Prior to the Sunday night airing of her interview with rabble-rousing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Megyn Kelly was criticized by people who said she and NBC should not give a platform to such a dangerous demagogue. In my view, Kelly's decision to expose Jones to a broader audience provided an important service to the country.
Jones already is a big presence on the right. By some measures, his radio show and webcasts have an audience that has grown larger than that of the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times or the Washington Post. One person who follows his tirades with more than passing interest is President Trump. Jones has brought extremism to the mainstream in heartland America — and to the White House.
Jones fans are also some of Trump's most devoted supporters. Perhaps one reason they willingly believe the president's situational, elastic version of the truth is that they have already bought into the bogus twists on reality that Jones presents on his Infowars media platforms.
Kelly bore into Jones about his notorious, venal claim that the mass shooting of 20 schoolchildren and six school staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 was a hoax. Jones' response was revealing. He would not admit he was horribly wrong. Instead, he displayed the classic mindset of a paranoid conspiracist who is unable to let go of the erroneous facts and dark speculation that harden in his mind into sick fantasy.
Jones is an aggressive, loudmouthed, puffy-faced nutcase who has made himself very rich by sharing his intentional delusions with anyone who will listen. What is deeply disturbing is that he has found a receptive audience among millions of Americans who give credence to his many crackpot ideas (for example, that President Obama is the global leader of Al Qaeda; that Hillary Clinton imprisoned children as sex slaves in a Washington pizza parlor; that the Sept. 11, 2001, attack was backed by elements of the U.S. government; that the government is trying to turn American kids into homosexuals using chemicals in juice boxes). In the world Jones describes and that his followers accept as real, not only are Democrats and the news media enemies and traitors to the republic, but so are establishment conservatives and many Republican leaders.
Prior to seeing Kelly's interview with Jones, I had checked out a column by veteran right-wing firebrand Pat Buchanan on an ultraconservative website. Buchanan was railing about what he called a "civil war" between establishment elites and the Trump White House. The readers who commented on Buchanan's column apparently were not taking civil war as a metaphor. Fortified with the crazy stuff that has filtered into their brains from Jones and others like him, these folks quickly turned to remedies for the treason that they believe is being perpetrated all around them. Here are a few excerpts from their comments:
• "It isn't going to be adequate enough to defeat the left. The left must be destroyed."
• "Oh I agree 101% that the left needs to be crushed completely, along with their Islamofacists. This is why I fail to understand why Hillary, Rice, Lynch are still free and why Obama hasn't been called to answer for his many scandals."
• "If the TREASONOUS TRIAD (Democrats, media, and academia) keep at it, the result will be blood in the streets… Where will our heroic police stand? Will they defend baby killers and perverts who wanted to watch their little daughters urinate?"
• "The Republican Neocons are probably the worst of our enemies, not the leftists."
• "This whole situation is exactly why our Founding Fathers included the 2nd Amendment in our Constitution... NOT to protect us from foreign enemies, but domestic traitors."
• "It will not be just a class war but also a race war… We have brought this upon ourselves due to playing 'equality,' 'diversity,' 'inclusionism' and 'multi-culturalism.'"
• "Barrack Hussein Obama has cultivated his personal army of thugs. He brought them across our Southern Border, he released others from prison… These thugs are now in position all across our Nation to incite violence against Conservatives… They are vicious, vile and disgusting. They will do anything to try to antagonize the Right. These people represent all that is evil and they must be defeated."
Judging by the reaction of Jones' fans to what they describe as her "hit piece," Megyn Kelly has now joined the list of people who "represent all that is evil." Nevertheless, I applaud her for giving her audience a glimpse into the minds of their fellow citizens by revealing the man who has gotten into their heads. All their flamboyantly militant rage may well just be loose talk, but the war metaphor is not random. Jones employed it himself when speaking to Kelly. He told her the election of Trump was just a beachhead. "The war has just begun," Jones said.
I don't for a minute think he is joking.