EDITORIAL: Squealing flier is fake news

YOU WOULDN’T WANT to glorify it as a hate crime. It was more like a raw display of ignorance mixed with spite, hysteria and a hefty dose of cowardice. It takes a special talent to cram that much bad behavior onto an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.

But in the last week both the Chatham and Canaan town boards heard from one of the two targets singled out in an anonymous flier with exactly those characteristics. The targets are young farmers in Canaan near the boundary with Chatham. The couple grow vegetables and raise pigs. They have “about 20” pigs, says Eric Suquet.

Someone who dislikes their pig farm produced a flier that claims–falsely–that the pigs are being penned so that they have access to a nearby stream that eventually flows into Chatham and that this will threaten local water supplies. The flier writer is also fearful of flies from the farm and what might happen to property values if farming went on at this farm located on land zoned for… farming.

The Suquets are building three separate paddocks to prevent the pigs from reaching the stream or any other water source that might be shared with neighboring humans. Sorry, pigs. The farmers are using responsible and sustainable farming practices, which are common around here.

It’s possible the author of the flier thinks food originates in supermarkets, freshly grown in cheery plastic packages. If that’s true, wait till the flier writer hears about the connection between pigs and bacon.

But more likely that the flier was triggered by its author’s discovery of town comprehensive plans and zoning laws that place a high value on agriculture. At a time when shared views are hard to find, these documents are evidence of a consensus that Columbia County isn’t willing to suburbanize without a fight.

The author of the pig-a-geddon flier might also be motivated by more noble concerns. Investigative reporting has uncovered inhumane treatment of pigs raised on industrial scale farms. And the lagoons of pig waste at those huge facilities do lead to industrial scale pollution. But that’s all the more reason to encourage sustainable livestock practices like the Suquets’ rather than invent problems where they don’t exist.

The flier was left in the mailboxes of Canaan residents served by the East Chatham Post Office. But Mr. Suquet says the U.S. Postal Service did not deliver them. The fliers apparently were placed in the rural mailboxes by someone who doesn’t work for the USPS, which is against the law. It’s not neighborly, either. If you want to build support, go knock on doors.

Does the First Amendment guarantee of free speech protect the author of the pig apocalypse flier? Probably. The Constitution doesn’t require a speaker to give his or her name in order to speak freely. If the farmers could prove somehow that the flier caused them economic harm, they might be able to sue, but law favors the speaker not the target of the remarks. In any event, Mr. Suquet says he is not interested in pursuing a legal action. So we may never know who wrote the flier unless that person has the guts to take credit for the thing.

Maybe the pig-phobic flier writer doesn’t understand how American democracy works. When the Suquets were subject to the flier’s distorted and “creepy” attack by an unknown person, Mr. Suquet aired his concerns before two town boards as well as informing the police. Whether it’s the Town Board or the Planning Board or the Zoning Board of Appeals, each local municipality offers opportunities for the public to raise and debate issues in the open. Mr. Suquet understands that. The flier writer either doesn’t get our system of government or knows his claims are bogus.

So maybe there’s another explanation for what led to the flier; maybe the writer has been seduced by the power of fake news. It happens every day. Tell a lie and someone will believe it. Tell enough lies and a lot of people will confuse fact and fiction. That’s the real danger the flier represents.

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