Following the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon, radio host Alex Jones was quick to suggest the attacks may have been a "false flag" operation staged by the U.S. government. Jones' reaction is far from surprising; he has made a career out of pushing outlandish conspiracy theories.
Among other conspiracies, Jones has blamed the U.S. government for perpetrating, coordinating, or otherwise being involved in the 9-11 attacks, the Aurora movie theater shooting, the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. But despite Jones' well-known history, he is regularly validated by conservative media figures, politicians, and prominent activists that frequent his program, as well as by right-wing websites that promote his work and mainstream outlets that host him on their networks.
In recent years, former Rep. Ron Paul and current Sen. Rand Paul; Fox News figures Lou Dobbs and Andrew Napolitano; gun activists Ted Nugent and Larry Pratt; and climate misinformer Marc Morano have all repeatedly appeared on Jones' show. His immensely popular website Infowars is also frequently promoted by conservative websites like The Drudge Report.
Shortly following the April 15 Boston attacks, Jones tweeted that "our hearts go out to those that are hurt or killed," but added that "this thing stinks to high heaven" and suggested it was a "false flag" operation.
On a special webcast of his show that aired the night of April 15, Jones elaborated on his suggestion, saying, "You saw them stage Fast and Furious. Folks, they staged Aurora, they staged Sandy Hook. The evidence is just overwhelming. And that's why I'm so desperate and freaked out. This is not fun, you know, getting up here telling you this. Somebody's got to tell you the truth."
As Jones uses yet another national tragedy to push baseless, absurd conspiracy theories, it's worth asking whether there's anything he can say or do to lead media figures, politicians and activists to stop validating him.
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The New York Times covered up the extremism of the fringe gun lobby organization Gun Owners of America (GOA) in an article highlighting the group's influence with Republican politicians.
Notably, the Times reported only that the group's leader, Larry Pratt, "worked briefly for Patrick J. Buchanan's 1996 presidential campaign." While it's true that he "worked briefly" for Buchanan's campaign, the Times left out the reason Pratt's role was short-lived: he stepped down as co-chair of the campaign in response to reports that he had attended meetings organized by right-wing militia leaders and white supremacists.
The article describes GOA as an "upstart group" that has a "rising profile" and is "increasingly potent" because of its "loud" advocacy tactics on positions that "tend to veer farther right than those of the" National Rifle Association. It includes praise for the group from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Dean Heller (R-NV) and reports that the organization has been successful in "freezing senators, particularly Republicans" from taking positions in support of gun violence prevention legislation.
But the Times ignored the extremism of the group's leadership and the bizarre conspiracies they have adopted. The article describes Pratt, the organization's executive director, as follows:
Mr. Pratt, 70, has long been active in Republican politics. He served in the Virginia legislature in the 1980s, and he worked briefly for Patrick J. Buchanan's 1996 presidential campaign.
That description of Pratt's service with Buchanan is inadequate, as the Times' reporting from February 18, 1996, indicates (via Nexis, emphasis added):
Last week, Larry Pratt, a co-chairman of the Buchanan campaign, took a leave of absence after the disclosure that he had spoken at rallies held by leaders of the white supremacist and militia movements.
Mr. Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said in an interview that he did not know the other speakers. He also said he did not harbor anti-Semitic or racist views, although his articles on gun ownership often appear in The Jubilee, a tabloid published in California by leaders of the Christian Identity movement, a white supremacist organization.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday this week, National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre was pressed about the controversial ad the group created in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre that referenced the armed protection President Obama's daughters receive. Even as host Chris Wallace belittled as "ridiculous" the ad's premise that all children deserve the same kind of protection that the president's children have, LaPierre defend the ad and said, "Tell that to the people of Newtown."
"So they should have Secret Service"? Wallace asked.
In response, LaPierre propagated a favorite falsehood of the pro-gun media lobby [emphasis added]:
LAPIERRE: No, but what they should have is police officers or certified armed security in those schools to keep people safe. If something happens, the police time-- despite all their good intentions, is 15 to 20 minutes. It's too long. It's not going to help those kids.
In the wake of the Newtown shooting, LaPierre bemoaned the fact kids aren't safe at school, in part because it takes police 15 to 20 minutes to respond to a deadly shooting like the one in Connecticut.
But that's not true and it's time the news media start calling out anti-gun control extremists like LaPierre and Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, among others, who keep peddling the obvious falsehood in the press.
Fact: The Newtown police station is located approximately two miles from the Sandy Hook Elementary School. There's no way it would have taken law enforcement 20 minutes to respond to the first 911 calls reporting gunfire at the school. (Local cops could have run from the station and been at the school in less than 20 minutes.)
Fast-acting Newtown officers "made it in under three minutes, arriving in the parking lot while gunfire could still be heard," according to New York Times interviews with the first responders that day.
But if you listen to LaPierre as well as other anti-gun control advocates who are making the media rounds, you're led to believe gunman Adam Lanza roamed the hallways of Sandy Hook for nearly half an hour killing people at will before law enforcement finally arrived; that terrified teachers and students were "waiting 20 minutes for the cops to show up," as one pro-gun blogger claimed.
It's not true. The claim is pure gun lobby propaganda.
Fox News Sunday included as a featured guest Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, despite the history of inflammatory rhetoric and extremist links that Pratt and his organization are associated with.
The opening segment of the January 13 edition of Fox News Sunday featured Pratt and Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress discussing issues of gun rights in the wake of the Newtown massacre. Pratt argued against banning weapons and expanding background checks, and he said that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was "not speaking from a constitutional perspective" when he said that Second Amendment rights are not unlimited.
While host Chris Wallace did confront Pratt about his comparison of President Obama to King George III, he made no mention of other, more extreme rhetoric and connections Pratt and his organization are linked to:
On January 11, Pratt said on a radio show that Obama should be impeached if he uses an executive order to restrict gun rights.
Pratt has also said that legislation denying firearms to the dangerously mentally ill was "a dictatorial power" that "they use[d] ... in Nazi Germany."
Pratt was removed as national co-chair of Pat Buchanan's 1996 presidential campaign after his associations with white supremacists were revealed. Pratt also served as a contributing editor of a publication described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-Semitic.
On Fox & Friends, John Velleco, GOA's director of federal affairs, falsely claimed: "Every time a state tries to relax concealed carry laws, we hear the Chicken Littles of the world saying that blood is going to flow in the streets, and it just doesn't happen. In fact, crime doesn't go up, crime goes down, because criminals don't know who is carrying a firearm to defend themselves.
Velleco also suggested that gun owners should be allowed to carry their weapons at events where the president of the United States is speaking.
Michael Hammond, GOA's legislative counsel, warned that a "government psychiatrist" could determine who is allowed to possess a gun, citing the example of returning Iraq War veterans who are not allowed to have guns due to post-traumatic stress disorder.