Alex Jones settles Chobani lawsuit and retracts comments about refugees in Twin Falls, Idaho
Chobani didn’t issue a comment on the settlement and would only say the matter has been resolved.
Alex Jones backed down. Again.
The far-right conspiracy theorist agreed Wednesday to settle a defamation lawsuit filed against him by Greek yogurt manufacturer Chobani. The key component of the settlement agreement required him to retract inflammatory comments about refugees and the company he made on his Infowars broadcast last month.
“During the week of April 10, 2017, certain statements were made on the Infowars, Twitter feed and YouTube channel regarding Chobani LLC that I now understand to be wrong. The tweets and video have now been retracted, and will not be re-posted,” Jones said. “On behalf of Infowars, I regret that we mischaracterized Chobani, its employees and the people of Twin Falls, Idaho, the way we did.”
It marks the latest blow to Jones, who in March apologized and issued a retraction to a Washington, D.C.-based pizzeria for his broadcast’s role in pushing a false story about a child sex ring that involved Hillary Clinton.
And just over two weeks ago, Jones’ ex-wife won the right to determine who his three children would live with in a high-profile custody case in which his lawyers argued his on-air personality was a performance.
Jones, whose YouTube channel has more than 2 million subscribers, drew the ire of Chobani when in early April he published a video and promoted it on Twitter with a headline that read “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists.”
Chobani said in its lawsuit that Jones’ statements “have caused and continue to cause harm to Idaho residents, including Chobani employees, their families and other members of the Twin Falls community.”
The lawsuit sought damages in excess of $10,000 and a retraction and removal of the posts. Chobani didn’t issue a comment on the settlement and would only say the matter has been resolved.
The yogurt company was founded in 2005 when its founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, bought a shuttered Kraft yogurt plant in New York and began making and selling Chobani Greek yogurt.
Six years later, the yogurt had become so popular the New York facility was operating at full capacity and Ulukaya bought and built a large $450-million plant in Twin Falls.
An immigrant from Turkey, Ulukaya made no secret of his desire to employ refugees. In 2015, Ulukaya was honored with a Global Leadership Award from the United Nations Foundation for humanitarian efforts for refugees.
He saw a good fit in Twin Falls, given its dairy production capability, open space and employment base coupled with the town’s commitment to refugees. Twin Falls takes in between 150 and 300 refugees annually and has been doing so since the 1980s. The plant has more than 1,000 employees, which includes hundreds of refugees.
Ulukaya told the Financial Times magazine last year: “If a refugee has a job, they are no longer a refugee.” Chobani starts employees between $12 and $15 an hour with benefits. Last year, Ulukaya gave shares of the company to its employees as a way to thank them and possibly turn some into millionaires.
But Chobani drew the fire of Jones, who is allied with President Trump and has been a vocal supporter of travel bans for refugees. Idaho — and Twin Falls — may have looked like a sympathetic audience given it went solidly for Trump in November.
So Jones targeted Chobani when, last summer, three children assaulted a 5-year-old girl. The story spread through right-wing media that the attackers — 14, 10 and 7 — were from refugee families. The false narrative pushed by Jones included the involvement of Syrians, rape and urinating in the victim’s mouth. Jones linked it — along with some unrelated cases of tuberculosis — to Chobani. All of it was untrue.
But Twin Falls pushed back.
Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs said the lies were amplified and the facts were being discarded in favor of pushing an anti-refugee narrative that said refugees were bringing crime and disease to the community.
City leaders and residents were angry about what Jones was broadcasting and some said they were glad Chobani filed the lawsuit.
Mayor Shawn Barigar said Twin Falls had been welcoming refugees for decades and the City Council passed an ordinance saying they were a welcoming city for refugees. And a proposed ballot measure pushed by a small anti-refugee segment in Twin Falls last year failed to qualify — only collecting 855 signatures — well short of the 3,842 needed.
Barigar complained Jones had never even been to Twin Falls and knew nothing about the community. He said Chobani has been a great employer and has boosted the regional economy.
Just a few weeks ago, Jones had dug in his heels when Chobani filed the lawsuit.
“You just ran into a Texan,” Jones said. “So you get ready because we’re never backing down and our audience is never backing down.”
Until Jones did. Again.
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