Jason White is facing censure by fellow Yakima City Council members for making what many regard as dangerous statements on his public Facebook wall and in media interviews. He calls for rebellion against directives to halt the COVID-19 pandemic. This follows an earlier controversy over his statements about transgender people.
White, of course, is entitled to express personal beliefs, no matter how offensive or ill-informed. But our First Amendment has limits. For example, you are not allowed to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. White doesn’t seem to understand this, nor does he seem to understand science or even the responsibilities of elected office.
White is a rock thrower. But why? This brings us to the most disturbing aspect of White and his followers. Based on his Facebook posts, White appears to have embraced a number of fringe theories, including that the COVID-19 virus is part of a global conspiracy. He fails to provide much detail or coherent reasoning, but he trots out Bill Gates, Big Pharma, Anthony Fauci, Jacob Rothschild and others as nefarious players. How the players work together and to what end is baffling. He calls on people to “bullet proof themselves” by taking Chaga mushrooms; as evidence, he links to an article that directly contradicts him: “There is no evidence to support that Chaga mushrooms is effective in humans.”
Once we tumble down White’s rabbit hole, the media is crooked, facts are suppressed, experts are untrustworthy, vitamin C will defeat the COVID-19 “bioweapon,” and government itself is illegitimate. Only those who embrace dark theories are to be believed. “Trust the plan,” replied a White follower on Facebook, using a phrase of the far-right conspiracy group QAnon. A revolution is coming, White says. The rest of us are sheep.
Ironically, White rails against “the elites” while he himself expresses contempt for those who don’t see things his way. Inside the rabbit hole, he doesn’t recognize flaws in his logic, contrary evidence or his failures at persuasion.
White’s latest gambit is to boycott council meetings. Perhaps he should make his boycott permanent and just quit. That would make room for someone who actually believes in public service and wants to help end the pandemic.
As for the rest of us, let’s acknowledge that we are going through one of the most difficult times in our nation’s history. People are out of work and struggling to pay bills. People are scared. But we remain grounded in values that made our country great. Reason, not ignorance, provides the durable wisdom in our democracy. We can take some relief at White’s failure to persuade, but never forget that the ugliest fringe ideas and the worst sort of politicians seek traction when we give in to fear. Yakima is better than that.