The solution to our broken public discourse is not to ban guys like Alex Jones from social media.
Don’t get me wrong. The founder of the fake news site InfoWars is not a nice guy. He’s a fountain of lies aimed at promoting division and hatred.
Jones once claimed the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was a hoax, and he faces a lawsuit from the parents of a 6-year-old victim accusing him of defamation.
His attorney, Mark Enoch, appeared at a hearing in Texas this week seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed.
“Maybe it’s fringe speech. Maybe it’s dangerous speech,” Enoch said after playing portions of an InfoWars episode. “But it’s not defamation. That is rhetorical hyperbole at its core.”
State District Judge Scott Jenkins now has a month to decide whether to let the lawsuit proceed.
Meanwhile, Jones has declared war on special counsel Robert Mueller, calling him a “monster” and accusing him of being involved in a child sex ring made up of left-leaning political figures. Jones even went so far as to dramatize a hypothetical “wild west” shootout with the former FBI director.
With music from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” playing in the background, Jones told his listeners the only thing about Mueller that scared him was the possibility that Jones himself might fail to “man up.”
“I’m constantly in fear that I’m not being a real man, and I’m not doing what it takes, and I’m not telling the truth,” he said.
And then he insulted the special counsel and challenged him to a metaphorical duel.
“It’s going to happen,” Jones said. “We’re going to walk out in the square, politically, at high noon, and he’s going to find out whether he makes a move … and then it’s going to happen.”
Jones took an imaginary shot with his fingers and continued.
“It’s not a joke,” he said. “It’s not a game. It’s the real world. Politically. … Get ready. We’re going to bang heads.”
So, no, Jones would not leave a void worth filling if he were to disappear from the public square. Still, his current ban from Facebook, YouTube and now Spotify is no cause for celebration.
The freedom of expression guaranteed under the First Amendment applies to all of us. It applies to Nazis in the same way it applies to Republicans and Democrats. It protects the racist in the same way it protects the civil rights advocate.
It protects those who salute the American flag in the same way it protects those who burn that flag in protest.
Balancing all of these interests isn’t always easy, but this nation’s founders were not looking for easy. To protect the rights of anyone, they decided, we must protect the rights of everyone.
The First Amendment protects the rights of Muslims, but it also protects the rights of the anti-Muslim group banned from a street festival because of the reaction its protests might produce.
There’s a reason this amendment comes first in the Bill of Rights. It’s the foundation of our democracy, and without that foundation, other fundamental rights begin to fade away.
So what we need is not to silence crackpots like Alex Jones. What we need is to point out just how wrong they are.
A true free speech advocate will tell you that the correct response to objectionable speech is not to shut down that speech. The solution is to exercise your own freedom of speech.
We should also remember something else. Alex Jones has every right to speak, and we have every right not to listen.