Fighting imaginary enemies

POSTED: June 8, 2020

Over the weekend the Black Lives Matter demonstrations continued across America, and across the world. Several issues involved raised the spectre of misinformation, and the power of deliberate misinformation.

A willingness to believe almost anything that fits in with a world view built primarily on a willingness to believe almost anything can prove even more dangerous than explicit hatred; in part because it can prove much harder to counteract. The belief that “the Antifa” constitutes an actual organisation carries just such danger.

“The Antifa” has become a reality for many right wing Americans, who have come to see it as an organised body with actual leaders and a planned progamme of actions, all secretly funded by George Soros (because George Soros… jewish… obvs).

Newspaper reports suggest that rumours spread (more accurately: some people deliberately spread rumours) on Facebook, where they allow this kind of thing, and elsewhere, to the effect that “the Antifa” had a plan to bus people into small towns in the heart of America to destroy them.

“I am not one to spread false information,” one of the earliest posts stated. “There are two buses heading this way from Portland, full of ANTIFA members and loaded with bricks. Their intentions are to come to Klamath Falls, destroy it, and murder police officers. There have been rumors of the antifa going into residential areas to ‘fuck up the white hoods.’”

As one of many results of this

In Forks, Washington, locals felled trees with chainsaws to block a road, fearing that a bus filled with antifa was headed to town. According to the Peninsula Daily News, the bus was occupied by a multi-racial family of four heading home from a campsite. It was eventually surrounded “by seven or eight carloads of people in the grocery store parking lot.”

In the end the completely imaginary army from “The Antifa” never arrived, and the ad hoc local militia congratulated themselves for driving them away.

This counts as a perfect circle in which the failure of something imaginary to become manifest itself becomes evidence for the strength of those who claim to have frightened it into abandoning whatever imaginary plans they attribute to it.

Meanwhile fifty years earlier

Somebody once told me a joke along these lines in primary school. A man used to sit at a road junction every day playing the bag-pipes and irritating everyone. One day someone went and challenged him. “I am playing the pipes to keep the wild elephants away, or they will come and trample us to death” he said, “I think of it as my job”. “But there are no wild elephants here”, the person replies. “I know. It’s working very well isn’t it!”

Half a century later, this may no longer count as a joke. It seems that part of the world now actually operates like this.