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Shawn Vestal: In the silo of the true believers, where a fact is whatever you say it is

State Rep. Matt Shea makes announcements of returns from the stage at CenterPlace in Spokane Valley Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 at the party for supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
State Rep. Matt Shea makes announcements of returns from the stage at CenterPlace in Spokane Valley Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 at the party for supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

If you’re fearful about what might arise from an unstable, trigger-happy North Korea – to say nothing of how the current administration might handle it – you’re not alone.

You may have overlooked a vital informational resource right here in our neck of the woods, though.

Someone with deep intel sources. A pipeline straight into the know.

You might have heard of him. He goes by Matt Shea.

Shea, the uber-right wingman for the Spokane Valley and doomsday preppers everywhere, recently learned that North Korea was preparing to launch a missile. He learned this from primary sources, he insisted – it was an “indisputable fact.”

Recognizing that this knowledge came with great power, he rushed to get the word out.

He posted it on Facebook. With a link to a Fox News article.

“NK LAUNCH IMMINENT: Everyone, please pay attention to this. I have multiple sources confirming that a NK Launch is imminent,” Shea wrote on Aug. 14. “It is likely tomorrow to celebrate their ‘Liberation Day.’ The below article confirms what I have been hearing as well that the NK leadership is now underground. … Please pray for peace but be prepared for war.”

The Fox News article, which apparently emerged at the very moment Shea’s sources were filling him in, was much less conclusive, noting only that there was “speculation” about the possibility.

Several hours without a missile launch later, Shea posted again:

“He blinked.”

This alleged blinking by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un did not draw any more elaboration from Shea or his indisputable primary sources. Shea defended the quality of his information when a couple of commenters suggested he had not known what he was talking about.

That he had been, you know, wrong.

“The sources were solid and accurate,” Shea wrote. “A launch was imminent. I cannot discuss in more detail exactly what that means but literally waiting on the order to fire. There was no question about that. Kim blinked at the last minute just prior to launch. That is the fact here.”

The fact. Shea loves that word, if not what it means. He expanded: “That is a fact backed with indisputable primary sources. … I had a duty to warn and I did.”

I sent him a message seeking to ask him more about this, but he didn’t respond, as usual. He never talks to the fake news. A few days after the threat of war had passed, he had moved on to other important matters: the strategic uses of pig’s blood in combating Muslims in history.

“TRUMP WAS CORRECT ON GEN. ‘BLACK JACK’ PERSHING: So more fake news from the media on Trump’s tweet on Gen. Pershing,” he posted. “I ran into this a few years back. Progressives really seem to hate reading books because most of these things are easy to find.”

Perhaps you recall that Trump tweeted people should study what Gen. John Pershing did, and that after he did it, “There was no more Radical Islamic Terrorism for 35 years!” This is a reference to previous statements Trump made – referring to a tale popular in the far-right alternative reality – that Pershing dipped bullets in pig’s blood when executing rebels from a Muslim province in the Philippines following the Spanish-American war.

This story is red meat for Islamophobes, and it exists in several variations. Politifact checked it with eight historians and ruled it “Pants on Fire.” James R. Arnold, the author of “Moro War: How America Battled a Muslim Insurgency in the Philippine Jungle, 1902-1913,” told the New York Times, “This is a repeated myth that has no basis in truth.”

And yet, to a lot of people, a repeated myth that has no basis in truth is what you call a fact.

Shea’s post continued: “Dr. Jack Wheeler posted the relevant quote to prove the media, including Fox News, wrong: from Pershing’s Memoir My Life Before the World War: ‘The bodies were publicly buried in the same grave with a dead pig. It was not pleasant to have to take such measures, but the prospect of going to hell instead of heaven sometimes deterred the would-be assassins.’ ”

As you might imagine, this prompted a heck of an interesting discussion. Someone posted a meme with the bullets-in-blood story – which, you might note, is not at all the same as the passage from the book that Shea cited, which involved throwing a dead pig in a grave. Potato, potahto, I guess – any story that’s got pigs and dead Muslims in it is good enough to be “A FACT!”

Shea and his portion of the political spectrum are fond of claiming to be the victims of various wars – the war on Christians, the war on rural America – and in the course of doing so, they are waging a vigorous war on facts. Shea himself uses the word “fact” a lot, but he’s almost always referring to an assertion – about the Muslim Brotherhood, the feds’ assault on the Bundy clan, the Communist connection to removing Confederate statues …

Why does this matter? In the world of Liberty, after all – the imagined 51st state proposed by Shea and others – counterfactual beliefs have long been lingua franca. But they are at a moment of greatly increased cultural and political potency, a perfect marriage between those who speak falsehoods to those who hear them as truth. The president blithely and constantly says things that are objectively not true, and to the minority of Americans who support him, these false things are facts.

Not long ago, an Idaho state representative, Bryan Zollinger of Idaho Falls, said it was “completely plausible” that Obama staged the events in Charlottesville. I mean, of course he did. In conjunction with the Muslim Brotherhood, probably. Zollinger later stuck to his guns, noting that Obama had been, after all, a “community organizer.”

In this context, what could “plausible” even mean?

Which brings me back to Shea and his sources and the launch from North Korea that never materialized. Did the no-show put any kind of dent in the faith of his followers? Didn’t seem to.

One wrote, “I would prefer to say Rep. Shea ‘Informed (us), and we all won because it didn’t happen!’ ”

Completely, totally, utterly plausible.


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