See what appears on Vox in connection with Alex Jones:
Beauchamp’s article has so many errors in it, I think, “Just leave it alone.” So I won’t try to take his article on, point by point. Have you noticed, though, how the swift condemnation of Alex Jones, and his near banishment from the public square, has brought another adjective attached to theory? Before, critics called them conspiracy theories. That was enough to discredit them. Now we call them vile conspiracy theories.
That leads you to understand the three key requirements for a ban, from the censors’ point of view. First, the theory must be false. Second, the lie is not harmless: the theory is vile because its effects are dangerous. Third, people believe it. That spreads the danger, like a cognitive disease. If a theory meets these three requirements, people who control channels of communication feel justified in shutting off microphones and speakers used to amplify the theory.
I hardly need to recall that exactly these arguments met the original theorists who claimed Jack Kennedy’s assassin was not Lee Oswald.
Beauchamp even cites Sunstein and Vermeule’s article, Conspiracy Theories, in support of his claims. How anyone who supports free speech can appeal to this article is beyond comprehension. I assume Beauchamp favors free speech, because he is a writer and a journalist. Yet he argues that if a claim has these three qualities – false, injurious, widely accepted – the rest of us who recognize truth and want to prevent injury are justified to remove the theory and its proponents from the public square.
I hardly need to recall that exactly these arguments met the original theorists who claimed Jack Kennedy’s assassin was not Lee Oswald. Defenders of the Warren report said that if this belief became widespread – that some conspiracy lay behind events in Dallas – it would undermine trust in the FBI and the federal government in general. Our whole country could collapse.
To protect institutions of order, media did everything in their power to squash these theories, as they did with Jim Garrison’s investigations in New Orleans. False because they contradicted Warren’s twenty-two volumes of evidence, injurious because they undermined faith in our democratic institutions, and dangerous if they became credible, media felt no restraint in their attacks on people who advanced accusations that the FBI had lied.
Look at the situation fifty-five years later. The FBI did lie about who murdered the president. The belief that Lee Oswald did not fire the fatal shot from behind the president’s limousine is now widely accepted. Moreover, the results have been exactly as predicted: no one believes the FBI, or virtually any other federal law enforcement or intelligence agency, as a result of the lies they propagated after November 22, 1963. The people who attacked Garrison and others turned out to be the liars, with predictable effects: citizens completely lost faith in those who lied to them.
Historians and researchers who develop true accounts of events in Dallas do not argue beyond their evidence.
The road from Dallas to these conclusions has been long. A lot of people lost their lives and their reputations along the way. Now they are heroes and heroines. In 1963, the widely accepted, safe belief was that J. Edgar Hoover was a guardian of the republic, a man whose agency kept America safe. Now we regard him as one of the greatest villains in American history. His role in President Kennedy’s assassination, and its aftermath, is the main reason we see him now as the republic’s traitorous, manipulative Rasputin, not its guardian.
I’ll add one other point. Historians and researchers who develop true accounts of events in Dallas do not argue beyond their evidence. They do not use inflammatory words like ‘hoax’. They have the same motive that truth-tellers always have: expose people who make false claims, and most pointedly expose what motivates their lies. These methods and this logic characterize James Douglass’s JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. It also characterizes David Ray Griffin’s work on the 9/11 attacks, including his thoroughly effective critique of Sunstein and Vermeule, Cognitive Infiltration.
I will not claim that Alex Jones ought to be a hero someday. Yet if our republic survives – it is in serious trouble at the moment – no one will defend the decision to silence him a hundred years from now. Jack Dorsey at Twitter takes the correct stand. Journalists and citizens may not have an obligation to refute Jones, but if Jones is wrong, valid refutations will come. If Jones is partially wrong, partial refutations will come. If Jones is right, or nearly so, recognition that he is right will come in part from unsuccessful efforts to refute him. No claim that the rest of us must silence Jones holds up, no matter how you ground the argument.
I will not claim that Alex Jones ought to be a hero someday.
Closing comments about specious grounds for coerced silence ought to be unnecessary in a democracy. Mark Zuckerberg says he wants people who visit Facebook to feel safe. That is an absurd standard for a site where people discuss politics. If you go to recipe site, you want to feel confident that contributors do not slip poisons into their lists of ingredients. I would not want to fix a up a loaf of bread for my family that makes everyone sick. But politics? In a democratic republic? How in heaven’s name can you say you want your readers to feel safe in that area? Politics broadly conceived is the most dangerous human activity possible, by far, because it includes war as well as the potential for all kinds of violence and mischief. To say you want your visitors to feel safe means you do not want them to think about politics.
Alex Jones is not safe. His opponents perceive his rants as hate speech. People rightly recognize Father Coughlin’s anti-semitic radio broadcasts as hate speech, too. What would we think now if Congress had pressured radio stations to take Father Coughlin off the air, just as Congress and other groups pressured Facebook, Apple, and Google to take Alex Jones off the air? Would we think, eighty years later, that Congress had done the right thing? Of course not. Hate speech is protected speech. Hate speech that does not incite violence requires protection, independent of social pressures that try to obliterate it. Arguments to safety have nothing to do with the matter. If you want to feel safe, do not think about politics, period. If you think about politics as a participant, not entirely as a spectator, you will feel threatened.
For years, as we witness our republic deteriorate, we could say, “Well, at least we still have free speech.” Now we cannot say even that. To echo the bearded guy in robe and sandals who walks city streets with a placard in the old New Yorker cartoons: ‘The End Is Coming.”