It’s been a bad week for white supremacists and fake news. First, Matt Heimbach—the founder of the neo-Nazi group the Traditionalist Worker Party and a man famous for shoving a black woman at a Donald Trump rally—was arrested for assaulting another woman (his wife). Since Heimbach was also accused of choking the co-founder of the party as part of what seems to be a complicated love rhombus, it now appears the entire group is defunct. Also this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center discovered that the wife of Stewart Rhodes, founder of the alt-right anti-government militia group the Oath Keepers, had filed for a temporary restraining order, claiming her husband was abusive and violent. Alt-right servers are being shut down, as are YouTube channels, albeit too slowly. And Richard Spencer, who was meant to be the alt-right’s palatable offering, has ruefully declared that his white-supremacist rallies—as a result of which at least one woman has been killed—are “not fun anymore.” He says he is considering canceling his whole not-fun, poorly attended speaking tour. He’s also dropping his lawsuits against colleges that had barred him from speaking. Also, he can’t get a lawyer to represent him.And in a law suit against fake news:
Are lawsuits like the two filed this week attacks on newsgathering in general? Not really, because both suits distinguish between what real media does and what media scams and hatchet jobs do, and how the latter victimizes literal bystanders. As the Gilmore complaint puts it, in describing Alex Jones and his ilk:
Fact-based journalism is essential to our democracy, because it provides citizens with objective, reality-based information on issues of public concern. Defendants are not fact-based journalists. Defendants spread lies to construct false narratives that terrify a gullible audience, all in a desperate attempt to generate revenue and momentum for a hateful agenda. The First Amendment necessarily creates space for democratic debate, but it does not and cannot protect the spread of deliberate lies driven by hate and designed to incite violence against private citizens. In this era of ubiquitous smartphones and social media saturation, ordinary citizens like Mr. Gilmore increasingly find themselves in situations where they capture breaking news and are compelled out of civic duty to share it. The consequences for fulfilling this civic duty cannot include becoming the target of premeditated character assassination, based on lies and carried out by professional conspiracy theorists instrumentalizing their throngs of followers.