EDITORIAL: Company one keeps can be telling

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Praise for Alex Jones only one example of Vance’s flirtation with conspiracy fringe

Last week brought a legal day of reckoning for Alex Jones, as the bombastic conspiracy theorist was found liable in a defamation suit for false claims he made on his radio show regarding the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 20 children and six faculty members were killed.

Jones had repeatedly lied to his audience, telling them the tragedy was “completely fake,” that “no one was killed” and claimed the grieving parents were merely actors.

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These family members, in heartbreaking testimony, told of the nonstop harassment they endured from Jones’ audience, being the recipients of numerous threats and having to move multiple time to escape them, while having their children’s graves’ desecrated.

The jury heard the facts and held Jones accountable, ordering him to pay nearly $1 billion in damages to the families.

His comments on Sandy Hook are but the tip of the iceberg for Jones, who has a long history of promoting such fact-free lunacy and falsehoods, regardless of who he hurts in the process.

And, in the wake of this verdict, it is worth examining how his reach has been extended through an embrace from irresponsible figures, many in politics.

It was last September that a candidate here in Ohio decided to weigh in on the conspiracy peddler and his broadcasts, when Republican U.S. Senate nominee J.D. Vance posted on his Twitter account that “Alex Jones is a far more reliable source of information that Rachel Maddow.”

This was well after lawsuits had been launched against Jones for his Sandy Hook defamation and at a point where no rational person would use the word “reliable” in describing his actions.

Vance may try to claim that his statement was more of a dig at Maddow (who isn’t remotely comparable in her work) then it was boosting Jones (who he has also praised for an ability to “think outside the box”), but his history of associating with fringe elements doesn’t end there.

Throughout his campaign, Vance has repeatedly boasted of his backing from U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, one of the most controversial and downright bizarre members of Congress, who he has brought to Ohio to campaign with him.

Before her election, Greene was known for promoting the Qanon conspiracy theory, described by many analysts as something of an online cult. It is an all-encompassing extremist fantasy that began with anonymous posts on an anime message board by an individual calling himself “Q,” who claimed, without evidence, to be a member of the Trump White House with access to intelligence information, and then went on to make a series of predictions that have all failed to come true.

Qanon believers are devoted various iterations of the hoax, which can include elements such as accusing pretty much everyone they disagree with in politics and media of being literal cannibals and eating children or the idea that the late President John F. Kennedy and his son, John F. Kennedy Jr., faked their deaths and are set to reveal themselves and help Trump usher in a wave of mass arrests of his enemies.

These beliefs are so ludicrous, they would be comical, except for the fact that a disturbing number of Americans believe in them and the theory has spread like wildfire. For a member of Congress to have ever indulged in such talk should be disqualifying, let alone someone a Senate candidate takes with him on the campaign trail.

But Greene’s extremism doesn’t end there – she was removed from all committees in Congress after making violent threats against other members and she has pushed various other baseless claims.

One such claim of hers is downright offensive to those here in the Tri-State, when, in 2018, she discussed the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, particularly American Airlines Flight 77, which was hijacked by terrorists and crashed into the Pentagon.

Greene referred to it as “a so-called plane” and said there was “never any evidence” of the crash.”

Flight 77 was hijacked in the skies here right over our Tri-State area, being routed to Washington, D.C. as it turned over the Ohio River. From air traffic records to debris at the crash site to empty chairs at the tables of impacted families, there is boundless evidence that this occurred.

One of the passengers on the flight was a favorite son of our region, Paul Ambrose, a young doctor and Huntington native whose accomplished career and rural health activism had him on a path that many said could have led to the position of surgeon general of the United States.

Yet, despite this, Vance touted his endorsement from Greene when making one of multiple appearances on a radio program in our region, the Tom Roten Morning Show on WVHU/iHeart out of Huntington.

And his visits to that show are yet another example of Vance embracing the extremist fringe of politics.

Roten, with a long record of nonsensical conspiracy theories himself, hosts a poor man’s imitation of Jones’ show, where he has pushed numerous baseless claims, from theories that former President Barack Obama forged his birth certificate to rampant misinformation on the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May, Roten engaged in one of his most despicable acts, when he used his show’s Twitter feed, without evidence and in Jones-like fashion, to push claims that the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, was “manufactured” and orchestrated by the FBI.

As was the case with Greene, this did not seem to be a step too far for Vance and, shortly after Roten’s school shooting retweets, the show posted audio of yet another visit from the candidate to the program, this time to discuss, insultingly, school shootings.

Vance could claim he was unaware of Roten’s vile activity on social media, but a cursory look at his past postings should have told him just what sort of commentator he was dealing with.

And that gets to the heart of the problem — Is it that Vance has no issue with these proponents of lies and misinformation and is cynically aligning with them to gain favor with their audience? Or is he completely oblivious and not doing the research and vetting on those he associates with? Either way, it is unacceptable.

Backers of Vance may say this is merely guilt by association, so it is worth pointing out that the candidate himself has followed in the ways of his associates and has also started making meritless claims of his own.

This could be seen in May, when Vance said in an interview that “it does look intentional” that President Joe Biden “wanted to kill a bunch of MAGA voters” by deliberately sending fentanyl into the heartland.

The opioid crisis, which has raged in this state for years, is a very real issue that we need our officials, from the president to senators, to work together to address. Vance is doing a disservice to those in this fight by making such wild insinuations.

Ohio’s voters deserve a senator who will rely on and provide accurate information to the public and use that when casting votes critical to our nation.

In aligning with irresponsible conspiracy traffickers and producing baseless and offensive claims of his own, Vance has shown a lack of concern and/or contempt for facts, reality and sane discourse and has raised serious questions about his fitness for office.