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Militia a bad idea

JIM KNISLEY, Eye On The County
Published on Jun 19, 2009 The Sachem

When word came out last week that a meeting was to be held to form something called the Caledonia militia, the first thing that leapt to mind was that this was the last thing anyone needed.

Militias, in their contemporary connotation, hold out visions of the people squirreled away in the Montana Mountains who believe in black helicopters, global conspiracies and worse.

The second thing was that it really is time for the adults to step forward. Marches, demonstrations and other forms of street theatre have accomplished nothing.

They divert resources, divert attention and are an impediment to resolving the situation that has gripped Caledonia.

Making things much, much worse is that the demonstrations and protests are based on unfounded rumours designed to stir up people who are ready to be stirred up.

This was really driven home by OPP Inspector Dave McLean's presentation to Haldimand County council Monday.

While he didn't use the word, much of the Inspector's presentation concerned disinformation and its spread.

Unlike misinformation, which is something that is, perhaps, unintentionally incorrect, disinformation is intentional. Disinformation is insidious. It is odious. It is designed to deceive and to lead to actions that few would normally even consider.

All too often disinformation has the sole goal of making a situation worse and making a peaceful, rational solution all but impossible.

Today the potential for disinformation to create havoc is worse than ever because of the speed and anonymity of modern communications technology. A rumour can literally cross the continent and be around the world in seconds. It can also come from an unknown source because of the rampant use of pseudonyms and virtually untraceable internet connections.

Because it is written, it is often given more credence than something that might have been whispered in a bar.

McLean, speaking directly to council and the cable television cameras, said the rumors being cited in the calls to form a militia are false. The rumor is that the man who allowed a smokeshop to be set up on his land was intimidated.

McLean said the OPP has spoken to the man at length and were told that it was a personal decision. When he was informed of some of the possible consequences of that decision the man told the OPP that he understood and wanted to deal with the situation himself. The man retained private counsel and received advice.

Another incident occurred back in May with the flag raising. McLean said the people involved met with the OPP and said they wanted to raise one flag. The OPP agreed.

Then they wanted to raise three flags. Again, the OPP agreed. The number was then raised to nine flags.

The conclusion is obvious – May 24 wasn't about flags. It was about stirring things up for those who are ready to be stirred up.

This latest episode may be just more of that. If so, it is unhelpful to the community. It drives away potential visitors, it damages the economy, it puts people on edge, it wastes public resources.

And words have weight and the word "militia" carries a great deal of weight. If you want to scare people, and scare people away, there are few words that carry a stronger message.

The last thing that is needed up here is something called a militia. It is an American transplant that grows on disinformation and is fertilized by paranoia.

If you want to see the end game of disinformation and the cost of allowing it to go unchallenged you should read last Sunday's column by Frank Rich in the New York Times. It is available on the Times website.

Suffice it to say that Rich concludes that there are those who want to stir things up for their own political, personal and, in a few cases, commercial ends. The results, as Rich writes, are predictably bad.

McLean called the rumors "fabrications and hogwash." They are worse than that.

McLean's words carry weight because he spoke publicly, is in a position of responsibility and is accountable. Those starting, spreading and acting on the rumors should be held to the same standard.