We do live in dangerous times and a lot of that comes back to some of the political rhetoric that we see out there. I say some of it because while some of the rhetoric that some politicians use may be over the top or overtly partisan, it’s not dangerous to the health and safety of the public. Other politicians and their supporters have taken things to a new, dangerous level of insanity, throwing unproved, unhinged and outright lies about entire groups of people, real or imagined. That is what I am speaking about today.
Those words matter not just because they are dangerous; they matter because they are being given credence and legitimacy by politicians who see advantage in using them themselves. That includes American President Donald Trump, who has become the worst purveyors of these lies, all in a completely transparent attempt to save his own political life. He’s made wild and completely false claims about “Antifa”, the “Far Left” and others that he says are “trying to destroy the country”. It’s all been about ratcheting up his base and if it that was where it ended, we could likely just put it aside. There have been other side effects to come with that rhetoric which are extremely dangerous, which are manifesting themselves in the ugliest ways. A prime example of that popped across the Twitter feed yesterday in a place that I least expected it:
Yes folks, this is where the words of someone like Donald Trump can lead when they are trusted above reality and fact. It’s so true that The Oregonian had to spent time reporting about and knocking down some twisted rumours about the boogeymen created by Trump trying to “destroy” Oregon through forest fires. That Twitter thread highlighted by CBC’s Tom Harrington is what drew my attention to this, as you can actually sit pictures of people simply covering this awful nature disaster actually having guns drawn on them by an armed militia who thought there were “antifa liberals”. The fact that these journalists needed to point out they weren’t white tells you how maybe these people jumped to that conclusion, especially given how Mr. Trump has described these boogeymen.
But if that’s where this story ended, with some crazy and disturbing misunderstanding, well it wouldn’t be as bad. Yet still as The Oregonian had to point out, there are actual politicians and right-wing political commentators actually spreading this rumour out there, this twisted idea that’s ugly as can be. Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Oregon Jo Rae Perkins shared a post Thursday from a popular QAnon account on Twitter that insinuates Democrats started the fires for political gain. Paul Romero, whom Perkins defeated in the March primary, wrote a series of Twitter posts pushing the false claim that six anti-fascists had been arrested for arson for the fires. Turning Point USA representative Katie Daviscourt, who has more than 55,000 Twitter followers, posted Wednesday that unnamed law enforcement sources told her fires were “allegedly linked to Antifa and the riots.”
All that misinformation being put out there isn’t just leading to journalists covering the fires to the situation we saw the other day, but it’s also slowing down the ability of authorities to respond to the situation. The local police report that they are getting run under by 911 calls about rumours around this, completely swamping them. Molalla Police Department had to put out a Facebook post to tell people to “stay calm and use common sense” when it came to these rumours. Seriously imagine having to waste one’s time on such crap when trying to deal with a natural disaster.
And that is the kind of thing that happens when you have a whole section of the population who has been primed again and again to believe the words of only one man. And that man has shown time and again that not only is he less than truthful, he does so in an attempt to help himself above anything else. When you get that, this is the kind of thing that happens and wow, is it proving to be dangerous. Instead of believing the facts about this fire and how it was likely started, which is much less crazy and doesn’t involve conspiracy theories that only exist to further support the political ambitions of others. It’s undermining the ability of governments and public safety officials to perform their basic jobs while also creating further tension, paranoia and potentially violence. When that blatant misinformation leads to a) armed militias feeling compelled and supported in patrolling highways during a natural disaster, b) those militias pulling their weapons on journalists and c) authorities being unable to respond to all of this, it’s outright dangerous.
These are bad signs of a government and country in serious decline where things are falling apart. It’s also completely because of the irresponsible rhetoric being spewed by people who are only concerned about their political benefit and to Hell with the rest. If things have gotten so bad that we’re seeing stories like these break out, it’s a bad sign of how far things have slid off the rails. It’s also scary being next door to a country that has so many people who are clearly in the thrall of such insane crap, preferring to believe it over what is real and tangible. It’s a dangerous mix and sadly we have at least two more months of an election where the Republican Presidential candidate will continue to slam his foot on the throttle of this noxious conspiracy crap. It remains to be seen if the American body politic can withstand it but if the news above is any barometer, it’s already struggling mightily to deal with it.