Yesterday, I wrote a piece detailing the likely link between Korryn Gaines — The 23-year-old Black woman who was shot and killed by Baltimore police in her home during a raid — and the Sovereign Citizen Movement. Based on the 20-minute video that surfaced the day after her death and the rhetoric she employed during the clip to authorities, it is safe to assume that Gaines mistakenly believed some of the damaging and fallacious claims of the movement, specifically that she was not required to comply with police or the government. While this in no way excuses the actions of the police, who barged into Gaines’s house and killed her in front of her child to merely issue a warrant for traffic violations, it does raise the question of why the mother would co-sign ideologies typically propagated by White disenfranchised men that are simply not true?
In truth, Black people absolutely love conspiracy theories and with good reason. The American government has consistently conspired against the African-American community in ways both clandestine and overt. The passage of Jim Crow Laws after Reconstruction, legislation that resulted in the mass incarceration of millions, Cointelpro– the CIA program used to dismantle and discredit the Black Power Movement and other Civil Rights Movement — and the Flint water crisis, are various examples of “conspiracies” being far too real.
The recognition that the state has a history of working to the detriment of Black lives makes us particularly susceptible to propaganda/conspiracy and that is excruciatingly damaging and problematic, as best highlighted by the Korryn Gaines case.
It is not hard to find examples. From the belief in the “Illuminati,” so widespread that even Beyoncé attempted to debunk that she had any possible connection to it, to (typically sexist or misogynistic) “hotep” claims that periods are unnatural and Black people were originally green, conspiracy theories are so popular in the Black community that NewsOne dedicated an entire section of their website to debunking many of the more popular ones.
Just the other day, two Black men approached me excited to share a brochure of their Nuwaubian teachings. Presented with a 10 page, poorly printed pamphlet, I was told: “This book has all of the facts of the world.” After perfunctorily thumbing through its pages, I quickly recognized it to be nothing more than poorly produced propaganda, somehow attempting to legitimize itself by using Egyptian symbology and scientific words like references to the Earth’s elements. I responded to the men’s enthusiasm with a raised eyebrow.
“Um, you know this guy was found guilty of molestation, right?” I questioned. They called me a liar. Except, I wasn’t lying. I found that hard to miss fact after a rudimentary Google search rendered this result from the Southern Poverty Law Center:
“Nuwaubians refer to their belief system – which mixes black supremacist ideas with worship of the Egyptians and their pyramids, a belief in UFOs and various conspiracies related to the Illuminati and the Bilderbergers, as “Nuwaubianism” – not as theology, but as “factology, “Right Knowledge,” or a slew of other names. The group’s founder and leader, Dwight York, took extreme advantage of its adherents, sexually abusing their children and conning the adults out of their possessions. In April 2004, he was sentenced to 135 years in prison for molesting children, among other crimes.”
The men quickly snatched their pamphlets, called me ignorant and went about their business. Nothing could get them to even consider the fact that they may possibly be participating in a cult, whose founder was a convicted child molester, even though it is known fact at this point and this isn’t simply a matter of not being smart or capable.
Intellectual laziness is not specific to Black communities, however we — more than other groups — need to be far more discerning, because we can quickly be made to pay for our miseducation with our lives, as Korryn Gaines did. But we aren’t. The precarious position of Black people as targets for all types of violence and oppression creates a very complex mindset that can facilitate in the hasty rejection of anything presented by “the establishment” as patently false. Since, well, “the establishment” is often revealed to have an anti-Black agenda. “The establishment” has been known to spread propaganda about Black people to help win elections, labelling us welfare queens and thugs with crack babies. “The establishment” tried to discredit and successfully assassinated or exiled many Black leaders who threatened it.
So, in the event that facts are presented– like Dwight York was convicted of child molestation– they can merely be dismissed as “supporting the anti-Black agenda of the establishment.” And this is the vicious cycle of how propaganda and problematic ideologies spread and are kept alive within the black community. They often cannot be challenged because there is no trustworthy authority from which we can derive fact from fiction.
There is nothing more dangerous than the absence of a trustworthy authority to distinguish fact from fiction, and right-wing websites like Breitbart prove precisely that. They pander racist, islamaphobic, anti-LGBT propaganda that enabled (of course with help from “news” organizations like Fox News) the rise of Donald Trump in the political sphere and even created a space for certain anti-government sentiments to flourish (especially hate for Barack Obama). Black people have no problem recognizing the propaganda of the “right”, but for some odd reason similarly questionable conspiracy and propaganda flourishes in the Black community.
This cannot continue.
As previously stated, Black people must be more discerning, seeking information from the most credible resources and people, because it can quickly become a matter of life and death. Perhaps White folk like Cliven Bundy (who was also inspired by the Sovereign Citizen Movement like Korryn Gaines) can espouse conspiracy/propaganda-inspired, anti-government, fallacious ideologies while armed, but we cannot. Yes, that may be a matter of racism, but if it could inspire Black people to think more critically about the information we want to accept as true, perhaps we are better for it.