If They Can Silence Him Today They Can Silence You Tomorrow
Published on August 09, 2018
In 1978 an American neo-Nazi group announced that it intended to stage a march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie, an area inhabited by a large number of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. A public firestorm ensued. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) intervened on behalf of the neo-Nazi group and defended its right to stage the march on the basis of free speech and the right to assembly.
I can think of few things more loathsome than a group of Americans defending a fascist ideology responsible for mass murder and the most destructive war in human history. That a mob of such creatures, oblivious to the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Americans who fought in World War II, would choose to march through an area deliberately chosen because of its Jewish population boggles the mind.
I am, as well, no particular fan of the ACLU, which seems to spend an inordinate amount of time supporting the fringe ideologies of the world but appears to have little or no time for mainstream America. Nonetheless, without question the ACLU did the right thing in defending the right of a bunch of mindless goons to express themselves. Not because anyone on the planet needed to hear what these idiots had to say.
Because of the principle at play.
We do not throw out evidence collected in an unlawful search, because we want murderers, rapists and drug dealers to walk free. We do it, because a government, which can unlawfully search your drug-dealing neighbor's house today can illegally enter your home tomorrow.
In the same fashion we do not defend the right of neo-Nazis and anarchists to speak, because we think their dueling stupidities have merit. We do it, because a government, which can silence them today can silence us tomorrow.
Which brings me to Alex Jones.
I have never met Mr. Jones. I have read articles on his website a handful of times. I have had the dubious honor of speaking with supporters of his on several occasions while campaigning for public office. Most of those conversations have concerned the theory that 9/11 was an inside job and that the Twin Towers were destroyed by explosives built into their foundations when they were built. As a man who has worked counterterrorism virtually his entire life, I have found these conspiracy theories both puzzling and terrifying. It bothers me greatly, in fact, that we have reached a point in the history of this great nation that such ridiculous and inflammatory fictions are taken seriously.
Nonetheless, I find the recent effective silencing of Alex Jones and his supporters by Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and Apple highly unsettling. We live now in an age wherein these social media giants have become effectively the "town square". These are now the venues in which we gather information and exchange ideas. If you are barred from speaking on these platforms you are barred from public discourse.
In announcing their decision to ban Alex Jones and his message, all four companies cited Jones' inflammatory comments about Muslims, immigrants, members of the LGBT community, and other groups. "We believe in giving people a voice, but we also want everyone using Facebook to feel safe," Facebook said in a statement "It's why we have Community Standards and remove anything that violates them, including hate speech that attacks or dehumanizes others. Earlier today, we removed four Pages belonging to Alex Jones for repeatedly posting content over the past several days that breaks those Community Standards." The company also labeled Jones a "repeat offender."
No doubt Facebook's comments about much of Alex Jones' commentary are accurate. They are also irrelevant.
The First Amendment does not guarantee the right to say, "nice things". It does not guarantee the right to say things as long as no one is offended. It does not guarantee the right to hold and express opinions as long as they are shared by most of the members of the community. Within very, very broad boundaries it provides an absolute guarantee to all American citizens, even those lost in the woods enough to believe that explosives were secretly implanted in the structure of the World Trade Center by an evil, shadow government, to speak their minds.
The Founding Fathers had a fundamentally optimistic view of the wisdom and the common sense of the American people. They believed that if all opinions and points of view were exchanged freely in and debated openly that the best of those would rise to the top. They were not afraid of "hate speech", because they knew that Americans would recognize evil, stupidity and hate for what it was and opt instead for good, intelligence and respect.
I share that optimism. I know that a bunch of neo-Nazis marching through the streets will be seen as sad, pathetic and dangerous and, if anything, provoke a backlash against their twisted ideology not support for it. We are a better, greater nation than that.
Oscar Wilde once said, "I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself." Hear, hear. Let Alex Jones speak. As long as we can hear him braying, we will know we are free.