• Wednesday, September 19, 2018
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New York Times| Top News

Alex Jones takes his show to the capitol, tussles with a senator

  • BY NEW YORK TIMES

    Alex Jones, the right-wing conspiracy theorist and talk show host, walks to a hearing to watch the leaders of Twitter and Facebook testify on Capitol Hill, in Washington today.

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WASHINGTON >> The internet’s most infamous right-wing conspiracy theorist was doing his best robot through the hallway of a staid Senate office building.

“Beep beep beep beep — I am a Russian bot,” the provocateur, Alex Jones, mimed Wednesday, his arms outstretched, his body spinning in circles. “Beep beep. I am a Russian bot in the Capitol.”

Dozens of protesters roamed Capitol Hill on Wednesday to disrupt the second day of confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

But Jones was on hand to cast a shadow over a different show — a pair of marquee congressional hearings scrutinizing the influence two of the nation’s largest technology companies, Facebook and Twitter.

It was quite a performance, even for the incendiary Jones, whose website, Infowars, has peddled theories that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax, that Hillary Clinton is a demon, and that Democrats run a global child-sex ring. He tussled with the police, wandered in and out of the hearing room, thrusting a smartphone up in the air to film the proceedings. For nearly an hour, he inveighed against Democrats and mainstream news outlets that he said were slandering him, sweating through his blue oxford shirt.

When Sen. Marco Rubio, the pugnacious Florida Republican, stepped out of the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to speak with reporters, Jones honed in. Rubio launched into a discussion of the risks of authoritarian governments abusing social media platforms.

“But what about the Democrats purging conservatives?” Jones cut in. “He’s not answering. Republicans are acting like it isn’t happening. Thank God Trump is.”

A bewildered Rubio rolled his eyes. “He’s weird,” he said, asking aloud who Jones was — a question that appeared designed to irk Jones.

Then Jones patted Rubio on the shoulder.

“Don’t touch me again, man,” Rubio said. “I’m asking you not to touch me.”

Jones asked if the senator would have him arrested.

“You’re not going to get arrested,” Rubio continued. “I’ll take care of you myself.”

“Oh, he’ll beat me up. He doesn’t know who I am, but he is so mad,” Jones said with excitement. “You are not going to silence me. You are not going to silence America. You are literally like a little gangster thug. Rubio just threatened to silence me.”

The senator walked away and the show went on.

For Jones, the appearance of top Facebook and Twitter executives was personal enough to bring his trolling out of the dark corners of the internet and into the halls of the House and Senate.

In early August, Facebook and YouTube banned Jones and Infowars from their platforms, sending traffic to the website tumbling. Since then, he has led an on-air crusade against the companies, pointedly accusing them of an unfounded campaign to suppress conservative speech.

“I am here to face my accusers one way or another,” he declared to a bank of cameras just outside a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, where Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, and Jack Dorsey, the chief executive of Twitter, faced questions from senators about how to combat foreign influence campaigns on their platforms. Jones urged lawmakers either to block the companies from banning users or to simply break the companies up.

“The real election meddling is by Facebook and Google and others that are shadow banning people,” Jones bellowed. “They are outright banning people and they are blocking conservatives involved in their own First Amendment political speech.”

Neither Jones nor Infowars actually earned a mention inside the Senate’s hearing room, as lawmakers debated how to combat the influence of foreign powers like Russia to influence the American political process. But later in the day, as House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee pressed Dorsey on what they called Twitter’s censorship of conservative political figures and viewpoints, Jones’ arguments appeared to have more resonance.

Jack Posobiec, an ally of Jones, microphone in hand, repeatedly conducted interviews with Jones. He complained about being barred from testifying. Other allies were on hand, armed with rolling cellphone video, including Laura Loomer, a member of the undercover conservative group Project Veritas, and Charles Johnson, a right-wing internet provocateur.

Loomer made her own attempt to halt the proceedings, standing up in the House hearing room to publicly accuse Dorsey of lying about censoring conservatives.

“You are censoring conservatives, and I am asking you, President Donald Trump, to help us,” she shouted, bringing the hearing to a sharp halt.

Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., a certified auctioneer, quickly stepped in with a fast-paced patter in an attempt to drown out Loomer until the police could remove her from the hearing room.

Earlier, as he waited with a large gaggle of reporters trying to intercept Sandberg and Dorsey outside the Senate hearing room, Jones sounded pleased with what he had pulled off.

“It’s kind of fun to get out of the studio,” he said to his entourage. “Now when they have these hearings, I am going to show up.”

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