Nelson: Alex Jones and smothering crackpots
"We should be concerned that stifling crackpots will — in fact already has — lead to smothering anyone in any field who holds an opinion or assertion contrary to the party line," writes columnist Ross Nelson. "Lately, heretics have been right more often than the status quo apple-polishers would care to admit"
On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza murdered his mother and then drove to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. There, he murdered 20 first-graders and six of the school's staff.
On his radio show, Alex Jones stated that the incident was a hoax with “crisis actors” lamenting the deaths of their non-existent children. He further claimed that the hoax was a false flag operation (something done in disguise by one party in order to blame it on another) by the federal government to enable confiscating firearms from the citizenry.
Imagine the afflicted families' fury at Jones's statements. Any parent would be beside themselves. Naturally, several of the parents sued Jones and won both compensatory damages of over $4 million and punitive damages of almost $50 million, with two more trials to come.
A little Alex Jones goes a long way. He's a bona fide crackpot who's not always wrong (nobody is), but in the Sandy Hook matter more than verged on the lunatic, although he recanted when called on the judicial carpet. There is some precedent for his belief in conspiracies and false flag attacks, the latter especially being fairly common in history. Operation Northwoods, for example, was cooked up and given the green light by the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff in the early 1960s. It consisted of proposed attacks and killings by Americans on Americans and against the military to be blamed on Fidel Castro, and thus used as a reason for an all-out assault on Cuba. President John Kennedy nixed the idea, however (which in turn, of course, led to more conspiracy-mongering when he was later assassinated).
The principal charge against Jones is that of defaming the victims' families. This is an understandable charge that should nonetheless make all of us a little uneasy. One can say almost anything false about public celebrities and get away with it, for example the Hustler magazine cartoon of Moral Majority's Jerry Falwell having sex with his mother. But it differs with private persons. Nolo's legal website lists three major ingredients in the latter: that the alleged defamer knew the statement to be false, which Jones could surely contradict by saying that he believed what he said to be true; that he acted with reckless disregard for the truth which, it seems to me, Jones could reject on the same ground as the first condition; and most importantly that he was negligent in trying to discover if his assertion were true or false.
But if he really thought what he was saying was true, crazy as the notion was, then Nolo's “reckless disregard” of the truth, which assumes that the alleged defamer had serious doubts about the veracity of his charge, doesn't apply to Jones — if he really thought he was speaking the truth.
We should be concerned that stifling crackpots will — in fact already has — lead to smothering anyone in any field who holds an opinion or assertion contrary to the party line. Lately, heretics have been right more often than the status quo apple-polishers would care to admit. With freedom of thought comes inescapable ventures into error and stupidity at times. Those are no excuse for mind control and witless conformity.
Nelson lives in Casselton, N.D., and is a regular contributor to The Forum’s opinion page. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.