Shouldn’t A Legislator Be Smart Enough to Spot An Internet Hoax and Decent Enough Not to Share It?

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

I’m not going to turn this blog over to posting the absurd nonsense Montana Republicans share on Facebook yet, but I thought I would share one more post today from Representative Barry Usher, posted a day after his post smearing Representative Ilhan Omar.

This morning, Usher shared an old conservative hoax purporting to be a letter written by the Chief Master Sergeant of the United States Air Force George Roof, a letter in which “Roof” runs through a version of history from the 1960s to today that could have been written by Dinesh D’Souza.

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While it’s hard to pick out the most offensive part of the “letter,” this section is perhaps the most topical:

Then there came the Manchurian Candidate Obama with a faked (OK Democrats, let’s say “of questionable origin” to assuage your PC brains) birth certificate, who’d gotten a free ride through college under a foreign student exemption, and whose college records and complete life history had been ‘sealed.’ (We know more about Thomas Jefferson’s bastard children than we do about Obama, Michelle , OR their two faked kids.)

From his inaugural address, he slandered America and within days had begun to encourage dissension of the races as well as slandering police who “acted stupidly.” That was mild to the crap that would come in doubling the national debt from what had been built by ALL THE PREVIOUS PRESIDENTS COMBINED, feeding us bullshit about how Muslims built this country, and nationalizing American industries.

Paragraph 9: Fueled by George Soros’ money and using the Air Force fleet as his personal charters, he appointed malcontents and traitors into positions of authority. He trashed the Constitution by installing “czars” (interesting he chose a title like that) to bypass Congressional authority….

Mysteriously, the lone outspoken conservative Supreme Court Justice Scalia suddenly dies in his sleep at an Obama pal’s hunting lodge and the Supreme Court is evenly split.

You’ve got it all right there: the racist birther claim, slurs directed at the Obama children, anti-Muslim nonsense, the old anti-Semitic George Soros play, Sean Hannity-level thinking about “czars” that ignores Reagan appointed the first “drug czar,” and a conspiracy theory centered around the idea that it was more plausible that Obama killed Antonin Scalia than that an overweight 79-year-old man died in his sleep.

And of course, the letter is complete bullshit. The picture on the widely-shared post is captioned “THIS MAN PUT HIS NAME AND PICTURE TO WHAT HE HAD TO SAY IN ONE HELL OF A LETTER,” but the picture is not of someone named George Roof, but the current Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Kaleth O. Wright, something that took 11 seconds to uncover.

And, of course, no one named George Roof was ever the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, a fact that took another 12 seconds to uncover.

There does appear to be a George Roof who once served in the Air Force for some length of time, but he’s an elderly white man who seems to spend most of his day posting mildly racist conservative memes and talking about taxidermy.

Since this real George is currently a resident of Maryland, I assume the Montana Republican Party is recruiting him for a congressional race.

My point is not really that it is a bit terrifying that people who lack the intellectual sophistication to see through an obvious Internet hoax are making laws and leading the Republican Party, though we probably shouldn’t dismiss that concern entirely.

The more pressing questions in this era of “fake news” and depicting the media as the “enemy of the people” should be whether people like Barry Usher believe this nonsense and whether they feel they should be more responsible about sharing it.

Does Usher believe that President Obama had a fake birth certificate? That his children are fake? That he had Antonin Scalia killed? It’s easy for people who read books that aren’t mostly pictures to dismiss this kind of nonsense as little more than Facebook ravings of the poorly-educated and credulous, but it’s a small leap from widely shared memes to chants of “lock her up” and another small step from these posts to punitive policies.

Usher is hardly the only Republican leader in Montana who spreads this nonsense, but he’s an important symbol of a party that is spreading misinformation that is both divorced from reality and deeply divisive.

I understand the bind the media finds itself in today. When one party has seemingly given into to a world of alternative facts, it might seem unfair to focus attention on their missteps, but the answer can’t be to ignore the fact that Republicans seem to have moved from courting ill-informed and racist voters to recruiting them.

And that’s a danger that even fake Chief Master Sergeant George Roof could probably see.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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