Alex Jones is one of the most dangerous and vile Americans alive.
Founder of the website Infowars, the conservative radio host has made a name trading on despicable conspiracy theories and reprehensible right-wing dogma. The Sept. 11 attack was an inside job. The Democrats operated a child-sex ring out of a Washington pizza parlour. The teenaged victims of the terror attack in Manchester, England, were "liberal trendies."
The most abhorrent theory with which he's ever been associated involved the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which killed 20 children and six adults. Mr. Jones postulated that the massacre was a hoax, perpetrated by bleeding-heart progressives intent on robbing Americans of the right to bear arms.
Mr. Jones might have remained relegated to the fringes of the U.S. political scene (and under the rock from which he came) if not for Donald Trump. Long before he became President, Mr. Trump gave voice to Mr. Jones's lunacies. They both pushed the malicious premise that Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen, for instance.
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump peddled in Infowars talking points. When it came to the wall he promised to build along the U.S.-Mexican border, he had no bigger supporter than Alex Jones. That loyalty paid off. Mr. Trump made a half-hour appearance on his show, promising the radio host he was going to be "impressed" with what he did once in the White House.
Which brings us to this past weekend, and Mr. Jones's prime-time interview with NBC's Megyn Kelly. The sit-down was the subject of loud protestations and boycotts by advertisers not wanting to be associated with the event. Particularly upset were the parents of those children killed at Sandy Hook. Who wants to see a man who has propagated such contemptible opinions given such an illustrious stage?
I might have subscribed to that position as well had Mr. Jones been just another deranged megalomaniac sitting in his underwear in the basement of his parents' home speaking into a microphone on some YouTube channel. But Mr. Trump's ascendancy to the presidency changed all that. Any attempts to understand the frightening ideological underpinnings of the man lead in part to Mr. Jones's radio studio.
There is also another fact that needs to be recognized: Alex Jones is not alone. There is a reason he has millions of devotees; there are millions of Americans if not just like him, then close enough to enjoy his hateful views. If that doesn't paint a very flattering picture of a segment of the population, so be it.
Mr. Jones is a radical extremist who, in many cases, speaks to extremists. You can choose to ignore him, and wish him away, or you can confront his shameful behaviour and hope it helps marginalize rather than exalt him. This is why it was important for the interview to go ahead.
Over all, Ms. Kelly (and her editors) did a commendable job exposing Mr. Jones for what he is: a liar and a con man. He seemed exceedingly uncomfortable under the former attorney's cross-examination. Even while talking, it was clear Mr. Jones realized the humiliation he was suffering was not worth the national publicity he was receiving. It was nice to see him sweat and squirm.
Margaret Sullivan, columnist for The Washington Post and one of those most forcefully decrying the interview as inappropriate, conceded afterward: "Strong editing gave it an edge and made him look like a kook."
Ms. Kelly even managed to win a concession, of sorts, out of Mr. Jones. When confronted over his scandalous comments about the Sandy Hook murders, he said: "I came to believe that children probably did die there."
Journalism is an often messy, uncomfortable business that forces us to confront painful truths about our society. It sometimes means hearing from people we wished didn't exist. Amid the backlash to her interview, Ms. Kelly defended it, saying that as much as you hated the man, and what he stood for, one thing needed to be acknowledged: "Alex Jones isn't going away."
And she's right.
If there is any consolation for those opposed to giving the man the type of platform he enjoyed, perhaps it's this: The No.1 show in the time slot in which the interview ran was not Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly but a rerun of America's Funniest Home Videos.