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Monday, October 06, 2014


"They know it's wrong and they don't care."

by Tom Sullivan

In a folder labeled "Spam - Right wing" dating from 2005 on, I have 200 or so examples of the kind of right-wing, pass-it-on spam you get from friends and relatives. (And yes, I have a "Spam - Left wing" folder, too, with fewer than ten. Pass-it-on spam is a phenomenon of the right.)

For awhile I even got right-wing chain-mail from a Republican elected official in Oxford, MS on whose personal list I landed somehow. They kept coming even after I responded and told her, no, I wasn't who she thought I was so, no, I couldn't send her that chicken recipe she liked so much.

But we'll come back to that.

A week or so ago, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity came under fire for "hundreds of thousands of mailers with false information" that appeared in mailboxes across North Carolina, prompting hundreds of complaints from voters and drawing fire from state Democrats:

Casey M. Mann, N.C. Democratic Party executive director, filed the complaint Monday over the Americans for Prosperity Foundation voter registration mailers that included incorrect information on where to send applications, an incorrect registration deadline, and inaccurate information about getting answers to questions.

Addressees included a dead child and a cat.

But what caught the attention of Sue Sturgis at the Institute for Southern Studies over the weekend was the pattern of behavior by Americans for Prosperity:

Under North Carolina law, sending out a mass mailing or taking any other action where "the intent and effect is to intimidate or discourage potential voters" is a Class I felony. The elections board told The News & Observer that it has received at least 2,000 calls about the mailers, and has asked AFP to send accurate information to the homes that received the misinformation.

AFP has downplayed the significance of the mailers, releasing a statement that said they "contained a few administrative errors" that "were not substantive."

However, this is not the first time that AFP has been embroiled in a controversy about misleading voters. It has faced similar accusations in at least three other states:

* West Virginia. This past April, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said voters in at least eight counties in her state received "misleading and confusing" leaflets that could have led them to wrongly believe they were not properly registered to vote in the May primary, The Charleston Gazette reported.

Wendy McCuskey, director of AFP's West Virginia chapter, said the mailer was a nonpartisan effort targeting people who were not registered to vote. However, the leaflets encouraged residents to "update" their voter registration. McCuskey told the paper that there "may have been a few mistakes."

* Virginia. Last year, voters in Virginia reported receiving a mailer from AFP that told them they were not registered to vote when in fact many were. The mailer also threatened to contact neighbors of the recipients and say that they weren’t registered, further angering those who received the mailing.

Larry Haake, the general registrar in Chesterfield County, Virginia, said he received complaints about the mailer. "It's outrageous what they do," Haake told the Chesterfield Observer, referring to AFP. "Most of their information is wrong. They know it's wrong and they don't care."

There was Wisconsin in 2011, as well.

As with legally dubious legislation passed in North Carolina and other states with GOP-led legislatures, the governing philosophy seems to be to step over the legal lines and dare anyone to stop them.

But what has always struck me about right-wing spam mentioned earlier is what Larry Haake observed about the AFP mailers: "They know it's wrong and they don't care." Wrong in the sense of inaccurate as well as "you ought to be ashamed." They aren't. And neither is AFP.

Now, out of those 200 chain emails, maybe three or four are not outright lies, distortions, and smears. Easily debunked on Google in the time it takes to attach your email list and forward to all your friends. They are lies and, deep down, right wingers know it. Yet they pass them along dutifully, almost gleefully. They know it's wrong and they don't care.

Whoever generates this crap, by all appearances their purpose is simply to get people angry and keep them angry about imaginary slights committed against them by liberal neighbors.

Pass-it-on spams don’t ask people to write their congressman or senator. They don’t ask people to get involved in or contribute to a political campaign. Or even to make a simple phone call. No. Once you’ve had your daily dose of in-box outrage, conservative reader, all these propaganda pieces ask is that you “pass it on” to everyone you know. So now that you’re good and angry — and if you’re a Real American™ — you'll share it with all your friends so they’ll get and stay angry too.

Some of us are old enough to have seen Superman on black-and-white TV defending truth, justice, and the American Way. That was then. The saddest part of pass-it-on propaganda and AFP disinformation is that the people who raised us at the height of the Cold War warned us that commies would use propaganda and disinformation to destroy America from within. Now, many of those same Real Americans™ consider trafficking in propaganda and disinformation good, clean fun for the whole family. They know it's wrong and they don't care.