The FCC went after Alex Jones’ radio station, and I expect a lot of people will say, “It’s about time.” In line with that, the Washington Post has its slogan posted all over its website: “Democracy dies in darkness.” I’d like to see how vociferously the Post defends Alex Jones, unpopular journalist that he is. Does the capital’s newspaper of record care a twit what happens to him? Speaking of power, no matter how deceitful people would like to be, the truth still always comes out. Take Lyndon Johnson: virtually every lie he ever told, every crime he committed has come to light.
So let us turn to Jones’ most infamous charge about an infamous crime, that the Newtown massacre was a hoax. That’s a poor choice of words, because we do not know what happened there. How do we know that we don’t know? Because all the accounts of what happened there are official ones. We know how trustworthy official accounts are.
Now let’s say non-official, independent accounts of events in Newtown begin to emerge. By account, I mean a story, not a collection of questions, doubts, hypotheses, inconsistencies, and such that arise from the official version. These challenges to the official version do not assemble the evidence in an alternate narrative. We only know that the official version of events does not add up. That is, the official version does not present evidence in order to tell a coherent story. In fact, it assembles hardly any evidence at all.
To begin with, local authorities did not investigate the crime scene, then publish a full report of what they found. Similarly, the Connecticut coroner did not publish a full autopsy report for each of the twenty-six victims he and his staff examined. Thirdly, no one explained why first responders did not follow standard protocol – in fact, they departed radically from normal procedures – or why all responders left victims’ bodies in the school until almost twenty-four hours after they were shot. Lastly, no one explained why some mysterious person had the whole school building torn down, with no report or analysis of forensic evidence gathered from multiple crime scenes in the building.
Officials have no claim on our attention, let alone our faith.
How do you account for all that evasion, so many official stories that are almost content free? Why do we perceive skepticism about these stories as vile? Do people inherently trust medical authorities, law enforcement authorities, school authorities, local government authorities, mainstream media authorities, and authorities who oversee authorities? That’s doubtful. Most of us distrust authorities of every category now, as we should. The safest rule for interpretation of authoritative announcements is that authorities do not tell the truth. Persistent and widespread skepticism about official versions of events in Newtown attests to this attitude: that you cannot trust anyone who speaks in an official capacity. Officials have no claim on our attention, let alone our faith.
You can call that cynical, but why would you conduct your life in any other way? No one I have read has answered that question satisfactorily. In fact, you could lay the question down as a challenge: why would you give benefit of doubt to anyone who speaks in an official capacity? The question has no reasonable answer. Indeed, the opposite premise holds. Any reasonable person would not give benefit of doubt to people who speak in an official capacity. You would be skeptical at every turn.
That does not mean Alex Jones is correct to call everything that happened in Newtown a hoax. You persuade few when you brazenly accuse parents of participating in the hoax by faking the deaths of their own children. You start to think he cannot distinguish between self-promotion and rational skepticism. You can say with assurance that his manner of speech does not encourage sober analysis of evidence, or of alternate hypotheses.
As with so many other crimes, independent investigators do not have access to evidence about what happened, because public officials control every valuable piece. They made it clear from the morning of December 14, 2012, that they would not share any of it. Once the building came down, you knew that was the end. No one could enter the building before that, and of course no one could enter it afterward. That is how authorities wanted it.
You do not need to appeal to crisis actors to make your case that the Newtown narrative is fishy. You do not send everyone to a nearby firehouse and leave the bodies in the school building till three in the morning, if you have a regular school shooting. Though rare, school shootings occur often enough that everyone knows what to do. First responders train so they’ll be ready. Significantly, no one at the Newtown school shooting behaved as if the whole event was anything but a training exercise.
A detractor might say Alex Jones just wanted to be a blowhard, someone people listened to because he’s a loud talker.
Today Alex Jones joins the storied company of Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden as champions of free speech and transparency. Actually, Jones does not make a point of transparency, though he does argue for truthful accounts of crimes like 9/11. The others pointedly disclosed and published what feds call classified material, also known as state secrets. They went to jail, house arrest, or exile for their trouble.
A detractor might say Alex Jones just wanted to be a blowhard, someone people listened to because he’s a loud talker. You wonder if he thought Rush Limbaugh would be a good mentor. Yet accusing the state of a false flag attack in 9/11, and winning a following to boot, places Jones in a category not so far from Jesse Ventura, former governor of Minnesota. Admittedly, Ventura is rather less abrasive than Jones. In his commitments, Jones also resembles Paul Wellstone, senator from Minnesota, who had his plane brought down mysteriously, resulting in his death and that of his entire family. Wellstone was open about his 9/11 skepticism, but most politicians learn to keep quiet about matters like that. Prominent people who challenge the state openly can expect bad things to happen to them.
So I suppose you could say Jones is fortunate: he is alive, he goes home to his own house in the evening, no one has tried to poison him. Significantly, however, the FCC shut down his radio station after all the major platforms removed his material. They found some kind of antenna violation they could hang on him and his broadcasters. Now, the platforms can decide not to carry Jones’ content without depriving him of his First Amendment rights, although they effectively deprived him of his First Amendment rights. When the government shuts down your radio station because they don’t like you, that’s more disconcerting. Jones has been broadcasting for years, yet the FCC picks now, a couple of days after the platforms de-platformed him, to shut down his broadcast? Where are you, Ajit Pai, when we need a solid defender for freedom of thought?
People call Jones a purveyor of ‘vile conspiracy theories’. So what?
Nothing about Jones’s speech justifies these actions. To take the reason most cited – his remarks about Newtown: parents cannot argue curtailment of Second Amendment rights in the public square, then object or call it libel when someone else says what he thinks in response. That is not how free speech works. When you exercise your rights, you cannot try to suppress others who try to do the same. Alex Jones has the same rights as everyone else, no matter what you might think of him.
People call Jones a purveyor of ‘vile conspiracy theories’. So what? They say we should not have to listen to his rants. I say again, “So what?” If you don’t like to listen to him, don’t. Truly troubling is a movement to prevent everyone else from listening to him, when he has not advocated or threatened violence against any person or institution. He has said nothing illegal, nor does anything he says qualify as hateful, that other category speech suppressors like to call upon to quell language and thoughts they don’t like. Significantly, no one has suggested Jones’s speech qualifies as illegal. If your worst charge against Jones is that his conspiracy theories are vile, why aren’t you out there trying to silence every Holocaust denier you can find? Hell, President Trump’s speech almost every day is more objectionable than anything Jones has said.
Some say we’re just following the EU’s example in our efforts to regulate objectionable speech. If you want to be like Europe, go for it: cameras everywhere, dress codes, speech codes, business codes, gun codes, tax codes, and every kind of rule to make sure we’re all happy, free, protected, and secure. We do not need to emulate Europe to insulate ourselves from culture wars. We can simply not pay attention to speech we don’t like.
Of all the people one might select to be a symbol of free speech, Alex Jones may not appear the most attractive candidate. He is no Thomas Paine. He does not have John Brown’s good looks, nor does he play the prophet. Yet our heroes and exemplars do not need to look pretty, sound pretty, bear the truth, or speak anything close to the truth. They certainly do not need to be likeable. They simply need to respect others’ rights to be secure from violence. As soon as you try to silence someone you don’t like, or who says things you don’t like, what does that say about you? It says, about you and your state of mind, “I’ll shut you up while I’m on top, and I don’t give a fuck what you think.”
That sounds a lot less civil than anything Jones has said. It also gives Jones’s followers a genuine grievance. Someday people who consider Jones and his opinions vile will not be on top. Then their freedom to write and speak and publish what they think will feel threatened, and they will feel marginalized. What will they say then?