We live in an age where information is at the tip of your finger. You literally can Google just about anything, and become familiar with new subjects. This can be liberating in many ways. Things that were impossible to find out, you can now. However, the internet has a very dark side. It can also be used to spread misinformation at speeds that make facts hard to catch up.
This is not new. Rumors and conspiracies have been around for likely ever. However, what is new is the speed at which this spread, and how persistent they become. It is not just a thing for middle eastern terrorists, which the government has pointed to repeatedly. We know those young Muslim men, and it is mostly men. Have been radicalized through access to specific sites on the internet. Some have joined the Islamic State in Syria as well, and the recruitment happened through the internet and other radicalized youth.
However, they are not alone. It is time we have this conversation as to who is else is getting radicalized. And chiefly, why? And it is time to have this conversation about several groups in the United States, all of which believe in conspiracies and distrust any form of authority.
The two groups that are the most dangerous for society are the far right and anti-vaxxers. Politically, anti-vaxxers tend to be more liberal, and also better educated. Which is baffling in some respects, since they should know better. Yet, they believe a series of lies regarding vaccines that put all of us at risk. It is not a single anti-vaxxer. It is the sum of their parts and the loss of herd immunity that does this.
For the far right, the threat is just as immediate but more obvious. They have a high preponderance of violent attacks, that have resulted in death and injury. While Wikipedia is not, generally speaking, a good source, they host a very incomplete but damming list of attacks.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies has this to say on the subject:
Terrorist attacks by right-wing extremists in the United States have increased. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of such attacks was five or less per year. They then rose to 14 in 2012; continued at a similar level between 2012 and 2016, with a mean of 11 attacks and a median of 13 attacks; and then jumped to 31 in 2017.7 FBI arrests of right-wing extremists also increased in 2018.
The perpetrators of these attacks were mostly white supremacists and “sovereign citizens.” The latter category includes a loose mixture of individuals and groups that use violence, or the threat of violence, to protest government functions such as taxation. The perpetrators mostly have been lone actors and small networks of white supremacists and sovereign citizens, rather than groups.
The second group is responsible for outbreaks of very preventable diseases. The latter is the measles outbreak in the State of Washington.
The outbreak is severe enough that a local health emergency has been declared. And we have less compliance with vaccination to the flu every year. Vaccines, as I have written in the past, are victims to their own success. Why? The memory of children dying from these diseases has faded from memory, which is both a good and a bad thing.
Both groups have been further radicalized by information silos on the internet, which are full of conspiracy theories. For the far right, they include sites like Stormfront and Free Republic. Though there are less well-known ones in both the open web and the dark web. More on anti-vaxxers bellow.
These sites have become echo chambers where theories of how the world actually works are shared. These theories range from the Zionist Occupation Government, meaning the Jews control the government, to ideas on the white race versus minorities. These sites are also strong fans of things like the wall on the southern border, and many of them see President Donald Trump as the last great hope to stop the invasion of the south. Why when the president uses this language, your ears should perk.
The president is using white supremacist language. There is no doubt about this. And he is also encouraging an environment of hate and distrust. The shooter at the Tree of Life Synagogue was not the only one inspired by this.
The last set of firm data from the FBI has hate crimes going up as of 2017. They write:
Victims of Hate Crime Incidents
There were 7,106 single-bias incidents involving 8,493 victims. A percent distribution of victims by bias type shows that 59.6 percent of victims were targeted because of the offenders’ race/ethnicity/ancestry bias; 20.6 percent were targeted because of the offenders’ religious bias; 15.8 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ sexual orientation bias; 1.9 percent were victimized because of the offenders’ disability bias; 1.6 percent were targeted because of the offenders’ gender identity bias; and 0.6 percent were
victimized because of the offenders’ gender bias. (Due to rounding, percentage breakdowns may not add to 100.0 percent.) Sixty-nine (69) multiple-bias hate crime incidents involved 335 victims.
I personally expect 2018 to also see an uptick. Why? We are seeing radicalization. Why? The president and his party continue to stoke this kind of hate. They see it as a political advantage, starting with the Southern Strategy. But now this is also encouraged by placed like Infowars and other Botton feeders of the internet, as well as racial and class resentment.
This group is a little different. Many of them, to the shock and surprise of researchers, are middle class, and well educated. Some are in the health care field, in fact. This whole mess started when David Wakefield published a study in the Lancet. This study linked vaccines to autism. Suffice to say, the study has been retracted, and his license to practice medicine in the United Kingdom was taken away. He is seen as a fraud.
The study was not well designed for starters. Moreover, we know that autism has nothing to do with vaccines, or thimerosal, which was pulled from US Vaccines over a decade ago. This preservative, or lack off, makes vaccines more expensive which is a problem in the developing world.
There are patterns:
Parents whose children have been exempted from vaccinations have, unsurprisingly, less trust in a long list of authorities, from health care professionals to the CDC. There are four notable exceptions: alternative health care professionals, parents/friends, the internet, and Dissatisfied Parents Together, one of the most established anti-vaccination organizations (DPT, get it?).
Social networks (actual ones) seem to be incredibly important in forming opposition to vaccines, either in whole or in part: “in this study, parents who didn’t follow CDC guidelines were more likely to have extensive ‘source networks’ that included books, blogs, websites, and magazine articles to which they turned for vaccine-realted information.”
This, I must emphasize, is not limited to wealthy liberal enclaves. It crosses political boundaries. A recent Tweet from Darla Shine, wife to White House Communications Director Bill Shine, proves this.
She posted this:
Here we go LOL #measlesoutbreak on #CNN
The entire Baby Boom population alive today had the #Measles as kids
Bring back our #ChildhoodDiseases they keep you healthy & fight cancer
Now, this cross over should surprise none. Or the fact that Robert Kennedy Jr has been one of the chief spreaders of this. Some come from being from well to do social circles and used to not being told what to do. It comes from the increasing distrust of any authorities, including public health officers.
In the most extreme form, vaccines are seen as a way to control populations. In other words, they are an evil New World Order plot. But mostly this concerns people enthralled with clean living, who fear anything that is strange in their bodies. They also are frequent consumers of natural remedies, which incidentally, are in many cases the sources for modern drugs. Some are the same exact drugs, just that a tea made from a plant does not have a known concentration.
In general, they have libertarian views of the world, like the far right. They use Facebook, in particular, to find each other and spread these views:
The World Health Organization recently named “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the biggest global health threats of 2019. But on Facebook, in public pages and private groups with tens of thousands of members, false information about vaccines — largely stemming from a debunked 1998 study that tied immunizations to autism — is rampant and tough to pin down. In the bubble of closed groups, users warn about alleged dangers of vaccinations, citing pseudoscience and conspiracy theories.
Facebook has publicly declared that fighting misinformation is one of its top priorities. But when it comes to policing misleading content about vaccinations, the site faces a thorny challenge. The bulk of anti-vaccination content doesn’t violate Facebook’s community guidelines for inciting “real-world harm,” according to a spokesman, and the site’s algorithms often promote unscientific pages or posts about the issue. Parents are left to wade through the mire, and as the viral spread of fake news has shown, many users have trouble distinguishing between reliable sources and unreliable ones.
Both groups are radicalized by finding each other on the internet. In many cases, they do not know each other, but they support each other. They also close down from any alternate views and reject whatever the rest may think of facts.
Antivaxxers and right-wing white supremacists have followed the same path as young Muslim men who joined ISIS. However, we refuse to have this conversation as a society. While we speak, almost with glee, about the spread of fake news from Russia on both Facebook and Twitter. This is a problem.
We have had people killed by White Supremacists. Some examples may suffice. The Tree of Life Synagogue and Dylan Roof at the AME church. There is a multitude of more examples. As to vaccines, only by sheer luck nobody has died yet in the United States, from measles. We have deaths from the flu every year, and most of those did not get a vaccine.
It is time to confront this for what it is. It is not just a cute aspect of the web. It is outright radicalization.