Charles Pierce of Esquire covers one more case in which the truth couldn’t compete with right-wing fantasy and paranoia (as originally reported in more detail by The New York Times). Mr. Pierce’s conclusion regarding who is ultimately responsible for this nonsense is important:
. .. . Some local boosters in the central part of Montana wanted to arrange for the area to be declared a National Heritage Area. This, they believed, would boost the tourist economy in that beautiful, but lonely, place. It also would bring in some much-needed FREE MONEY! from the federal government. This sounded like a plan to many of the people living there, and especially to the local mover-and-shaker communities. But they did not reckon with the power of the Intertoobz, and one citizen’s willingness to believe anything she read there. . . .
For seven years, beginning in 2013, the proposal went along swimmingly behind the work of a retired Forest Service officer. There were town meetings, and the process was largely peaceful. And then D____ T____ ran for re-election and hell followed after him.
Rae Grulkowski [a 56-year old businesswoman who had never been involved in politics] heard a local candidate speak against the proposal, and she thereafter went so far off the diving board that said candidate disowned her and her work. Like that even matters.
At the time, [Grulkowski] was becoming engrossed in the online world of far-right media. From her home on 34 acres in Stockett, a farming community of 157 people south of Great Falls, she watched videos from outlets like His Glory TV, where hosts refer to President Biden as “the so-called president.” She subscribed to the Telegram messaging channel of Seth Keshel, a prolific disinformation spreader. And she came across a vein of conspiratorial accusations that national heritage areas were a kind of Trojan horse that could open the door to future federal land grabs.
When Ms. Grulkowski, who owns a septic cleaning company, tried using Ms. [Jeni] Dodd’s group to push the idea that Montanans’ property rights were at risk, Ms. Dodd kicked her out for promoting lies. “I’m not happy with people saying it will seize your property, because that is disingenuous,” Ms. Dodd said. “I said to her, ‘I think you need to be careful about the message. It isn’t actually the way that it works, what you’re saying.’”
But Ms. Grulkowski plowed ahead.
. . . She collected addresses from a list of voters and spent $1,300 sending a packet denouncing the proposed heritage area to 1,498 farmers and ranchers. She told them the designation would forbid landowners to build sheds, drill wells or use fertilizers and pesticides. It would alter water rights, give tourists access to private property, create a new taxation district and prohibit new septic systems and burials on private land, she said.
None of this was true.
Like that matters anymore.
Grulkowski found powerful allies to support her fantasies. The head of the Montana Farm Bureau, a muscular lobbying group, signed onboard. . . The Farm Bureau guy sounds like a real prize.
In two hours of talking at his farm, Mr. Bandel could offer no evidence to back up that claim. He said he distrusted assurances that there were no such designs. “They say, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to do it right. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. I think Adolf Hitler said that, too, didn’t he?” Mr. Bandel said. “The fear of the unknown is a huge fear.” Mr. Bandel said he trusted Ms. Grulkowski with the details.
And why wouldn’t you? I mean, it’s not like Ms. Grulkowski would believe anything that comes out of the pixelverse, right?
Outside of a poultry coop, as her chickens and ducks squawked, Ms. Grulkowski ticked through the falsehoods she had read online and accepted as truths in the past year: The Covid vaccine is more dangerous than the coronavirus. Global child-trafficking rings control the political system. Black Lives Matter was responsible for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The United Nations is plotting to control world population and seize private land. Mr. T____ was the rightful winner of last year’s election. Even in Cascade County, where Mr. T____ won 59 percent of the vote, Ms. Grulkowski argued that 3,000 illegal votes were cast.
“We didn’t believe in any of that stuff until last July,” Ms. Grulkowski said. “Then we stumbled on something on the internet, and we watched it, and it took us two days to get over that. And it had to do with the child trafficking that leads to everything. It just didn’t seem right, and that was just over the top. And then we started seeing things that are lining up with that everywhere.”
She started seeing things. I have no doubt of that.
Pretty soon, . . . thanks to the cowardice and stupidity of the Montana political establishment—right up to and including Governor Greg (Body Slam) Gianforte and U.S. Senator Steve Daines—there were power players joining the fight against this non-existent threat.
Yet it soon became accepted as truth by enough people to persuade Montana’s leading Republican figures and conservative organizations, including the farm bureau, Gov. Gianforte and Senator Daines, to oppose the proposal and enact a state law forbidding the federal government to create any heritage area in Montana.
It is a ban that the state has no authority to enforce.
Like that even matters any more.
The dispute has split communities, become a wedge issue in this fall’s political campaigns and left proponents of the heritage area flummoxed at their collective inability to refute falsehoods once they have become accepted wisdom. “We’ve run into the uneducable,” Ellen Sievert, a retired historic preservation officer for Great Falls and surrounding Cascade County, said. “I don’t know how we get through that.”
I have a Pro Tip for these folks: you can’t defeat the imaginary with either logic or reason. Delusions have their own physical laws, and you don’t know what they are.
Rae Gulkowski is not the problem. Rae Gulkowskis have been with us always. I wrote a book once that had as one of its central themes that the United States is the best country in the history of the world to be completely out of your mind. It is the powerful interests—political, social, financial; local and national—who are willing to pretend to swallow any fantastical codswallop for their own dark purposes who are the real sources of peril to the republic’s existence. It’s the people who should know better, and who clearly don’t, and worse, who don’t give a damn.
It doesn’t look like taking Fox News and Facebook out of the picture would have made a difference in this case, but unless we do something about the way Facebook and Fox News feed right-wing fantasy and paranoia, it’s fair to conclude that the Republican Party will become even more divorced from reality and Republican politicians will become even worse than they are now.