Disinformation is finally being better understood and acknowledged throughout the culture, but few people understand its full extent. And understanding and reading reality correctly is an important survival skill for all of us.
Therefore, I’d like to share what I’ve learned, as both third-party observer and victim. I’ll chose an older story rather than a new one, to lessen the chance the guilty will be recognized – which I assume will lessen the repercussions I will experience for telling.
Before I tell this 7-year old story, I first want to tell a little about the concept: I didn’t know the word disinformation until I was involved with Earth First!, and then I witnessed it a great deal, as our expert-witness scientist supporters from around the world were ignored by the Media, and our peaceful protests, humorous skits, and potluck dinners (at my home) were treated like national security threats in FBI reports (I have copies).
When Judi Bari, a non-violence activist and mother of two, was car-bombed in 1990, she was maligned in the world-wide Media as a would-be bomber. But subtler lies are also told for different effects.
I’d become a thorn in the FBI’s side when, in 2002, I wrote or helped write, almost every day for six weeks, media releases for the Judi Bari v FBI trial. When I returned home to my desert hermitage, I began to be plagued by frightening bouts of amnesia and immobilization, with physical wounds, including lacerations and puncture wounds to the inside of my vagina (also photographed) – to the point that I considered suicide frequently.
Feeling like a sitting duck in the desert, I sold my remote home on 20 acres and, because I didn’t think I could stand a big city anymore, found my way to Silver City, in great need of friends to surround me.
Unfortunately, frightening events continued to happen, including third-degree Taser burns and biopsy scoops that appeared on my hands and arms and back with no memory of how they happened – and weird events of disinformation that undermined my reputation and sense of community.
Over the nine years I’ve lived here, my wounds have also included scores of injection bruises, two donut bruises, dozens of other weird bruises, sexual mysteries, and even some healed scars, one of which a doctor assumed was from thyroid surgery. Most I’ve photographed, and many I’ve shown friends, though few want to hear about them – I gather because it’s just too upsetting to their world views.
I totally understand not wanting to hear. It took me a lot of years of having this actually happen to me before I could adjust my world view to get over the “freedom and justice for all” mythology and accept what was happening.
If you find this hard to believe, I do understand, and hope you can read on, because this is part of our reality – and properly reading reality is essential to our survival. Following is an account of disinformation against me, undermining my status in my new community.
In 2007, I was a week or so away from a trip to Peru, when someone recommended a woman to stay at my home and care for my cat. Actually, it was a couple, I was told, a man and a woman, about my age, who were hip and “into community,” and had some circumstances that had stranded them in Silver City, needing a place to stay; the husband was working, but hadn’t gotten a paycheck yet. I agreed to let them stay in my home, even though afterward I realized that I didn’t like the woman at all, and she had talked a solid streak for 90 minutes, essentially wearing me down, and making me feel sorry and embarrassed for her, as if to say No would force her to recognize she had been obnoxious, which would be hurtful to her, so I couldn’t say No. Not logical, but defininely my sort of neurotic, self-defeating kindness.
In Tucson, I was supposed to be at the airport at 6 am for an 8 am flight, but I woke at 4 with a severe toothache that made it very difficult to move with any more than a shuffle, so I canceled my flight with a medical excuse. I would have a root canal later that afternoon.
Mid-morning, when my plane was in the air, I began receiving bizarre emails from my house sitter who assumed I was on the plane to Peru. She told me my stove was leaking gas, the phone wasn’t working, two crews of repairmen had been in, and my cat was acting ill – all in her first day at the house, and the first day of my 20-day trip.
Even though I immediately suspected this was probably a form of harassing disinformation, it was shocking to think of how very distressing it would have been to be on a plane to a faraway place with this bombardment of distressing news.
Thankfully, I wasn’t gone, and I’d been around enough FBI lies and other tricks that I found it all suspicious. So I answered her emails without telling her I was still in Tucson.
Her stories continued to hammer on distressing probabilities and were amped up with direct accusations (13 specific, weird accusations against me! in emails still saved) that I was “paranoid” and similar negative assessments – even though I’d been extremely cautious not to say a single inflammatory word, but simply asked calm questions about my home. It was as though she’d intended I become paranoid.
I called a handy woman friend who visited the house and was told by the woman that the phone was repaired. Since I’d asked my friend to enter and check out the stove and look around, she asked to enter, but the woman refused. When my friend next called to tell me the phone was supposedly repaired, I was still unable to call home, and was told by the woman via email that the phone was “down again,” working only during the short period my friend had come to the door.
After drilling and filling my tooth, I hit the road immediately to Tucson, calling another friend along the way, who arrived at the house shortly after I did. The woman was shocked to find me at the door and was barely willing to let me into my own home. When my friend arrived, we confronted the woman with the crazy contents of her emails, as I wanted to be entirely fair and consider the possibility that perhaps she hadn’t send them, and they were instead sent by disinformation specialists; I reviewed all 13 accusations with her, and she confirmed she’d written them – even as she stammered to explain some of her more bizarre accusations.
We then had to demand she leave, as she was intent on staying in my home as I’d “promised” to let her, and she even had the gall to suggest I leave. When she continued refusing, we finally threatened to call the police to remove her and she finally accepted our demands. But as she left, and we realized to our astonishment that she didn’t have anything at the house other than her small purse – no overnight bags, no toothbrush, no food, no nothing, even though she’d supposedly stayed there the night before and her husband was due there shortly and she desperately wanted to stay there again that night. But the bed hadn’t even been slept in, and the kitchen was unused. We assumed she wanted us to leave so we wouldn’t discover this, and she was actually there for some other reason.
As we pondered this, my friend’s phone rang, she answered it and heard silence. After hanging up, she hit the call back button and was greeted with an office name with “Intelligence” in the title. My friend and I assumed the woman and her husband were functioning as low-level spies, watching the house so that others could come in (under the guise of repairmen?) to do whatever they do to activists and others on federal “watch” lists. Perhaps they’d used some high technology to identify and call her phone, perhaps to add a bit of warning to our overload of weird information and seeming threats.
The next day, I called the gas company and was told she had called and a repair person had come out, but no gas leak was found, and the stove never did have problems.
I used my cell phone to call the phone company because the home phone still did not work. When the repairman came out the next day, he worked for two hours and finally concluded, “This is the strangest problem I’ve ever seen in my 20 years of phone repair, and I can’t figure it out.” And he rewired most of the house.
My cat never showed any signs of illness.
A few days later, another phone repairman appeared at the front door. I called Qwest to confirm he was legit, and was told something vague I don’t remember, even as I realized the feds certainly have the ability to intercept my call, redirect it to their own office, and have someone pose as a phone company rep, telling me whatever I needed to hear. I let the guy in.
He checked the phone jacks, then went outside and climbed a ladder to the box attached near the roof line. I wondered if I’d detect him putting a bug on my line, so I stood beneath and watched. He talked and seemed to be wasting time, repeating motions, and getting impatient with me standing there looking up constantly. I smiled and asked him if he was finished. He looked confused and irritated. Laughter was close, but I had no desire to mock a fed. I also knew I couldn’t stop them if they wanted to put a bug on my line, and if he didn’t do it today, they’d do it another day soon, and it might be less fun next time. So I walked around the corner, gave him a minute, then came back to find him climbing down, looking relieved. Ever since, my old-style ringer phone makes a little noise a few seconds after every time I hang up, and around 10 pm every night, which I think of as shift-change, and maybe other times I haven’t yet noticed.
The woman and her husband, I later learned, went to live with a young, hip couple out in the Mimbres, whose friends overlapped with mine, but whom I only knew because the husband clerked at a store I frequent, a store central to my community. Immediately, the man quit being friendly with me and instead acted as though I were a terrible person he could barely be civil to. And in following years, a number of their acquaintances have continued to keep distant even though we have many friends and interests in common.
I assumed the woman had told the young couple poisonous things about me. But I didn’t know them well enough to try to discover what they’d been told, and my questions might be received as very weird. It was very weird, and I didn’t trust anyone to accept it at face value without having to reconsider a lot of assumptions and probably wonder also if I was just plain crazy, so I said nothing to anyone except the two friends who each witnessed part of the event.
Every so often, about once a year, people on the edges of my community suddenly act cold or confused around me, as if they’d heard something terrible and didn’t know whether they should even acknowledge me. I notice quite a few people all change at once and continue in the pattern for some weeks or months, until slowly the awkwardness fades a little, but doesn’t go entirely away. I just stay away from them, to lessen their discomfort and mine.
I sometimes review the experiences of friendly acquaintances turning away or looking fearful and try to convince myself the events are not significant, but they seem to display a consistent pattern. And then there’s the other parallel evidence: the woman at my house with no personal possessions, her emails full of lies and inflammatory accusations, and my phone line mysteriously wired. And mysterious Taser burns and similar wounds on my very own body keep me from dismissing my total experience as imagination – as some friends, family, and doctors would like me to.
I’d love to dismiss it as imagination and believe in a different America, but that’s not my experience. For 8 years now, I’ve been asking my online readers, and no one has come up with any explanation better than the one that’s supported by government documents: federal agents practice disinformation, harass, encourage divisiveness, and more, under the rubric of COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program).
Recently I learned there’s a name for people like me: “targeted individuals” – abbreviated TI’s, with multiple websites documenting experiences of many others who describe things similar to mine.
Beware of lies. If you hear something bad about a person, check it with the person it’s about.
Only once in these nine years has a friend checked a rumor about me with me; it was a lie, and she’d believed it for six months (it sounded reasonable) and even passed it on to others herself during that time. I told her the truth as I understood it and asked her to pass it back onto the grapevine. I don’t know if she did or how well it traveled.
Disinformation is usually planted in such a way and with people removed from the target just enough that it’s very difficult (and no likely to be successful) for the TI to confront the perpetrator. Only the people in the middle – those told the lie – can do anything about it – by wising up, and checking. Thanks for doing that.