In this Monday, April 17, 2017 photo, “Infowars” host Alex Jones, right, arrives at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas. Jones, the right-wing radio host and conspiracy theorist, is a performance artist whose true personality is nothing like his on-air persona, according to a lawyer defending the “Infowars” broadcaster in a child custody battle. (Tamir Kalifa/Austin American-Statesman via AP) AP
Even California’s wildfires have been wrapped into radio host Alex Jones’ dangerous conspiracy theories.
In a post on Jones’ Infowars website last year, a man identified as a fire captain suggested only an energy weapon could have caused Northern California’s October 2017 fires.
This summer, Forrest Clark, a mentally troubled Jones fan who had shared a theory on social media that California wildfires were part of an international conspiracy, was charged with starting the Holy Fire.
“It’s all going to burn like you planned,” he wrote in a text to a volunteer fire chief before allegedly starting the fire, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Jones occupies a central position in the realm of conspiracy, and has rightly been removed from major social media platforms for harassment, glorification of violence and child endangerment. But radio stations around the country still broadcast the dangerous falsehoods he promotes on “The Alex Jones Show,” which are contributing to real-world terror.
He told radio listeners nationwide that the Sandy Hook school shooting never happened.
“I’ve looked at it and undoubtedly there’s a cover up, there’s actors, they’re manipulating, they’ve been caught lying, and they were pre-planning before it and rolled out with it,” he said, according to court documents.
Jones planted the seed and his minions took action. Death threats forced the parents of slain 6-year-old Noah Pozner to relocate seven times, according to The New York Times; they now live too far away to visit their son’s grave.
He told listeners several times that Democratic operatives were running a child-sex ring out of a Washington, D.C. pizza place. One of his fans subsequently shot the place up with an assault rifle.
These are just a couple of the many hoaxes perpetuated by a man identified by his own lawyer as a “performance artist.”
So why is this guy still on the radio?
Jones has First Amendment rights. The right to free speech, to stand on a street corner and share his views, whatever their relation to the truth.
But radio, which reaches 93 percent of our population, comes with a legal responsibility to listeners to “serve the public interest.” In Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC, the Supreme Court said it’s the First Amendment right “of the viewing and listening public, and not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.”
The Federal Communications Commission provides a way for stations to air hoaxes without violating the public trust: air a disclaimer saying the program is fiction.
“Any programming accompanied by a disclaimer will be presumed not to pose foreseeable harm if the disclaimer clearly characterizes the program as a fiction and is presented in a way that is reasonable under the circumstances,” according to the agency’s rule.
What a defense against fake news: if a program is fiction, simply make the broadcaster say so.
But the FCC won’t enforce its rules without complaints from the public, so it’s time to start writing.
Locally, Alex Jones perpetrates his hoaxes all over the Sacramento region every weeknight on KAHI-AM, licensed to Immaculate Heart Radio. Nationally, he is heard on World Wide Christian Radio.
The Media Action Center is running a campaign to get the FCC to label Alex Jones’ show as fiction. More information, including a template letter people can send to the agency, is available at https://www.mediaactioncenter.net.