In January, Northfield’s Contented Cow was slated to host “CowTalks,” a series of passionate, civil debates on various political topics. The town has seen quite the hubbub since CowTalks was canceled on account of the views of their would-be host, Jim Fetzer. Fetzer, a retired philosophy professor and conspiracy theorist from the University of Minnesota- Duluth, is a conspiracy theorist of the highest degree. He has conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination, 9/11, Sandy Hook, the Holocaust … name an outlandish idea about these things and this guy believes it.
I’ve always liked conspiracy theories. To be clear, I don’t believe any of them, but I find them entertaining to hear and laugh about.
However, Jim Fetzer is anything but entertaining. After spending half an hour browsing the articles he has written on Veteran’s Today, I started to feel sick. It’s easy to joke about silly conspiracy theories, like the belief that reptilian humanoids secretly run the earth, but when Fetzer starts claiming that Sandy Hook was staged by the government, it’s hard to stomach. Fetzer’s articles have two common intended purposes: to spout off his ludicrous theories and to denounce anyone who disagrees with him. According to him, anyone who takes issue with his drivel is a “bigot” who is out to persecute him for his beliefs. He apparently doesn’t see the irony of that statement coming from his mouth. Fetzer is a reprehensible human being and overall morally disgusting.
That being said, CowTalks shouldn’t have been canceled. Yes, he’s horrible, but shutting Fetzer out is not the correct approach. That strategy will never work because Fetzer is the kind of person who will do anything to get his voice heard. When his options are taken away, he will keep finding new, weirder ways to fulfill his objective. Then it becomes a story. When Fetzer goes around claiming that he is dispensing a “truth,” that “the man” doesn’t want anyone to know about and then he gets barred from speaking, it lends him a sort of credibility that he can bring back to his followers.
Also, since when have we been so afraid of the ideas of stupid people that we can’t even let them speak? It’s not even like canceling CowTalks has been a hindrance to Fetzer. Quite the opposite, actually: he’s recently seen a sharp boost in popularity thanks to this whole debacle. If you don’t like what Jim Fetzer is saying, call him out on it, argue against it, but don’t close him out of the conversation. No, you’re never going to change his mind. No, you’re never going to change the minds of most of his followers. But by challenging him, you may be able to expose how weak his arguments are to a few of his followers and to folks who might be on the fence about his ideas. Every idiotic argument should be given the opportunity to flounder horribly. The fewer people seriously getting their information from this guy, the better.
Alternatively, maybe you don’t want to have any interaction with Fetzer and his ideas. That’s understandable, especially given his history of posting his opponents’ information online and then sicking his fans on them very classy, Jim. In that case, the course of action is very simple: don’t go to his events. Like a child, Jim Fetzer thrives on conflict as the best way to get attention. There’s a reason why he has no conspiracies that were not controversial before he added claims of government involvement. The same rules apply to Jim that would a child having a tantrum; if you ignore him, it will stop. Without a clear opposition for him to point fingers at, Fetzer would run out of steam very quickly. If you look at his Web site, it’s the same few recycled ideas in every article, but he mixes it in with talk of the newest “bigot” that opposes him the most recent is the entirety of Northfield.
In short, we shouldn’t ban Fetzer from expressing his views – if for no other reason than to stop giving him material.
Chaz Mayo ’18 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Rice Lake, Wis. He majors in theater.
Graphic Credit: ETHAN BOOTE/MANITOU MESSENGER