The Reckoning

Alex Jones – the radio/internet hate host and false conspiracy theorist – has been banned from most social media platforms… finally!

iTunes, Facebook, Spotify and YouTube all removed his audio and video material from their platforms, saying Jones violated their policies on hate speech,” NPR reported. He’s also been removed from MailChimp, Pinterest and LinkedIn. And PayPal no longer accepts his business transactions. Twitter is the latest to cut ties with Jones.

David French, a First Amendment litigator and senior writer for The National Review, summarized it best last August.

“First,” French says, “Alex Jones is a loathsome conspiracy theorist who generates loathsome content. Second, there is no First Amendment violation when a private company chooses to boot anyone off a private platform. Third, it seems reasonably clear that Mr. Jones’s content isn’t just morally repugnant, it’s also legally problematic. He makes wild, false claims that may well cross the line into libel and slander.

“Right now, Mr. Jones is defending lawsuits filed by multiple Sandy Hook Elementary families accusing him of making intentionally false factual statements. Most appallingly, he has insisted that these grieving families were faking their pain: ‘I’ve looked at it and undoubtedly there’s a cover-up, there’s actors, they’re manipulating, they’ve been caught lying and they were preplanning before it and rolled out with it.’ ”

The problem isn’t just that Jones spouts his reprehensible rhetoric to anyone that listens, it’s that some of those who listen not only believe but act.

“Wolfgang Halbig,” CNN reported (Aug. 6), “created conspiracy videos, harassed family members and others in Newtown and ran websites about Sandy Hook…

“ ‘Children did not die, teachers did not die, on December 14, 2012,’ Halbig said on one of Jones’ shows, according to the complaint.

“ ‘I mean it’s fake … it’s fake … you’ve got parents acting … it’s just the fakest thing since the three-dollar bill,’ Jones said.”

“Halbig’s website has since been shut down,” CNN added, “but included allegations that a father of one of the victims faked her death to ‘steal money from hard-working Americans,’ and another couple lied about having a daughter to make money.”

And who is one of Jones’ biggest listeners?

Let me give you a hint: he sits in the Oval Office in Washington.

“President Trump,” The New York Times writes (Sept. 7), “has channeled bogus or misleading claims promoted by Mr. Jones and echoed his complaints of anticonservatism by technology companies…”

Among the conspiracies Jones has shamelessly commercialized and eventually apologized for: that the U.S. government was involved in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11, 2001 attacks; that Comet Ping Pong pizzeria was a sex-ring led by Hillary Clinton; that the Chobani yogurt company was connected to a 2016 child sexual assault and a rise in tuberculosis cases.

Who would believe this stuff?

Edgar Maddison Welch drove from his home in Salisbury, North Carolina to Comet Pizza in Washington “…and pointed a firearm in the direction of a restaurant employee,” The Washington Post reported (Dec. 5, 2016). “The employee was able to flee and notify police. Police said Welch proceeded to discharge the rifle inside the restaurant; they think that all other occupants had fled when Welch began shooting.”

It gets worse.

In 1998, Jones led an effort to build a new Branch Davidian church honoring Koresh and his followers claiming that they were nonviolent people who were murdered by then-Attorney General Janet Reno and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The Alex Jones Show, CNN points out, “is broadcast on more than 60 radio stations, and his YouTube channel has more than 2.3 million subscribers…” as well as the President of the United States.

Now, Jones faces a more serious legal predicament of his own making.

In August, the families of four students and two teachers who died at Sandy Hook, joined in a lawsuit with an FBI agent who responded to the shooting.

According to the suit, “Jones is the chief amplifier for a group that has worked in concert to create and propagate loathsome, false narratives about the Sandy Hook shooting and its victims and promote their harassment and abuse.”

“Jones described the lawsuit,” CNN says, “as an attack on him and the First Amendment.

“ ‘This is the modern Lexington, this is the modern Concord. This is the modern fight where they’re coming to take it all,’ he said.”

What’s the best way to deal with Jones and the clones (or clowns) likely to follow?

One option, David French says, “would be to prohibit libel or slander on their platforms.

“To be sure, this would tie their hands more: Unlike ‘hate speech,’ libel and slander have legal meanings. There is a long history of using libel and slander laws to protect especially private figures from false claims. It’s properly more difficult to use those laws to punish allegations directed at public figures, but even then there are limits on intentionally false factual claims.

“It’s a high bar,” French adds. “But it’s a bar that respects the marketplace of ideas, avoids the politically charged battle over ever-shifting norms in language and culture and provides protection for aggrieved parties. Nor do tech companies have to wait for sometimes years long legal processes to work themselves out. They can use their greater degree of freedom to conduct their own investigations. Those investigations would rightly be based on concrete legal standards, not wholly subjective measures of offensiveness.”

In Schenck v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote:

“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. […] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances, and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”

Alex Jones is all the worse for making millions from his dangerous and false information.

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