Is Alex Jones a terrorist?

Alex Jones is many things.  A social media star.  A conspiracy theorist.  An inspiration to many.  A passionate defender of free speech.  A king-size jerk.  A very dangerous man.  I suppose which one of these descriptions of him appeal to you will depend on whether you support what he does.  Put simply, what he does is tell outrageous lies about other people.  Kinda like Donald Trump.

Well Mr. Jones got a bit of comeuppance this week when a whole host of providers – Apple, Spotify, FaceBook, and YouTube so far  – banned his Infowars pages and broadcasts, claiming ‘violation of terms of service’ to justify the move.  He is not happy and is trying to turn this into a free speech issue as well as one more conspiracy against him.  There have been passionate views on the pros and cons of this move on many sides of the spectrum.  Full disclosure: I have never seen an Alex Jones video (I have better things to do with my time).

But I want to return to what Mr. Jones is and suggest that perhaps he is also a terrorist. No, he has not committed any acts of terrorism that I know of.  He has not overtly called upon anyone to do so in his name either (at least I don’t think so).  But it is pretty obvious that his harebrained theories have directly led a few of his followers to carry out acts of violence (harassment of the parents of the victims of the Sandy Hook school shootings and a gunman at a Washington pizzeria that he said housed a Hilary Clinton child sex ring come to mind). Does that make him a terrorist?

At a minimum it makes him a radicaliser.  Anyone who knows anything about radicalisation knows that it does not happen in a vacuum (i.e. ‘self-radicalisation’ is a myth) but happens in some kind of social environment (real world or online).  On occasion one particular individual plays a key role in moulding someone to adopt radical and violent extremist views.  That sure fits Mr. Jones, doesn’t it?

As for the ‘terrorist’ label, there is a precedent in US law.  Yemeni-American citizen Anwar al Aulaqi was killed in a US  drone strike in Yemen in 2001.  The US Treasury Department had named him a ‘specially designated global terrorist’ in 2010.  So how many terrorist acts had he committe?  Zero.  He did not take part in a single act.  He certainly inspired many, many people and may even have directed a few to go on to act, but he was a background figure, a radicaliser.

What then is the difference between Alex Jones and Anwar al Aulaqi?  Not much in my analysis. It is important to point out that I am not advocating that Mr. Jones suffer the same fate as Mr. al Aulaqi (for the record I think the US action on the latter was legally doubtful at best).  But if we are to be true to classifying like with like, and we called al Aulaqi a terrorist based on his activities, it seems clear that Jones is a terrorist as well.  Or am I missing something here?

I am sure that there are those that will be offended by what I just concluded.  I am used to that.  If you are offended and have a cogent argument to make I’d love to hear it (cogent argument is not the same as “I hope you die!” by the way).  Please challenge me on this.

In closing, whatever side you fall on in the free-hate speech debate I hope we can all agree that silencing Alex Jones, even a little bit, is a good thing. The world needs fewer of people of his ilk.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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