What started as a viral right-wing lie about a school activity ended with rape and death threats targeting staffers at a North Penn School District elementary school.
A local mom wearing a Moms for Liberty sweatshirt falsely claimed that a fifth grade teacher at A.M. Kulp Elementary lined her students up from whitest to darkest and forced the white students to apologize to the Black ones.
“Now do not tell me that did not happen,” she said.
Actually, that did not happen.
Mis- and disinformation “is being fine tuned and weaponized to discredit and create distrust in local governments that partisan agitators can’t change at the ballot box,” North Penn School Board Member Jonathan Kassa told the Bucks County Beacon. “They lost in November, but they can create chaos in public comments and on social media, and in other ways.”
The chaos this time came in the form of a man claiming to be from Las Vegas who heard this lie and was inspired to leave a voice message Sunday at the school threatening to rape the teacher and suggesting the staff’s heads will be “swinging from a pole.” [You can listen to the violent message here. Use discretion.]
“Every time partisan hacks shake the tree with misinformation and disinformation I’m worried what nut is going to fall out of it,” Kassa said. “And I’m not sure that our elected officials with all the things they have to deal with are aware of the rising risk at the most local level of democracy.”
Where did someone (potentially) on the other side of the country hear about this? The right-wing echo chamber of course.
It could have been from chief anti-Critical Race Theory propagandist Christopher Rufo’s tweet of a video of the mom posted by Libs of Tik Tok.
Unfortunately in the “alternative fact” world we now live in, the truth doesn’t matter for many on the right and often can’t compete with the speed that right-wing social media and traditional media spread mis- and disinformation. Any fact-check that may eventually break though the noise usually turns out to be a squeak compared to the rage-filled roar of the original deception.
Right now the FBI has been notified and the Hatfield Police Department, which is investigating, issued a statement:
“There are no circumstances in which this type of misinformed, vicious communication is an appropriate way to raise questions, voice concerns, or express dissenting opinions. There is no place within any community for such vitriol, let alone when it is directed at those who educate our community’s children.”
This type of vitriol is not new for North Penn. The leader of Reopen Bucks suggested that the school board’s bodies should be “hanging from lamp posts” after they voted to have the district go virtual in the fall of 2020.
And Bucks County is becoming known nationally for its far-right school board politics and “school board wars.” Pennsbury school board has been on the receiving end of this violent right-wing hate, even catching the eye of CNN’s Jake Tapper.
How is this happening? North Penn’s Kassa says it’s part of a coordinated national effort. “The campaigns seem to mirror some of the most divisive, repetitive and refined political rhetoric at the national and state level,” said Kassa.
Just look at the previously mentioned Moms for Liberty, the right-wing astroturf group with 135 chapters in 35 states across the country. They push the critical race theory lie, target books, and attack masking and COVID-19 mitigation policies to activate their base, attack school boards, and sow discord all for partisan politics, with an eye on the 2022 elections. The group, which has a Bucks County chapter, is even trying to organize Turning Point USA chapters in Central Bucks School District middle and high schools. I actually documented some of the group’s extremism in a past article after they organized a chapter at Pennridge High School.
This weaponization of lies, politicization of school boards, and disdain for representative democracy is a dangerous threat that we can’t underestimate.
“Local democracy is under siege,” Kassa added.
And while voting and local elections are critical, progressive organizing and mobilizing leading up to and continuing past these elections are even more paramount. Otherwise, we may not recognize our communities any more in a few more years.
Cyril Mychalejko is a Bucks County Beacon columnist. Read his columns on Fridays and follow him on Twitter.