The weaponization of disinformation

Things get dark on the Anchorage Assembly as the Nazi-license-plate saga continues. Oh, and the House is still not organized.

Good morning, Alaska! It’s Day 9 of the Alaska Legislative session, the Nazi-license-plate saga continues and the House is still not organized. The Legislature’s only scheduled meeting for Tuesday—a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing on Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower’s voter suppression bill—was canceled, leaving plenty of room for license plates. 

Sigh.

Midway through the day, an eagle-eyed reader noticed a that the Alaska Commission on Human Rights had a Jamie Allard-shaped vacancy. Turns out the far-right Anchorage assemblywoman who had defended the 3REICH and FUHRER license plates as inoffensive foreign language that the progressives are trying to trick you into thinking are bad words had been removed from the commission by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy. His spokesman said her comments “regarding the license plate controversy have become a distraction for the Human Rights Commission and its mission to ensure equality and fair treatment of all Alaskans.” Calling it a “distraction” is putting it lightly, but still better than nothing. 

So, it’s with that that I settled down, held my nose and listened into the public testimony for Tuesday night’s hearing and, hoo boy, that was a tough one.

I covered the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly for many years and have seen a wide range of public testimony from a wide range of folks, including from guys who were obviously packing underneath their neon Alaska Grown hoodies. Sometimes things were heated, but I never truly felt unsafe at the meeting. Never felt like someone might become so heated that things would come to blows, never worried about someone following an elected official to the car and never had to hear an assembly member ask their followers to settle down.

But that’s what was on display Tuesday night as Allard’s defenders—folks who’ve spent much of the pandemic shouting over meetings about why covid is a hoax and even if it isn’t we should be OK with some folks dying as long as it means they can continue to eat out (and a group that helped rile up the whole Maria Athens scandal)—came to her defense.

When a caller brought up Allard’s defense of the pro-Nazi license plates and called for some kind of discipline, the crowd erupted in angry shouting: “LIES! LIES! HE'S DONE. WE DON'T CARE. WHY ARE YOU ALLOWING THIS MAN TO MAKE PERSONAL ATTACKS? YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW THE SAME RULES! WE WANT TO TALK ABOUT THE CHILDREN!” They’d later yell “CIA OPERATIVE!” at the caller and “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE” at the assembly as they closed public comment for the night.

The assembly had to pause to get everything back in order. At some point someone was removed from the chamber. During the pause, Allard tried to calm her fans in what I thought was a pretty telling line: 

“Listen, I know you guys are all in here, and we all need to get through our testimony but what I really need you guys to do is please respect everybody up here,” she said. “When someone’s testifying, let them finish what they have to say. If I’m up here, strong enough to listen to what they’re saying about me, you need to have my back and you need to listen, too. Let us get through our agenda tonight, OK?”

Allard wasn’t speaking to the audience at large but specifically her followers, and that’s for good reason. As the Anchorage Press has reported on the nexus between Allard and the repugnant Save Anchorage Facebook group, “Jamie Allard has made a habit out of whipping Save Anchorage into a weekly frenzy before Assembly meetings while feigning ignorance of the violent rhetoric that boils over. On January 12, less than a week after the Capitol insurrection that Allard alone refused to condemn in a 9-1 Assembly vote, APD posted extra officers in and around the Assembly chambers after Chief Justin Doll issued a statement saying APD was working with state and federal authorities to monitor hate speech. Suzanne Downing claimed it was all an over-reaction. A week later, a man would be arrested for threatening to shoot up the Assembly building and members within, detailing his plan with an almost pornographic lust.”

The frantic, angry yelling almost makes sense if you understand the diet of information that they’ve been fed by Allard and other right-wing “thought leaders” in Alaska. If you truly thought that the Anchorage Assembly was singularly interested in shutting down businesses under the guise of a pandemic that you’ve heard the now-former president say was no big deal and that maybe there’s also a bunch of satanic pedophiles drinking kids’ blood, then, hey, I’d probably be mad, too.

“Lies told for profit and power,” was one of the most resonating lines from President Joe Biden’s inauguration and goes a long way to explaining where the responsibility for the devolution of the far-right. I don’t know how we can move away from this when those lies fomenting doubt and hate have proved to be such a consistent and convenient course to building a political following and attracting a readership, but calling it out is a start.

I think that as the media, there’s a tendency to want to be fair to everyone, particularly when it comes to local government. After all, reporters have a vested interest in seeing their community thrive and it leads to us giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the lies over the election and the slow burn of these Anchorage Assembly meetings ought to be a wake-up call that these lies cannot be tolerated with the same politeness that we’ve been meeting them with.

Free speech does not mean speech free of consequences.

Anchorage Assemblywoman Meg Zalatel weighed in on the issue during the hearing, saying that the assembly’s recourse for punishing the conduct of a member is limited. With removal as an extreme option, she’s exploring whether the assembly may censure Allard or pass a resolution reprimanding her. Either way, Zalatel said the assembly “should not let conduct like that pass without consequence or comment."

#ANCass

Oh, right, we got a new Twitter hashtag rolling…. until a better and more reasonable on came along in #ANCgov… sigh.

What a week, huh?

What’s on today’s agenda

Wednesday, Jan. 27

  • 9 — Senate Finance hears the production forecast. After a rocky year and a disappointing ANWR lease sale, we’ll get the state’s latest look at what oil production is doing. 
    Senate Education will also be holding an organizational meeting

  • 10 — House floor session. Another opportunity for Lt. Gov. Meyer to work on his tight five set.

  • 11 — Senate floor session.

  • 12:30 — Senate Democrats press availability

  • 1:30 — Senate Judiciary meets on COVID-19 public health orders and their impacts. While such a hearing is certainly merited at the start of session, this one is going to be run by Sen. Lora Reinbold. 

  • 3:30 — Senate Resources hears a Department of Natural Resources overview.

Other stuff to check out

  • Anchorage Rabbi Abram Goodstein wrote an excellent piece responding to Assemblywoman Allard’s and why there should be  “We may have the right to say certain things, but that does not mean we should say them, endorse them or allow them to be said without pointing out how harmful they can be. Much too often, hateful speech, when left to fester, leads to hateful action.” From Anchorage Daily News opinion: Why hateful speech matters: An open letter to Jamie Allard

  • Anchorage Assemblyman and mayoral candidate Forrest Dunbar, who is Jewish and is a member Rabbi Goodstein’s synagogue, also weighed in, saying “The words in question are undeniably associated with unfounded prejudice and hostility. Our community cannot recover, and we cannot get Anchorage back to where we want to be if we allow hate to take hold here." He also disclosed several anti-Semitic attacks his campaign has received. From the blog: ‘Hate has no place in Anchorage,’ says mayoral candidate Dunbar amid anti-Semitic attacks

  • The most interesting Legislature-related thing from the day was Talk of Alaska’s forum with reporters Andrew Kitchenman and Nat Herz of Alaska Public Media and James Brooks of the Anchorage Daily News. There was a lot of talk about the state of the session, with Herz saying of the when the House might organize “It definitely seems like it's not going to be day, it's not going to be tomorrow and it's probably not going to be this week.” From Alaska Public Media: LISTEN: State government reporters discuss legislative priorities