Congolese migrants walk from Travis Park Church to the Resource Center.
Congolese migrants walk from Travis Park Church to the San Antonio Migrant Resource Center. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Alex Jones, founder of the Austin-based InfoWars conspiracy website, sent his pseudo-reporters and their video cams to San Antonio last week to promote a disinformation campaign that Ebola-infected Congolese migrants were passing through the city even as Central American migrants were left to wander downtown streets through the night.

For locals, it’s hardly news anymore that a coalition of church, nonprofit, and City workers has been working tirelessly for months to humanely assist thousands of mostly Central American migrants families released by the U.S. Border Patrol and sent north to San Antonio on Greyhound buses and private shuttles.

The families are welcomed here at a City resource center located one block from the bus station. After being fed, clothed, and treated medically, if necessary, they spend a single night in area shelters such as Travis Park Church before boarding flights or buses the next day to travel legally to live with sponsors and await asylum hearings. The migrant crisis has taxed the resources of the City, Catholic Charities, and the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, but that has not deterred the coalition or its dozens of bilingual volunteers.

It’s another example of San Antonio opening its arms to people in need. That’s not the story InfoWars came to tell, especially when it learned the Border Patrol had released up to 350 Congolese migrants who had made their way from Africa to Brazil and then north to Mexico and across the border.

Infowars host Owen Shroyer is filmed in the San Antonio Migrant Resource Center along Saint Mary's Street downtown.
Infowars host Owen Shroyer is filmed in the City of San Antonio’s Migrant Resource Center downtown. The identities of the individuals inside the center have been blurred to protect their privacy, as requested by the City. Credit: Courtesy / Nick Longo

Jones, some readers will recall, was deposed in March in response to lawsuits filed by families who lost children in the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre. The mass shooting took the lives of 26 people, including 20 first graders. For years, Jones has promoted his claims the shootings were a hoax involving staged actors, a campaign he now justifies, he told lawyers, because he suffers “a form of psychosis” induced by the government and mainstream media.

Therapy must not be helping. Jones’ admission hasn’t stopped him from peddling other phony stories and conspiracy theories. Last week it was San Antonio’s turn in the crosshairs.

Here are two of InfoWars’ headlines, each 100 percent false. Don’t believe me? Try PolitiFact.

“EBOLA IN SAN ANTONIO –  San Antonio Concerned About Ebola in Migrant Shelters,” tops an InfoWars video that features a brief interview with an unbalanced homeless man well-known to downtown aid workers.

“MIGRANTS LOITER ON DOWNTOWN SAN ANTONIO STREETS – Dozens of illegal immigrants with nowhere to go hang out on San Antonio streets overnight,” also is false. Migrants arriving in San Antonio for overnight stays are provided secure sleeping facilities at area church facilities and shelters.

The headlines, of course, are deliberate lies. The interviews conducted by the InfoWars team, including a lengthy on-camera conversation with a remarkably patient and composed Colleen Bridger, the City of San Antonio’s interim assistant city manager who previously ran Metro Health, directly contradict these sensational claims.

“I feel totally confident that there is no threat of Ebola at this facility,” Bridger told InfoWars. “I am totally confident there is no threat of Ebola in the City of San Antonio.”

There is a greater chance, she noted, of someone in San Antonio being exposed to measles in New York, where there has been an outbreak among unvaccinated children.

City of San Antonio Health Director Colleen Bridger.
Interim Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Truth, facts, and accuracy are not tools of the trade at InfoWars. The real goal for Jones has always been to turn a buck by trading in disinformation and propaganda, using deliberate deception to arouse his like-minded InfoWars readers, many of whom can be expected to spread fake news through their own social networks.

Another far-right website, the Las Vegas-based Conservative Daily Post (CDP), offered its own false version of the story: Border Patrol Surprise: Disease Ridden Congolese Migrants Dumped in San Antonio. I dislike linking to these sites, but I do so lest anyone challenge the accuracy of this column and attempt to introduce his or her own “alternative facts.”

Jones, and members of the InfoWars team that spent time here last week, know very well that none of what they published is true, yet their videos are promoted prominently on the website, which regularly traffics in lies and deception.

After years of turning a blind eye to Jones’ harmful disinformation campaigns dressed up as reportage, Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and Twitter have banned Jones and his videos. The complicity of social media sites in the proliferation of such deceptive content is irrefutable. Again and again, the sites have ignored fake news until public pressure has forced their hand.

Why does it matter? For starters, many people who vote only consume content that plays to their own prejudices and fears. Do they really believe what they read? Some certainly do, while others probably conclude such falsehoods justifiably convey a larger truth, such as the evils of immigration, racial diversity, or sexual identity. Either way, what once were clear lines between fact-based reporting and extremism disguised as news are now so distorted, the civic culture of the nation has been affected for the worse.

The only recourse is to resist it at every turn, starting at home.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report, is now a freelance journalist.