Alex Jones demands his Infowars followers rise up and buy more merchandise

Over the past several days Apple, Facebook, YouTube and Spotify have removed most of Alex Jones’ programming from their services.

Summoning the Alamo, Roman gladiators and the First Amendment, right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is calling on his Infowars followers to rise up against anti-Trump “sociopaths” who he says are behind the removal of his Infowars programming from most major social media platforms.

“We knew this was coming,” Jones said on his broadcast Monday. “They tried to break all the Republicans, persecute people. Trump broke through their bullying and lies. We stood beside him, and now they want to take out the press from under him, and they want to use me as the distorted poster child to do it. They think you’re weak.”

Over the past several days Apple, Facebook, YouTube and Spotify have removed most of Jones’ programming from their services in a sweeping effort to rein in those who traffic in online misinformation that draws hundreds of thousands of followers and results in harassment and threats to their targets. Stitcher, LinkedIn and Pinterest have also removed Infowars content.

The moves drastically reduce the audience for Infowars, which sells diet supplements and survivalist gear through a radio broadcast, videos and online stories spreading bizarre conspiracy theories and misinformation.

Alex Jones prepares for a show.
Source: The New York Times

YouTube’s termination of Jones’ channel cost him access to his 2.4 million subscribers and resulted in the removal of all his past videos. Those videos had amassed billions of views, in part because YouTube continued to recommend them to users who had shown interest in conservative topics.

Just one of his four Facebook pages had 1.7 million followers, now also gone. Apple banned five of the six Infowars podcasts on its service Sunday, having determined that the sixth, “RealNews With David Knight,” did not violate its policies, which prohibit podcasts that “could be construed as racist, misogynist or homophobic” or that depict “graphic sex, violence, gore, illegal drugs or hate themes.”

Jones has been trying to compensate by promoting his website and mobile app. On Tuesday, after news of Jones’ bans spread, Infowars was Apple’s fourth most popular news app, outranking those from every mainstream news media organisation. Before the ban, it ranked 33rd on average since July 12.

In an interview Friday at his headquarters in Austin, Texas, Jones said the effort to limit his access to social media platforms was part of an elaborate plot to silence him involving Democrats, China, “globalists” and “corporatists.” He suggested that it was his support for President Donald Trump, not his spreading of falsehoods, that led to him being “de-platformed.”

“This is a war on free speech,” Jones said. “This is what the corporate media is doing in America because it’s afraid of new independent media and asking questions.”

Alex Jones at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Source: AAP

Money, he said in a follow-up interview Saturday, was not a prime motivator for him. “Money is the jet fuel for the jet bombers I use to drop truth bombs,” he said.

Jones is eager to characterise his fight as a stand for constitutionally protected speech, but the private companies that have removed his programming from their platforms have broad latitude to control content, especially if it violates their written terms of service.

Facebook removed Jones’ pages for violating its policies by “glorifying violence” and “using dehumanising language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants.” YouTube terminated Jones’ channel for repeatedly violating its policies, including its prohibition on hate speech. Spotify cited its own prohibition on hate speech as the reason for removing a podcast by Jones.

Indeed, Infowars’ own website says in its terms of service that the company “may review and delete any content you post on the website or elsewhere utilizing our services or system if we determine, in our sole discretion, that the content violates the rights of others, is not appropriate for the website, or otherwise violates this agreement.”

But Vera Eidelman, a fellow with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, sided with Jones.

“While private companies can choose what to take down from their sites, the fact that social media platforms like Facebook have become indispensable platforms for the speech of billions means that they should resist calls to censor offensive speech,” she said in a statement. “The recent decision by Facebook and YouTube to take down Alex Jones’ content may have provided a quick solution to a challenging situation, but encouraging these companies to silence individuals in this way will backfire.”

Jones was defiant on his program Monday, saying past efforts to screen offensive broadcasts have “only made us stronger.”

“But it has not allowed us to reach a lot of new people,” he continued. “That’s why you have to understand now that Infowars is the most censored program in the world — because we know the truth.”

Over two decades, Jones has built a profitable business selling diet supplements, survivalist gear, and air and water filtration equipment as he spread bizarre theories, including that the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, were an inside job, and that various government-orchestrated plots are responsible for poisoning Americans’ water, air and food.

False claims spread by Jones, including one that the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was a government-backed hoax and that the victims’ parents were lying about it, have resulted in multiple defamation lawsuits against him. On Tuesday, lawyers for one victim’s family sparred with Jones’ lawyers over their demand that the parents submit their dates of birth and current address in a filing evidencing the parents’ monetary damages.

Mark Bankston and Bill Ogden, who represent the parents, Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, said in a court filing that requiring the Pozners to disclose the information in a public document could subject them to “further harassment or attack.” Death threats and harassment by Jones’ followers have forced the Pozners to move seven times, and they live in hiding.

Jones has promoted himself and Infowars as near-solitary truth tellers in a news landscape dominated by left-leaning “corporatist” media — even though the popular Drudge Report website broadcast his show on Monday.

Now, what he calls his “de-platforming” has only increased his sense of grievance, and that of his followers — even as it shrinks his reach before the November midterm elections.

“I knew what the enemy was doing — I knew their battle plan, I made the conscious decision to draw their fire,” he said on his show Monday.

“When you see the Alamo assaulted and myself probably destroyed, I’ve been telling you this for years,” he said, adding: “Remember Infowars. Remember free speech.”

So far, Trump, who praised Jones during an appearance on his radio show during the presidential campaign, has remained silent as Jones issues appeals to Trump supporters. Democrats have praised the takedown of Infowars content as long overdue.

“Infowars is the tip of a giant iceberg of hate and lies that uses sites like Facebook and YouTube to tear our nation apart,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a strident critic of Infowars in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, said on Twitter. “These companies must do more than take down one website. The survival of our democracy depends on it.”

On Tuesday, Donald Trump Jr. posted on Twitter that Murphy was “A Democrat Senator openly admitting that Big Tech’s censorship campaign is really about purging all conservative media. How long before Big Tech and their Democrat friends move to censor and purge Breitbart News, Daily Caller and other conservatives voices from their platforms?”

On his show, Jones is using the moves against his business to raise money and encourage his followers to migrate to his Infowars website, where he has posted the content removed by other platforms. He is also asking followers to donate to him — and buy his merchandise.

“Don’t forget the financial support; that is the strongest thing you can do to make sure that we continue on and are strong in the fight,” he said.

Referring listeners to his online store, he said, “Go there today and send them a strong message that you stand for the First Amendment, you stand for us and get air filtration, water filtration, optics, preparedness gear, high quality storable foods, supplements that are so good for you and your family.”

“Feed your gladiator,” he urged.

Published 8 August 2018 at 9:08pm
By Elizabeth Williams © 2018 New York Times
Source: The New York Times