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Chobani sues Alex Jones, saying he falsely linked company to child rape, tuberculosis

By Derek Hawkins

April 25, 2017 at 4:40 AM

“Infowars” host Alex Jones arrives at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin on April 17. (Tamir Kalifa/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Chobani, the maker of Greek yogurt, is suing right-wing provocateur Alex Jones, claiming he published articles and videos that falsely linked the company to child rape and a tuberculosis outbreak near its plant in Twin Falls, Idaho.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Idaho state court, says Jones's Infowars website defamed Chobani and owner Hamdi Ulukaya in reports alleging the company's practice of hiring refugees had brought crime and disease to the town of 45,000.

"Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists," read an April 11 tweet from Infowars highlighted in the complaint. The tweet linked to a video containing what Chobani said were false statements about the company. The complaint also cited an August 2016 article that suggested Chobani was responsible for a "500% increase in tuberculosis in Twin Falls."

Chobani said Jones had ignored requests to remove the reports, which as of early Tuesday were still accessible on the "Alex Jones Channel" on YouTube as well as the main Infowars site. As a result, the lawsuit said, some customers had called for a boycott of the company's products.

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Alex Jones was a powerful underground voice for the alternative conservative media, but he became a more mainstream figure in December 2015, when Donald Trump, then a Republican presidential candidate, spent 30 minutes on Jones's radio program, "Info Wars." (Erin Patrick O'Connor, Manuel Roig-Franzia/The Washington Post)

"The Defendants' defamatory statements have caused and continue to cause harm to Idaho residents, including Chobani employees, their families, and other members of the Twin Falls community associated with Chobani," read the complaint.

In an audio statement posted on his YouTube channel Monday night, Jones said "sources" in the White House and Congress told him that billionaire George Soros, a frequent target of Jones's attacks, was behind the lawsuit. Soros is not named in court documents, and there is nothing suggesting he is involved in any way.

Jones vowed to fight the case, saying it was without merit.

"I'm not backing down, I'm never giving up, I love this," he said in the recording. "They have jumped the trillion-pound great white shark on this baby."

Jones has made a name for himself peddling outrageous conspiracy fantasies over the years, including claims that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax and that the government orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Last month, he apologized for promoting "Pizzagate," a fabricated story that accused Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman of running a child sex abuse ring out of a Washington pizza restaurant.

Jones has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the past year, buoyed in part by his chummy relationship with President Trump, who appears to have based some of his own conspiratorial views on Infowars stories.

Chobani's plant in Twin Falls is the largest yogurt-producing facility in the world. Ulukaya, the owner, is a Turkish immigrant known for his refugee advocacy. More than 300 refugees work at the Twin Falls plant and another facility in New York, according to the Idaho Statesman.

The company came into Jones's crosshairs last summer, after a story about refugees in Twin Falls sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl drew national attention. Several right-wing websites, including Infowars, seized on the news, inaccurately reporting that the girl was raped at knifepoint by a gang of Syrian men. Infowars, Breitbart News and other outlets sought to connect the incident to the refugees employed at the Chobani plant in town.

Authorities in Twin Falls said the girl was sexually assaulted, not raped, and that there was no knife involved in the attack. They also said the suspects, who have since pleaded guilty, were minors from Iraq and Sudan, as The Washington Post has reported.

As recently as mid-April, Infowars was still connecting Chobani's refugee hiring practices to the crimes, according to the company's lawsuit.

"Jones is no stranger to spurious statements. He has claimed that the U.S. government orchestrated the 9/11 attacks and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut," read the complaint. "Mr. Jones has now taken aim at Chobani and the Twin Falls community."

Chobani's lawsuit comes as Jones is fighting a closely watched custody battle in Texas. The case has focused in part on whether Jones's fire-breathing radio persona reflects how he behaves outside the studio or amounts to a sort of performance art, as The Washington Post has reported. His lawyers in that case have argued he is "playing a character."

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Derek Hawkins is a reporter with The Washington Post's Morning Mix.

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