So it turns out Alex Jones was only kidding.
That time the radio host and ringmaster of the “Infowars” website said the government brought Ebola into the country to terrorize us? That time he said a Beyonce video was created to start a new civil war, that time he wished gang rape on Jennifer Lopez, those times he suggested the Oklahoma City bombing, the Sept. 11 attacks and the bombing of the Boston Marathon were “false flag” operations by the government against the people?
It was all an act. His lawyer says he was just playing a character. You see, he’s a “performance artist.”
That claim, reported Sunday by the Austin American-Statesman, came in an Austin courtroom as Jones’ ex-wife, Kelly, seeks custody of their three children on the not-unreasonable grounds that a man who spews spittle for a living is not someone you want raising your kids. She says Jones is “not a stable person.”
But lawyer Randall Wilhite argued that judging Jones by his on-air persona would be like judging Jack Nicholson by his performance as The Joker in “Batman.” In other words, like the Oscar-winning actor, Jones is just pretending to be a madman.
You have to wonder how Edgar Welch feels about that. He’s the North Carolina man who shot up a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., last year because he believed a tale spread by Jones and others that it was the headquarters of a child molestation ring run by Hillary Clinton. He faces the possibility of many years in prison when he is sentenced in June.
You have to wonder how Leonard Pozner feels about it, too. He’s been getting death threats and has been challenged to prove that his son Noah ever existed, all because Jones and others claimed the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which Noah and 25 others were killed, was a hoax. He faces the rest of his life without his child.
Finally, you have to wonder how Donald Trump feels about it. The so-called president has professed admiration for Jones and has built his worldview, such as it is, around a Jones-like belief that a tangled skein of conspiracies explains virtually everything in life that refutes, frustrates or embarrasses him. We face four years of him steering the ship of state.
As regards the lawyer’s claim, there are two possible conclusions. One: He’s telling the truth and Jones never believed the garbage he vomited. Or two: Jones is trying to hoax the court.
Not that it matters which is true. Either way, Jones has hurt people and ruined lives. Either way, he has helped damage the country.
We now live in the United States of Confusion, a nation of alternative realities and alternative facts where reasoned and informed political debate is all but impossible because too many of us prize ideology above factuality. A coterie of media charlatans eagerly caters to that intellectual flaccidity, and Jones was loud among them, so there is a certain satisfaction in seeing him revealed as a hypocrite and fraud.
But the feeling is fleeting. After all, given the gullibility of his followers, there is no reason to believe this will be the end of him — or what he represents.
Jones fills a need. Frightened people seek easy ways to comprehend the big, bad world. Alternative facts and realities are among the easiest. And never mind the damage that is done, the ignorance that is fostered, the pain that is caused.
Meantime the rest of us — dare we still say, “most” of us? — muddle through actual reality using actual facts to confront the big, bad world. It is not easy.
But it sure beats the alternatives.
— Leonard Pitts is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Miami Herald.