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January 26, 2021

“I Just Know It!”

So, here’s the scenario. Your neighbor of many years, Jerry, wakes up one morning and yells at the top of his lungs “I’ve been robbed! I had $100,000 in cash in my dresser and now it’s gone. I’m sure Bob (you!) did it.” Now, you haven’t always gotten along all that well as neighbors, but had basically figured out how to live beside each other peacefully for the most part so you are pretty shocked by this. Of course, you vigorously deny the allegation.

Jerry begins telling everyone else in the neighborhood about how he had been robbed and that YOU had done it. Every day he is out telling everyone about it, more and more stridently with each telling. You, of course, tell everyone that you didn’t do anything and that Jerry is making this up but as time goes by your neighbors who initially ignored the claim are starting to look suspiciously at you. Jerry seems pretty sure about this they say, so they wonder if perhaps there is something to it.

Jerry calls and reports the theft to the police who come out and begin to investigate. Multiple cop cars pull up and start to examine the scene of the “crime” while your neighbors watch with increasing suspicion. Yellow tape everywhere, people in protective suits, fingerprints being dusted for; the whole array of forensic science is on display to solve this heinous crime. “I just know Bob took it.” Jerry continues to insist.

This is crazy you think. “I didn’t do anything, didn’t take anything. I’ve just been doing my thing and now people are starting to suspect me of stealing Jerry’s money. WTF???”

The next thing you know, the police show up at your house with a warrant to search your premises for the missing $200,000. Again, the full force of forensics is on display for all to see, this time complete with dogs and a helicopter equipped with infrared search beams. As the circus enfolds in your house, the neighbors are clustered just outside of the yellow tape and talking about how “where there’s smoke there must be fire”. As more collect and the talk continues, people who you once considered friends are now looking at you with dark suspicion and keeping their kids away from yours.

After what seems like forever, the police pack up all their fancy equipment and leave after having found nothing. They announce it to you, to Jerry, and the neighborhood. You breathe a sigh of relief and expect that now things will settle back down and the neighborhood will return to normal.

Until you read the newspaper the next morning. Jerry has given an interview to the local paper renewing his accusations against you and upping the charges, now saying you have been having an affair with his wife. With tears in his eyes, he describes how the neighbor he had always trusted has now become a serious criminal and is a danger to the whole city, maybe the whole state. You go outside and find your yard littered with garbage, your house spray-painted with “Thief” and “Pervert”, and the tires on your car slashed.

The police have no more interest in the case and say so to the local reports chasing this story. Their investigation didn’t find any evidence of a crime, much less one that you committed, so are not bringing any charges against you. Finally! This should bring it to an end. Right? The police have said there is no crime and that you are innocent.

The next day a knock at your door brings a court summons to appear and answer charges that you stole not only Jerry’s $200,000 but also his car and his wife. The news media screams about this on page one, calling for justice for Jerry. The fact Jerry’s wife is still living with him seems beside the point to everyone, no-one notices that the amount has grown.

Now the neighborhood is totally up in arms. Petitions are circulating demanding that you be forced to sell your home and move away. Your wife is barred from classes at the yoga studio and your boss is considering firing you. With all this attention everyone in the community believes there must be something to the accusations and you are very likely guilty of this and probably many more crimes. Your “friends” don’t return your calls or texts anymore and no other dogs will play with yours.

Finally, the civil court date arrives and you hope-and-pray that you will be able to wake from this nightmare. You don’t have anything to bring with you to court since you didn’t do anything. What could you bring that shows you did nothing??

Court is gaveled into session and Jerry gets up to give an impassioned speech about all the evil you have done. He describes in graphic detail how you have ruined his life and stolen his future. That half-million dollars you supposedly stole was for his children’s college and his retirement. His voice climbs ever higher as he waves his arms pointing at you and tears of outrage appear in his eyes. Sweat pours down his face and soaks his shirt as he levels each new accusation at you. Exhausted but exultant, he finishes practically shouting “Bob did it. I just know it!”

After he sits down the judge asks for your statement, but all you can say is that you didn’t do it. You remind the judge and jury that Jerry has not provided any evidence against you, so there is little you can you say to refute his claim. And you sit back down.

The judge looks at Jerry and asks him for his evidence, asks him what the police found and documented. Jerry stands again and says, with confidence, that he doesn’t have the evidence today but it’s coming, trust him as he just knows it. The police haven’t found any evidence yet, Jerry says, but they will if they just investigate again. He just knows it. He demands the court trust him, believe him, and deliver a judgment against you immediately to return his money, his car, and everything else that was taken from him. “Bob took it, I know it, and he must pay!”

You’ve hard the evidence here, so what would you say? How would you rule if you were the judge? Or another neighbor?

Thankfully, the court dismisses the case on the spot and sends Jerry home with nothing. That was the truth, but the damage had already been done.

Back home again, with all this now behind you (right?), you relax on your porch and watch the neighborhood settle back to normal. Except that the neighbors still won’t look at or talk to you. Your kids are still being bullied and your dog has no-one to play with. With sadness and confusion, you realize that things may never be the same again. You did nothing wrong, you followed the rules, and yet your life will never be the same. You won, but you lost.

This was the “stolen election”, made personal. Lies were repeated so often they took on a life of their own. People we have trusted are trusted no more, institutions we have trusted we trust no more and perhaps never will again. Jerry knew there was no theft, but over and over claimed it anyway in hopes he could win. Neighbors knew it was unlikely but started to believe anyway.

A lie repeated enough times does not become true, but that may not matter. Unchallenged, or repeated, the damage is real and catastrophic. Trust once lost may never be regained.

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