TWIN FALLS — Chobani is suing the right-wing conspiracy website InfoWars and its founder, Alex Jones, over a video that claims Chobani was “caught importing migrant rapists.” The video alludes to a non-existent connection between Chobani and a Twin Falls sexual assault case involving three refugee boys and repeats the unsubstantiated claim that the yogurt company’s factory has brought “crime and tuberculosis” to the Twin Falls community.
The video was shared online April 11 by Jones, InfoWars and other right-wing conspiracy outlets linked to Jones. It contains accusations that are false and defamatory, the lawsuit claims. Jones and InfoWars have failed to remove the defamatory statements “despite multiple written demands” from Chobani.
“Defendant Alex Jones is no stranger to spurious statements,” the lawsuit reads. ”He has claimed that the U.S. government orchestrated the 9/11 attacks and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The Southern Poverty Law Center described Mr. Jones as ‘almost certainly the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America.’ Mr. Jones has now taken aim at Chobani and the Twin Falls community.”
The video was published a week after three juveniles pleaded guilty to felonies in the assault of a 5-year-girl at the Fawnbrook Apartments in Twin Falls. That case, first widely publicized by right-wing conspiracy websites, set off months of turmoil after the story was spun into a fake news account that exaggerated or falsified many of the details and prompted local residents to speak out at City Council meetings accusing local officials of orchestrating a cover-up.
That juvenile case is sealed, so details of the assault are not public, but three boys age 14, 10 and 7 all pleaded guilty to felonies earlier this month, while law enforcement and city officials have maintained they handled the case properly.
Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs on Monday said there is no connection he is aware of between the assault and the yogurt company.
Chobani’s lawsuit — filed as the city of Twin Falls weighs whether to adopt a resolution as a “welcoming city“ to refugees and others — is the most direct attempt yet to dispel stories from the far-right media that mischaracterized the Fawnbrook incident and the interplay between Chobani, the city and the College of Southern Idaho’s Refugee Center.
The video at the center of the suit makes a direct connection between the Greek-yogurt company and the Fawnbrook assault. Published on InfoWars and The Alex Jones Channel on Youtube, and shared by Jones on Twitter, the video “purports to describe Chobani’s practice of hiring refugees and an assault unrelated to Chobani,” the lawsuit said.
In the video, Lee Ann McAdoo, described as a reporter, discusses the Fawnbrook case and says “It was pulled into the political argument, of course, because of that refugee program. Chobani, whose factory employs many refugees, was another target of this anti-refugee anger.”
McAdoo continues: “A lot of people say that the factory there and other local businesses are linked to the refugee program because the existence of the labor of these refugees is needed to fuel Chobani. So interestingly while this story of these three refugee boys pleading guilty has received almost zero national attention, the owner there of Chobani was given a very glowing ‘60 Minutes’ interview where they praised him for being such a great jobs creator.”
As McAdoo and another presenter, David Knight, discuss the Fawnbrook assault and continually insinuate there’s a connection to Chobani, B-roll video plays behind them showing Chobani owner Hamdi Ulukaya.
“The background of the video repeatedly depicts, and in doing so misrepresents, Chobani’s owner and Chobani’s products,” the lawsuit said. Jones and InfoWars “knowingly misrepresented the facts” and made the false and misleading statements to harm Chobani’s business and reputation.
InfoWars did respond Monday to a request for comment.
“The defendants’ conduct in this matter was extreme, outrageous, and warrants punitive damages,” the lawsuit says. “The defendants publicly communicated the defamatory statements to a wide audience of subscribers and other online viewers causing significant damages to (Chobani). As a result of the conduct of the Defendants, (Chobani) has suffered and continues to suffer substantial damages in an amount to be proven at trial.”
The lawsuit includes evidence of Jones’ Twitter account and Youtube channel sharing the story. The Youtube video is titled “MSM (mainstream media) Covers for Globalist’s Refugee Import Program After Child Rape Case.”
After the video was shared on Twitter by PrisonPlanetTV, another Jones-affiliated site, a Twitter user responded that Chobani’s yogurt is “another product to boycott.”
The video is just the latest in a long line of far-right, anti-Muslim and anti-refugee attacks against Twin Falls, the CSI refugee center, Chobani and Ulukaya.
But unlike some previous stories – like one from World Net Daily that removed a false claim that refugees were being sent to Twin Falls specifically to work for Chobani – Jones and InfoWars “have declined to remove the defamatory statements or publish a retraction despite multiple written demands” from Chobani.
Another attack last year from the right-wing site Breitbart included the headline: “(Tuberculosis) Spiked 500 Percent In Twin Falls During 2012, As Chobani Yogurt Opened Plant.”
But the story showed no connection between the disease and the yogurt company opening.
The story also showed the “500 percent spike” was due to an increase from one tuberculosis case in 2011 to six in 2012. And that number took into account all cases in the Magic Valley, not just Twin Falls. The number of cases went back down to two in 2013, four in 2014 and one in 2015.
Other stories have accused city officials of receiving federal money to funnel refugees into Twin Falls so they could work for Chobani, Twin Falls Mayor Shawn Barigar said, noting those allegations were “totally false.”
“Chobani operates just like any other company,” Barigar said Monday. “Just like other companies that were here for 25 or 30 years before Chobani arrived who were hiring and employing refugees.”
Barigar said he and the City Council have recently been hearing more vocal support “from those who support the refugee resettlement program, diversity and businesses like Chobani who philosophically want to help those who need help achieving the American Dream.”
But he stopped short of saying the city’s proposed “welcoming city” resolution and the Chobani lawsuit represented local institutions standing up against anti-refugee sentiment.
“That welcoming city resolution came as a request from citizens,” Barigar said. “That wasn’t driven by the city.”
Jones’ dark history
Jones, named in Chobani’s lawsuit, specializes in provocative conspiracy theories, calling himself the “founding father” of 9/11 conspiracies. He says the terrorist attacks were an inside job by the U.S. government, and claims the Sandy Hook shooting was “completely faked” and “manufactured.”
Jones was also an early supporter of President Donald Trump’s campaign, and during an appearance on Jones’ show, then-candidate Trump told Jones, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”
Most or all of Jones’ conspiracy theories center around a “globalist” scheme to create a “New World Order.” According to a 2011 profile in Rolling Stone, Jones believes the endgame to this “New World Order” is “a mass eugenics operation that will depopulate the planet by poisoning our food and water with fluoride, radioactive isotopes and various futuristic toxic soups being engineered in New World Order laboratories.”
He was widely criticized last week when his attorney in his divorce and custody trial said Jones was a “performance artist” whose on-air persona was an act. Jones then testified in court, according to the Austin-American Statesman, that “he means what he says on InfoWars, though he also indulges in satire and comedy on the show.”
Jones later took to Twitter to ask that the media respect his privacy in the case — a request that was widely ridiculed coming from the man who claimed the massacre of 20 children was fake.
Jones, InfoWars and Free Speech Systems, LLC, another defendant in the case, now have 21 days to respond to Chobani’s lawsuit.