Alex Jones Lawyer Helps Rumble Change Policy for Hate Groups

·8 min read
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

While the online video platform Rumble has long taken criticism for amplifying right-wing misinformation and conspiracy theories, the video-hosting service is preparing to head in an even darker direction, hiring one of Alex Jones’ lawyers to draft new content moderation policies that remove an existing ban on material that promotes or incites hate groups.

In June, Rumble put one of Jones’ longtime defamation attorneys in charge of overhauling the site’s moderation rules. And he made some unsettling changes.

The attorney, Robert Barnes, is a frequent Infowars guest and Jones’ top Sandy Hook defamation attorney for more than three years. But while Barnes wasn’t in the Texas courtroom during the explosive final days of Jones’ recent multimillion-dollar defeat, he did step up to broadcast an “opening statement” to a critical shadow jury: the Infowars audience.

Rumble—which has business ties to high-profile Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, billionaire tech and political investor Peter Thiel, and Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance—tapped Barnes this spring, just as the Sandy Hook trial was heating up. Working in conjunction with Canadian lawyer and Rumble content producer David Freiheit (aka “Viva Frei”), Barnes stripped current language that explicitly bans material which supports or incites fringe groups, including—by name—the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist groups.

The website announced the changes in June with an internal blog post and press release. The Barnes-Frei proposal strips current policy language prohibiting “Content or material” that the “online community” finds “grossly offensive.”

“The proposed moderation policies were designed by leading Rumble and Locals creators Robert Barnes and David Freiheit, both of whom are also accomplished attorneys,” a press release announcing the changes said. “Under the proposed policies, content creators will be able to express themselves to interested audiences within the limits of the law and without harassment while ensuring a consistent and transparent process as the platform continues its rapid growth.”

Rumble’s current terms—last modified in early January—are quite specific about prohibited content.

“Under no circumstances, shall the following be submitted to the Rumble Service,” the policy says. It then specifies several types of violations, including material that “promotes, supports or incites” violent individuals or groups, like people “affiliated with Antifa, the KKK and white supremacist groups and or persons affiliated with these groups.”

Barnes’ proposed terms not only do away with naming those groups, but they don’t say anything about content promoting hate groups at all. Further, the proposal also scraps the plain language that makes clear these rules apply to user-submitted content.

The press release and internal announcement quote Barnes saying the proposal “will provide a free space for open discourse without politicized discrimination” while “simultaneously protecting users from harassing behavior.”

The only discrimination Freiheit mentions is in guarding against “non-discriminatory enforcement” of these rules.

While the proposed policy would prohibit “discriminating against others based on their legally protected status,” the policy—unlike the current terms—doesn’t explicity apply this rule to uploaded content.

Additionally, the proposed terms only apply this non-discrimination policy to Rumble users, not to other people outside the platform who may also be targeted, “such as attacking other users or content creators on the platform based on that user’s race, religion, or other legally protected status.”

The announcement also notes that Rumble wants to protect users from “bad faith users of the platform whose behavior discourages use of the service and who engage in unlawful discrimination,” with a focus on “stalking.”

Notably, the policy offers no guidance about content that promotes hate groups. It also doesn’t seem to ban hate groups or their ambassadors from using the platform—such as for radicalization and recruitment—as long as they don’t post material that is in itself discriminatory.

Yet, Rumble and the attorneys behind the new policy claim the update will lead to a cleaner, safer user experience. They do so in a long and frequently redundant explanation, crammed with retreaded right-wing grievances about “cancel culture” and mentioning “freedom of expression” nine times.

You can read the full announcement here.

Rumble, a Canadian company with its U.S. headquarters in Sarasota, Florida, bills itself as an alternative to YouTube that’s “immune to cancel culture.” The platform boasts 44 million monthly visitors, The New York Times reported this year, and despite the griping from its users and leaders about partisanship and politicization, it has cut business deals with a number of high-profile political figures.

Those figures include Trump, Vance, and Thiel, who has put tens of millions of dollars into Republican candidates this year—including protege Vance.

Rumble also has business ties to former Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) through its technology agreement with Trump Media and its social media platform Truth Social. It also has a business deal with right-wing commentator Dan Bongino—himself a Rumble powerhouse—who acquired an equity stake in Rumble when it struck a partnership in January with a payment processing company Bongino co-founded. (Trump himself left Trump Media in an unannounced leadership exodus in June, along with former Trump administration official Kash Patel and oldest adult son, Don Jr.)

Rumble’s claims to be apolitical also clash directly with the timing of Vance and Thiel’s investment.

Vance, through his firm, Narya, led a Rumble funding round with Thiel last May—about two months after Thiel put $10 million into a super PAC backing Vance. In the deal, a partner at Narya, Ethan Fallang, acquired a seat on Rumble’s board.

That made Vance and Thiel among Rumble’s first outside investors, a fact Vance has touted on the campaign trail.

At the time of the investment, of course, Vance was not officially a candidate. However, a backdated personal loan that Vance later filed with the Federal Election Commission shows that he was in fact putting money into what would become his campaign, retroactively acknowledging that he was acting as a candidate from at least that date.

And the date on Vance’s campaign loan, for $100,000, was May 19—the same day Rumble announced Vance and Thiel’s investment. According to an amended financial disclosure Vance filed this April, he personally holds between $115,000 and $300,000 in the company.

But that investment has come with a fair amount of criticism, as Rumble has frequently been said to serve as a breeding ground for misinformation and radicalization—which, combined with its increasing popularity, has led experts on extremism to raise alarms.

About a week before Vance and Thiel announced their investment, WIRED published an investigative report that found Rumble not only gives misinformation a home, but has consistently promoted it through its recommendations to users. The New York Times recently reported that Rumble’s “democratizing vision for speech online has so far mostly appealed to people on the right,” including “numerous extremists who use their Rumble accounts to deny the effectiveness of vaccines, play down the horrific human toll of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and question the legitimacy of the 2020 election.”

Some of that content actually recalls Barnes, in his role as the Jones’ Sandy Hook defamation lawyer.

Families of Sandy Hook victims have sued Jones for continually claiming that the massacre was a false flag, saying those claims fueled baseless anger among his audience and led to threats on their lives.

Rumble itself has platformed “false flag” narratives about mass shootings—including Sandy Hook—as well as numerous popular videos making similar baseless claims about recent attacks in Buffalo, Uvalde, and Highland Park. The site even hand-selected one of those false flag videos as an “Editor’s Pick.”

After the Uvalde massacre, the Department of Homeland Security issued an alert that the “continued proliferation of false or misleading narratives” about the recent shootings could, compounded with other factors, “inspire individuals to mobilize to violence.”

Rumble’s editors, however, featured a video that opened with the user dismissing assurances that the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde weren’t false flags.

“Now you just need to avoid all of the totally legitimate, out of the woods, mass shootings that are popping off all around us. Because it is totally not a psyop, it’s totally not a false flag, this is just our new normal. Nah. Fuck this noise,” the user says. (The same Rumble account had posted a video after the Buffalo shooting that opened with the attacker’s livestream.)

Spokespeople for Rumble, Trump, and Vance—who has called Alex Jones “a far more reputable source of information than Rachel Maddow”—did not reply to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.

But in March, a Vance campaign spokesperson defended his investment to the Associated Press amid criticism that Rumble was hosting Russia Today, a propaganda outlet funded by the Kremlin.

“Rumble has consistently supported free speech on its platform—even speech it may find offensive,” the spokesperson said, comparing the website’s philosophy to Twitter’s, which, the spokesperson said, “censors a sitting U.S. President while allowing the Chinese Communist Party, North Korea and the Ayatollah Khomeini (to name a few) to continue their propaganda.”

Rumble is still soliciting user feedback on the proposed content policy. The site anticipates that process will wrap up this year.

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