An ordinary hypocrite would know better than to demand absolute freedom of speech for his friends and deny it to his critics in the next breath. But then Donald J. Trump is no ordinary hypocrite. Because that’s exactly what the president did last week.
Recently, social media giant Facebook announced that it was banning a bunch of crackpot conspiracy theorists and professional race-baiters from its platform. The list included Infowars’ Alex Jones and Paul Joseph Watson, racial provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, and the notorious Jew-baiter and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
All but the last, of course, are Trump’s allies in seeking the crucial antisocial sorehead vote. Taking to Twitter, the president erupted: “I am continuing to monitor the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms. This is the United States of America – and we have what’s known as FREEDOM OF SPEECH! We are monitoring and watching, closely!!”
Actually, the First Amendment begins “Congress shall make no law ...” It doesn’t say a word about private entities such as Facebook, The Washington Post, the National Enquirer or the publication in which you are reading this column. All are free to publish or not to publish, as they choose. The Constitution’s purpose is to enhance press freedom, not limit it.
As usual, Trump’s got it backward. His pet bigots remain free to speak, but nobody’s required to amplify their voices.
By Sunday, the president had changed his tune on censorship. He retweeted a Twitter account calling for the defenestration of a Fox News personality who criticized him. “When you look at the continuous incorrect statements by (Judge Andrew) Napolitano over the past 2 years, it is fair to ask FNC why they allow him to have national air time ... Unacceptable! Take him off the air!”
Napolitano, see, had committed the unpardonable sin of reading the Mueller report. Like the 720 former federal prosecutors who have signed a statement saying that anybody but the president would be prosecuted for obstructing justice for his attempts to hamstring the Russia investigation, Napolitano was shocked by Trump’s actions. He used words like “immoral” and “repellant.”
Remember, this is the same president who once threatened a federal investigation of “Saturday Night Live” for lampooning him. Twice, actually. Both when actor Alec Baldwin’s comic impersonation first got under his skin, and then again when the show was rebroadcast a few months later.
It’s axiomatic: Show me a bully, I’ll show you a coward.
Not that Facebook deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. With regard to Infowars, what took them so long? From the social media giant’s perspective, this amounts to a cost-free publicity stunt. Former Fox News sweetheart Megyn Kelly did a takedown of Infowars’ sweaty, blustering proprietor Jones during the first outing of her ill-fated NBC News career almost two years ago.
Banned from Facebook? Jones and Watson, his British alter ego, deserve to be tarred, feathered and exiled to a desert island in the remote South Pacific, along with their imbecile followers. Preferably one that gets swallowed up as the oceans inexorably rise. Global climate change has to be good for something.
Just to remind you, Jones is currently being sued for his bizarre insistence that the 2012 massacre of 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was a hoax – supposedly an Obama-orchestrated theatrical spectacle to promote gun control.
It’s not going well for him.
Another of Infowars’ greatest hits was a 2016 YouTube posting in which Jones asserted that Hillary Clinton had raped, murdered and dismembered scores of children. “Yeah, you heard me right,” he claimed. “Hillary Clinton has personally murdered children. I just can’t hold back the truth anymore.”
So naturally, he’s Trump’s bosom buddy. In the midst of the 2016 campaign, the candidate gave Jones’ radio program a 30-minute telephone interview. “Your reputation is amazing,” Trump said.
That’s definitely one word for it.
On Saturday, Trump retweeted Watson’s indignant response to his Facebook banishment. “’Dangerous.’ My opinions? Or giving a handful of giant partisan corporations the power to decide who has free speech? You decide.”
It’s an easy call. Among Watson’s greatest hits is a same-day post arguing that the 2007 mass murder of 32 students and professors at Virginia Tech University “could very well be another government black-op.” According to Nico Hines, writing in The Daily Beast, within a week of the 2005 London Underground terror attack that killed 52 of his countrymen, he published “How the Government Staged the London Bombings in Ten Easy Steps.”
This joker wants a mass-media platform with no strings attached? Let him petition the BBC.
Anyway, these two are probably the least noxious of the rabble-rousers Facebook banned. The others, such as neo-Nazi Yiannopoulos, “white genocide” promoter Laura Loomer and Farrakhan, traffic in overt race hatred.
It’s a damned shame to see even Trump defending them.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at [email protected]