elevated the video to social media (as of early April, it had racked up 3.6 million views in Bailey’s tweet), and from there it spread to such news outlets as the Daily Mail and Newsweek

Stein followed that up with a March 15 performance at the Plano City Council. Wearing a blue suit, he rapped for two minutes about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Gas prices way too high, Putin’s got to die, put a bullet in Putin’s head,” he yelled into a microphone.

Taken by themselves, the videos are mostly harmless, if at times in poor taste (as when he wore a one-piece women’s swimsuit to Plano City Council to “protest” for trans rights). Depending on your sense of humor and political leanings, you might crack a smile. But there is a strategy behind Stein’s performances. He is exploiting municipal government meeting rules in a novel way to gain access to larger right-wing platforms where he can spread misinformation, transphobia, and conspiracy theories. In the age of TikTok, Stein has figured out how to use the boring nature of council sessions as an unlikely weapon, something of a Trojan horseshoe. And it’s working. Since early March, Stein’s city council stunt videos have gotten him guest spots on Glenn Beck’s Blaze Media, Alex Jones’ Infowars, and the global standard bearer of far right, anti-democratic fearmongering, Tucker Carlson Tonight

Days after his Putin rap, Stein appeared on The Alex Jones Show, hosted by the Austin-based conspiracy theorist and Sandy Hook truther. Stein talked about Chinese fentanyl that came from Mexico and killed his friends and family, trans athlete Lia Thomas “destabilizing women’s rights,” and the COVID-19 vaccine being used as a bioweapon. He called Jones his “personal hero.” 

In the first episode of the 2012 ABC reality series The Glass House, Stein told viewers exactly who he was. “Nobody in this house is going to do what I do. Because I got no shame.” He was the first one voted off.

“You and I grew up in the same place, Dallas,” Stein told Jones on the March 18 epsiode. “You were in Rockwall. What I’m saying is you and I were cut from similar cloths. … You woke me up, realizing about Pizzagate, realizing that these people in power are sick, perverted Satanists,” referring to a debunked conspiracy about Hillary Clinton running a child sex trafficking operation out of the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor. 

Stein’s rise was aided by House Bill 2840, which became Texas law in September 2019. Prior to its passage, governmental bodies weren’t required to give time to public speakers; now they are. And comments from public speakers have to be distributed via free media, which almost guarantees they’ll be posted as video. 

When he appeared on the Blaze Media show The News & Why It Matters, after saying the virus was created for the vaccine, not the other way around, Stein made it clear that he has been taking advantage of the public comment law. “What they say is that you’re not supposed to be boisterous, but you can be boisterous,” Stein said. “As long as I don’t go in there and cuss and be really profane. People have their constitutional right to speak, so there are people who have been sued [for denying that], so they have to let you speak. … In a big city like Dallas and all these other cities, even though it doesn’t matter, it plays on their local live feed, so it does go somewhere.”

The pandemic has also helped Stein get attention, as more meetings have become open to remote video participation. He videoconferenced into a meeting in Nashville about police brutality and presented himself as a lawyer, suggesting that “White people are getting profiled if they’re putting off a ghetto appearance.” He videoconferenced into a New York City meeting and pretended to be a trans man who had been fired from his job. Then he cried. 

Outside of governmental meetings, he has been escorted out of a Beto O’Rourke rally for screaming at the candidate, and he has accosted Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins on the street. Videos of those encounters and others have drawn almost 36,300 subscribers to one of his YouTube channels. On Instagram he has 106,000 followers, and on Twitter 109,800.

For as much attention as Stein has gotten, and in such a short amount of time, he has managed to reveal few personal details about himself.

When he uploads a video of himself trolling a virtual town hall meeting, his digital background is typically a wood-paneled living room with a crystal chandelier, a baby grand piano, and a fire burning in a large fireplace. Stein’s actual residence is a bit less grand. He lives in the upstairs unit of a duplex across the street from Highland Park High School. The property is held by a trust that bears Stein’s name. In the 1,300-square-foot unit below him lives his father, Rhett Stein. 

Rhett spoke to D in March. It was clear at that point that he had not watched most of his son’s videos, neither his viral city council clips nor his guest appearances on media outlets. Rhett had a vague sense, though, that his son was garnering a lot of attention. He alluded to the fact that years ago, after graduating from LSU, Alex had driven to Los Angeles to pursue a career in comedy. Rhett asked whether Alex was putting himself in danger with his antics. 

For income, Alex appears to have dabbled in selling used cars with his dad, a successful bail bondsman. Rhett, 67, has operated his business out of Dallas for more than 40 years. According to associates contacted by D, Rhett has softened in recent years, but in the ’80s, his life was complicated. There was a matter of a felony aggravated assault, and then, just a couple of years later, a meth lab caused a fire in a Highland Park house he owned. The tenant, an employee of Rhett’s, turned up dead the next day in a Balch Springs apartment. In a 1985 story about the fire, D said Rhett was “Park Cities born and bred, a high-profile wheeler-dealer with friends in both high and low places … .”

Rhett said in March that the incident, and the old story in D, was “devastating” for him, and it affected the way people saw him. He explained that his approach to the bail bonds business has changed. “You’re dealing with all kinds of characters,” he said. “Some of the people I’d done business with, I would become their friends. That was a very, very poor thing for me to do.” He said all that changed when Alex was born, and that he has tried ever since to live an exemplary life and keep his name out of headlines. 

“Alex doesn’t realize that publicity is not always the best thing,” Rhett said, sounding more concerned than upset with his son. “He’s 36 years old. He’s not going to listen to me.” 

One of the people Rhett said was hurt by the 1985 article was his half brother, Bob Minyard, the former executive of Minyard Food Stores who died in 2017 and had been like a father figure to Rhett. It’s likely the story didn’t faze Rhett and Bob’s mother, Betty Minyard Stein, who died in 1990, after securing her own place in Highland Park lore. 

By 1985, Betty had spent the better part of a decade feuding with Highland Park High School. She lived across the street and filed numerous pro se lawsuits against the school district alleging that students were disrupting her life. Over the years, she claimed that the kids were unruly, drove their cars dangerously, threw hamburgers at her, yelled obscenities, and threatened her. In July of that year, two months after her son’s house fire, 65-year-old Betty went to the school after a student had peeled out in her driveway. She interrupted an economics class and was asked to leave. In the parking lot, she found a student named Ward Huey III backing out of a spot, and she shot him. The bullet hit him in the arm and exited his chest; he survived. Betty defended herself pro se, without aid of an attorney, and her felony trial was covered on local television. She claimed to “know the facts better than any lawyer.” During jury selection, she said that Huey was “on God’s hit list” and later suggested he had injured himself by falling on a ski pole. She was held in contempt for calling the prosecutor “stupid” and “a simple-minded thing.” 

In the end, Betty’s charge was downgraded from attempted murder to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and she was sentenced to a 10-year probated jail term. 

“My mother felt that she was being intimidated,” Rhett told D. “I think she reacted very improperly, but I think, in her mind, she felt she was trying to protect herself.” He went on to say that the incident was a “shame” because Huey and his family “couldn’t have been nicer people.” Huey’s father was the vice chairman of the Dallas-based media conglomerate Belo Broadcasting.  

Given his family’s history, Alex seems almost destined to have achieved notoriety. Rhett, though, had another explanation for his son’s recent behavior. He pointed to his ex-wife’s death. 

Kelly Stein died of COVID-19 on October 25, 2021. Despite having been estranged from Kelly for 30 years, Rhett accompanied his son as he gave permission for his mother to be extubated. The process was supposed to take 10 minutes, but, Rhett said, it took nearly 4 hours. He described, with a great deal of emotion, watching his son lose his mother and said that the experience changed Alex. 

“It traumatized him,” Rhett said. “It totally broke him down. And he’s reacting to that traumatization. He’s not the same person after that. He says he is, but he’s not the same guy right now.” 

Five days after his mother’s death, Alex released a video for which he had commissioned the Island Boys, two brothers who had gone viral on TikTok with the upbeat song “I’m an Island Boy,” to record a song on Cameo about Baylor hospital killing his mother. He also spoke at Dallas City Council, saying the hospital had given his mother the drug remdesivir, causing her to die, before delivering a poem he’d written. 

Rhett had never seen an episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight until late March, when he drove Alex to a Dallas broadcast studio to appear on the show via video feed. Rhett had felt a fracture in his relationship with his son since Alex’s stunt videos had started getting so much attention. He seized the car ride as an opportunity to spend time with Alex. 

On Infowars, Stein talked about Chinese fentanyl coming from Mexico that has killed his friends and family, trans athlete Lia Thomas “destabilizing women’s rights,” and the COVID-19 vaccine being used as a bioweapon.  

“It was the first time I’d seen him in action,” Rhett said of his son’s TV appearance.  

Alex delivered his talking points about “blurring reality” and the mainstream media’s “mind control.” Carlson appeared delighted by the whole bit. The on-air conversation happened quickly, and Rhett was unable to keep up with what Carlson and Alex were referring to. He didn’t know that earlier that week, Alex had struck again, wearing a military uniform as he tried to recruit the Richardson City Council to join the “Ukrainian foreign legion.”

The day after his turn on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Alex had an update for his father. Rhett said his son will be moving out of the duplex. Alex said he will head to New York City, where he has an opportunity with a network he did not name. 

“It appears Dallas has gotten too small for him,” Rhett said.

Through his father, Alex declined to talk to D for this story, so his plan remains something of a mystery. Whatever he does, though, he’s still the wannabe villain he was a decade ago.