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KATIE ZERR: Are Jones’ conspiracy theories protected by the First Amendment?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects free speech. It states the government can’t restrict free speech and protects the media, unless it concerns false claims made with malicious intent.
Through the courts, the First Amendment has protected neo-Nazis, The Westboro Baptist Church protestors; a U.S. flag burner and a Ku Klux Klan member spewing hate.
Conspiracy theorist and ultraconservative talk show host Alex Jones’ fame started with him claiming the government was involved in the Oklahoma City bombing. His theories have evolved over time as his listeners hear about the New World Order, a “demonic high-tech tyranny” formed by satanist elites such as Hillary Clinton, who manufacture economic and health crises, and are using selective breeding to create a supreme race. He says that the moon landing was a hoax staged by NASA, the government was behind the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and that the murder of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary was a hoax that involved child actors. He tells his listeners the government controls the weather and is behind terrorist and lone gunman attacks such as at the Pulse nightclub. It was Jones who spread the rumor that Hilary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza place. His listeners heard that Jared Loughner, who killed six people and seriously wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011, was part of a geometric psychological-warfare that indirectly manipulates unstable people through the media.
Jones has claimed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is an evil entity vying for global domination and not a philanthropic organization aimed at improving the health and education of children.
Jones has millions of followers, including the president of the United States. In 2015 Donald Trump appeared on Jones’ show, praising Jones for his work.
“Your reputation is amazing,” he told Jones.
President Trump has based some of his Twitter claims on Jones’ “alternative facts,” that falsely claimed Barack Obama was born in Kenya, thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the collapse of the Twin Towers, and millions of undocumented immigrants voted for Clinton.
His critics say Jones’ accusations are divisive and have encourage his fans to harass, threaten and intimidate the parents of a Sandy Hook Elementary shooting victims. The death threats and harassing messages forced the parents of a slain six-year-old to move hundreds of miles from their home.
This rhetoric, spread by Jones and his followers as asinine as it seems to most Americans, could be protected by the First Amendment. The courts may find Jones responsible for the aftermath of his regurgitations, as he is being sued by some parents of the Sandy Hook victims, but he may be able to continue his spew of hate and divisiveness along the airwaves.
This week Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and others social media platforms took steps to prevent Jones from using their services to spread his theories, claiming his messages have violated their policies against hate speech, banning him and his InfoWars pages. Several videos were said to violate YouTube’s community guidelines because they featured hate speech against Muslims and transgender people. Several sites have removed extremist material he had published to crackdown on the spread of hate speech and discrimination.
Of course Jones is telling his listeners he is being targeted by liberally-owned social media that are censoring conservative voices. Officials for the media groups pushed back saying they are taking action against specific people and accounts that violate their anti-harassment and anti-terrorism policies.
It is a slippery slope. Although most Americans are repulsed by Jones’ baseless rhetoric, he may is still be protected by the law.
Is banning him for violating policies really a way of shutting him up? Is Jones right in claiming the “sick cult of leftism” was trying to destroy him and his show? Can it have the opposite affect by making him a cult hero of those who believe his falsehoods?
As a member of the media that has been proclaimed to be an enemy of the American people by the president, it is difficult to find any value in the Alex Joneses of the world. The fact that he is embraced by the president while others, who use factual information on which to base their news, are branded enemies of the U.S., is deplorable.
The freedom of speech, no matter how hateful, divisive or ignorant, is protected by law, although recently several scholars of free speech have concluded that many of the things Jones has said online were not protected by the First Amendment. They urged a federal judge considering a lawsuit against him not to let him hide behind the First Amendment while publishing his rhetoric.
But as Jones is finding out, there may be other ways to stem his flood of ignorance on our society.
– Katie Zerr –