Alex Jones threatens Sandy Hook parents with cease and desist letters if they keep talking about his conspiracy theories
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A harassment campaign organized on far-right sites targeted journalists and activists with malicious abuse
On Wednesday, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey reiterated the importance of journalists’ presence on the platform when he tweeted, “We can’t be a useful service without the integrity journalists bring.” Some journalists, many of whom have faced relentless harassment on the platform, met Dorsey’s proclamation with jaded skepticism, and for good reason. Following President Donald Trump’s frequent attacks against the press, journalists have become a target for online harassment by the far-right favorites, egged on by prominent figures like Fox’s Sean Hannity, whom Dorsey gave a rare interview to this week. And when the consequences of the anti-press sentiment on the right have turned deadly, far-right message boards users have reacted in celebration.
In fact, at the time Dorsey was underscoring the vital role of the press on Twitter, a coordinated harassment campaign -- seemingly originating from the anonymous message board 4chan and the white supremacist-friendly Twitter alternative Gab.ai -- was targeting users, including dozens of journalists, who have been verified by Twitter.
The campaign, organized under the hashtag #VerifiedHate, can be traced back to multiple internet spats that have unfolded in recent days. The first was a determined, bad-faith campaign to force The New York Times to fire newly hired editorial board member Sarah Jeong who had written a number of tweets appearing to denigrate white people. The manufactured outrage over Jeong was dominated by right-wing figures and championed by Fox’s Tucker Carlson, who insisted on taking her flippant tweets as deadly earnest “reverse racism.” However, the campaign culminated in frustration as the Times retained Jeong, despite issuing a somewhat equivocal statement. The second episode was Alex Jones getting banned from several tech platforms including Apple, YouTube, Facebook, Stitcher, and MailChimp, which was viewed by right-wing media as evidence of double standards and anti-conservative bias among tech companies.
Faced with the combination of their failure to get a woman of color fired and their ire at tech companies, anonymous social-media users started a campaign to harass verified Twitter users who have in the past sent tweets containing jokes about white people.
The campaign -- targeting particularly those of Jewish descent -- can be traced back to Gab, which harbors infamous white supremacist trolls like Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin. Four days ago, a Gab user posted a collage of verified Twitter users who the person claimed were showing their “white hatred”:
The idea spread to 4chan, where users called the push to harass journalists and activists “Twittercaust” or the “Night of the Blue Checkmarks,” saying it was an effort “to prove … once and for all that the Journalists, media personalities and celebrities are all a part of a massive anti white (sic) conspiracy!!!”
The trolls also revealed it was a coordinated action, with some 4chan members claiming they were using multiple accounts to push the hashtag:
4chan users posted examples of their coordinated Twitter harassment on the message board, demonstrating ways in which individual tweets could circumvent the platform’s hateful conduct policy that prohibits the usage of slurs:
The trolls particularly singled out individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent who had referenced their own whiteness and Jewishness on Twitter:
On Twitter, the account @meme_america began to promote lists of users whom trolls could harass in the #VerifiedHate campaign and focused on specific journalists like VICE’s Justin Ling, who was subjected to vile comments:
Multiple 4chan users expressed affinity for Alex Jones, and one claimed that, though Twitter hasn't banned Jones yet, the platform has removed other conservative voices and “probably will remove more”:
#VerifiedHate is an example of an open campaign cooked up by right-wing trolls to harass and intimidate verified Twitter users, specifically journalists. If Dorsey really needs journalists to maintain the integrity of his platform, perhaps he should work to suppress campaigns that subject them to threats, intimidation, and harassment and make the social media platform safer to use for everyone.
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The hashtags #donutgate and #doughnutgate are being used to claim Oregon’s Voodoo Doughnuts is tied to child trafficking; the unsubstantiated claims were originated on a YouTube video that credited QAnon pusher Isaac Kappy
A rising far-right conspiracy theory claims that a popular donut shop in Portland, OR, Voodoo Doughnuts, is a front for child trafficking. As of this writing, a YouTube video featuring the claim has more than 63,000 views, while the hashtag #donutgate appears to be gaining traction on Twitter. The allegation is an echoand an offshoot of Pizzagate, a conspiracy theory President Donald Trump supporters popularized during the 2016 election cycle, which baselessly claimed Democratic politicians operated a pedophilia ring from Washington, D.C. pizzeria Comet Ping Pong.
On August 4, a man named Michael Whelan, known on Twitter as VeganMikey went on Nathan Stolpman’s YouTube channel Lift the Veil to share an incident after, according to him, he “was made aware of people that were participating in sexual abuse and trafficking of children in the city of Portland, OR.” Stolpman claimed the incident was connected to the owner of Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts and that they were going to “be linking this to Comet Pizza as well.”
Whelan said he had been “eyewitness to children taken back” at a party at the home of Tres Shannon, the owner of Voodoo Donuts, where “there was abuse of children going on.” Whelan also claimed people within the alleged ring “had worked at Comet,” linking his allegations to Pizzagate.
In the video, both Whelan and Stolpman credited Isaac Kappy for talking about pedophilia rings as an inspiration for others to go public with similar allegations. Whelan also directly addressed Kappy asking him to “help the people on the ground level of this happening.” Kappy is a minor actor and QAnon enthusiast who was among the conspiracy theorists claiming on videos that Hollywood celebrities like Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were involved in pedophilia rings. As a result, searches on YouTube last week for Hanks and Spielberg were momentarily dominated by videos of the wild conspiracy theories. Kappy’s allegations were too extreme even for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who hosted Kappy on Infowars and asked him to restrain his wide-ranging accusations by avoiding “getting into names,” a precaution possibly linked to the defamation lawsuits Jones is currently battling for his own conspiracy theories.
Kappy promoted the Lift the Veil video to his followers during a Periscope session in which he also gave oxygen to the wild QAnon-related absurd claim that John F. Kennedy Jr. is, in fact, alive and behind the anonymous Q posts, saying “that would be the jaw-dropper of the century” if Kennedy Jr. was alive.
The claims about Voodoo donuts have reached Reddit, where users have shared Stolpman’s video within a QAnon subreddit. On the online message board 4chan -- from where many hoaxes and harassment campaigns often originate -- users appear to be actively organizing a campaign against the donut shop focused on distributing flyers containing the unsubstantiated claims.
Such campaigns can have dangerous real-life consequences. Despite the fact there is no evidence to substantiate Pizzagate, a man inspired by the wild conspiracy theory showed up at the restaurant to self-investigate and opened fire.
The claims regarding Voodoo Doughnuts earlier appeared on YouTube in late 2016 and early 2017, when multiple uploaded videos focused on the allegations. One recurring allegation was that designs on certain doughnuts were secret references to changelings and pedophilia:
The allegations were also made on a dating forum in early December 2016, with the poster citing “Patriot News.”
This time around, these allegations have received much wider attention following Kappy’s endorsement. An analysis on the hashtag tracker Keyhole shows that tweets containing #doughnutgate are now gaining traction and its impressions have reached more than 826,477 users; tweets for #donutgate have reached an additional 186.623 users. According to Keyhole, the major related hashtags that appear next to #doughnutgate are #pizzagate and #pedogate.
Media Matters reached out to Voodoo Doughnuts and will be updating this piece if the donut shop responds.
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Jones also said Mueller had let people rape children in front of him
Periscope, a video streaming service owned by Twitter, continues to host a video in which conspiracy theorist Alex Jones pantomimes shooting special counsel Robert Mueller while alleging Mueller is involved in covering up pedophilia.
During his July 23 broadcast, Jones held his finger like a pistol while ranting about Mueller, claiming, in part, “That's a demon I will take down, or I'll die trying” and telling the special counsel, “It's not a joke. It's not a game. It's the real world. Politically. You're going to get it, or I'm going to die trying, bitch. Get ready.” Jones also said Mueller had let people rape children in front of him:
ALEX JONES (HOST): That's the thing, is like, once it's [special counsel Robert] Mueller, everyone's so scared of Mueller, they'd let Mueller rape kids in front of people, which he did. I mean, Mueller covered up for a decade for [Jeffrey] Epstein kidnapping kids, flying them on sex planes, some kids as young as seven years old reportedly, with big perverts raping them to frame people. I mean, Mueller is a monster, man. God, imagine -- he's even above the pedophiles, though. The word is he doesn't have sex with kids, he just controls it all. Can you imagine being a monster like that? God.
People say, "Well, God, aren't you scared of him?" I'm scared of not manning 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. And so, call it whatever you want, I look at that guy, and he's a sack of crap. That's a demon I will take down, or I'll die trying. So that's it. It's going to happen, 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 man, make the move first, and then it's going to happen. It's not a joke. It's not a game. It's the real world. Politically. You're going to get it, or I'm going to die trying, bitch. Get ready. We're going to bang heads. We're going to bang heads.
In recent days, several broadcasting platforms including YouTube, Apple’s iTunes, and Facebook have banned Jones for violating their content policies. Twitter and Periscope, however, have not taken action against Jones.
According to Vox, Jones’ Mueller rant “set off a round of debate in recent weeks about whether Infowars should be granted carte blanche on big social media outlets” and Facebook’s statement on its ban of Jones “almost certainly is in response.” The Mueller video was also one of five videos pulled by Apple before the company decided to delete Jones’ entire iTunes library.
The video is, however, still viewable on Jones’ Periscope page, and Jones' tweet with the video is still live on Twitter as well. Periscope’s community guidelines prohibit content that “directly or indirectly threatens or encourages any form of physical violence against an individual or any group of people.”
— Alex Jones (@RealAlexJones) July 23, 2018
Update: In a statement to Media Matters, MailChimp confirmed it has removed the accounts for Infowars, citing "hateful content":
MailChimp doesn’t generally comment on individual users or accounts, but we’ll make an exception today. MailChimp notified Infowars that their accounts have been terminated for violating our Terms of Service, which make it clear that we don’t allow people to use our platform to disseminate hateful content.
We take our responsibility to our customers and employees seriously. The decision to terminate this account was thoughtfully considered and is in line with our company’s values.
Jones has regularly used his show to push conspiracy theories targeting survivors of tragedies, including 9/11 and the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Jones has repeatedly used his platform to push for violence and allege that domestic right-wing terrorism in America, such as in Oklahoma City, is actually part of a secret government plot.
Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is running as a Republican for a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona, told his campaign to “stand up” for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones after several social media companies banned Jones from their platforms.
Dustin Stockton, a senior Arpaio strategist, wrote on Twitter that Arpaio has directed the campaign to look into purchasing advertising on Jones’ Infowars outlet “to help provide resources as they fight for free speech”:
Sheriff Joe has directed our campaign to stand up for @RealAlexJones and has told us to look at purchasing advertising from @infowars to help provide resources as they fight for free speech. Honored to work for @RealSheriffJoe. I bet you don't see his opponents say a word!
— Dustin Stockton (@DustinStockton) August 7, 2018
In July 2017, Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt of court over his refusal to comply with a court order that said he could no longer direct the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to engage in racially discriminatory practices against Latinos. He faced up to six months in jail, but he received a pardon from President Donald Trump before he was sentenced.
Shortly before the pardon was officially announced in August 2017, Arpaio appeared on Jones’ show and credited Infowars with bringing his case to Trump’s attention, saying, “I want to thank you, Alex, and your staff, Jerry Corsi, Roger Stone, for bringing this story out and reaching the president. I supported him from, what, two years ago at the same forum that he did yesterday and I’m with him and I’m with him to the end.”
Jones hosted Arpaio again in January and called on his listeners to donate to and volunteer for Arpaio’s campaign while pushing a conspiracy theory that “illegals” will try to steal the election from Arpaio.
Arpaio is facing U.S. Rep. Martha McSally and former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward in a primary contest later this month to determine the Republican nominee for an election to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake. In addition to Jones, Arpaio’s right-wing media allies include Frederick Smith, a senior executive at Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Update: Arpaio also sent an August 6 email to supporters that asked for campaign contributions so he can purchase advertising with Jones. He wrote, in part: "I've instructed my campaign to reach out to Jones and purchase some advertising. ... If you donate now, you'll be supporting both Sheriff Arpaio and free speech."
Hours after YouTube banned him, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones repeatedly claimed that globalists and the media will orchestrate mass casualty attacks at CNN and MSNBC which will then be blamed on Jones and President Donald Trump.
This irresponsible and unfounded claim gives anyone who wants to carry out violence against members of the media a preconceived cover for their actions.
Over the last two days Jones and his Infowars outlet have been banned from YouTube and Facebook for violating content policies while Apple and Spotify have removed some of Jones’ content from their platforms, citing similar reasons.
Jones made the “false flag” claims while guest hosting the August 6 edition of Infowars program War Room. At the top of the show, Jones said “false flag” attacks would be staged against CNN and MSNBC in order to cause civil unrest, or even a civil war, and that the motivation behind the Infowars platform bans is that “they don’t want me on air on big viral platforms so that I can respond when they do it”:
ALEX JONES (HOST): But here’s the big issue: They are coming for you, they are now going to launch their operations, they are going to launch their civil unrest, they are going to launch their calls for civil war, which they’re now doing, they’re going to launch their events. And then they’re going to persecute Infowars, lie about Infowars, build us up as this villain, keep hyping that I’m going to send people to people’s houses to shoot people. I’ve been saying for years, and I never said it, but for years I’ve been saying, “No, don’t go out and self-investigate stuff with firearms,” because they’re going to set you up, they’re going to set somebody else up. But they’re gearing it all up to stage the false flags against MSNBC, CNN, you name it. To stage false flags against universities, to stage false flags against antifa, to make the villains the good guys and they don’t want me on air on big viral platforms so that I can respond when they do it. So they’re strangling us and absolutely banning us 100 percent ahead of staging massive events as we’ve been predicting into the late summer, early fall to create so much civil unrest they can implement the 25th Amendment and stampede enough cowards inside.
Later in the show, Jones said that “the next step in their censorship plan” would be that “they’re going to stage false flag terror attacks, they’re going to stage events against the media.” Jones said that the media itself would be involved in plotting the attacks, claiming, “They’re going to say that Trump criticizing their lies is going to cause the violence and they’re going to directly, though, pin the probably mass shooting and bombing attacks on Infowars”:
ALEX JONES (HOST): What’s the next step in their censorship plan? Well, I can tell you. They’re going to stage false flag terror attacks, they’re going to stage events against the media. And we told you this was coming. They’re going to say that Trump criticizing their lies is going to cause the violence and they’re going to directly, though, pin the probably mass shooting and bombing attacks on Infowars. Now, I’d already been getting this chatter. I could see CNN and others hyping it up that I’m going to cause violence, that Trump’s going to cause violence. I could see [CNN’s] Brian Stelter yesterday -- and let’s make sure we have that clip for the next segment where plays the segment off C-SPAN and says, “Oh, everybody’s coming to try to get me,” whole thing sounds staged -- this is all they have left now is to say our speech is bad and that we have to be taken down.
Jones later compared himself to a victim of the Holocaust, claiming, “They always censor someone like the Jews in the Nazi Germany or the Quakers in Nazi Germany before they absolutely rob them and then kill them.” He went on to say that false flag attacks will target CNN, MSNBC, Google, and Facebook and that the perpetrator -- on orders from their globalist superiors -- will “say they did it for internet freedom and sell the idea that see Trump was wrong, Alex [Jones] was wrong, we do have to censor, it’s their fault.” Jones also sold the false flag attacks as an attempt to cause Trump-backed candidates to lose their 2018 midterm election races:
ALEX JONES (HOST): That’s what’s critical here is that they always censor someone like the Jews in the Nazi Germany or the Quakers in Nazi Germany before they absolutely rob them and then kill them. So people are pissed; they see what’s happening. And the intel I got was they’re going to build this to build anger at CNN, MSNBC, Google, Facebook, they’re going to pick a campus, or some side group, or some live event and they’re going to have people they’ve wound up they’re protecting attack it. They’re going to then say they did it for internet freedom and sell the idea that see Trump was wrong, Alex [Jones] was wrong, we do have to censor, it’s their fault. And they’ve got their folks then ready to activate as soon as that happens to go shoot up the next congressional baseball game. So it’s happening, they’re moving, they’re not going to let Trump win the midterms.
On August 5, shortly before his YouTube account was deactivated, Jones posted a video where he claimed that a recent death threat made against CNN’s Brian Stelter and Don Lemon on C-SPAN was a “false flag.”
After Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, and iTunes all removed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Infowars pages from their platforms, several right-wing media figures leapt to the extremist’s defense. Jones’ defenders responded by criticizing and threatening “the entire rotten tech machine” and invoking a wide range of comparisons to support him, including Star Wars, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, reality TV star Kylie Jenner, and the Holocaust.
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