Why some of the internet’s biggest conspiracy theorists are on the Hill Wednesday.
A peanut gallery of three white supremacists and conspiracy theorists are watching Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testify before Congress Wednesday.
All three have been banned from major social media platforms for violating their rules — and they’re using today’s hearings to confront them, and to try to force members of Congress to stand by them.
Alex Jones, a well-known internet conspiracy theorist, sat in the audience at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to “face his accusers,” referring to Sandberg and Dorsey. Also in the front row at the hearing was internet troll Charles Johnson; Twitter banned him from the site permanently after he threatened to “take out” a Black Lives Matter activist. Present on the Hill as well was Laura Loomer, an alt-right activist who alleged that the shootings at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, were staged; she has been suspended from Facebook and Twitter in the past.
Today's congressional hearings on social media could be wild. Alex Jones claims he'll be in the front row, Laura Loomer is in DC, and Chuck Johnson — banned from Twitter — says he has something planned.— Will Sommer (@willsommer) September 5, 2018
Some of the Republicans on the committees in the House and Senate questioning Sandberg and Dorsey are sympathetic to the conservative outcry against the social media giants and allegations of anti-conservative bias on major tech platforms. But like most mainstream Republicans, they prefer their support to be at least one step removed from characters like Jones, Johnson, and Loomer, all of whom have made a living off blatant racism and accusing mass shooting survivors of being paid actors.
But the hearings on Wednesday are forcing their hand — making it harder to make the issue about fairness more generally, and not the specific cases in the audience.
Jones, Loomer, and Johnson are alt-right conspiracy theorists
Jones is a conspiracy theorist who pushed the Pizzagate conspiracy theory and has alleged that virtually every recent mass shooting was a “false flag.” He is currently being sued by the families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting; he’s said on his program that the shooting was a hoax and accused the parents of victims of being actors.
In August, his podcasts, pages, and channels were removed from Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify because he violated their rules. As I wrote earlier this summer:
The tech companies say they blocked Infowars not because of the conspiracy theories, but because, in Spotify’s words, Infowars “expressly and principally promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual based on characteristics.”
Facebook said they were shutting down several of Jones’s pages for “glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies.” Apple said in a statement to BuzzFeed News, “Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users,” adding, “podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory.”
But the Facebook suspension of Jones only lasted 30 days. Since then, he has returned to the platform, using a private Facebook group to continue to share videos and articles. And he’s become somewhat of a cause célèbre among the far right and some conservatives, who believe the ban on Jones violated the First Amendment.
Alex Jones is in DC to face his accusers at the social media censorship hearings.— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) September 5, 2018
Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg & Twitter's Jack Dorsey will be grilled by lawmakers.
Jones reportedly has a front row seat.
How will they censor this? https://t.co/boXBhRKGmp
Among Jones’s Infowars compatriots is Loomer, formerly of the Canadian right-wing website the Rebel and perhaps best known for interrupting the New York Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park performance of Julius Caesar last June, running onstage and yelling, “Stop the normalization of political violence against the right! This is unacceptable!”
Loomer, who since leaving the Rebel has worked with both Infowars and James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas; has alleged that the May school shooting in Santa Fe may have been staged, was banned from both Uber and Lyft after tweeting, “I’m late to the NYPD press conference because I couldn’t find a non Muslim cab or @Uber @lyft driver for over 30 min! This is insanity”; and has repeatedly spread falsehoods about current events, especially ones that she could blame on anti-Trump activists or antifa.
On February 26 and August 12, I was issued a 30 day ban on @facebook for telling the TRUTH & being a CONSERVATIVE.— Laura Loomer (@LauraLoomer) September 5, 2018
For far too long, Big tech has gotten away with censoring the silent majority because of WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE BELIEVE IN!
I will not be censored. #StopTheBias pic.twitter.com/LjnFPHnOZI
Internet troll Chuck Johnson has also appeared on Infowars — and at the State of the Union address earlier this year (at the invitation of Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz). Johnson, who runs two websites, GotNews and WeSearchr, is a conspiracy theorist, a very bad “journalist,” and someone who once offered $1,000 for photographs of a Republican senator’s sick wife. He has said that his interests included writing about “lying women and thuggish black men.” From Politico:
He wrongly accused two New York Times reporters of revealing the address of the police officer in the Ferguson shooting. He wrongly accused another Times reporter of posing for Playgirl. He wrongly claimed that Sen. Cory Booker did not live in Newark when he served as that city’s mayor. On one occasion, he was temporarily suspended from Twitter after posting photos of someone he claimed had been exposed to Ebola. His most high-profile moment came when he rightly cast doubt on the Rolling Stone article about the University of Virginia rape accusations. Then he threatened to expose the student who made the accusations, attacked her on social media and published a photo of a woman he thought was her — but wasn’t. Johnson has also suggested that President Obama is gay.
Johnson was permanently banned from Twitter in 2015 after asking for donations to “take out” Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, part of an increased effort by the company to ban trolls “right and left” to make the user experience better for everyone. Since then, he has attempted to sue Twitter, alleging that his right to free speech had been violated, with limited success.
Johnson has also raged at White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who made it his mission to ensure that articles from either Johnson (who wrote a number of pieces accusing a White House staffer of leaking information with no corroborating evidence) or Infowars never got before President Trump. “We in the alternative media won the election for Trump,” Johnson told the Washington Examiner.
And now, Johnson, Loomer, and the man behind Infowars — three of the biggest conspiracy theorists within the far right — are present at a congressional hearing on “bias” against conservative voices on social media.
Today is historic. I am inside the Senate building on Capitol Hill with @RealAlexJones for the Social media hearings. Together we stand against big tech censorship. Today we stand for the Silent Majority! You can’t bully us @jack @facebook! #StopTheBias pic.twitter.com/uga6IdHmZe— Laura Loomer (@LauraLoomer) September 5, 2018