Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Does the 1st Amendment Protect Willful Untruth?

Alex Jones on the Sandy Hook children's massacre:
In March 2014, Jones said, “I’ve looked at it and undoubtedly there’s a cover-up, there’s actors, they’re manipulating, they’ve been caught lying, and they were pre-planning before it and rolled out with it.”
In December 2014, Jones said on his radio program, “The whole thing is a giant hoax.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Supreme Court justice set the limits on the American right to free speech, when he declared. "You cannot shout 'Fire!' in a crowded theater, when there is no fire."

Nobody has successfully rebutted that simple statement, although the American Civil Liberties Union disagrees. The ACLU is absolutist about the 1st Amendment, and as absolutist positions frequently do, this has led them to some absurd positions; they sacrifice everything, even credibility, to remain consistent.

The same is true, of course, of the NRA and it's "defense" of the 2nd Amendment, although in that case, they are not defending the original text, but simply ignoring half the amendment and seeing only what they want to see.

Alex Jones has denied Sandy Hook ever happened and apparently he promulgated the story that the Washington, DC pizza parlor was the front for Hillary Clinton's child sex ring, before Edgar Maddison Welch drove up from Salisbury North Carolina,  brandished his weapon at the stunned folks eating pizza, but somehow was dissuaded from shooting the customers and staff.

"Homeland"  has a plot line which creates the crowded theater, in which an Alex Jones look alike, called "Brett O'Keefe" on the show, is cornered in a farm house, where he is defended by local fans with guns from the FBI which has surrounded the place in a Waco redux stand-off. While negotiations are stalled, the son realizes his dog has escaped and is charging across a field at a line of FBI and SWAT team along the tree line. The son, in an act of verisimilitude is so stupid he carries his rifle as he runs after the dog, does not hear or respond to the order to halt and is shot by the FBI. When an agent goes to his aide, staunching the wound, he is captured by the militants and becomes a captive. An Alex Jones type alt right guy manages to get a photo in the hospital of the son lying on a gurney after he has been stabilized in the Emergency Room, looking dead, unattended. (He is later saved and taken to the recovery room.) But the damage is done, the photo goes up on some alt right website, is seen by the boy's father, who stomps over to the FBI agent, and shoots him point blank in the head, executes him. 

The photographer, the website manager cannot know the photo would result in the shooting of the FBI agent any more than Alex Jones could know that gunman from North Carolina would would drive up with his AR-15 and come within a few neural synapses from killing everyone in the pizza parlor.

But does the 1st Amendment protect, does it confer the freedom to be wrong, even willfully wrong, in the face of today's internet and the armed Confederacy of Dunces with guns?  

And how does "incitement to riot" fit in with this discussion. Is there an incitement to murder? Is there an incitement to commit armed mayhem? If a man in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, standing on a stage before a crowd of his brother robed imbeciles points to a Black child walking across the street and shouts, "Lynch him!" Is he simply exercising his First Amendment rights?

Donald Trump has been vexed by the First Amendment because it means he cannot sic his lawyers on his critics for stuff they write or say about him, and he has complained bitterly that in America it is almost impossible to prevail in a defamation of character lawsuit, especially if you are a "public figure," unlike in England, where all you have to do is prove your feelings have been hurt.

But here, in the now great again America, we have the 1st Amendment and Alex Jones and the alt right are protected, much as those banderilleros who hide behind wooden gates, then run out and stick their spears in the bull, to get him fighting mad. 

Are these guys not shouting "Fire?" Are they not goading on the action?

No comments:

Post a Comment