Louis Theroux has said he considers the potential impact of amplifying extreme voices during his documentaries but feels his “forensic” journalistic skills mean the audience can realise “what it all really means”.
During a 25-year career of documentary-making, Theroux has explored topics from the world of neo-Nazi cults to the Westboro Baptist Church, and has sat down with figures such as Jimmy Savile and “Tiger King” Joe Exotic.
The 51-year-old is now embarking on his next project, a three-part BBC Two documentary series, titled Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America, which will explore the porn industry, the far-right and the rap world.
Reflecting on whether he worries about amplifying certain voices, he said: “That’s something we’ve wrestled with a lot. I think the first point would be that these voices are already amplified, right?
“They already have access to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tender young ears, eyes, and minds (thanks) to the internet.
“And so the fact is this phenomenon exists in the world. And by not reporting on it, it’s not going to go away.
“The other thing to say is that I believe that with the experience I’ve had telling these stories over the years, I can bring a kind of a critical forensic journalistic set of skills, and that I can interview and put a programme together in such a way that people will be given a sufficient sort of interrogation to mean that most people, reasonable people, will see it and will realise what it all really means.
“The way it represents ways of thinking that are dangerous or poisonous or harmful. And that it’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to put them on a platform and give them a source of an unexamined chance to reach lots of people’.”
Theroux said he had been considering the topics to feature in the new series for many years, and had become particularly interested in how the internet and social media have evolved in recent years.
“I won’t be the only one who will have noticed the way in which the internet has changed our world,” he added.
“And specifically, I suppose social media, the way in which it’s becoming more connected, it’s created a kind of positive feeling of communion and community, but also a more negative or complicated feeling of almost our darkest impulses.”
The Bafta-winning documentary-maker admitted he felt a “burden of responsibility” when creating the far-right film, which explores the rise of the ideology particularly in America following the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
One of the figures he interviews is Nicholas J Fuentes, a 23-year-old white nationalist.
Theroux said he had to handle the interviews with “extreme caution” as he was aware that his film would be likely to be the biggest platform Fuentes has had on television.
He added: “There’ll be hundreds of thousands of people who’ve never heard of him before who will now know who he is – and I needed to know how I was going into the film in such a way that I handled him.
“He is a very canny operator. He’s extraordinarily shrewd and a very charismatic person, in his way, and so poised, that for a moment you can forget quite how extreme he is until you’re reminded that he is a racist, he comes from a community in which he associates with neo-Nazis… and I have to keep that in my mind through all the lines.”
Another chapter in the series will explore the porn industry as it grapples with its own Me Too movement and the rise of platforms like OnlyFans.
The third part will centre on the world of rap and hip-hop in the southern states of America as Theroux admitted he is a big fan of the genre.
Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America starts on BBC Two on Sunday February 13.