There were a lot of people posting on social media about several of the big tech platforms removing Alex Jones’ podcasts, videos, and so forth from their services for repeated violation of rules against hate speech. A huge number of the alt-right types were making posts in the from of the poem, “First They Came For…” by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller. Niemöller’s poem was a critique of the German intellectuals and religious leaders who sat quietly after the Nazis rose to power and began targeting various groups for harassment, imprisonment, and execution. It has been quote many times. Niemöller said that he never really wrote down a definitive version, but would recite variants of it at speeches me made in the years after the war. One of the most frequently quoted versions goes like this:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.
In case you aren’t familiar, Alex Jones is a radio host who also puts out his show on various Youtube channels and the like (or he did until this week) where he traffics in conspiracy theories and extreme rightwing fearmongering, while convincing people to buy his crappy dietary supplements and apocalypse survival gear. He spent years denouncing the parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook, claiming that the murdered children never existed and that the parents were actors perpetuating an anti-gun hoax. His rants inspired his ravening fans to so harass some of the parents to the point of having to move several times over the years to escape the harassment, death threats, and vandalism.
Some of those parents have finally got a lawsuit going against Jones, and I am among the many people who hope they take him for every penny.
But the Sandy Hook parents aren’t his only victims. And people have been complaining to the various service providers who host his programs for years to take some action. Which they finally have.
Anyway, now that Jones’ podcasts and such have been removed from the Apple podcast library, YouTube, Facebook, and Spotify, everyone on the right is in a tizzy that this is the first step in a coming progrom against all conservative people. And because I retweeted a few of the best responses to this nonsense I saw, I suddenly had a bunch of them trying to convince me that this was a clear example of censorship whose slippery slope would lead to the oppressing of queer people such as myself.
There are several problems with these arguments. The first is that, despite what all these folks claim, Jones is not being targeted because he is Republican. He is not being targeted for who he is. He has been banned for things he has said and done. Specifically, the hate speech and the incitement to harass and worse. The justification of removing his content is clear, egregious, and repeated violation of long-standing policies forbidding hate speech and the like. Example: Facebook bans InfoWars and Alex Jones after calls for drag queens to be burned alive There’s no slippery slope from there to banning large swaths of people.
Second, this is, in some ways, like closing the barn door after the horse has run away. These platforms should have banned him years ago. He was allowed to spew his hate and lies and harass and cause the harassment of innocent people for years, all while profiting from the hate and lies. This is severely delayed justice, at best. He isn’t being censored, he is instead facing consequences for immoral, unethical, and in some cases illegal things he has done many, many times for many, many years.
Third, queer people are already punished by several of these services. YouTube is particularly notorious about disallowing ad revenue for videos that advocate for queer rights and so forth. They label any mention of queerness at all as sensitive “adult” material, even when it is just a trans person giving people make-up tips. I’ll believe these rightwing a-holes are concerned about oppression when I see them protesting YouTube’s treatment of queer people now.
Fourth, this isn’t censorship, it’s consequences. And the consequences aren’t coming from the government. Jones isn’t being carried off to a concentration camp by armed officers. There are people in this country being hauled away by armed officers of the government where they are being locked up for who they are, rather than anything they have done. And it isn’t rightwing people like Jones that it is happening to. So it is particularly infuriating that they’re making this argument now.
There are things happening in this country that could be described by Niemöller’s poem, but those actions are being undertaken by the Trump administration, all the while being cheered on by people like Alex Jones. Jones isn’t a victim, he’s one of the culprits.