The Labor Day weekend marks the start of campaign season, when Americans are deluged with misinformation and disinformation. Among their purveyors is Tucker Carlson, a Fox News host whose on-air rhetoric once was described by that network’s own lawyers as “loose, figurative or hyperbolic” — rhetoric that “cannot reasonably be interpreted as facts.” On his prime-time show in late August, Carlson inveighed against the federal government’s dealings with Amish farmer Amos Miller of Lancaster County. Carlson’s characterization of those dealings is contradicted by the lawyer who represents Miller’s farm. Miller has been ordered to pay more than $300,000 in fines that he has not paid.
As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Dan Nephin and Carter Walker reported last Sunday, Amos Miller’s “yearslong legal odyssey” has been embraced by national conservatives as their “latest cause célèbre in the fight against what they see as government overreach.”
Their narrative, Nephin and Walker noted, “is slanted and incomplete — and refuted by public record.”
It is tempting to dismiss the matter as just another manufactured fringe issue intended to gin up right-wing furor against the government. Which it completely is.
But as an example of how the outrage machine works, it’s instructive.
On the one side is an Amish farmer who owns an organic farm. Who could be more virtuous?
And on the other side are the nameless government agents from — as Carlson put it — the Biden administration’s department of “Let’s wreck America as quickly as possible.”
Carlson’s narrative maintains that the farmer is just trying to feed his community his wholesome food. Maybe, Carlson theorized disgustingly, if Miller “promises to put more chemicals in the milk that turn kids trans,” the feds will “lay off.” (Carlson must get bonus points for alluding to transgender kids, a vulnerable group that the outrage machine viciously targets.)
It doesn’t seem like a fair fight, right?
Especially not as told to Carlson by a so-called journalist with the far-right website Rebel News, who said the “giant empire of the U.S. federal government” has gone after this “tiny little farm,” “economically crippling” the farmer. (Carlson’s viewers were shown a photo of adorable little Amish girls milking a cow.)
Except that’s a dramatically skewed rendering of what actually has unfolded.
A ‘martyr of sorts’
As Nephin and Walker explained, Steven Lafuente is the attorney for Miller’s poultry and livestock operation, Miller’s Organic Farm, in Upper Leacock Township.
Miller doesn’t want Lafuente to be his personal attorney, but a federal judge said Miller’s farm needed to be represented by counsel and so Lafuente had to stay on the case.
“Both the government and the judge have bent over backwards to keep (Miller) in business,” Lafuente told LNP | LancasterOnline.
As Nephin and Walker reported, Lafuente disputed the Tucker Carlson show’s claims that the Miller farm had been raided by armed federal agents. Lafuente said conservative media are “trying to turn (Miller) into a martyr of sorts.”
And it’s worked. The comments beneath the YouTube video of Carlson’s segment on Miller are the proof in this toxic pudding. (That video had more than 2.3 million views as of Friday morning.) To cite just a few:
— “This administration is pure evil and needs to be taken down!”
— “Tucker!! Don’t let this one go. ... It strikes at the heart of our liberty and pursuit of happiness … this cannot stand.”
— “How sad! That is treason!! They went after a man and his farm for producing wholesome foods.”
Miller also drew praise recently on the social media platform Gab, which is popular with right-wing extremists who traffic in racism and antisemitism. A message held up Miller as an example for Christian nationalists, who want the U.S. to be governed as a strictly Christian nation.
As Nephin and Walker reported, Miller is reaping thousands of dollars in donations from the attention of conservative media.
“It’s not my cup of tea,” he told LNP | LancasterOnline on Wednesday. “I prefer not to be in the media or politics.”
He loathes the media attention so much that he spoke that same day to conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck.
Matter of food safety
Miller’s farm does not have the requisite Federal Grant of Inspection issued to slaughtering operations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, Nephin and Walker reported.
“Miller slaughtered animals as recently as last summer — in violation of a consent decree with the government. The government also said Miller has sold misbranded meat and poultry products — also a violation of regulations under the Meat Act — since at least 2016,” Nephin and Walker wrote. “A more thorough examination of the yearslong matter than provided by conservative media shows the government — and judge — seemingly going out of their way to bring Miller into compliance, even after Miller did things like having meat butchered on an adjacent property that also was not federally approved.”
Federal food regulations are in place for a reason: to keep Americans safe. They cannot be flouted by farmers who think that calling their products “organic” will magically make them safe to consume.
As Nephin reported separately, “Amos Miller first came to the attention of the Food and Drug Administration in 2016 when it identified listeria in samples of Miller’s raw milk and it was found to be genetically similar to bacteria in two people who developed listeriosis — one of whom died — after consuming raw milk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Listeriosis is most likely to sicken pregnant women and their newborns, older adults and people with weakened immune systems. It is not a minor concern: 1 in 5 people with the infection die, according to the CDC.
If we were farmers and one of our products had been linked to a person’s death, we’d do everything we could to ensure our products were as safe as possible. Miller has gone a different way.
Miller has invoked “sovereign citizen” language in self-filed court documents. As Nephin’s article explained, “Sovereign citizen adherents believe in the legally baseless assertion that individuals, and not courts or lawmakers, can decide what laws to follow.”
Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told LNP | LancasterOnline that there’s been a long-standing affinity between the sovereign citizen movement and operations like Miller’s.
Miller claims that he sells his products only to like-minded customers through his private purchasing club. Pitcavage noted that a “pseudo-legal” argument asserts that the federal government cannot interfere in a contract between members of private clubs — an argument he called meritless “gobbledygook.”
Indeed, the sovereign citizen movement is shameless in its embrace of conspiracy theories and gobbledygook. Facts and truth don’t just go by the wayside — they’re trampled in the soil of extremist belief.
In the run-up to the November midterm elections, we’ll see facts and truth diminished daily.
If Lancaster County residents had only Tucker Carlson from whom to get their information, we’d get a warped view of what’s happening even in our backyards.
Fortunately, LNP | LancasterOnline reporters such as Dan Nephin and Carter Walker are working to report the reality of thorny cases like Miller’s. This newspaper’s reporters regularly cover complex subjects.
The LNP | LancasterOnline Editorial Board — which is separate from this newspaper’s news department — is grateful for their reporting. We are grateful that this family-owned newspaper is committed to investigative journalism.
Communities that lack strong local newspapers suffer: As research has shown, taxes and corruption increase, because government oversight is diminished. Fewer people decide to run for office, and fewer people vote.
Accurate and dogged news reporting is essential to democracy. And to truth itself.
In a letter to the editor published Wednesday, a reader noted this newspaper’s in-depth reporting on Tucker Carlson and Amos Miller — and highlighted the difference between this newspaper’s approach and that of a partisan TV personality.
The letter writer observed that “Carlson was not privy to all of the nuances of the case. Naturally, it was easy for you to make him look like he did not know what he was talking about — just because you had studied the facts for years.”
LNP | LancasterOnline news reporters have been covering the Miller case since 2016. They have scoured court filings and interviewed experts on food safety and extremism. Their only agenda has been to report the truth of the matter.
Carlson called the Miller story “kind of hard to believe.” His telling of it certainly was.