By Bob McCloskey and Linda Tubach
On Oct. 25, the Fresno Bee reported that the syndicated “Alex Jones Show,” as well as a live local show called “Frontline America with Ben Bergquam, have been added to Talk Radio 1680’s daily drive-time programming, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., respectively. KGED is the Fresno area’s only locally owned talk radio station, owned by Guillermo Moreno, who is a well-known Fresno County Republican Party activist.
Jones is the “rant-loving radio host and conspiracy theorist behind the Infowars Web site who has been sued by the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting because he claimed it was a hoax. He has been banned from Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms. Recently after the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue, we heard Jones in a disturbing and ugly anti-Semitic diatribe on his show, which we reported to the Anti-Defamation League for investigation.
Bergquam is often seen at counter-demonstrations in Fresno and is a self-identified member of the Proud Boys (Fresno Bee, Sept. 22, 2018), an all-male extremist group described by the FBI as dedicated to political violence and tied to White nationalists. Bergquam is representing Frontline America, a national organization to “restore USA Idenitity: One Nation Under God—exposing the (Godless) left and mobilizing the Christian conservative remnant to rise.” Bergquam was temporarily banned from Facebook in December because his post violated their Community Standards.
Both radio shows feature racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic rants or innuendo and talk of civil war. This is hate speech, which is commonly defined as speech that attacks a person or groups on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Hate speech uses threatening, abusive or insulting words and poses a threat to the lives, reputations, dignity and security of minority group members. It sends a clear message to the targets—your security is uncertain and you can expect to face humiliation and discrimination when you leave your home.
Stereotyping and stigmatization of minority groups through group hate propaganda shapes their social image and reputation, which controls their access to opportunities more than their individual abilities. Hate speech can and has led to violence and vandalism in Fresno. And this is why there is a history of court decisions in the United States regarding hate speech as criminal group libel (e.g., Beauharnais v. Illinois, 1952), as well as laws in other countries that closely regulate hate speech.
Regulations in other countries often use the term group defamation instead of hate speech. For example, in Germany’s Penal Code, the law “prohibits attacks on dignity by insulting, maliciously maligning or defaming part of the population.”
The South African Constitution acknowledges basic rights such as freedom of expression are legitimately subject to restriction to “establish a society in which all human beings will be accorded equal dignity and respect regardless of their membership in particular groups.”
The Danish Criminal Code forbids “public defamation” aimed at groups or persons because of their race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion or sexual inclination.
Norway’s General Penal Code authorizes prosecution of a defamatory statement that is directed against an indefinite or a large number of persons “if so required in the public interest.”
Austria, Canada, England, France, India, Rwanda and other Scandinavian countries have similar laws and regard these laws not as violations of “free speech rights” but rather as a public good required to protect human rights. (see Jeremy Waldron, The Harm Iin Hate Speech, Harvard University Press, 2012)
Radio shows such as Jones’s and Bergquam’s are polluted with hate speech and promote a siege mentality as well as dangerous ignorance about today’s worldwide refugee crisis and climate crisis. These threats to our future are connected and need to be addressed with just economic solutions such as a Green New Deal and an end to war, not rants that blame the most vulnerable in our communities.
The Fresno area is diverse, and residents do not deserve Proud Boys or speech that divides us and denigrates minority groups on our airwaves. What we deserve is thoughtful discussion about economic justice and security for all.
The Kings Canyon Indivisible chapter invites you to help organize a Forum for Action and a coalition united against hate, to demand that Moreno drop “The Alex Jones Show” and “Frontline America with Ben Bergquam” from AM 1680 programming. Sponsors on these shows include (surprisingly) AncestryDNA.com, DiscoverCard and Napa Auto Parts, as well as many health, financial and legal services preying on people’s needs.
Studies show that most people get their news from their commuter drive-time radio shows, now dominated by conservative talk/news programs. We have an opportunity here in the Fresno area to make local ownership accountable for the hate and disinformation on public airwaves.
Things that we can do individually and collectively include writing and petitioning owner Moreno, boycotting sponsors, listening (online or on radio) and documenting, and calling in to the station. A collective effort will be launched through the Forum for Action. Contact the authors to participate.
Bob McCloskey (email@example.com) is a retired union organizer. Linda Tubach is a retired high school civics teacher. They are members of Indivisible, a national organization instrumental in the Blue wave, Kings Canyon chapter.