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Conspiracy theorists continue to spread misinformation in Haywood

Weeks after controversy erupted due to a mischaracterization of a routine local government housekeeping measure in Waynesville, conspiracy theorists continue to spread false information about COVID-19 and a purported mask mandate. 

The latest, a pair of videos posted to a Facebook group by Nikki White, publisher of short-lived Moxxie Magazine, are rife with all manner of exaggerations, inaccuracies and outright mistruths. 

The first video posted on Dec. 2, claims the citizenry is “under attack” by a “tyrannical mayor” who seeks “limitless power.” 

The claim is just as fictional as the films — the Oct. 27 meeting of the Waynesville Board of Aldermen had an agenda item intended to clarify who, exactly, can declare a State of Emergency on behalf of the Town of Waynesville and what the only legal reasons for making such a declaration are.

The meeting then devolved into a disruptive shouting match over a non-existent “mask mandate.” Town officials, including Mayor Gary Caldwell, attributed the fuss to a sensationalized story in The Mountaineer that contained multiple inaccuracies. The State of Emergency ordinance update proposed that night ended up being tabled.

In the first of several factual errors, White called the Waynesville Board of Aldermen “a judicial body that is weaponizing itself against us.” 

In the United States, government is divided into three branches — executive, legislative and judicial. The Waynesville Board of Aldermen is an elected legislative body that governs both within the corporate limits of the town and within the “Dillon’s Rule” hierarchy set by the North Carolina General Assembly.  

Although it’s unclear if White was talking about the non-existent mask mandate, she goes on to say in the video that “what we are dealing with is not a virus. This is about control and changing our world as we know it.” 

Meanwhile, almost 70,000,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 across the globe, with more than 1.5 million dead. The United States continues to set near-daily records with new cases. As of Dec. 6, more than 290,000 Americans had died and more than 6 million COVID-19 cases were still considered active cases. North Carolina still has more than 75,000 active cases. Haywood County has seen multiple instances of outbreaks in congregate living environments, with one at Silver Bluff Village claiming the lives of 30 elderly residents.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to maintain that masks help prevent the acquisition and transmission of the virus, and that “Everyone should wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

Yet another false claim made by White in the video is that the Haywood County Board of Commissioners has applied for federal funding “to convert the National Guard Armory in Clyde into a quarantine facility for COVID.”

Commissioners recently spent over an hour at a recent meeting discussing the armory project and its intended use and trying to dispel rumors that it would be used to house people with COVID-19. The $743,000 grant will help renovate the building primarily for use as a base for the county’s emergency services department. It may also be used as an emergency shelter during inclement weather, according to commissioners. In the past, the county’s health facility on Paragon Parkway in Clyde has been used for this purpose.

Another video White posted to the Facebook group — which is riddled with false posts and altered videos that are labeled as such — makes patently false claims about Waynesville’s proposed State of Emergency. In the video, White claims that “based on the language that [Waynesville Town Attorney] Bill Cannon has written into this new State of Emergency for Waynesville it literally gives our mayor limitless power.”

The “new” State of Emergency ordinance, which has neither been adopted nor proposed for adoption since Oct. 27, spells out clearly the very limited circumstances in which a State of Emergency can be declared. 

Those limited circumstances, delineated in Section 22.31, include only imminent or existing damage, injury or loss of life that results from “any natural or man-made accidental, military, paramilitary, terrorism, weather-related, public health, explosion-related, riot-related cause, or technological failure or accident, including, but not limited to, a cyber incident, an explosion, a transportation accident, a radiological accident, or a chemical or other hazardous material incident.”

White said in the video that the Facebook group would also be active on Parler, a social media platform that claims to be a free speech haven because it does not factcheck or remove false or misleading information like Facebook and Twitter have done. Post election, it’s become a safe space for users who want to post fake news, violent threats and hate speech that’s not allowed on major social media platforms. 

In her video messages, White encouraged people to show up at the town’s board meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8, at the Historic Courthouse, to oppose the State of Emergency proclamation - which isn't on the evening's agenda. 

For more on the Oct. 27 meeting, click here

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