McDowell County Commissioner Brenda Vaughn has a tendency to spread conspiracy theories and hoaxes on her public Facebook profile while simultaneously using that profile to campaign for re-election.
In April 2018, shortly after Vaughn was sworn in as commissioner, two of her posts caught my eye.
The first was a picture of President Clinton next to some text which suggested Clinton helped cover up the death of Vince Foster. (her post has since been deleted) (here is an article that explains this conspiracy theory)
The second, which was much less shocking but points to a broader issue of Commissioner Vaughn having difficulty discerning what is and is not factual, was a hoax image claiming that Starbucks refused to serve Iraq veterans (this post was also deleted).
To be clear: the posts did not originate from Vaughn, she simply chose to share them on her account.
I emailed the McDowell News shortly after because it seemed noteworthy that a public official was using their platform in this way. The McDowell News did not respond until I emailed them again five months later in late September 2018.
On September 27, 2018, Vaughn posted a story from FrontPage Magazine, which was founded by David Horowitz and peddles conspiracy theories and half-truths. (her post is still up as of today, 10/27/2018) (saved screenshot)
The story’s headline: “Kavanaugh Accuser’s Lawyer is Vice Chair of Soros Funded Org Opposing Kavanaugh.”
The frequently-referenced boogeyman of the right, George Soros, has now been referenced by a local county commissioner. (Here is an article by Talia Lavin which helps lay out why these posts about Soros are anti-Semitic.)
When I saw that Vaughn posted the story, this again seemed noteworthy, so I emailed the McDowell News again. The editor of the McDowell News responded this time, and he stated they would print a letter to the editor “about my concerns” if I wanted to submit one. I appreciated the offer, but I chose not to do so. To be frank, since their guidelines required the publication of my first and last name and a partial address, I did not feel safe or secure in doing that and I did not feel as though I could adequately explain or describe the issue within their word limit.
Given the anti-Semitic implications of referencing George Soros, I thought it might make sense if the McDowell News questioned Vaughn, but I suppose they did not want to go down that route.
Although Vaughn does not have the broad reach of a federal or state representative, she does have some reach locally and she is choosing to use her Facebook account, which she also uses to campaign and speak as a county commissioner, as a way to spread those conspiracies. (saved screenshot)
On October 23, 2018, it was reported that an explosive device was found at Soros’ home. Throughout the week, other prominent Democratic leaders were targeted with similar devices.
On October 26, 2018, the alleged mail bomber was arrested. He apparently shared and bought into conspiracy theories related to George Soros.
That is ultimately why I contacted the McDowell News: because what Commissioner Vaughn is doing is dangerous and reckless. Spreading conspiracy theories, particularly those that revolve around specific people or groups of people, will feed into a broader hysteria which can have real consequences.
Even if it is in on a local, small scale, Vaughn helped stoke conspiratorial thinking and fear by posting that article. If she did so unintentionally, she is incapable of scrutinizing what she reads on the internet. If she did so intentionally, she is an enabler of anti-Semitism and dangerous conspiracy theories.
Public officials must be aware of what it is they share to the public, especially when they do not know who may be reading what they share.
The week of October 22, 2018 was a week of domestic terrorism which culminated in a shooting at a synagogue by someone who, based on initial reports, was fed a steady diet of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Much of what is mentioned above is specific to Vaughn sharing the Soros article since I thought it was especially thoughtless given the broader implications. Going forward I will catalogue additional posts/shares by Vaughn if there are any. I believe elected officials need to be held to account, and I will attempt to do so.
November 3, 2018: Vaughn shared a post that reads, “Tired of Trump haters blaming Trump for separating illegal families? THE LAW WAS PASSED IN 1997 by Bill Clinton.”
An inaccurate and misleading share by Vaughn. (saved screenshot)
November 6, 2018: Vaughn wins her election for McDowell County Commissioner comfortably, coming in at the number one spot out of five candidates on the ballot.