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Where Have All the Lanternflies Gone?


Remember the spotted lanternfly?

Barely a year ago, this colorful winged insect was supposed to be a harbinger of national disaster.

Native to China but increasingly visible in border-jumping swarms in the eastern United States, the spotted lanternfly’s activities in this country had been well known since 2014 – and until recently hadn’t provoked any particular alarm. But in the dog days of 2022, just as coronavirus hysteria seemed to be fading, the Chinese bug suddenly emerged as Public Enemy No. 1.

In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a sample of last summer’s fear porn, this one from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture but couched in the hysterical accents that characterized lanternfly lingo wherever it appeared:

If you see a spotted lanternfly…Kill it! Squash it, smash it…just get rid of it. In the fall, these bugs will lay egg masses with 30-50 eggs each. These are called bad bugs for a reason, don’t let them take over your county next.

A Quarantine and Treatment Order is in place to help prevent the spread of spotted lanternfly…Quarantine zones may be expanded to new areas…

In other words: Panic! Deadly insects were on the loose, already threatening to “take over your county!” And as if a horde of Chinese killer bugs weren’t trouble enough, your friendly local government was on its way to slap an expanding “quarantine zone” on your neighborhood, so that you and your friends could spend the rest of the summer cowering under your beds. “Bad bugs,” indeed.

Never mind that the spotted lanternfly is barely the size of a man’s thumbnail and can neither bite nor sting. Never mind that none of the scare stories masquerading as “news” attributed any quantifiable damage to the interloping insects, nor commented on the peculiar fact that the government agencies whose officials swore the lanternflies were poised to devour our food crops seemed to be doing precious little to stop them – apart from scaring their constituents half to death.

Facts would only have interfered with the message.

“The spotted lanternfly causes serious damage…in trees, vines, crops and many other types of plants,” local authorities declaimed, warning in addition of a “huge threat” to US business: “The economic impact [of the lanternflies] could total in the hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs for those in the grapes, apple, hops, and hardwood industries.”

Meanwhile, TV reports whooped that the lanternflies had “the potential to cause big problems [emphasis theirs] from New York to North Carolina and all the way west to Indiana,” including the devastation of fruit trees – so we’d be robbed of food at the same time we lost our jobs and the regional economy went (even farther) south.

Well, that was then.

Barely a year later, local news reports about the bugs are taking a different tone. Now they tell us that the spotted lanternfly population seems to have diminished throughout the eastern seaboard. And I still haven’t heard of any significant damage the lanternflies are alleged to have caused, here or elsewhere in the US.

Yes, there have been a few attempts to renew last year’s terror campaign: one recent television report cited unnamed “officials” who warned that “if the spotted lanternfly isn’t controlled, it could cost the New York economy $300 million a year.” But that official threat only said that the lanternflies “could” cause such damage. Useful word, “could.”

Even professional catastrophists are scaling down their eschatologies. Staten Island Live, despite promising (falsely) in mid-July that the flying bugs were about to descend on us “in overwhelming numbers” and “in populations higher than last year,” now concedes that spraying them with insecticide would be more dangerous to humans than the insects themselves. Another recent report confirms that spotted lanternflies “don’t seem to be around as much” and that their “impact to agriculture has not been as widespread as initially predicted.” Which is a far cry from the “Kill it! Squash it! Smash it!” panic porn yelped at us a year ago.

Now, I know that last year’s end-of-the-world fairy tale is as obsolete as a VCR cassette – and I would not be wasting time on this one except to make a point: that while lanternfly lunacy lived only for a summer, the pattern it represents is not about to go away.

Yes, the spotted lanternflies are fading from the headlines. We’re no longer being admonished to drop everything we’re doing to go outside and stamp on as many of the bugs as possible – the implication being, of course, that anyone who doesn’t do that is a threat to society who should not be allowed to vote, receive medical care, patronize restaurants, or use social media.

But let’s not forget how effective the indoctrination was while it lasted. I can remember when grown men were hopping along suburban sidewalks like Mexican jumping beans, convinced that they were performing a social service by squashing lanternflies. “We won’t have any fruits or vegetables in the stores unless we get rid of them,” one man told me earnestly, grunting with pleasure each time one of his soles flattened a lanternfly. “I’ve killed twenty just this morning.”

I’m reasonably sure that this man donned a surgical mask in the spring of 2020 to counter a respiratory virus – even though anyone who could read knew that such masks were worthless as viral protection. Like as not, he also informed on friends who dared to talk to people in elevators or to take their children to a park. And when Big Brother said that it was safe to remove one’s muzzle when sitting down but not when standing, or when eating or drinking but not when swimming or talking or sunbathing (or driving alone in one’s car, for that matter), he probably swallowed that nonsense too.

And why not? Is lanternfly lunacy any crazier than the other disaster stories the media have been dinning into our ears?

Two years ago, government officials from President Biden downward were insisting that people who hadn’t submitted to COVID-19 “vaccines” were walking death traps, notwithstanding clear medical evidence that the drugs did not prevent either infection or transmission. Yet long after drug-pusher-in-chief Deborah Birx conceded to Congress that this divisive slander had no basis in fact – indeed, even after notorious vaccine evangelist Paul Offit admitted that those scantily-tested COVID-19 drugs actually do cause myocarditis – the press went on cheerleading for more injections, not for better standards of drug safety. Propaganda, not truth, got the last word.

The definitive debunking of mask madness by the Cochrane Review early this year fared no better. The absence of any evidence that face masks slow the spread of COVID-19 has not stopped the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health from beating the drums for yet another assault on public breathing, now that another “variant” is supposedly around the corner. Meanwhile, a German judge who tried to protect schoolchildren from the muzzling regime – arguing, correctly, that forcing useless face coverings on children threatened their “mental, physical or psychological wellbeing” and compromised the “right of children to education and school teaching” – has been ejected from the bench and slapped with a two-year suspended prison sentence.

And what about “climate change?” “Experts” do not hesitate to insist that minor fluctuations in global mean temperature are responsible for everything from obesity to the civil war in Syria – claims that are every bit as ridiculous as the idea that stamping bugs to death on city sidewalks can save fruits and vegetables grown on faraway farms. But saying the obvious can be costly. When respected physicist (and former Obama administration official) Steven Koonin published a book challenging “climate” hysteria – a challenge grounded in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, supposedly the bible of the hysterics themselves – he was roundly denounced by Right Thinkers as a liar, an incompetent and even an appropriator of Holocaust imagery. And this from people whose every doomsday forecast since the late 1980s has been demonstrably wrong!

My point is that it doesn’t much matter which costume the Right Thinkers are dressing up their agenda with at a given moment. What matters is the agenda itself. Specific scare stories will come and go; the objective behind them will never change – until we refuse to be bullied any more.

At bottom, the dynamic we face is clear enough. The ruling class is deeply impatient with that old-fashioned idea about the people governing themselves. And so, our rulers are hunting relentlessly for any excuse to snatch away a few more of our rights, to siphon off a bit more of our privacy, to pry a little further into our personal space. COVID-19, “climate change,” Donald Trump’s continuing designs on the White House, the spotted lanternfly – all of these may look like separate stories, but in fact they’re a single agenda in search of a pretext.

That’s why Anthony Fauci, patron saint of COVID tyranny, has taken his I-love-Big-Brother routine onto the “climate” bandwagon. In August, he claimed that “climate change” is “playing a role” in causing viral outbreaks, and demanded an “international commitment to decrease the carbon imprint in society.” If mainstream media outlets noticed anything odd about this approach to medicine – let’s stop viruses by making working people pay loads of extra money for electricity while simultaneously raising their food and transportation costs – I haven’t heard them say so.

That’s why Naomi Klein, for whom the only fault of the illegal mass confinement regime of 2020-21 was that it “was abandoned too soon,” is now flacking for mass impoverishment under the slogan “climate justice.” That’s right: “justice” – which, for Klein, means starving poor countries of affordable energy, thus stunting their development, and then tossing them crumbs for adopting ineffective “clean energy” programs. No wonder Klein is currently the toast of well-heeled liberal intellectuals with a taste for totalitarianism.

All of which makes me think of the 1955 folk song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” It’s a lovely lyric that traces a kind of tragic circle: flowers are picked by girls who marry young men, all of whom then go off to war, are killed and buried, and whose graves then grow flowers to begin the cycle over again.

Fear propaganda can move in similar cycles. Where have all the lanternflies gone since last summer? Gone to Russophobia, let’s say, gone to “climate change,” gone to Trump-hating, gone to the next COVID-19 “variant.” But wherever they’ve gone – and this is the point – they haven’t really gone at all. The spotted lanternfly may have disappeared from the headlines but the chain of deceit and democracy-busting continues, moving from one topic to another but always aiming at our freedom, trying to terrify us into surrendering what the ruling class is still afraid to steal by force.

And there is only one way to stop such a cycle. You’ve got to learn that it is a cycle, and moreover that it is not a fact of nature but a deliberate and cynical system of exploitation. Left to themselves, the Right Thinkers will keep shifting from one scare story to another, each time shaking us down for another piece of our autonomy – until there’s nothing left.

But if we refuse to play along, the cycle ends. Once we say, “I’ve been taken in for the last time” – then and only then the Right Thinkers will lose their power over our minds.

So remember the lanternfly. Remember how silly and how ephemeral was the story of its threat to us all. And yet, how seriously we were lectured that the lanternfly meant the End of the World.

Remember it the next time you’re told that the entire globe is about to burn because people are driving cars or cooking with gas stoves. Or that somebody’s sniffles are going to kill you. Or that censorship is meant for your protection. Or that democracy and freedom aren’t really in your best interest.

It’s the same old song.

And it’s just another lie.

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  • Michael Lesher

    Michael Lesher is an author, poet and lawyer whose legal work is mostly dedicated to issues connected with domestic abuse and child sexual abuse. A memoir of his discovery of Orthodox Judaism as an adult – Turning Back: The Personal Journey of a “Born-Again” Jew – was published in September 2020 by Lincoln Square Books. He has also published op-ed pieces in such varied venues as Forward, ZNet, the New York Post and Off-Guardian.

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