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Anatomy of a Smear Campaign


For almost two years, a cadre of local activists (including but not limited to some school board members) has been engaged in a nasty smear campaign against the five of us who‘ve worked on Williamson Strong.

Here’s what they say:

  1. We’re not parents

  2. We’re liars

  3. We’re a front group

  4. We’re criminals

It includes trying to get the district attorney, the state government, and contract attorneys for WCS (all paid for with taxpayer dollars) to come after us.

We try not to focus on it because we have seen it as a sideshow from our agenda of informing you about issues affecting the schools. We also don’t want to amplify the smear, the intent of which is, of course, to make people afraid of speaking up and participating in school issues.

But now it looks like this smear is already at work in the coming elections. At least one school board candidate seems to be running against… Williamson Strong. (Note: we are not running for office.) It looks like it’ll get worse. There was even a meeting on how to advance the smear! (Folks, it’s a small town. News travels.) There are secret Facebook groups in which the smear tactics are discussed and coordinated. We kid you not. We may as well take a hard look at it.

Here’s the playbook we see:

Start with a big lie: these are not really parents; they are a front group for outside interests.

Susan Curlee, Beth Burgos, Candy Emerson and PJ Mezera have all engaged in this, with Burgos calling us a “special interest group,” Emerson calling us an “outside interest,” and Curlee pitching this as her cornerstone claim at the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. Mezera, who had previously acknowledged to Susan Drury that this claim was ludicrous, nevertheless recently declared:

“Somebody is paying for their social media apparatus and publications. It is very confusing how they receive funding or make decisions as an organization or who is directing their organization.” – PJ Mezera

We’ve repeatedly stated the truth—that we are WCS parents and no one funds us, we are not a front group, etc. We’ve even provided affidavits and receipts to the state.

The folks who traffic in this garbage are either knowingly lying or invested in their own confusion.

Constantly imply criminality.

A few lowlights:

We’ve been accused of criminal acts for almost two years. These include harassment, stalking, attacking a candidate’s child, slander, physical threats and intimidation, endangering the security of a candidate’s family, defamation, and rigging an election.

The most grotesque example of the smear of criminality is the false claim that Jennifer Smith, a devoted volunteer and fundraiser for the schools for many years, is to blame for the theft of $20,000 from the Hillsboro PTO. (Even though the police made an arrest in August 2014, Curlee was still trying to get the DA to investigate Jennifer Smith until December 2015.) We have seen this false (and legally actionable) disparagement on candidate-moderated Facebook pages and on documents submitted to the registry. We’ve heard it on 99.7 WTN and through local whisper campaigns.

Then there’s the morals charge: spreading lies. Multiple board members (and others) have made this allegation—including in statements to the media. Any facts to back that up? We have repeatedly asked, but we have never received a response. Everything we do is written down on open pages—we are more transparent than our elected officials. You’d think it would be easy to identify the lie, as it were. Nope.

Even speaking up is criminal.

Another way the smear campaign works is to consistently equate democratic participation with violence and other criminality. This was particularly true during PJ Mezera’s chairmanship, as if letter writing and commenting were somehow inappropriate. Examples: Mezera calling engaged parents a “potential lynch mob” or activist Tiffany Borgelt and Susan Curlee calling Williamson Strong “terrorists.” This includes current and aspiring school board members (and their supporters) calling Susan Drury a “thug” over and over again for two years.


Get the taxpayers to advance your smear.

This crowd has really been adept at using taxpayer resources to increase the harassment of public school parents. The district attorney, the state, the lawyers contracted by WCS to investigate Hillsboro—tens of thousands of dollars worth— have all been used to investigate Williamson Strong parents. Yep. We paid for it. You paid for it. We expect to see more of it.

Accuse without evidence.

Deliver the lie—then duck out. Provide no specifics, no examples, no evidence. That’s how it works. One favorite: former chair PJ Mezera was quoted stating that we defamed him on our website, but he refused to elaborate how or when he was defamed. (See, if you produce evidence, people can judge for themselves what is true. So, nah, just go with the smear! It’s a whole lot easier!)

Repeat and add the chorus.

A good smear campaign requires repetition and a chorus of folks who will shamelessly say nasty stuff about us, even as they say we should “Be Nice.” Here are a few choice things they have called us: witches who need to find real men, anti-Christian, roaches, god-haters, sicko pathetic little commie idiots, hell bound evil ‘parents’ (yes, parents in quotes), fascists, Muslim extremists, hateful poisons, socialists, Christ-haters, anti-American, dedicated to the work of Satan, and a “political group posing as a group of parents.”

We’d also be remiss if we did not mention that PJ Mezera called Williamson Strong “anathema to democracy” and “the worst thing that could ever happen to our county.”

We couldn’t disagree more. We think that parental and community engagement is crucial to the life of our kids, our individual schools, and our school district. We want to make sure that the voices of parents and other community members who want public schools to thrive are heard throughout Williamson County and with our elected officials. We think that’s democracy in action, and we’ll continue to encourage it. Be informed. Be engaged. Get involved. We think that’s the way our democracy works best.

2016 WS


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