Phony facts, a fantasy Constitution and conspiracy mongering

As the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan purportedly said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.”

Moynihan experienced people from across the political spectrum who made claims that had no basis in reality. In other words, they believed things that just aren’t so.

How do they deal with reality? Some avoid information that might challenge one’s views or, even more, limit information gathering.

For example, Republican U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona and David McKinley of West Virginia, proposed and got the House of Representatives to pass provisions blocking spending on the Energy Department’s climate model program and “just about every major climate change study.” As far as they’re concerned, we don’t need any more scientific data.

Another believe-in-your-own facts approach involves spinning wild conspiracy theories.

Take the climate change deniers who do more than deny scientific consensus and claim that scientists and policy advocates are corrupt and self-serving.

Eleven months before being elected, LePage, appearing on the radio, agreed with the Aroostook Watchmen when they said that people who believed in the reality of climate change “are for global government, they could give a rip about the environment — well, they might care a little bit about the environment, but the big prize is control over people.” Said LePage, “Al Gore must be just laughing himself into a frenzy here. ‘Cause he’s making millions off it.”

Conspiracy and scary rhetoric were combined when LePage compared implementing the Affordable Care Act to the actions of the Gestapo. The law, which Gallup reports is associated with the highest percentage of Americans with insurance since they started measuring it in 2008, was to be feared. Moreover, according to a study from the Commonwealth Fund, 78 percent with new policies are very or somewhat satisfied, including 74 percent of Republicans.

A particularly complicated, almost baroque example of creating one’s own facts can be seen in the views of the extremists who met with LePage eight times. They call themselves “constitutionalists” but believe in a Constitution that doesn’t exist.

In their fantasy world, there’s a 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that got lost. People somehow just forgot it was in the Constitution, misplacing an amendment like you might misplace your keys.

This lost 13th Amendment (which doesn’t exist) makes it unconstitutional for lawyers to hold any government positions because lawyers are all foreign citizens. And somehow, when the real 13th Amendment, which ended slavery, was ratified, it took the place of the supposedly original Amendment No. 13.

Members of this group think that elected officials can get pushed out of office by a group of citizens signing a petition and filing what they call a remonstrance. Sheriffs have a special role to play in this phony constitutional process, which is why they asked LePage to get the sheriff of Kennebec County involved with them. Ready to facilitate this, the governor set an appointment with this sheriff and, when he was late, called him to make sure he made the meeting with the governor and members of this group.

Politicians who don’t follow these made-up rules are called “traitors” on the group’s radio show and in documents.

In talking points for a meeting with the governor, the group invoked violence, pointing to 1776 (the start of the American Revolution) and 1865 (the year President Lincoln was assassinated) as dates signifying the options that may need to be pursued.

And they wrote, “What possible alternative do the People now have, other than to take up arms (before they are confiscated), as did the Founders against the world’s most powerful nation at the time???”

Besides believing in a nonexistent Constitution to which so many are traitors, the group thinks FEMA is creating concentration camps and the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Sandy Hook shooting were false flag operations carried out by the U.S. government. The Rothschilds, the Rockefellers and the Queen of England are apparently conspirators running the world.

The governor has every right to meet with these individuals, who have their own rights to free speech, and there’s no evidence of any actual sinister plot. And LePage and others have every right to believe that health care equals the Gestapo and that there is no climate change.

But if we are to make sensible policy that solves our problems, we must rely on reality.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.