OP-ED: Stop pandering to peddlers of conspiracies

Deborah Yonick Kalina
Codorus Township
Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) presents a citation in commemoration of Austin L. Grove American Legion Post 403's 100th anniversary celebration in Glen Rock, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

State Sen. Kristen Phillips-Hill was one of 64 Pennsylvania lawmakers who signed a Dec. 4 letter to the U.S. congressional delegation urging them to reject their home state’s slate of electors when Congress meets Jan. 6 to accept the results.

Phillips-Hill’s name was boldly penned at the top of the list of state legislators, along with her York County cohorts, Sens. Doug Mastriano and Mike Regan, and Reps. Kate Klunk, Mike Jones, Dawn Keefer and Seth Grove.

The gesture may be a token one given the Democratic-controlled U.S. House will not upend the results. But those who signed the letter, and continue to advocate its storyline, could not be clearer in their willingness to disenfranchise their own voters to participate in a coup.

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While I am not sure how history will remember these traitors to democracy, I was disturbed to learn that state Sen. Phillips-Hill sits on the board for the York County History Center. That's like having a science denier on the board of the Sierra Club.  

Phillips-Hill is either denying the history we’re experiencing together in real time, or purposefully peddling conspiracy theories. Either one seems wrong for a person representing our History Center.

I wrote to Joan Mummert, president and CEO of the History Center, to express my opinion. Her reply did not mention Phillips-Hill, but rather gave an overview of the organization. She explained that board members serve in a governance role, while staff direct and guide organizational interpretation, and that diversity is important in its work.

“When we come together for board or committee meetings, people with different political, religious and life priorities collaborate to further the work of the organization,” Mummert wrote. “Although we each have fervent beliefs in many areas that often differ widely from each other, we are respectful and focus on the job at hand.”

I appreciate that.

But what if a board member, any board member, was instead pushing narratives from QAnon that allege a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring? Would that mar the credibility of the York County History Center, or is that just a difference of opinion a board member could have?

Would it be different if a board member advocated that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting never happened, and what we watched unfold on TV in the painful aftermath was a media stunt?

Or, that the Holocaust was a lie, or as the Proud Boys’ latest T shirt design promotes, 6MWE, 6 Million Wasn’t Enough? This far right, neo-fascist, male-only political group has vowed to cause violence on Inauguration Day because they believe there was widespread fraud in this election. There was not, and that is a fact.

Yet, an election denier, one that feeds oxygen to the likes of the Proud Boys and QAnon, is chalked up to political differences, fervent beliefs, so let’s agree to disagree, and history will work it out.

In discussing the importance of diverse voices at the table, Mummert wrote that “history too often has been viewed by those who initially wrote or interpreted the past which most of us grew up with, it’s not the full story.”

I couldn’t agree more.

In fact, to Mummert’s point, “Stop the Steal,” which Phillips-Hill and cohorts have breathed life into, is an evolution of an old argument used to disenfranchise predominantly people of color and indigenous communities. As Brandi Collins-Dexter, a disinformation researcher told Technology Review in a Dec. 2 article, “The election is over, but voter fraud conspiracies aren’t going away.”

There are so many aspects to the story of misinformation and American power throughout our history, and the impact those narratives have had, particularly on vulnerable and oppressed communities.

“There’s a danger, especially on a local level, of conspiracy theories and other falsehoods about the 2020 elections translating into legislation,” Shireen Mitchell, a disinformation researcher who runs the Stop Digital Voter Suppression Project, told Technology Review in the article. “Imagine something that’s a complete disinformation campaign becoming a law. Someone’s going to be in a policy position trying to commit policy based on these conspiracy beliefs.”

That’s exactly what these legislators are cooking up in Harrisburg now, instead of helping small businesses and working families during this pandemic. But I digress.

You can dress it up in a smart suit with sensible shoes, but it’s still clear-eyed advocacy of misinformation when Phillips-Hill signs her name to that letter. More than a month after the election, Phillips-Hill continues to peddle a conspiracy theory debunked and disavowed by prominent, respected Republican leaders across the state, including Sen. Pat Toomey, as well as the state and federal supreme courts.

Elected officials should not get a pass when they perpetuate misinformation, most especially when it puts people in harm’s way from ginned up harassers and the likes of the Proud Boys.

Why normalize this dangerous behavior by dignifying it with a seat on any of our important community boards in York County?