Are Alex Jones and other conservative voices calling for violent civil war against “liberals” and other “enemies” of Donald Trump? At least one hate watchdog group seems to think so and is closely monitoring Jones’ and other conservatives’ broadcasts and warning Americans not to fall for such rhetoric.
As Newsweek reports, media watchdog group Media Matters for America (MMA) has concluded that Jones is advocating for Civil War II and is calling on his supporters to wage war against liberals. The group has even assigned staff to monitor Jones’ show, as well as his social media posts and his remarks in public, to look for signs that he’s inciting hatred or violence.
“We are killing machines, you fools… But I can shoot bull’s-eye at 400 yards, dumba**. I mean, they have no idea who they’re messing with.”
MMA’s concerns about Jones and other right-wing hate speech boil down to two issues. First, are Jones and his colleagues actually advocating for civil war and/or violence against his perceived “enemies”? And second, is advocating for violence or war protected free speech?
Is Jones’ Rhetoric Actually A Call For War?
Much of what MMA seems to think is a call for war actually appears to responsive, rather than proactive. That is, if Jones is calling for war, he’s doing in the belief that war has already been started against him.
“You kick off Civil War 2, baby, you’ll think Lexington and Concord was a cakewalk.”
— Tea Party Amercan (@BarryWirth) July 24, 2017
Then again, he’s also made it clear that he’s on board with the military being deployed against “dissenters.”
“I’d support the president right now moving against these people physically. I mean, let’s be honest. We’re in a war. I would support the president making a military move on them right now.”
In fact, by some interpretations, Jones’ rhetoric has been responsible for violent attacks. For example, in 2016 Edgar Maddison Welch opened fire on Comet Pizza, a Washington pizza place that Jones had insinuated was behind a pedophile ring. Two years earlier, Jerad and Amanda Miller, of Indiana, both posted on Jones’ Infowars site before killing two police officers.
Is Violent Rhetoric, Such As Calling For Civil War, Protected Free Speech?
As Cass Sunstein writes in the American Prospect, this is a thorny constitutional issue with few clear-cut answers.
G. Gordon Liddy, for example, famously explained to his listeners how to shoot federal agents.
“Head shots, head shots… Kill the sons of b***hes.”
What’s more, you can easily find the full text of the Terrorist’s Handbook or The Anarchist’s Cookbook in several places on the internet. Both documents contain, among other things, instructions of bomb-making.
— Stereogum (@stereogum) July 15, 2017
In fact, the Supreme Court has generally been on the side of the First Amendment when it comes to violent speech. In 1969, the Court heard the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, where the government had attempted to imprison a Klansman who hadd advocated for “revenge” against the government should the White Man continue to be oppressed. The Court ruled that the KKK’s speech, even carrying a hint of a threat of violence, was constitutionally protected.
The courts have been less forgiving when it comes to speech that is considered a direct threat against an individual. Still, according to the Brandeburg doctrine, that threat has to be likely to “incite or produce imminent lawless action.” That means that shouting “Kill her!” at a rally where you don’t like the speaker would likely cost you a prison sentence. But saying “If she tries to come after my guns, it’s going to be Gettysburg all over again” is almost certainly too broad to be unprotected speech.
In other words, broadly hinting at civil war, especially in the absence of specific incitements to commit crimes against specific individuals — in essence, what Jones, Liddy, et al have been doing — is not a crime.
Do you think Alex Jones is advocating for Civil War? Share your thoughts in the comments below.