Republican front-runner Donald Trump appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' show on Wednesday in a lengthy display of mutual appreciation. Appearing on a blurry video connection, Trump talked to Jones about Trump's false claims about Muslims in New Jersey cheering 9/11, Hillary Clinton, and Trump's book, among other topics. Jones told Trump he had been "vindicated" in his claims.
For those unfamiliar with Alex Jones, it's genuinely difficult to know where to start. I suppose the easiest way to describe him is to note that when it comes to wild-eyed, over-the-top conspiracy theories, Jones tends to be in a league of his own.
Media Matters noted that Jones' website Infowars.com "has called him 'one of the very first founding fathers of the 9-11 Truth Movement,' which believes the government was behind the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Jones has also pushed conspiracy theories about the Oklahoma City bombing, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the Boston Marathon bombing, and several mass shootings," including the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.
With this in mind, it was unsettling to see the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination appear on Jones' show and sing his praises. BuzzFeed reported yesterday:
Those claims, of course, have been thoroughly discredited.
BuzzFeed's report added, "Going on Infowars is an unusual move for a frontrunner. Though fringier candidates like Ron Paul have gone on the show (and his son Rand did so shortly after winning his Senate seat in Kentucky), Jones' conspiracy theories are simply too out there for mainstream candidates to risk being associated with."
And yet, here we are. Trump, still leading all Republican presidential polling, not only appeared on Jones' show, the Republican candidate told the conspiracy theorist, "Your reputation's amazing."
Alex Jones certainly has a reputation, though I'm not sure "amazing" is the best available adjective.
It's important to note that there are radical characters of every political and ideological stripe. There are left-wing crackpots and right-wing crackpots. There's a liberal fringe and a conservative fringe. No side of the political divide has a monopoly on ridiculous figures.
The difference in contemporary politics is that mainstream Democratic figures go out of their way to keep the liberal fringe at arm's length, while mainstream Republican figures -- including, say, prominent candidates for the nation's highest office -- have no qualms about embracing the conservative fringe.
Indeed, if this were limited to Trump, one might credibly argue that he, too, is a ridiculous figure in American politics, but as regular readers know, he's not alone. Just over the last couple of years, we've seen Republican officeholders in state legislatures, the U.S. House, and even the U.S. Senate take Alex Jones' ideas seriously. Trump took the extra step of actually appearing on Jones' show, but so too has Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a spirited conspiracy theorist in his own right.
If there's a comparable dynamic in Democratic politics, I'm eager to hear about it, though I'm fairly confident it doesn't exist.