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Mar 16 2012

Major Jonathan Dowty: A Case Study in Demagoguery and Mental Illness

(A guest post by former Army Sergeant Dustin Chalker)

For those who are unfamiliar with Air Force Major Jonathan Dowty (“JD”), he is a fundamentalist bully and cyber stalker who harasses and provokes Active Duty soldiers and veterans using his blog, God and Country. Over the past several years Dowty has revealed himself to be a cowardly POGUE (Person On Ground with Unused Equipment) with an unhealthy psychological obsession with Mikey Weinstein, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), Army Sergeant Justin Griffith, and other service members including myself. This creep has written dozens – if not hundreds – of articles about us, stalked MRFF members and clients on Facebook, and continues to publicly attack Active Duty service members to the detriment of good order and discipline. As a former soldier, I was once a target of Dowty’s cyber stalking and libel.

Dowty is not a bad writer. His verbal ability is no doubt his greatest strength. But verbal ability does not compensate for poor reasoning skills. Dowty uses his ability to turn a phrase to conceal blatant logical fallacies that permeate his entire blog. The result is a series of counterfactual and misleading articles written with a superficial veneer of intelligence. Unfortunately, this is probably adequate to fool the average reader, making Dowty the most effective kind of demagogue.

Today, I will set out to unravel a few of Dowty’s tricks and lay bare his deceit.

Polarization:  Dowty relies heavily upon a polarizing narrative: a black and white, in-group vs. out-group distortion highly suggestive of mental illness. The in-group is Christians (who are American and patriotic and good). The out-group consists of MRFF, atheists, Muslims, and some Jews (who want to destroy religious freedom and oppress Christianity). Dowty’s false narrative ignores the fact that over90% of MRFF’s clients are Christians and MRFF has the support of large Christian congregations. Dowty ignores the fact that his out-group consists almost entirely of patriotic American veterans who value religious liberty. Outside of Dowty’s twisted mind, his in-group and out-group share a common interest in mutual respect and reciprocal non-interference. Conflict only exists when one group polarizes itself and attempts to assert dominance, which brings me to the next point:

Slippery terms: What is freedom? To some, it is the right to do as you wish without interference from outside forces, within the limits necessary to ensure you don’t infringe on another’s freedom. To others, it is the right to do as you wish and dominate others so that they do what you wish as well. These two radically opposed definitions mark the difference between tolerance and oppression. Most people will agree with the first: that we can all believe what we want and practice our various beliefs without infringing on others. Dowty’s brand of Dominionism, however, asserts that Christians have a right to dominate and force others to participate in their practices and adhere to their rules. If you resist assimilation, you are violating their god-given right to dominate you. Because MRFF supports religious freedom and tolerance and opposes religious domination, Dowty claims that MRFF opposes religious “freedom” –using his twisted Dominionist definition. Speaking of definitions:

Equivocation: A frequent theme in Dowty’s obsessive attacks against military atheists is that a contradiction exists between our demand for religious freedom while simultaneously denying that atheism is a religion. This is a simple matter of equivocation: Dowty is taking advantage of the fact that words have more than one meaning, and he uses them interchangeably to create the illusion of contradiction where none exists. Religion has more than one meaning. If you mean: a belief system featuring faith in the supernatural, then no – atheism is not a religion. But within the context of the American legal system, religious protections apply to any philosophical worldview regardless of its supernatural elements or lack thereof. Dowty would have you believe we’re saying “We’re not a religion, but demand equal religious liberty” when our true position is best expressed as “We’re not a religion, but demand equal philosophical liberty.” The word “religion” in legal contexts has a broader definition that does include us, while the word “religion” in a philosophical context is narrow and does not include us. Dowty knows this, but equivocates in order to fool his readers into thinking we’re contradicting ourselves.

Scare quotes: Dowty loves to throw scare quotes around words to imply that a given term is inaccurate and make himself feel intellectually superior. Narcissistic displays of “cleverness” aside, this adds nothing of value to the discussion.

Self-referencing circular reasoning: Dowty LOVES to link to his own articles in his new writing. No big deal, right? Normally. But Dowty’s particular brand of crazy can even make a hyperlink fallacious. Whenever Dowty can’t prove a point, or wants to throw in an extra insult, he simply throws in a link to an old article with a snide comment that “It has been proven that…” or “Some have questioned…” or “As has already been shown…”

Fallacies: Rather than rewrite something that has already been written so well, I’d like to refer you to Trish Roberts-Miller’s list of common fallacies used by demagogues. If someone told me this list was written specifically about Dowty, I would believe them.

Jonathan Dowty’s libelous attacks on active duty service members should be more than enough to justify action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. However, due to his Christian privilege it is unlikely that he’ll ever be held accountable for attacking subordinates. Any atheist officer insulting and attacking Christian soldiers would’ve been properly reprimanded, but because of the twisted definition of “religious freedom” Major Jonathan Dowty gets a free pass to abuse his rank and position to attack those who can’t fight back.

Even more important than UCMJ action is the fact that Major Jonathan Dowty needs to be evaluated by mental health professionals. His pathological obsession with his targets, polarized worldview, black-and-white thinking, twisted terminology, desire to assert dominance over other groups, and manipulative use of language all suggest the possibility of mental illness. As we’ve seen in the past, the consequences of ignoring the signs of mental illness can be quite severe, especially when such illness is linked to extreme religious beliefs, such as those of Major Nidal Hassan. I hope that the leadership of the Air Force has the courage and wisdom to take action when all signs indicate that action is warranted.

21 comments

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  1. 1
    strange gods before me ॐ

    all suggest the possibility of mental illness.

    Probably not, but thanks for the moronic armchair diagosis and by-proxy stigmatization of mentally ill people. Expect this thread to be a useless clusterfuck.

    If you really, really thought that about him, you could directly contact people in the military who could do something. This is instead the worst approach.

  2. 2
    nonsense

    Unfortunately, when this kind of mental illness is tied to evangelical christianity, it gets dismissed as “zealousness,” if not outright encouraged.

  3. 3
    Dustin Chalker

    Pitbull,

    Thanks for your opinion. Now look at some of the signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder: “a grandiose sense of self-importance; seeks excessive admiration; has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations; is interpersonally exploitive, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends; lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others; is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her; shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.”

    That’s Dowty.

    Now I don’t frankly care much if the guy is unhinged, as long as he’s harmless. But his obsession with harassing and cyber stalking MRFF and his dangerously polarized worldview are a source of concern.

  4. 4
    minxatlarge

    Pretty much everything I’ve read about Dowty made me think NPD. Or ASPD. Or sociopath. Or psychopath. Or whatever they’re labeling bullies this week.

  5. 5
    kevinalexander

    If someone claims that a malevolent alien is beaming thoughts into his head that force him to abuse those around him then no one would argue his sanity. If he says Jesus though, it’s perfectly reasonable.

    The issue isn’t his sanity, it’s his abuse of the rights of his helpless victims.

  6. 6
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Dustin, you’re doing what every incompetent does, thinking you’re qualified to crack open the DSM and start diagnosing people like you’ve already taken the necessary years of training and understand what everything means in the professional context.

    And you’re approaching it with massive confirmation bias. You already think there’s something wrong with his brain, so you look for reasons to support your armchair diagnosis. You haven’t even thought about how you might explain his behavior as anything other than mental illness. You have no alternative hypothesis; it’s confirmation bias all the way.

    Some people have a personal dedication to being evil assholes, just because they’re socially rewarded for it, and there’s nothing wrong with their brains. They’re healthy animals exploiting a particular environmental niche that can sustain them.

    You simply do not have the training to differentiate between these options.

    If you wanted to say that Dowty is a bad person and the military should censure or otherwise punish him in some way, I would completely agree with you. That much is perfectly evident and ought to be uncontroversial.

    And if your armchair diagnosis troubled you so much that you felt you had to privately contact some people in the military who might be able to get a professional evaluation started, that’s understandable.

    But all you’ve done here is embolden other incompetents like yourself to go forth and multiply the public stigmatization of mentally ill people.

    It’s unforunate and very naive that you imagine no one could be this evil without being mentally ill. I’m sorry to have to be the one to inform you, there is more healthy self-serving cruelty in the world than most good people would like to imagine.

  7. 7
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I mean, this is a hilarious joke at your expense, Justin:

    Pretty much everything I’ve read about Dowty made me think NPD. Or ASPD. Or sociopath. Or psychopath. Or whatever they’re labeling bullies this week.

    Though I don’t think it was intended as a joke! (I could be wrong, and it could be so meta that I’m second- and third-guessing it, in which case, brilliant form.)

    Whether intentionally or not, it perfectly highlights the discomfort with which well-meaning people try to see everything bad as a pathology, because the alternative — that the world really is so brutal that a healthy animal can succeed by exploiting and hurting others — is too awful to contemplate.

    It shouldn’t, mustn’t, can’t be that some people can just win by being bullies!

  8. 8
    scenario

    Bulldog

    Someone in a position of power shows clear signs that they may be mentally ill. Suggesting that professionals should examine him or her is not out of line. You may be right. He may just be an evil asshole. Or you may be wrong and he’ll kill himself or some innocent people. Unlikely, yes. Impossible, no.

    There have been too many cases in the U.S. where people who have shown clear symptoms of mental illness have been ignored until they hurt or killed someone. Ignoring mental illness to the point where the afflicted kill themselves or others is much more likely to cause a stigma on the mentally ill then getting them the treatment they need does.

    Did the people around the soldier who killed a bunch of innocent women and children a few days ago think that they shouldn’t report his behavior to his superiors because they don’t know enough about mental illness to decide if he really is mentally ill? How about the various shooting incidents at colleges and post offices and restaurants over the last few years?

    If I see someone acting erratically, it’s wrong for me to suggest that they should seek medical treatment because I’m not qualified to diagnose the condition? WTF

  9. 9
    scenario

    Sorry it’s
    life is like a pitbull with lipstick ॐ not bulldog.
    Bad proofreading.

  10. 10
    Dustin Chalker

    Pitbull, I haven’t made any diagnosis, armchair or otherwise. My statements were perfectly qualified to account for my relative knowledge of the field. My comments that he “needs to be evaluated by mental health professionals” and his behaviors “suggest the possibility of” illness are not absolute claims of a diagnosis, but indications of concern, and why I’m concerned. The “alternate hypothesis” doesn’t need to be explicitly spelled out for your benefit when my statement is adequately qualified to begin with. He *may* have a personality disorder, and if not then obviously the alternative is that he’s such a jerk that he appears to have a personality disorder.

  11. 11
    strange gods before me ॐ

    scenario,

    First of all, these are not clear signs. What we have here are summaries of ambiguous things, cobbled together to fit a narrative.

    Second, that still doesn’t mean it’s not to be taken seriously. And I didn’t suggest otherwise. I did not say “ignore him.” Here’s what I did say:

    If you really, really thought that about him, you could directly contact people in the military who could do something. This is instead the worst approach.

    If you wanted to say that Dowty is a bad person and the military should censure or otherwise punish him in some way, I would completely agree with you. That much is perfectly evident and ought to be uncontroversial.

    And if your armchair diagnosis troubled you so much that you felt you had to privately contact some people in the military who might be able to get a professional evaluation started, that’s understandable.

    And I didn’t say “it’s wrong [...] to suggest that they should seek medical treatment”. If you’re on speaking terms with the individual, it may be helpful for you to suggest that to them. (This depends on a lot of factors, and I’d advise you to talk to a professional before you proceed with any plan.)

    Or you might take the issue to someone else. Since we’re talking about the military here, it should be pretty obvious who you bring it up with, no? Someone has the authority to do something.

    Now that I’ve said that three times, let me point out what doesn’t help. A blog post doesn’t help. If you think someone needs medical help, publicly shaming them over it doesn’t help them. It doesn’t help anyone.

  12. 12
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Pitbull, I haven’t made any diagnosis, armchair or otherwise. My statements were perfectly qualified to account for my relative knowledge of the field.

    Oh ho ho! If you want to play that game, you lose. You forgot to “qualify” it when you said that he has a “pathological obsession”.

    But I don’t think that game is helpful or honest, Dustin. What you’re doing here is giving yourself all the leeway to call this guy mentally ill — several of your commenters got the message loud and clear — while hedging everything when challenged.

    You get the best of both worlds, eh? You get to stigmatize mentally ill people and then claim you totally weren’t doing that.

    This post was irresponsible. Do tell, though, what do you even imagine was your point behind doing this rather than directing the issue through official channels?

    He *may* have a personality disorder, and if not then obviously the alternative is that he’s such a jerk that he appears to have a personality disorder

    … to someone who isn’t qualified to judge whether or not anyone has a personality disorder.

    Very useful insight, that.

  13. 13
    Dustin Chalker

    I’m not even talking about “mentally ill people” as a whole, so it’s pretty deceptive to suggest that I’ve stigmatized them. I’m talking about a single individual: Jonathan Dowty.

    You make a lot of assumptions for someone who is supposedly concerned with people only speaking about things they’re experts in. You assume I don’t know enough about psychology to recognize potential symptoms when I see them. You assume official channels haven’t been notified (repeatedly). You assume a blog post informing the public of a potentially dangerous religious extremist can’t do anything to motivate action or produce a solution. You should question these assumptions rather than turning them into an attack. If you want to suggest a more effective course of action, I’m pretty easy to get in touch with.

  14. 14
    leopold

    I am not an insult.

    Jonathan Dowty uses rhetoric to cover up faulty reasoning, paints atheists and those who disagree with him as the enemy, and resorts to attack instead of reasoned debate. Good that you’re denouncing that; it needs doing.

    You also believe, rightly or wrongly, that Jonathan Dowty requires medical attention. (I do not roll my eyes at diagnosing people from their writings; some symptoms can often show.) How is this any of our business? He’s not in a life-threatening emergency; why should strangers discuss his medical conditions in public?

    You claim his illness is relevant, because it influences his writings. But you’re not saying “He’s crazy, which makes his point of view unusual in such-and-such bad ways, such as missing this error or being unfair in these circumstances”. You’re saying “He’s crazy”, and leaning on the implication that of course that’s bad.

    Jonathan Dowty deserves criticism. Call him wrong and evil. Don’t call him wrong, evil, and also like me.

  15. 15
    Pinky

    Leopold said:

    “How is this any of our business? He’s not in a life-threatening emergency; why should strangers discuss his medical conditions in public?”

    Major Jonathan Dowty is a fighter pilot. Considering the damage a group of religious zealots did using civilian jetliners, the fact a religious zealot is strapped into a high performance weapons platform should give you pause.

  16. 16
    Pinky

    Please excuse the rough form of my last comment. My quotes got away from me. For some reason the Preview button would not work on my end.

  17. 17
    Aquaria

    Dowty’s brand of Dominionism, however, asserts that Christians have a right to dominate and force others to participate in their practices and adhere to their rules. If you resist assimilation, you are violating their god-given right to dominate you. Because MRFF supports religious freedom and tolerance and opposes religious domination, Dowty claims that MRFF opposes religious “freedom” –using his twisted Dominionist definition.

    This is the most cogent summary of why dominionists are what they are, and why they are so dangerous that I’ve yet seen.

    And just ignore pitbull like the rest of us do. You’ll never win because you don’t obsess about that chip on hir shoulder as much as s/he can.

  18. 18
    Aquaria

    Your point is spot-on, Pinky.

    Dowty is flying an advanced weapon, or supervising those that do (most guys at his rank are transitioning to desk work, or becoming too old to handle the rigors of flying, day in and day out). He’s put in a weapon of destruction, every day, and idiots like Leopold think that his mentality isn’t potentially dangerous for people around the world?

    Do you know the damage just one plane he flies can cause. Leopold?

    Are you familiar with the term “steaming crater”?

    And if nothing else, Leopold, try–try–to think of the immediate danger of having not only careers, but entire futures wiped out by this sadistic theocratic scum. Do you understand–at all–what it can do to your life to be thrown out of the military with less than an honorable discharge? Do you understand how that can make it impossible for you to have a decent life ever again? Try getting a job with a General or Bad Conduct discharge on your DD-214. Don’t even try to imagine what an Dishonorable Discharge will do to you.

    Employers see that, and they want nothing to do with you.

    This scumbag puts airmen and other soldiers at risk of lives of dead end jobs with no future, no benefits, simply for disagreeing with him about sky fairies! This bag of dog vomit and his insane devotion to genocidal scumbags in the sky is fucking with not only people’s lives in the here and now, but for decades down the road.

    I don’t know what his problem is and I don’t care, but anyone who has zero empathy for those junior to him, or for anyone who disagrees with him, and that the feelings or needs or even rights of others is no concern of his at all as long as he can force his delusional crap on everyone else, makes him a dangerous sociopath, and I don’t need a diagnosis to call him that.

  19. 19
    coryat

    Hmm. The public outing of Denniz Mark**uz*e (the stars are to avoid attracting his attention) got him the help he needed. However, the armchair psychology -which is exactly what you were doing- was unnecessary. Everything you say about JD’s actions is fair and true – focus upon that.

    Aquaria

    “[...] makes him a dangerous sociopath, and I don’t need a diagnosis to call him that.”

    You’re right. You’d only need the diagnosis if you wanted to be taken seriously.

  20. 20
    M'thew

    Hi everybody,

    You might want to read this blogpost by Melissa McEwan about calling people out as mentally ill.

    Then come back and discuss.
    Enjoy.

  21. 21
    psocoptera

    Also, even if someone is qualified to make the diagnosis, they should follow the Goldwater Rule

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