Every political group attracts a few crackpots, but no group attracts as high a percentage of crackpots as groups with unpopular opinions. Outcasts are drawn to fringe groups — and fringe groups have little enough support that they don’t want to alienate any potential supporters.
I’ve been aware for a long time that libertarian and some conservative groups attract crazy people. Many times, these crazy people are highly intelligent, very weird and often obsessed with something strange. Those folks aren’t generally going to be accepted among the mainstream parties, because those groups have plenty of support and it’s easy to edge the weirdos out. But fringe groups accept the weirdos more readily.
And why not? One of the core libertarian beliefs is that people have the right to be whatever they want to be. If somebody’s life centers around promoting drinking colloidal silver to cure every ailment under the sun — or trying to communicate with aliens or researching conspiracies about how the Bilderbergers rule the world — hey, that’s his business, even if he’s nuts. As long as he agrees with us that other people have the right to believe and act as they choose, he’s welcome in the “liberty tent.”
I’ve become convinced lately that a desire to be tolerant has led libertarians and conservatives to be associated with people whose beliefs are toxic, both personally and to the political groups they attach themselves to. In think it’s time that we stop averting our eyes from the crazies who attach themselves to us and be willing to say that there’s no place for certain kinds of insanity — and all kinds of dishonesty.
It’s easy to ignore this when you only see people at a political meeting every now and then, but the spread of social media such as Facebook and Twitter have made it impossible to ignore it anymore.
In the past six months, I’ve been on something of a mission to unfriend and block many of certain types of people on Facebook. So far, I’ve blocked more than 600 people for various reasons. Some were just annoying jerks. Some liked to personally attack people. But many of those people were well-meaning people who simply post political lies as truth. I can’t passively look the other way when I see that anymore.
Take a look at the graphic above. That was a link posted by a number of former Facebook friends. It follows a typical pattern with scare stories such as that one. The headline makes a dishonest inflammatory claim that the story doesn’t even come close to backing up, but the headline is what conspiracy-minded people remember.
“Did you know ObamaCare is going to get us all implanted with microchips? I saw a story about it the other day,” they tell people they know. They don’t remember any of the facts from the story — and they don’t remember the fact that the headline’s claims were never supported in any way. They just spread the lie over and over, both on social media and in their private conversations.
I’m completely opposed to government intrusion in the health care system and the insurance industry, so I think ObamaCare is an abomination. But the reality of the law is bad enough. We don’t need to make up lies to scare people.
Here’s another example of an insane story posted by this sort of person and reposted by other gullible people. It was posted on Facebook by a number of people who were among my “friends.” This story claims that the recent shooting at the Washington Navy Yard was actually some kind of bizarre coverup. The story goes that the Navy uncovered an Obama plot to set off a nuclear bomb in Washington — as part of a “false-flag attack” — and there was an attempt to arrest the president, but the people who were going to arrest him were actually the ones who were killed.
Seriously. There are people who believe this sort of garbage and spread it as truth.
I’m opposed to pretty much everything Barack Obama stands for — just as I oppose pretty much everything from any politician seeking to impose his will on individuals — but I’m not stupid enough or dishonest enough to claim something this bizarre without evidence. Facts matter.
To many people — of all political stripes — it matters less whether something is true than whether it attacks the person or group they hate. When George W. Bush was president, those on the progressive left attacked him personally in dishonest and vile ways. Now that Obama is president, the same thing is going on from other groups.
Libertarians and hardcore conservatives have attracted some serious nuts to “the cause.” I’ve argued before that we need to be more vigilant in cutting any potential ties with anti-semetic and racist bigots. I think it’s past time to distance ourselves from all sorts of nutcases who are willing to believe — and spread — any lie or conspiracy theory that comes their way.
If liberty-minded people want to be taken seriously, they need to take truth, evidence and fairness seriously. I’m going to continue to actively distance myself from anybody who doesn’t respect those values. I think people of every political group ought to do the same, but I’m most concerned with starting among the groups I care about.