Discord in the community – better strategies needed?
By Tim J. Clark
Updated – September 14, 2019
The controversy over personal beliefs and professional conduct involving the Farmers Markets in Nashville and Bloomington, Indiana escalated to the point that resulted in regional, state and national attention. The issues are unlikely to be resolved any time soon by applying current methods that include demonizing the opposition until they admit the error of their ways. An attacking (suboptimal) approach typically results in making a situation even worse.
The owners of Schooner Creek Farm (SCF) hold personal views and beliefs that are objectionable to other individuals in the community who have petitioned to have SCF removed from the City of Bloomington’s Farmers Market (BFM). Preceding this petition, a similar effort was successful in removing SCF as a vendor in the privately-run farmers market in Nashville, Indiana.
Sarah Dye, co-owner Schooner Creek Farm, states in an August 28, 2019, online interview that they are considering legal action.
This an interesting story not only from a legal aspect but from a political and cultural perspective as well. The situation provides an opportunity for the community and all key stakeholders to re-assess the effectiveness of their respective approaches and make any needed adjustments.
Summary of Recent Events
SCF has participated in the BFM for nine years. The BFM coordinator reinforced the position that Schooner Creek Farm (SCF) has honored the rules of the market and has treated customers with respect. Several lawyers that teach or have taught at Indiana University (IU) have also reinforced that the market cannot remove a vendor for exercising their first amendment right. The ACLU has also reinforced that the city would be sued if they removed the vendor or applied workarounds with the intent of circumventing the First Amendment.
Legal Frame of Reference
Steve Sanders – Associate Professor – IU Maurer School of Law, has been among the most active on social media in providing a legal and historical context for this situation. Mr. Sanders provided a follow-up statement to my interpretation of the comments he made on the August 2, 2019, WFIU – Noon Edition – Panel Discussion in which he states:
- I will weigh in to clarify the above description of what I said on Noon Edition. Sarah Dye calls herself an “Identitarian” and has posted on a server used by the Identity Evropa group. (1) So, there is no question she has affiliated herself with white nationalist/supremacist politics and ideology. That is not a crime and, in itself, cannot get her ejected.
- The point I was trying to make on the radio was: So, what is it proper to infer from that? Those advocating her ejection from the market have strongly implied that such ties are tantamount to endorsing (if not actually planning) violence, extreme forms of Nazism, etc., and have also implied she is somehow complicit in the Carmel synagogue vandalism because she had dinner with the perpetrator. That’s the guilt by association I was talking about. My point was that affiliations and linkages can be ambiguous and that it is irresponsible to use them to imply the worst possible meaning in the absence of proof of exactly what someone believes or seeks to accomplish. I’m a Democrat, but that doesn’t mean I automatically embrace what every leader of the party stands for.
- So, in short, there is good evidence Sarah Dye has done things to affiliate herself with white supremacist groups, but the meaning of that affiliation for her, and the exact nature and contours of her own beliefs and agenda are what remain unknown.“
(1) It’s been reported that Identity Evropa has been re-branded American Identify Movement (AIM). Aim’s website lists the positions and beliefs of the group. This allows their actions to be compared to their rhetoric. Their position include the following: “AIM prohibits the advocacy of or participation in supremacy, violence, or illegal activity.”
Sarah Dye in an interview by Fox59 stated the following: “As an Identitarian and an American, I am disgusted at the level of lies, misinformation, falsehoods, and intimidation by those who do not know me or my family,” said Dye.” Dye defined Identitarian as, “a way of viewing the world that emphasizes the importance of identity.”
Three individuals that teach at IU and two other IU employees that have been involved in the protests, have taken action and expressed comments on social media that would appear to be in violation of IU social media policy if conducted on IU-affiliated social media accounts. Their comments using their personal accounts are likely protected by the First Amendment but may still be subject to civil action.
- IU Legal Information, Policies and Incidents. Make sure you’re adhering to social media policies. … “ you may not post any intentionally malicious, defamatory, degrading or hateful material. This does not include frank discussions, criticisms or opinion, which are protected under free speech.” Other prohibited activity includes Lewd or indecent conduct, Threat of physical harm; Illegal discrimination, Harassment.
The mayor has made statements in support of the protestors that likely contributed to a hostile environment, escalation of the situation, and animous against SCF. These actions also likely contributed to the market shut down for two weeks. The protests have led to a near 50% reduction in visitors to the market this year. Can the mayor be held legally accountable for the results of his actions that include the adverse economic impact on the vendors? When would the Mayor’s actions become a civil rights violation?
The shut down of the market had a detrimental economic impact on all the vendors. The mayor’s justification included indications of a “threat.” Has the Bloomington Police Department charged anyone yet for making threats? Allen for Monroe County removed a Facebook post because of the nature of the threats being posted by the protestors on his Facebook page.
The local media with a few exceptions have also been complicit in disseminating “allegations” without context that have contributed to the escalation and perceived fear in the community. The coverage has had detrimental impacts on the reputation and safety of the SCF vendors. What are the professional ethics and legal issues associated with this story? Laura Land, (Bloomington) Herald-Times addressed this issue in her Commentary: “Don’t forget the First Amendment.”
- The Herald-Times has published multiple articles on the farmers’ market developments. We have done our own research. We have reviewed court documents, emails, videos and recordings that so many claim is proof that the owners of Schooner Creek Farm are white supremacists. Direct evidence, it isn’t there.
- When a news organization publishes a false statement that damages a person’s reputation, that’s libel. I make sure, just about every day, to not libel anyone. Not just because I could be sued, but because it’s important that the information we report be accurate. We cannot and do not print accusations that can’t backed up with tangible stand-up-in-court proof.
State and National Media Attention
The situation in Bloomington has escalated to the point that it has received attention from the traditional and alternative media within the state and nation. This includes Fox59 tv in Indianapolis as well as coverage by the New York Times, the Nation, American Greatness, and Red Ice tv/3Fourteen radio.
Individual protestors have also perpetuated allegations inferring associations absent of evidence that supports their assumptions. These include the claims that the vendors and just about anyone else that disagrees with the position of the protestors are Nazis of the WWII variety. The actions of these protestors may also be subject to legal repercussions. The “No Space for Hate” group endorses the slogan “ Don’t buy veggies from Nazis.” They recently supported a joint march on a public street with a masked and black-clad group that led to a confrontation with a motorist.
The association of “white” supremacy with world war II era Nazism is also interesting. The Nazis believed that only “certain” whites (Aryans) were racially superior. Hitler considered the Japanese as “the Aryans of the East, called by destiny to rule Asia.” Hitler’s victims were white.
Politically, the issue falls within the left (liberal) vs right (conservative) diatribe. Jonathan Haidt is a leader in the field in identifying strategies that can be used to develop understanding and help narrow the divide between liberal and conservative paradigms. For more information, see the “The moral roots of liberals and conservatives.” (TED Video)
Haidt identifies five foundations (channels) of morality and concludes. “Liberals have a two-channel morality (Harm/Care, Fairness/Reciprocity) and conservatives five.” (Reference – the nine-minute mark of the video).
What may be just as concerning is that with the capabilities and expertise available at IU, the university – with a few exceptions, has been relatively dormant on this situation.
Politically, Bloomington is a “blue” (liberal) city in a “red” (conservative) state. This situation provides an opportunity for faculty and students in many academic disciplines to discover and apply better approaches to help develop a better understanding and resolution of controversial and systemic issues. These disciplines would include history, political science, psychology, religious studies, business, sociology, philosophy, and law to name a few.
For example, the IU Food Institute in conjunction with the IU Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society scheduled a planning session on September 3, 2019 to “discuss issues raised by the recent farmers market controversy in Bloomington and what sort of role we (IUFI, CRRES, IU more generally) might play going forward, including the possibility of planning a larger community event.” The announcement then recommended reading a post titled: Farmers Markets And Whiteness. This post includes a link to a June 20, 2015 article published in the New York Times titled: OPINION What Is Whiteness? By
- We don’t know the history of whiteness, and therefore are ignorant of the many ways it has changed over the years.
- Eliminating the binary definition of whiteness — the toggle between nothingness and awfulness — is essential for a new racial vision that ethical people can share across the color line.
IU Food Institute – Sept Newsletter – Farmers Market – Feedback from the Sep 3 session
National Challenges – Local Solutions
The U.S. Founding Fathers designed a system of government that could be continually improved in pursuit of “a more perfect union.” We are a nation of laws that includes a justice system that albeit imperfect, supports the discovery of truth in pursuit of justice. An individual can have their day in court where they are considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The system allows for a fact (evidence, proof) based debate between opposing parties – prosecutor and defense which presents the information needed for a jury to arrive at a decision. The judge and appellate courts help ensure compliance with laws.
With social media, emotions can dominate the discussion and the “crowd” assumes the role of judge, jury, prosecutor, and defense. Statements lead to perceptions which become a reality for many. Perceptions are shaped by many factors to include predispositions that are influenced by factors that include cultural, political, social, emotional, and intellectual.
In the case of SCF and with a few exceptions, the local media has helped shape the debate through the dissemination of “allegations” without context that generates “clicks” and online comments. Individual posts in response to these articles can add to the polarization and divisiveness. This has contributed to the escalation of the conflict, incited fear and damaged reputations.
The justice system provides the checks and balances on abuse of power by the media. Even if the media and individuals are found at fault for their actions and pay a financial penalty, significant damage has already been done.
The SCF issue provides an opportunity for the media, the community, and IU to consider developing better methods and strategies for working through the controversial issues. The ideal is a method and process that produces results where everyone benefits, or at least, are not any worse off in the long-term. The alternative is more of the same that will likely lead to more escalation, reduced attendance at the market, and a community that has decided to choose conflict over progress.
References and additional information
Blog post including a timeline of key events and links to media coverage: Wanted: Tolerance, Understanding, Collaboration, Progress