How the Internet is Fueling Extremism in America

The Internet has made it possible for nearly anyone to have a voice, which is something I wouldn’t want to take away. Like any advancement though, be it technological or otherwise, this comes at a price. The fact that the Internet affords everyone a soapbox, democratizes thought on the one hand while on the other makes it easier than ever to distort information and manipulate people.

The outcome is indeed ironic. I was rather young at the time but as the Internet was first developing, the most hopeful attributed it to the tide that would life all waters of knowledge. Seeing it as an adult (a questionable assertion), we seem to have grown stupider.

A perfect case in point is James Randi, a featured in this blog’s Hero’s section. Mr. Randi has dedicated his life to exposing psychic frauds and “paranormal” mind readers. It wouldn’t be a leap to assume that his exposure of these frauds would be enough to eliminate them like an effective vaccine, yet during a recent trip to my home town, I was surprised to see at least 3 psychic storefronts in a relatively short period of time.

How Attitudes Are Changing – Our Treatment of Law Enforcement

Because social media and click bait news are financially rewarded when they trigger emotions, we’ve been delivered a very biased perspective related to police officers. As an example, a positive story about a police officer saving someone will resound in the local community, taking up several days of headlines. It won’t go viral though.

Granted, the officer in my hypothetical example was just doing his job, yet I think it’s fair to say many police officers choose the work out of some sense of honor or duty. A nice pension helps but less risky government jobs also offer similar benefits. With the idea of honor at the forefront, one of the greatest rewards for a police officer would be to featured in the media as a hero. I’d hazard a guess that many police officers would take that recognition over money. I think any soldier would agree.

In 2018 though, what will go viral is not the local hero story, rather an incident involving a police officer who oversteps the line; and this is not something I am arguing against, it should be exposed. Furthermore, bodycams are an excellent idea, especially given my position in the previous paragraph. The problem is that we are being exposed less and less to the mediocre in exchange for sensationalism. It’s starting to become a situation where the Weekly World News you see at the checkout counter was, in fact, the mainstream news.

Because youth in particular consume more and more of their media in the form of social feeds and the Internet as a whole, a re-indoctrination is happening. Cops are being viewed alot less like Chief Wiggum and increasingly as some type of sinister enemy.

This example leads to one of the more tagic byproducts of the Internet. With so much information, it is a natural human tendency to make leaping assumptions. When a tsunami takes the lives of 10,000 people, we see the headline and declare it a tragedy. Rarely does someone sit down to think how many people that really is. As a simple thought experiment, try counting to 10,000, imagining a new face every time. Only then can you truly fathom the tragedy. But when you can just scroll to the next headline, who has time for that?

Going along the same line of reasoning, when sources of media deliver constant negative news surrounding police officers, it is very easy to then make the leaping assumption that all cops are bad. We cannot mentally fathom how many officers are out there no better than the tsunami victims, so it becomes easier to process the information by assigning it some type of association: a cop is bad, a priest likes children, a politician is corrupt, etc. Couple that with a negative personal experience (perhaps getting pulled over when speeding) and it further crystalizes the opinion.

Who and What are Soverign Citizens?

A result of this media mis/disinformation is the so called sovereign citizen movement, something I feel compelled to share my opinion about. Sovereign citizens represent one of the dangerous byproducts of the Internet, in something I refer to as psuedo-intelligence: through questionable sources of information found on the Internet, so-called sovereign citizens feel empowered enough to consider themselves overnight legal experts. Their confidence comes from the profound belief that they’ve found some loophole in the system that nobody has discovered, affording them real-life “get out of jail for free” cards. Just in case you are questioning whether sovereign citizens are real, you’ll find plenty of ridiculous videos in the links to follow.

The source of the information used by these “sovereign citizens” is unclear although patterns can be found. In many cases they will declare that they are part of a corporation or travelling in a vessel, in the belief that this mere word play is enough to get them off the hook. Sovereign citizens often assert that their name is only how the state recognizes them, but in reality they are called something else. In some misconceived form of stalemate, they somehow feel they can stall the police officer’s work by refusing to answer questions or turning the table on the officer. This latter technique is also used most commonly in the subsequent court hearings they attend. It’s evident sovereign citizens can afford to clog about our courts because they have no other pressing responsibilities 🙂

In one of the most egregious cases, an incredibly patient officer gave a woman more chances than she deserved to exit a vehicle that was going to be towed due to the driver’s suspended license. She left the officer no choice but to force her out of the car and when he had to cuff her she screamed rape among other obscenities to the officer.

I’ll take a side note here. Most of these videos are entertaining, but this video in particular shows something happening in our society that we must begin paying attention to. I’ve seen increasing examples of adults playing the victimization card when they don’t get their way, which is no different than a baby having a temper tantrum. This woman (she deserves to be called something else but I won’t go to her level), should publicly apologize to all victims of rape for the accusations made during her arrest.  She is an example of this boy-who-cried-wolfism that is plaguing our society. Her cries of rape are a complete and utter disservice to rape and assault victims both past and present.  

Despite repeated failures, we know about these interactions because sovereign citizens film the entire situation, apparently as part of the evidence they’ll use in court. The fact these encounters are filmed in spite of the ineffectiveness of the techniques is the most clear demonstration of the intelligence level of these sovereign citizens.

Having watched many of these encounters, in most cases the citizens are being stopped for relatively innocuous offenses: driving without a license plate, expired registration, no driver license, or narcotics possessions. In what would normally be a slap on the wrist or small fine by a lenient officer slowly propels into something larger as the sovereign citizen jibbers legal non-sense, refuses to provide basic information or responds to the officer with their own questioning.

It’s evident that in most cases these “experts” never practiced their material beforehand, making them appear even more ridiculous during its application. The interactions I’ve seen never end positively because the non-compliance of basic requests force the hand of the officers. They must resort to smashing the car window of the suspect or detention by pulling them out of their car. No doubt there are a certain percent of police officers who live for such encounters yet it’s not a leap to assume most would prefer the path of least resistance. There is no better proof than the many videos which highlight the reluctance of the officers to escalate until they have no further choice. Consider the downsides: greater risk of physical harm, even mortality, far more paperwork, backup, and additional resources.

Those who preach about violent police officers need only watch a few of these videos for ample evidence against their claim. Granted, many of the officers know they are being filmed, but many don’t. Furthermore, the introduction of bodycams means that in many cases the encounter is being filmed anyway.

In the videos I’ve seen, the majority of the officers had every right to blow their lid with these imbeciles yet remained cool and collected. Does this represent all officers? No, of course not. But bear in mind, the sovereign citizens themselves are sharing these videos as proof that they were being victimized. Yet time and time again we see police officers following the rules. In short, their own ammo is backfiring in their face.

What Can We Do About The Sovereign Citizen Movement?

Sovereign citizens are most likely small in number but to think they are all harmless is a wrong and dangerous assumption, one extreme case in particular led to multiple fatalities. The ignorance of sovereign citizens squander valuable resources as backup must often be called in to properly handle their stubbornness – that’s your tax money at work. The draining of resources to handle these fools also thins police coverage for real crimes that may be happening. Finally, sovereign citizens abuse their rights to a fair trial by burdening the court system. In some cases they will physically “spam” the court with hundreds of papers in an attempt to delay the process. Other video examples show their stalling methods in the court itself, and in most cases for very simple infractions that could have been dealt with by paying a small fine.  

Earlier in the article I mentioned that psychic shops still exists despite the wealth of contrary information found on the Internet. The same goes for sovereign citizens. It’s unfortunate but something we must accept. So what can we do?

I used to lodge my complaints and frustrations to a former boss. The lesson I learned that has stuck with me throughout life is that I need to bring solutions if I’m going to flap my mouth. In this case, the sovereign citizen movement points out three problems with education.

First, schools needs to teach children proper Internet behavior. When I was a child we were shown how libraries work, how to look up books, where to find information, etc. They didn’t bring us to the magazine section of the 711 or supermarket to find knowledge. The only difference now is that Internet puts both side by side. It’s a tougher task but if there is anything children can learn in school, it would be how to spot the truth on the Internet. 

Secondly, and what appears more pressing is that high school students must learn how the law works, especially as it relates to their rights as citizens. A good age would be 15 or 16, which is around the time they start driving. This could be an excellent complement to a class related to government and history, since you can witness the culmination of these struggles in modern law. 

Finally, I feel grassroots are always the way to resolve larger issues. Before teenagers reach the age of legality, it would help for them to meet a member of local law enforcement. As is often the case, much disinformation and hate can be dispelled after a physical meeting. All children should know who the local law enforcement is, what they do, and how to behave during an arrest procedure.

If there is any enemy in what we are up against, it is not in people themselves rather the ignorance that seduces them. I’m marveled that the Internet allows me to reach such a wide audience yet saddened that it has to be about this kind of development.