Free speech is a cornerstone of representative democracy. Abuse of free speech is one of the biggest threats to that cornerstone.

This week we have three examples of the dangers of the abuse of free speech: Alex Jones of Infowars, English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson, and former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Let’s start with Alex who is currently in a Texas court defending the indefensible.  On December 14, 2012, mentally disturbed 20-year-old Adam Lanza broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and shot dead 20 six and seven-year-olds and six of the school’s staff.

This is a fact. The police verified it. Inquests have been held. The bodies have been seen, grieved over and buried.

Wrong, according to Alex Jones. The children never died. The grieving parents are actors hired by the anti-gun lobby to deny Americans their gun-toting Second Amendment rights.

It seems incredible, but a proportion of Jones’s audience actually believe him. Enough that grieving parents have been forced to move house because of harassment and even death threats from Infowars viewers. Those parents are now suing Jones for defamation and slander.

Sandy Hook is not the only wild conspiracy theory peddled by Jones.  According to him: The UN is about to flood America with 600 million immigrants, Michelle Obama is a man, Hillary Clinton is a demon-possessed extra-terrestrial, Robert Mueller is at the centre of a child sex ring, 9/11 was staged by the federal government, The US government controls the weather and uses it as a weapon against alt-right political opponents, Supreme Court Justice Antonin, Scala was murdered and many more.

It is easy to dismiss Jones as an irrelevant crackpot conspiracy theorist. The problem is that he is a crackpot conspiracy theorist followed by six million people who has been publicly endorsed by the president of the United States.

Alex Jones must know that he is lying. Why does he do it? The answer is simple: To make money. The more outrageous the lies the more people who watch his show which he uses to sell dubious pseudo-medical products which, according to Celebrity Net Worth, have helped him accumulate assets in excess of $10 million and a drawerful of Rolex watches.

Jones justifies his false and vitriolic broadcasts with America’s First Amendment. I am certain that the founding fathers did not intend their groundbreaking free speech law to be used for the propagation of lies.

Britain also has free speech laws, although the international alt-right is claiming that the treatment of Tommy Robinson demonstrates that the UK is pressure from the political correction lobby is forcing the country to jettison that traditional English liberty. But let’s be clear. Tommy Robinson was not locked up for racist comments or hate speech. He was sent to prison for contempt of court. His Facebook reports of a gang rape and sexual grooming involving Pakistani men were threatening a mistrial and breached laws protecting the identity of minors.

Furthermore, he has not been found innocent of contempt. He has been released on bail pending a retrial because the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett said that his sentence was “rushed and flawed”. He did not rule Robinson not guilty.

The case of Boris Johnson is different. His is not so much a case of what he said as who said it. It is an open secret that the Brexiteering former British foreign secretary wants to be prime minister and is busily plotting to achieve that goal as soon as possible.

Last week Denmark followed France, Belgium, and Austria in banning the Burqa—the head to toe shapeless black cloth worn by some Muslim women. Johnson actually defended the right of Muslim women to wear it, but then went on to insult them by saying they looked like bank robbers and letterboxes.

I think he is right. But he is wrong to have said it. Elected officials are elected to serve the entire community—not just those who voted for them. Boris Johnson’s comments—under the guise of free speech—have exposed him as divisive and thus unfit for high office.

Tom Arm is editor of LookAheadnews.com

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6 Comments on "Free Speech"

  1. Is there such a thing as free speech in the UK?. The various laws covering incitement, hate speech and defamation would suggest otherwise. These laws amply cover the bases in my opinion and there is no need to go down the road of censoring people simply because they are liars or are vaguely insulting. Indeed there is plenty of evidence that todays tendency towards outrage at any and every view expressed is simply boosting the popularity of people who otherwise struggle to gain much of an audience. Remember that people who use platforms such as twitter regularly are a small minority of the population.

    The authorities are being very slow on the uptake with this. Take the case of alt right anti islam activists Brittany Pettibone, Martin Sellner and Lauren Southern back in March. I had never heard of them and I would guess very few people had. However the decision by the Home Office to deny them entry to the UK where they were due to speak alongside Tommy Robinson gave them two days worth of news coverage which was a great deal more prominence than they would have had otherwise. The jailing of Robinson boosted his profile, led to two marches which got further media coverage and a petition to free him which to date has over 600,000 signatures, to put that into context it has more support than the Independent’s petition for a referendum on Brexit.

    I would agree he committed a crime but imprisonment was not the only option open to the judge, a large fine and a further non custodial sentence could have been imposed. The manner in which he was jailed has fed his supporters narrative of being persecuted and the sentence itself has proved to be hugely counterproductive. We have a long history in the UK of dealing with extremists by a combination of ridiculing and ignoring them and it has served us well, we should continue with that approach.

    As for Boris, no one ever got elected by trying to appeal to everyone and no one has ever gone into office with the intention of serving the entire community. He knew what he was doing and it has yielded probably an even better response than he could have hoped for.

  2. The right to free speech is a funny thing, people tend to remember the main thing but then forget about what comes with that right. Sure, I can in theory say what I like, but I must remember that:

    1) Offending a few folk is maybe OK but it depends on the numbers involved and what’s actually said. The secret here is perhaps not to offend too many people or to hurt them with your comments. An example, saying something about a recently deceased child is probably out of order.

    2) If you don’t like what someone is saying then walk away, turn to a different channel or, as one radio ham would say to another, ‘just spin the dial’. Yes, idiots have a right to speak, but nobody is forced to listen.

    3) Whatever you say must be legal and if you ignore this rule then you must expect to end up in court. Holocaust denial and the laws regarding libel and slander spring to mind here.

    4) You have the right to reply. THIS is the one that people tend to forget and I’m waiting to see if the Boris Johnson affair causes a reaction. There must be hundreds of thousands of intelligent Muslim women out there and I’d welcome a detailed reasoned reply from any one of them.

    Having said that………………..

    I’m with the former Foreign Secretary on this one. We’re well into the 21st Century and the Burqa has no place in Western society, in fact, they look ridiculous. In the spirit of religious balance I’d also like to point out that the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury also stick out like a sore thumb when dressed in their fancy gear. Give it a rest, all of you. In the city where I live there are thousands of Kurds. The women all wear a distinctive headscarf and, underneath the smile, they all dress like Western women. I am sure that most of them are good Muslims and they manage to run their devout lives without looking like bank robbers or letter boxes. They are, put simply, 21st Century Muslims.

  3. Boris’s spokesperson defended him by saying he was right to open up debate. Except what he did was nothing of the sort. He just hurled a playground insult for the same reason that Alex Jones spins his rubbish – it gets him noticed.

    Although Jones does make money out of his bollocks, the real reason he does it is because it gets him tons of hollering supporters. He becomes a loud noise in a noisy pond. He gets a kick out of it. The money is nice, but it is not the only reason. This is a joy ride.

    Johnson is on a joy ride too, and that has to be equated into most things he does. He is bright lad and knowledgeable. He can say stupid things when a mic is shoved under his nose, but this was an article; it is calculated and written by an experienced journalist.

    Really, this is nothing to do with Free Speech. A right to say what you think is a right that defends those who have something important to say that might not be enjoyed by the dictator-of-the-day. It is a fundamental underpinning of democracy to ensure that all reasonable voices are heard clearly, without fear.

    It is nothing to do with stirring up the pot with insults or lashing out, simply because it gets you noticed. That belongs in the realms of Monty Python’s 5-minute argument sketch.

    We do have free speech in this country – this very website is testament to that – but we also recognise that there is a difference between free speech and free-for-all.

    Free Speech might be a backbone of democracy. But Political Correctness is about just being polite about it.

    It really is a lot less complicated than people make it out to be, or perhaps wish it to be?

  4. Tom Arms wrote, ”the international alt-right is claiming that the treatment of Tommy Robinson demonstrates that the UK is pressure from the political correction lobby [sic] is forcing the country to jettison that traditional English liberty.” First of all, that sentence is both gobbledygook and, after being translated into English, the ideas it presents are wrong on a number of counts. The imprisonment of Tommy Robinson is also viewed with concern, not just by people on the ‘alt-right’, as Tom Arms states, but also by conservative journalists such as Douglas Murray who’ve written about the case, not from a position of support for Tommy Robinson’s behaviour outside court but from the standpoint of the way the police and the courts have reacted to Tommy Robinson, not just in this one case, but repeatedly and for a long time.

    Those concerns are about why Tommy Robinson has been, it seems, targeted by the police and dealt with so harshly by the courts. Yes, it’s true that Tommy was tried and convicted for contempt of court(and he’s been really stupid in doing other crimes as well) and it’s not about his being muzzled when he’s only trying to get his message out – but that’s the bare bones of this situation. There are lots of other aspects to this case that cause disquiet, including the swiftness of his being arrested, tried, convicted and jailed as well as Tommy’s transfer to a prison with a large Muslim population and claims that his treatment in prison was what amounted to ‘ mental torture’. These are claims that, at the very least, need to be investigated. This case isn’t about ‘free speech’ but is about other things connected, more specifically, to issues of justice and the right of citizens in a liberal democracy to be treated equally and fairly under the law and to be safe from politically inspired State persecution for having views about Islam which the government seems determined to stamp out by using State apparatus to the max.

    Let’s be clear about this: Tommy Robinson was right, and is right, about these Muslim grooming gangs acting with impunity, and for a number of years, in their systematic criminal behaviour and we cannot be sure these terrible things won’t continue to happen, especially considering the British establishment’s obsession with Political Correct ideology and worries about upsetting Muslims.

    The fact that the man fighting against the sexual abuse of white teenage girls through identifying the abusers and their underlying foundation for the abuse, (namely various Muslim men using concepts of jihad to justify their perverted human impulses), can be considered more of a threat to society than the many dozens of those Muslim men doing such awful things, with the connivance of those around them, I think is scandalous or rather, doubly scandalous, as do many others.

    This article is very superficial in its analysis of three seemingly similar events but which are more nuanced and less alike than the writer, Tom Arms, understands or maybe even wants to understand. I suspect he’s to the Left in his politics and it shows through in this article. So much for the motto and guiding principle on this blog: ”Extremes are easy, the centre is hard.” I came to this blog after seeing Tim Marshall on the Daily Politics and thinking, ”Hmm, he seems to know what he’s talking about”, so I bought his book and started reading his blog. The book’s good but some of his associates on his blog I’m not so impressed with. More George Friedman and Jacob Shapiro wouldn’t go amiss, though.

    • Unfortunately, Mark, I can’t reply to you without publishing this comment. The images have nothing to do with us. At some point in the past, you must have registered your details on Gravitar (https://en.gravatar.com/). If you don’t wish to have your images appear, you should either go there and remove it or use a different email since that’s how the system knows it’s you. In the meantime, I’ll remove your email address from your comments and that should remove your image.

  5. Interesting to see how different people define freedom of speech. The Oxford English Dictionary definition is:

    “The power or right to express one’s opinions without censorship, restraint, or legal penalty.”

    A lot of opinions out there can get you into legal trouble at the mo. The malicious communications act in particular is being frequently misused. It’s all well and good of course if it isn’t your opinion that is being clamped down upon, but worth remembering just how quickly what is and what isn’t acceptable can change.

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