By Neil Johnson
The lead topic this week in local news is coyotes. Somebody killed a couple coyotes and hung them up high, flies flew around, and one of the coyote’s faces was disfigured. The outrage was immediate and massive online. If one has been following things, there is a very concentrated effort by a few people in a small group to completely change the activities of hunters, trappers and fishermen within our little republic known as Vermont.
Vermont — the home of maple syrup, small farms, organic farming, farmers markets and farm-to-table — is also home to more political “astroturf” than any state that I’m aware of. Astroturfing as defined by Merriam-Webster is as follows:
as·tro·turf·ing | \ ˈa-strə-ˌtər-fiŋ , -ˌstrō-\
Definition of astroturfing: organized activity that is intended to create a false impression of a widespread, spontaneously arising, grassroots movement in support of or in opposition to something (such as a political policy) but that is in reality initiated and controlled by a concealed group or organization (such as a corporation) Classic astroturfing is the practice of disguising an orchestrated campaign as a spontaneous upwelling of public opinion. … The term itself appears to have been coined in 1985 by then Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen, who noted that the mountains of letters he received about legislation on insurance originated with insurers. — New Scientist, 10 Feb. 2007 The modern form of astroturfing uses the Internet, and corporations, religious groups with a social agenda, and public interest groups can flood an in-box in an hour with e-mails that may come from a single source using many accounts.— Alan Boraas, Anchorage Daily News, 4 Apr. 2009
Astroturfing can be found in most every cause in our state. The perpetrators are often well intended, but usually without a complete picture or knowledge of the subject. Our coyote “problem” is a classic illustration of well-intended city folk who think living the life of a wild animal is carefree, and if unimpeded by man, bucolic — everybody just gets along. Sadly, it’s readily apparent on the internet, with large numbers of views for a snake eating a rat and people decrying the brutality. It seems very few people have watched what happens in the wild. Mutual of Omaha had a great series of shows on it.
Male species must show their worth to mate with females. While raising their young, the parents need to feed and defend their young and unborn from predators. Eggs holding the unborn are a favorite snack for most every predator. When young protection is a must, predators can easily catch, kill and eat young. This is also true for the old and for hurt or maimed animals, no matter the species. There is no old age home for wild animals — you become food. Animals die from being eaten alive, starving, freezing, sun stroke, disease, infection, etc., none of which are pretty. But alas, nobody sees it because it happens in the woods. You often don’t see such things because animals are inherently shy — their instinct is to not be seen, because they don’t want to be eaten. You’ll be surprised how quickly deer hide during hunting season.
Animals should be treated with respect, even while you prepare your game or pelt for personal consumption. You’ll find few who disagree. But the coyote problem in Vermont is an almost perfect example of astroturfing.
Vermont is rampant with astroturfing — it’s everywhere. We like to think we are homegrown and plotting our own destiny in this little republic, but truth be told we’re closer to being pawns.
In the military they have other words for astroturfing; it’s called infiltration and subversion. Sun Tzu, a book of military strategy used by military and business people around the world, knows subversion of a country works best without having violence. The internet is a perfect tool for propaganda, but not the main ways to subvert. Yuri Bezmenov did lectures in the 1980s about military subversion. Watch the video and you can decide if what he said matches what we see going on in society. Is it mere coincidence? Best hour of TV you’ll probably see in some time. Astroturfing and subversion go hand in hand.
Astroturfing can be seen in issues such as affordable housing, drugs, school funding, health care, health insurance, jobs, lobbying, elections, business, racism, our state budget — pretty much everything. Our little republic is a perfect test subject because it is small and inexpensive to influence.
Just say no to astroturfing. Vermont would do well for its sanity, productivity and prosperity to adopt this motto.
Neil Johnson, of Waitsfield, was a 2018 candidate for state House in the Washington 7 district.