I shouldn’t have to make this point. But we live in strange times.

As I wrote in my book Defamers, there was this bizarre conspiracy theory about me that I struggled to shake for years: that my words and actions were done at the behest of someone else. The San Luis Obispo County, California-based online tabloid CalCoastNews insisted I was a “government troll” who criticized them because I was either hired or appointed by officials to do so. Specifically, they asserted my posts and columns were essentially commissioned by former District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill and his liberal cabal. They even tried to push that conspiracy theory through various lawsuits only to lose partly because they consistently failed to prove it.

Fast forward to today.

This year, I’ve made a conscious effort to post political community more sporadically on social media. I’ve focused on keeping political commentary in op-ed columns with all the necessary context fully preserved. Since we went into lockdown last year to slow the spread of COVID-19, it seems as though my associates and friends have come particularly unglued over political commentary on social media. Instead of civilly expressing disagreement and explaining why they disagree, I’ve had people confront me on the street, leave angry and threatening voicemails, and falsely report my content to Facebook for “hate speech” over posts that aren’t even columns. Just casual, innocuous observations. They venture beyond social media to express their outrage. Heck, some have even contacted my parents to complain, which is rather pathetic. Their hyperreactive and visceral reactions to my words are a clear byproduct of social media giving incentive for people to react instantaneously. Before social media, people had to take some time to write an email or a letter. In theory, the time they devoted to crafting that correspondence was spent on collecting their thoughts and conveying them in a measured way.

One day, out of pure curiosity, I reviewed a substantial amount of the angry correspondence I’ve received and found a common thread. My hypothesis: the correspondence I got is based on the presumption that my views are actually not my own; that I was commissioned or compelled to express a political opinion from someone else. In most cases, the correspondence I get will come from people who agreed with my views in the past, but disagreed in one instance — and that instance was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. I reached out to those people and they confirmed my hypothesis albeit reluctantly. For that one point of contention, people presumed my opinions were not my own. They told me that was their perception. And where did that perception come from? See the first paragraph.

It’s weird, right? It’s weird to presume that an educated 30-something man becomes a puppet for someone else once there disagreement arises.

Sky is blue. Gravity is real. The earth is actually round. COVID-19 is certainly not a hoax. And yes, my opinions are truly my own.

What do I do with people who are essentially programmed to believe in a conspiracy theory that’s provably false? I could get angry with them, but what good does that do? In their mind, snapping back or shaming them will only solidify their presumption. He’s upset, so I must be onto something. I could simply ignore them and walk away, but if there was anything we learned from the 2020 presidential election is that ignoring lies can only lead to amplifying bigger lies within the vacuum. And by the time people come to their senses and finally fact-check, the truth and message is buried under the rubble of misinformation and disinformation.

What can be done?

The answer lies within the truth and owning it. It’s about turning the truth into a valued trait.

Here are the facts, plain and simple: I write and act independently. Always have. My words are mine and mine alone. For years now, I’ve made that fact abundantly clear. The originators of that conspiracy theory were too weak to address my words directly. They literally could not wrap their minds around the fact that someone as young as I would have such a command on clarity. They could only address me under the false premise that I was a “mouthpiece” for someone else. In the end, not only did they lose all their cases that touted the conspiracy theory, they never addressed my book. Not once. I laid all my cards on the table. They folded like a cheap suit. No matter what they say or write now or in the future, they still lost.

And yes, I’ve made mistakes. Sometimes, I will miss the mark but I will always take personal responsibility and take corrective action. That’s called being a responsible adult. The same people who’ve operated on the false premise that I’m sort of puppet have ironically held me personally to account, not the one allegedly holding my strings. That, in itself, is confirmation that people tacitly know that my words are my own.

Let me be perfectly clear. I won’t shy away from rigorous debate. But I will not entertain a debate if it’s predicated on a belief that I’m somehow not autonomous. I consider that a sign of disrespect and I have no tolerance for disrespect. While I obviously have no control — and shouldn’t — over how disagreement is conveyed, I have complete control over how I respond to it. If you end up getting radio silence from me, chances are you did not meet the bar to have the conversation that you’re looking for. That is me drawing the line in the proverbial sand and sending you out to sea.

Tagged in: