Alex Jones looks unwell. He lost his bodybuilding figure decades ago but for years he was a veritable tank of a man. Now he looks swollen and exhausted — one piece of bad news away from his heart giving up.

I say that with no relish. Jones is an extraordinary American character. America is like an enormous carnival and, for better or for worse, it is rich in charismatic mountebanks. You don’t have to like them but they are as American as pecan pie.

Jones is an undeniably astonishing performer. His thunderous speech is often imitated, never...

Alex Jones looks unwell. He lost his bodybuilding figure decades ago but for years he was a veritable tank of a man. Now he looks swollen and exhausted — one piece of bad news away from his heart giving up.

I say that with no relish. Jones is an extraordinary American character. America is like an enormous carnival and, for better or for worse, it is rich in charismatic mountebanks. You don’t have to like them but they are as American as pecan pie.

Jones is an undeniably astonishing performer. His thunderous speech is often imitated, never equaled — a perversely captivating force of nature. His ability to switch tones in an instant — from cussing out the globalists to apologizing like an old Southern gentleman — is used with pinpoint comic timing. His vocabulary is as rich as it is strange.

I have always seen Jones as an odd sort of entertainer. He cut his broadcasting teeth in the Nineties, when societal changes fueled by globalization, and state crimes like the shootings at Ruby Ridge, kept undercurrents of paranoia bubbling. The ability to broadcast and publish from one’s home had given rise to all sorts of backwoods ideologues. Jones was an admirer of Milton William Cooper, who preached conspiracy theories in a rich baritone and would go on to be shot by the police after allegedly opening fire on them. Cooper called Jones a “bold-faced miserable stinking coward liar” after the twenty-five-year-old Jones spent New Year’s Eve 1999 inventing scare stories about Y2K.

Jones’s first taste of mainstream fame arrived when he appeared in a Jon Ronson documentary about Bohemian Grove — a bizarre pagan-inflected country club for rich Republicans. Jones playacting as some kind of yuppie fop as he prepared to infiltrate the meeting was a real highlight.

Becoming the go-to guy for fresh conspiracy theories, Jones, with his ubiquitous bullhorn, was at the center of the 9/11 Truth movement. 9/11 Truthers all but evaporated in the 2010s, leaving us to wonder who had changed their minds, who had never meant it and who now thought the alleged murder of more than 3,000 people by the US government was not worth their time.

I think it would be difficult to argue that truth is one of Mr. Jones’s higher priorities. After all, this is a man who hawked a brand of toothpaste as a cure for Covid. Still, his burning hatred for managerial internationalism has resonated with an audience beyond that of truthers, preppers and alienologists. His talk of a “New World Order,” for all that it referred to something more baroque and omniscient than exists, struck a chord with people legitimately concerned about increasing globalization and techno-paternalism. It made him one of the most prominent, passionate supporters of Donald Trump.

But Jones had already made what might prove to have been his biggest mistake. Now Mr. Infowars finds himself waist-deep in shit. Having confidently declared that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax and that the parents of the dead victims were actors, Jones has found himself being predictably sued. He has been ordered to pay almost $50 million in punitive and compensatory damages and there are more trials ahead.

Jones narrowly avoided crippling lawsuits in the past. He was compelled to issue a groveling apology to the owner of Comet Ping Pong, for example, the DC restaurant he claimed was harboring child traffickers. You can make wild accusations against the American government but you cannot make wild accusations against private individuals. If you were all for Nicholas Sandmann and Kyle Rittenhouse suing people, you can’t hold up a sign saying “Alex Jones Did Nothing Wrong.”

Still, $50 million? At least one of the parents has understandably acknowledged that he hopes the trial will end Jones’s career, though it seems unhealthy to sentence a man based on his previous doings when judgment has been passed over only one act. (I’m a hypocrite here because I found it entertaining when Peter Thiel backed Hulk Hogan to destroy Gawker, but that doesn’t make it right. Plus, which would you rather read: Infowars or Gawker?)

That Jones’s lawyer provided the opposing team with all of his phone data is bizarre. If Jones was foolish enough to select a fantastically incompetent lawyer, then I guess that is on him. If his lawyer had lowered his standards, for whatever reason, then that is more sinister. Above all, everyone deserves effective representation — even murderers and pedophiles, never mind Alex Jones.

I think American progressives want to believe that to slay the monster of Alex Jones is to slay the monster of populist cynicism towards mainstream institutions. But people raving about jet fuel and steel beams did not engender as much cynicism as the invasion of Iraq, and people raving about Dr. Fauci inventing Covid in a Chinese lab will not engender as much cynicism as completely ineffective authoritarian public health measures that suddenly vanish when they are impeding progressives’ social causes.

Don’t misunderstand me: establishment lies and incompetence do not excuse alternative lies and incompetence. Alex Jones’s conspiracy carnival has made a lot of people believe a lot of nonsense, and potentially dangerous nonsense at that (his apology to the owner of Comet Ping Pong, for example, came after a man marched into the restaurant and fired three shots). Knowing that you are speaking to scared and angry people gives you more rather than less responsibility. However seriously you take what you say, many of your viewers (or readers) will take it very seriously indeed.

Still, Jones did not create the world we live in. He exploited it. For his sake, I hope he has a long vacation. He has spent the last twenty-five years talking, and shouting, and screaming, and he could use some silence. So could most of us.