Megyn Kelly made headlines this week for her interview with controversial broadcaster Alex Jones, a self-described libertarian. For someone like me, this is distressing for a number of reasons. First, there’s just the shameless appeal to sensationalism that drives so much of what is laughably called news these days. Second, there’s the appearance of relevancy that a major TV appearance lends to such a shrill and obnoxious figure as Jones. But most importantly, I am disturbed by the idea that people will see this interview and think that the nonsense Jones spouts is typical of libertarian thought in general.
Let me clear this up right now: It’s not.
Libertarians already have to contend with a rather spotty reputation, not entirely undeserved, that they are overly preoccupied with marijuana, prostitution, and other vices that many people disapprove of. There are certainly a great many libertarians who conform to this stereotype, much to the chagrin of those of us who would prefer a more unifying message for the brand. But Alex Jones represents something entirely different: a mouthpiece for fringe conspiracy theories that have little or nothing to do with libertarian ideology and that are not shared by any substantial portion of the movement.
As a group, libertarians do not believe that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax, that 9/11 was an inside job, or that the Oklahoma City bombings were a staged event.
The confusion, no doubt, comes from the fact that conspiracy theories and libertarianism both share a deep skepticism for government action and for the “official” stories the government wants us to believe, stories like “the NSA is not spying on you,” “the Benghazi attack was triggered by a YouTube video,” and “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” But unlike conspiracy theorists, libertarians generally believe that the government is not only dishonest, but also incompetent. A conspiracy theory requires that a large number of individuals coordinate to uphold a common lie, with no weak links in the chain and no leaked evidence to bring the truth to light, even in the face of the overwhelming incentive for news outlets to uncover and expose government hijinks (think of the ratings!).
The same people who build bridges to nowhere and can’t differentiate between real and satirical threats are unlikely to be able to maintain massive cover-ups for very long, especially of events that have been given the scrutiny of the September 11 attacks.
Libertarianism is not about screaming tin-foil hat theories over the airwaves. It is an ideology concerning the proper use of government force, with a serious and lengthy intellectual pedigree. In a nutshell, the philosophy says that we shouldn’t hurt people or take their stuff, and that every human being has basic rights that we ought to respect and preserve. In essence, it is noble, respectful, and definitely non-violent. But you’d never know that from listening to Alex Jones.
There’s something to be said for letting crazy people talk. I’m reminded of an interview the late Christopher Hitchens did with a white supremacist, where simply allowing the white supremacist to speak revealed how foolish his ideology actually was. Give them enough rope, and they frequently hang themselves. But it’s problematic when one of these loons tars an entire movement with his radical, unrepresentative ideas.
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