By Seana Sperling
There has been a growing paranoia in this country that has people watching for terrorists, drug dealers, thieves, etc. via Community Policing via Neighborhood Watch groups. These Watch groups are viewed as a necessary and positive thing and many people I have spoken to on this subject agree. However, when I asked people in the Capitol Hill neighborhood how much proof they would need to believe that a certain neighbor was a drug dealer, prostitute, thief, pedophile, nazi, etc. most paused. A few were very honest and said they would probably react rather than seeking proof.
I have been guilty of reacting. In the late 1980’s I was in Idaho working at a record store. One day a coworker of mine whispered to me that a person who had entered the store was a nazi. Without any proof, I instantly hated this person and gave him my best glare. I didn’t question it. Frankly, I didn’t know this coworker very well, but I believed her on this hot button issue because I was in Idaho. Reactions like this lead to Community Mobbing (a ganging up by a group against an individual).
In another case, two of my friends were driving around Lynnwood, WA looking for housing in May 2007. According to my friends they saw a white van with the word Rapist spray-painted across the entire side. My friends were shocked and we all commented later that whether it were true or not, the damage had been done. In this age of propaganda an accusation works as well as a verdict and I can only suppose that there was some reaction from the neighborhood.
The week of June 15, 2007, The Stranger Newspaper ran a short piece in the I, Anonymous column, titled, “He’s No Pedophile and You Know It.” It was about a Teacher who had been falsely accused by a jilted girlfriend. Teachers are especially vulnerable to this type of accusation because of the influence they have over the young. As stated in the piece, this Teacher’s career is over even if he is cleared of all charges. Was the jilted girlfriend ever given a lie detector test? For that matter, what about the mainstream TV Media that showed up on the doorstep for an impromptu interview with the accused? (The TV media has been used constantly in these witch-hunts and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of evidence or fact checking. Since most people believe whatever they see on the nightly news, I’m sure his community is at least regarding him with suspicion.)
Sadly, this is happening globally. With such advances in technology comes convenience, but also new problems can arise, such as anonymous slander on the Internet (cyber mobbing). A satellite of The New York Times, The Herald Times, ran an article about Community Mobbing in China. A man suspected that his wife was having an affair with a University student they had met at a gaming party just because she had exchanged some emails with the student. Even though the husband had no real evidence and the wife denied it, he wrote a lengthy blog on a widely read message board accusing the student of adultery. In response, hundreds of people were recruited and began to stalk and harass the poor student who ended up dropping out of school and hiding at home with his family. From: Mob Rule on China’s Internet: The Keyboard as Weapon. Howard French, The Herald Times, 06/01/2006.
If rumor and innuendo via message boards can provoke such community harassment, then what do we do when we have “proof,” i.e. a photograph, video, a voice-over tape-recording? In this age of PhotoShop, digital imagery, cell phone cameras, etc. much can be distorted. While a picture is worth a thousand words, a photo-shopped image might be worth one life ruining statement and no one questions the accuser. There is no accountability or lie detector test required especially if it is posted anonymously.
It’s quite possible that one vengeance stalker could recruit an entire community with a digitally enhanced image or video of their victim. The Community would then view the targeted victim as an undesirable, someone that needed to be driven out, punished or at the very least watched. Police condone surveillance of suspected wrongdoers by Neighborhood Watch groups and there is no legislation yet for this kind of vigilantism.
Community Policing can turn into Community Mobbing very swiftly. Innocent people can be slandered, then bullied and harassed with little or no proof of their guilt. According to the article: Mob Rule on China’s Internet, there were responses on that message board demanding that everyone, including every store worker or business person harass the student.
I’ve experienced ongoing harassment in a variety of forms over the past few years. In December of 2007, I found multiple postings accusing me of everything from prostitution to racism on a site called rottenneighbor.com under my full name. I immediately contacted the webmaster through the site and alerted him to the slander. The posts were gone the following day, but the webmaster didn’t acknowledge my request for information on the postings. The most recent smear was a series of libelous blogs on the May 27, 2008 The Stranger Newspaper’s SLOG message board under the title, Modern Warfare. I only discovered this particular smear because Chris Daniels, one of the reporters at King 5 called me to ask about it. I wrote to Dan Savage, asking why The Stranger would want to make any kind of “warfare,” against me. Tim Keck responded on Savage’s behalf, writing that he didn’t t think the postings were that bad and the worst of the blogs had been redacted. (The blogs saying I should be “Put down, “ or accusing me of being a crack whore. I printed the originals out however.) These are only a couple of episodes in a long and consistent history of smears.
There is nothing new about Mobbing and the KKK, the Nazi’s and other groups used this to eliminate people they felt were a threat. During McCarthyism, similar tactics were used to destroy people that had been accused of being Communists. Slander campaigns, harassment at work, blacklists, and surveillance were employed. Throughout history activists, educators and writers have suffered the same abuses and there is still no accountability for a whisper or surveillance campaign.
In 2002, Ashcroft unveiled Bush’s plan for community action groups, originally charged with watching for terrorist activity, community action groups are watching for any real or imagined infraction and will mete out punishment vigilante style to anyone that comes under suspicion. In this era of citizen informants (Do an internet search for Amerisnitch.) anyone could spread slander to these citizen groups who then would feel entitled to gang up on the individual. Two or more enemies could then corroborate the lies. The targeted victim is then thrust into situation after situation where they have to defend themselves, thus creating more and more enemies. In my case some of the anonymous bloggers claimed to know me therefore confirming the smear.
The most serious issue to me is that a seemingly liberal community like Seattle would organize around this type of fascist behavior. Consider a quote by William S. Burrows, “A Police State needs no Police.”