My seventh great grandmother, Phebe Wilde Day, was imprisoned as a suspected witch during the Salem Witch hunt of 1692. Her stepmother, Sarah Wilde, was one of the five innocent women hanged during the mass hysteria. The Salem tragedy was not the result of some virus or mass hallucination. Rather it was caused by the conscious actions of some powerful families made for political purposes or to right perceived wrongs. They conspired against their enemies and made false allegations.
It was all too easy for them to convince others to point and shout “Witch!” at their friends and neighbors. Many joined in until they became a mob and once begun the mob would not stop until innocent lives had been taken.
A mob can be led to do that which the individuals would never conceive of doing on their own. Many in Salem spent the rest of their lives in grief, remorse and shame for what had been done.
I used to think that Salem was one of only a few aberrations in our history. That those so easily manipulated in 1692 were uneducated, ignorant people easily swayed by others to act in ways they would not have acted otherwise. I knew that back then they had no easy means of learning the truth of the conspiracies fed to them.
I thought the 1950s Red Scare of Sen. McCarthy was merely another such aberration. More innocent lives ruined in a quest for political power. It was before my time; it was merely history, like Salem. Fortunately some, such as journalist Edward R. Murrow, stood up to McCarthy and his backers and helped end the 1950s hysteria.
Today, however, I see QAnon and its ilk. False conspiracies are again being promoted for political purposes. Although easily disproved these conspiracies have generated a mob-like following and hysteria not unlike those in Salem in 1692. The mob is again willing to do violence to others.
They are again shouting “Witch!” or “Communist!” at their friends and neighbors. They are using allegations which are easily disproved yet surprisingly believed by their followers.
The result has already been the loss of innocent lives.
Voltaire said: “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” We must challenge the absurdities, the big lies, and even the little lies. Like Mr. Murrow, we must stand up.
QAnon and similar conspiracy adherents must be stopped now. Many of them, like those in Salem, would never act as they are on their own. They have been fed lies and radicalized in the same way mobs have always been.
We must shout down the lies, shame those who would harm in the name of these false accusations, and vote out those who seek power through lies, hate and fear mongering.
We must tell it like it is: those promoting lies are either naïve, ignorant, foolish or evil. And they are dangerous no matter into which category they may fall.
Kenneth Day Williams was the Sequim City Attorney for 18 years (1975 -1993) and served as a Clallam County Superior Court Judge for 20 years.