‘They had their own cameras trained on me’ – Louis Theroux on his showdowns with US extremists

In his new show Forbidden America, the presenter meets white nationalists, trigger-happy rappers and other inflammatory figures. Here, he argues that, rather than no-platforming them, we need to hear what they say

The term is “platforming”: the idea that it is irresponsible to amplify hateful voices and that in doing so one is contributing to their power and their harm. We should instead ignore the toxic and the dangerously misinformed, the argument goes: exclude them from the conversation. At its simplest, this is a view so uncontroversial as to be almost banal. Quite clearly, we don’t want card-carrying neo-Nazis hosting daytime quiz formats or giving talks to children at our local schools. There is no obligation for us to hear paedophile apologists or Isis sympathisers on Radio 4’s A Point of View. Nor to give air time to flat-earthers or climate crisis deniers on current affairs shows.

In this new landscape, every day seems to bring a new test case of whether some influencer or high-profile person should be deplatformed, or whether tech companies and media outlets are throttling free expression by deciding what we can and can’t see and hear. Donald Trump fomented unrest on Twitter and was kicked off. The comedian Dave Chappelle sparked boycotts and a campaign by trans rights activists for jokes on a comedy special on Netflix. As I write, the papers are reporting a growing groundswell against Spotify for its deal with the US podcast host Joe Rogan. Musical artists Neil Young and Joni Mitchell have taken their music off the streaming platform, saying they don’t wish to be part of a service that – in their view – contributes to vaccine misinformation.

These aren’t always easy situations to figure out and each of them needs careful thought. 

And yet I believe I was right to make a programme about them. There are several reasons why.