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The political right in NC is promoting both conspiracy theories and secrecy

Credit: iStock

And why Sunshine Week 2024 is a good time to start pushing back

by Rob Schofield, NC Newsline
March 12, 2024

This week is Sunshine Week – the 20th such annual celebration of open government principles and accomplishments since the event was conceived and launched in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors. And if there was ever a time in which all aspects of law- and policymaking in our country were badly in need of more sunshine, this is it.

As anyone who’s peeked at a social media feed knows, the U.S. is utterly awash these days in crazy conspiracy theories. All across the nation – and especially, but not exclusively, on the political right – large numbers of people have fallen prey to the notion that massive, secretive, and diabolical plots are afoot to do…well, you name it.

Many of these kooky ideas came to the surface during the dark and confusing initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic. First, frightened people fell for the false idea that COVID was a scheme concocted by powerful and hidden elites to accomplish any number of nefarious ends. Then came the claims that COVID vaccine injections would render the vaccinated somehow subject to tracking by big tech companies (and/or the government, or some other big and mysterious institution).

But, of course, none of this is particularly unprecedented. In the mid-20th Century, a movement led by a demagogue U.S. senator named Joseph McCarthy and groups like the John Birch Society successfully peddled the false notion to millions that the U.S. government had been infiltrated by an untold number of communist agents bent on stealing our freedoms.

In the following decades, similar outrageous claims arose about the Apollo moon landing, about the JFK assassination, and even about the shape of the Earth.

Among the most infamous in recent years are the truly loony claims of the QAnon cult, which among other things, promotes the idea that the modern world is controlled by, as the New York Times explained the group’s fantasies a few years back, “a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles.”

And then, most dangerously of course, there are the mad claims of former President Donald Trump – a man who once promoted the lie that then-President Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen – that the 2020 was stolen from him.

More recently, Trump, who is documented to have uttered and spread thousands of lies as president and in the years since leaving office, has pushed the blatantly absurd and false claim that President Biden is smuggling immigrants across the southern border as part of a fiendish scheme to steal the 2024 election.

As loony as they may be, however, one of the biggest and most vexing problems with these kinds of false conspiracy theories is that they are, almost by definition, difficult to debunk. President Obama ultimately resorted to publishing a copy of his birth certificate, but for a variety of obvious reasons, it’s more difficult to instantly discredit bizarre and outlandish claims like those embraced by the QAnon crowd.

Now add to this that the truth – especially when it comes to matters of public health and science – often involves gray areas and imperfect or evolving information, and the task for myth debunkers becomes that much more challenging.

And this fact serves to highlight an especially bitter and destructive irony here in North Carolina during Sunshine Week.

For while it’s the political right that has most frequently promoted or stood silently by in the face of outrageous conspiracy theories, while benefiting from the paranoia and distrust of government they’ve bred among many voters, it’s also the right that has made secrecy and lack of sunlight – especially at the North Carolina General Assembly – its stock-in-trade.

Think about it.

Over the past decade-plus of Republican rule in the legislature, secrecy — in the way the budget is written and enacted, in the way debate over legislation is conducted (or more often, not conducted), and even in the way the public and lawmakers themselves are apprised of when the legislature will meet and the bills that will be considered – has become one of the conservative majority’s signature strategies.

Just last year, GOP legislative leaders went so far as to pass a new law that vastly enhances their ability to keep records secret, and even to reap personal profits from them.

And yet, bizarrely, it is this same party that promotes (and disproportionately benefits from) widespread public distrust in government that is – you got it – rooted in a fear of things like secrecy.

It’s really a darkly ingenious strategy – almost as ingenious as systematically enfeebling core public services like public education with repeated and debilitating budget cuts, and then fanning the flames of public dissatisfaction with those same schools for failing to provide every student with the one-on-one attention that parents demand.

And it’s a strategy that all caring and thinking people must do their utmost to expose and resist – both during Sunshine Week and for the remainder of 2024 — if we’re going to sustain our democracy.

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

This story is republished from NC Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.