“We made it up”: Ex-Infowars editor says he published lies about Muslim community to spread hate

“And for what? Clickbait headlines, YouTube views?” former video editor Josh Owens writes in New York Times essay

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published December 6, 2019 6:00AM (EST)

Alex Jones of InfoWars (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/InfoWars)
Alex Jones of InfoWars (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/InfoWars)

A former Infowars video editor admitted that the outlet fabricated lies about a Muslim community in New York to push host Alex Jones’ threats of sharia law in the United States.

Josh Owens, who spent years working for Infowars, wrote an essay for The New York Times Magazine describing how Jones' media empire made up facts to fit its narrative and how employees were subjected to Jones’ angry, violent outbursts.

The day before Jones interviewed then-candidate Donald Trump on his show in 2015, Owens wrote that he traveled to Islamberg, a Muslim community in rural upstate New York, where Jones had instructed him to investigate what he called “the American Caliphate.”

Though the Muslims that lived in the community had not been connected to any violence and some had publicly denounced ISIS, Jones wanted to push the far-right rumor that the community was a “potential terrorist-training center,” Owens wrote.

Owens said he and a reporter tried to lie their way into the settlement but were unable to get in after the community had come under threat. Days before the trip, the FBI had issued an alert for a man named Jon Ritzheimer, who had threatened a terrorist attack against Muslims.

After a law enforcement agent called to confirm their identities, Jones wanted to spin the incident as “an attempt to intimidate us into silence,” Owens wrote.

“He even went so far as to include Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, in the purported conspiracy, claiming he wanted to abolish the Second Amendment — and that somehow intimidating us would achieve that,” he added.

Owens and the reporter did speak to a nearby sheriff and mayor, who both told them that the people of Islamberg “were kind, generous neighbors who welcomed the surrounding community into their homes, even celebrating holidays together.”

“The information did not meet our expectations, so we made it up, preying on the vulnerable and feeding the prejudices and fears of Jones’s audience,” he wrote. “We ignored certain facts, fabricated others and took situations out of context to fit our narrative.”

Infowars soon published headlines like “Shariah Law Zones Confirmed in America,” “Report: Obama’s Terror Cells in the U.S.,” and “The Rumors Are True: Shariah Law Is Here!”

Owens said he became enamored with Jones as an angry young man but now looks back on his time at the outlet with regret.

“I thought of the children who lived in Islamberg: how afraid their families must have felt when their communities were threatened and strangers appeared asking questions; how we chose to look past these people as individuals and impose on them more of the same unfair suspicions they already had to endure,” he wrote. “And for what? Clickbait headlines, YouTube views?”

Owens wrote that he and others were also encouraged to push false stories about Sandy Hook, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and reports that radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan was reaching California.

When things went wrong, Jones often responded with violent outbursts, Owens said.

“The blinds stuck, so he ripped them off the wall. A water cooler had mold in it, so he grabbed a large knife, stabbed the plastic base wildly and smashed it on the ground,” Owens wrote. “Once a co-worker stopped by the office with a pet fish he was taking home to his niece. It swam in circles in a small, transparent bag. When Jones saw the bag balanced upright on a desk in the conference room, he emptied it into a garbage can. On one occasion, he threatened to send out a memo banning laughter in the office. ‘We’re in a war,’ he said, and he wanted people to act accordingly.”

In one incident when Jones wanted to “blow off steam,” the crew drove to a ranch outside Austin, Texas, to shoot guns.

“He picked up an AR-15 and accidentally fired it in my direction,” Owens recalled. “The bullet hit the ground about 10 feet away from me. One employee, who was already uncomfortable around firearms, lost it, accusing Jones of being careless and flippant … [Jones] claimed he had intentionally fired the gun as a joke — as if this were any better.”

During another incident, Jones “walked into my office shirtless,” Owens said, which he described as “normal.” Jones then proceeded to instruct another employee to hit him. The two repeatedly punched each other in the arm. “On his last hit, the sound was different. Wet. I thought I could hear the meat split open in the employee’s arm,” Owens recalled. “Jones roared as he punched a cabinet, denting the door in. A few weeks later, I heard that Jones had broken a video editor’s ribs after playing the same game in a downtown bar.”

Owens said he quit his job in April of 2017 and gratefully accepted an entry-level gig with a 75 percent pay cut. Two days later, Jones called him on the phone and tried to talk him into returning, he said.

“Let me tell you a little secret. I don’t like it anymore, either,” Jones told him, according to the essay. “I don’t want to do it anymore and I got all these people working for me, and you know, then I feel guilty. I don’t want to do it. You think I want to keep doing this? I haven’t wanted to do this for five years, man.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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