Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Death of the Patriot's Voice' Anything-but-Open Forum, and the Moral to be Drawn

On November 10th, Robert Runyon, self-declared CEO of the far-right wing Christian Identity wannabe group, the Patriot's Voice (PV), decided to call it quits on the PV-Forum. Although touted as an "open" forum for discussion of timely political topics, the actual forum was anything but. From its inception, it was clearly intended to be used as a rhetorical weapon to counter, and hopefully silence, any possible opposition to the patently anti-Semitic, gay-bashing, monumentally sexist and racist ideology they not only promoted, but insisted was what God intended for human life. Although I know of virtually no Christians who subscribe to the profoundly violent hell-fire and brimstone Christianity the PV espoused, they seemed to be certain that they had the inside track to God's mind--and perhaps they did. Trouble is, their God was nothing more than a projected invention that they aspired to impose on the struggling communities of rural Pennsylvania--prime recruiting ground for hate groups.

What Patriot's Voice members did not comprehend was that the opposition came equipped with an arsenal that they simply were not prepared to deal with, and, turns out, could not compete with, namely reason, respect for evidence, tenacity, and an investment in what education can accomplish. Indeed, I have never encountered people who--although they sought to gain community power by running for school board seats--trashed education, educators, literature, and science with such ferocity.

At first, and for several years, local folks looking for scapegoats for the depressed economies of their towns, suspicious of intellectuals, and always ready for another round of religious confirmation, bought into the PV stump speech of "property tax reform." People just didn't see that all it took was a casual trip to their website--with its celebration of Joseph McCarthy, and its page for vigillantes ready to lynch people accused of child molestation without benefit of a trial conviction--and the property tax front evaporated into the fear-mongering rhetoric of a bonafide hate group.

But then--as folks like myself and others began to challenge the PV on their facts, their assumptions, and their always ad hominem strategies--their assaults on their critics began to become more vicious, more shrill, more slanderous, and more personal. Indeed, one day an anonymous poster calling him/herself "BU (Bloomsburg University) Conservative" posted an attack on me that crossed the line from slanderous to libelous. PV-Members, predictably, alighted on this like vultures on fresh carrion--thinking that because they could access one document from my long-ago divorce on-line that they somehow magically understood the entire case. Needless to say, they didn't, but this didn't stop them from repeating the libelous claims over and over--adding their own embelished flourishes, employing loaded words like "charges," calling me all the names that have called me for years with renewed vigor. Some posters even began to level thinly veiled threats, claiming that the PV had been civil to me for long enough (ha!), but that now the "party's over " and "gloves are off."

Trouble was that at this same time they were running their most attack-dog members as school board candidates for the November 6th elections. So people were checking out their website, and my hunch is that they saw how truly malignant their "open forum" was-- a cyberspace assault rifle used against anyone who dared oppose them. They lost the elections.

Even this set-back, however, did not slow down their relentless--not to mention false--attack on my personal life. Finally I had had enough, and I sent literally hundreds of their assault posts--including the libelous ones--to their server, Bravenet. After all, their webmaster, Robert Runyon, had posted a clear set of rules in the forum's cyber-foyer which unambiguously forbade personal assault. He didn't mean a word of it, of course, and the forum ran from beginning to end on a track built of battery. Within days of my report Runyon called the forum quits. Was it just uncanny coincedence? Unlikely. Dollars to donuts, he was instructed to either enforce the rules or shut down the infamous killing grounds, and because Runyon was not likely to be able to coral his minions and cohorts into anything even resembling civil behavior, he didn't have much choice.

So, chalk one up for the first amendment. Not even the most vile of personal assault was effective in silencing me--and this is not because I'm uber-brave, or even uber-sure of myself; it's because the arguments and evidence I consistently offered to counter their bigotry were the arguments that anyone willing to use their heads instead of appealing to their fears can come up with.

Wendy Lynne Lee

Some relevant contributions to the Press Enterprise's (the regional newspaper) "30 Seconds":

11.12. Is it coincidence that within days of reporting the PV-Forum to Bravenet for possible libel, Runyon posts: “in a few short days this forum comes up for renewal and I am declining the continuance just so you pinheads will have to use other means for reason to unjustly attacking people who were and are about saving public education”? Unlikely. Or take Lysk’s “The forum was fun and we decided to end it, but we're not going away, because it's so much fun to play with bleeding heart socialist and watch them have a melt down”? More likely, they were told to follow their own rules and saw that the jig—using the Internet as a weapon to silence critics—was up. Lesson: Libel and false accusation are not “discussion.”

11.13. What do you bet that once the PV-server, Bravenet, was informed that the forum functions almost solely as a vehicle for character assassination, they told PV-Runyon to either enforce the rules, or shut it down? Runyon can’t enforce the rules without muzzling and hence alienating his fellows, especially PV-Lysk and the Hellers. So, despite a futile attempt at disclaiming responsibility and blaming others, that notorious cyberspace trashing-machine known as “the PV-forum” is no more. A first amendment victory, the message is clear: neither reason nor evidence can be trampled by slander and verbal brutality. In the end reason does always win—and with it, the only freedom that matters, that is, freedom in justice

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