Mike Smith, far right, with the U.S. Navy Seal Team in La Paz, Bolivia.
by Mike Smith The attack usually comes from someone you don’t know. Their goal is to supplant the truth with doubt, to undermine credibility and diminish achievements, and to destroy character for reasons that often remain unknown. They are like thieves, bent on robbing those human qualities that are most valuable to their victims—qualities such as integrity and honor. And no one is immune from these personal attacks. I know, because what I just described happened to me.
Last weekend someone contacted VTDigger and questioned the authenticity of my military credentials — specifically whether I was really a member of Seal Team Two.
Of course, the assertion wasn’t true. It was an attack by innuendo. No evidence was provided, and it wasn’t done publicly. This person never reached out to me with concerns because their mission wasn’t to verify, it was to destroy.
I supplied VTDigger with information about my military background, which was easy enough. The issue probably would have ended there. But the magnitude of such a personal violation left me feeling dissatisfied.
The way to confront those that lurk in the shadows is to shine a light on their actions. So, this past week, with the help of former Navy Seals and the widow of a fallen Seal—whose body I was responsible for escorting back to the U.S. in 1975—I set out to start a conversation about how to defend against attacks through innuendo.
To hear the podcast of the radio program click here.
What happened to me, and what is happening to others with increasing frequency, is a form of character assassination by technological means. It is often done outside public scrutiny by those operating in the shadows of a digital netherworld.
Starting a rumor is easy. Through technology, falsehoods and innuendos can spread like a wildfire with the push of a button.
It is much more difficult to put an end to a rumor. In some cases, the burden becomes so overwhelming that the victim experiences trauma. And in extreme cases victims can be driven to suicide.
Similar tactics have even infiltrated our political system. Individuals—and foreign governments—lurk in the shadows and use technology to influence our electoral process and public policy. Even the U. S. government finds it difficult, if not impossible, to expose perpetrators.
It’s not hyperbole to say these tactics can threaten our democracy.
We must confront those that operate in the shadows rather than ignore them. Otherwise, people who use these tactics will continue to get away with it.
I must confess I was angry when someone tried to question the authenticity of my accomplishments using innuendo. I wanted to know why. There’s a likelihood I will never know the reasons why I was targeted and in the end, it doesn’t really matter.
Unlike so many stories like this, mine has a happy ending. Through this experience I was able to reconnect with some of the extraordinary men and women I met during my time as a Navy Seal and my anger turned to gratitude when they leapt to my defense. I am especially grateful to Barbara A. Smith, who was left widowed at 24 years old, with a 5-year-old child when her husband Jack was killed while we were serving together overseas.
There is a major lesson to be learned from this experience: Don’t be reluctant to confront those that operate in the shadows.
Democracy depends on our ability to dispel innuendo and get to the truth.
Mike Smith is the host of the radio program, “Open Mike with Mike Smith,” on WDEV 550 AM and 96.1, 96.5, 98.3 and 101.9 FM. He is a regular columnist for VTDigger and Vermont Business Magazine and also a political analyst for WCAX-TV and WVMT radio. He was the secretary of administration and secretary of human services under former Gov. Jim Douglas.