On Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about how foreign adversaries have been able to weaponize social media. Crashing the party were InfoWars host Alex Jones and a colorful lineup of alt-right trolls who have been banned from various online platforms for various reasons, most of them related to hate speech.
Jones is a conspiracy theorist known for, among other things, propagating a belief that the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax. He was banned from Facebook, YouTube and other platforms last month for violating their terms of service, while also incurring a brief suspension from Twitter. He said he finagled his way into the Senate building on Wednesday in order to “face [his] accusers.” As Dorsey testified, Jones and his cohorts were sitting in the front row.
Jones was also in the building’s hallway as reporters spoke with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who serves on the committee questioning Dorsey and Sandberg. As Rubio spoke about preventing foreign interference in American elections, Jones badgered the senator about the “Democrats purging conservatives” and other related made-up issues. Rubio was eventually forced to engage Jones. It didn’t go well. The back-and-forth that ensued featured Rubio threatening Jones, Jones calling Rubio a “frat boy” and a “little gangster thug,” along with a number of other embarrassing barbs and exhortations emblematic of the current state of Republican politics.
Wow, this video. Alex JONES calls RUBIO a "frat boy" and touches Rubio on the shoulder. Rubio tells Jones not to touch him and that he won't be arrested because I'll "take care of you myself."https://t.co/AGRMrDBMGa
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) September 5, 2018
None of what Jones is alleging here is true. Any “censoring” undertaken by social media platforms, which are private entities, is done because users violate their terms of service, which prohibit hate speech and the willful dissemination of false information. Though the practice of banning or suspending accounts is controversial, it’s not a surreptitious plot by Democrats to tamp down conservative voices. Allegations that social media platforms have been “shadow banning” these voices, or in any way censoring accounts for politically motivated reasons, have been largely debunked. Last month, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tweeted a screenshot of his inability to see a post from Fox News host Laura Ingraham. “Another day, another example of conservatives being censored on social media. @jack easy fix: explain to Congress what is going on,” he wrote. Users quickly pointed out that the issue was McCarthy’s personal settings.
As is the case with President Trump, who has tweeted multiple times about social media bias, it’s unclear whether Jones actually believes his own bullshit. Regardless, his appearance at the Senate hearing Wednesday was meant to serve the same purpose as his broadcasts on InfoWars, which is to stir up discord by offering up false, inflammatory information. Rubio was not prepared to withstand such a barrage from Jones. The senator first claimed he didn’t recognize Jones. Jones then patted him on the back. Rubio told Jones not to touch him. Jones then wondered if Rubio might call the cops, to which Rubio replied, “I can take care of you myself.” The incident continued to spiral as Rubio tried to ignore Jones and answer questions from reporters. Eventually, an aide whisked Rubio away, but not before the senator invited reporters to talk to the “clown.” Jones once again called Rubio a “frat boy” and told him to “go back to your bath house.”
— Jesse Seidman (@jmseidman) September 5, 2018
The entire exchange was a microcosm for conservatism in the Trump era. The Republican party has largely devolved into far right conspiracy theorists and feckless lawmakers doing all they can to maintain their dignity without actually doing anything at all. The former faction has slowly been subsuming the latter, and it was striking to see this paradigm shift play-acted so concisely by two crystalline representatives from each side. As Trump has done to the ostensibly principled members of the GOP, Jones effortlessly disarmed Rubio with a series of false claims and aggressive insults. Rubio was unwilling to push back on Jones’ obviously false claim that Democrats are censoring information, because to do so would have been defending the enemy. He wasn’t able to side with Jones, either, and so, like most of his colleagues in the Senate, he was stuck in the middle, paralyzed as a lunatic trampled all over him.