Austin Jones’ arrest Monday at Chicago’s O’Hare airport on child pornography charges may have come as a surprise to many of his fans, but Jones’ inappropriate behavior isn’t without precedent.
In 2015, the popular YouTube singer came under fire after several fans accused him of lying about his age in order to get underage girls to send him twerking videos. A Change.org petition calling for Jones to be dropped from the Warped Tour lineup nearly reached its 10,000 signature goal, and when complaints about the singer eventually reached Kevin Lyman, the founder of Warped Tour, Lyman decided to pull Jones and all other YouTubers from his lineup.
Lyman then retracted his original statement but issued a follow-up statement reassuring concertgoers of a more stringent background check before allowing YouTubers to participate in that year’s tour.
“The word ‘pedophile’ is a strong, strong term,” he said at the time. “While the world can be screwed-up at times, there is a criteria for things. In the court of the Internet, people’s lives are being dragged out in front of the world with no due process. People throw very strong words out onto the Internet and when it is old news to them, it leaves a trail of destruction in other people’s lives. This country was built on the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ Are we going to go back to this Salem witch hunt mentality? Communication needs to happen. I am actively encouraging that If women and girls feel they are being victimized, tell your parents, go to the police, talk to counselors.”
In response to the controversy, Jones took to YouTube to issue an apology for his behavior, assuring fans that nothing happened beyond a few funky dance moves.
“Hi guys,” he kicks off the nearly 17-minute-long video. “I know a lot of you probably have some really harsh and negative opinions towards me right now, and I understand if you do. But I’m asking you to please put those opinions aside for a few minutes and listen to everything I have to say.”
The singer then goes on to admit that he “used to ask fans for twerking videos,” adding, “It’s not something that I’m proud of, it’s not something that I think is right and I shouldn’t have done it.”
But, Jones continues, “Nothing ever went further than twerking videos. There were never any nudes, never any physical contact, it never happened.”
In the apology video, Jones details the harsh circumstance of his upbringing that may have caused him to do what he had: the death of his older sister during his childhood, his estranged father’s drug and alcohol addiction and even his own history of self harm.
“All of these life events, all of these deaths, this loss, left me with really deep depression and I was an insecure depressed guy and I began searching for attention in the wrong ways, asking fans for those things,” he says. “It was because I was desperate for attention, I was desperate for reassurance, I wanted to feel good about myself. At the time I thought it was just fun and goofy. I was young, I was stupid, I wasn’t thinking clearly. Over time, I’ve began to see it was wrong and I shouldn’t have done it.”
A since-deleted Facebook post from around the same time also pointed out that he hoped to learn and grow from the embarrassing incident.
“We as people are not made stronger from our successes, but by the journey we take through mistakes and misfortunes back to the top of the mountain,” he wrote. “And that is where I intend to be at the end of this. At the top of the mountain with a stronger sense of those who support me, a greater sense of self and a greater connection to my fans.”
Jones currently faces two counts of production of child pornography after allegedly asking two underage female victims to “prove” to him that they were his biggest fans by sending him sexually explicit videos. If convicted he could face at least 15 years in prison.