ATLANTA — A new tabloid filled with unproven theories on the pandemic and the 2020 presidential election is appearing in north Fulton driveways, and some residents want local government to do something to stop it.
Roswell City Council and Mayor Lori Henry heard from supporters and detractors of The Pamphleteer during a public meeting held Tuesday.
"We seek an ordinance against the willful distribution of disinformation," said Roswell resident J.D. Jordan. The Pamphleteer landed in Jordan's driveway three weeks ago, he said.
Countering Jordan at the Tuesday forum, resident Mitchell Head said some opinions in the tabloid are based in truth. Disinformation is frequently unfairly associated with right-wing politics, he said. Head added that he was concerned that critics of the paper take a position of authority on disinformation.
"... to state an opinion, to me, seems to be my right as a citizen," he said of writers in The Pamphleteer. "It's also frightening to me that the folks that are talking — and I think their motives are probably good — that they feel like possibly they would have the ability to decide what is disinformation versus not."
Roswell residents say the small publication is left in their driveway rolled up in a orange-tinted or clear plastic bag.
A recent four-page edition was filled with opinion columns by anonymous authors espousing conspiracy theories on voting rights, the ineffectiveness of masks and fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The publication includes no information on who is publishing the paper and little information was found online. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution emailed questions about The Pamphleteer to an email address found in the publication. An emailed response said the paper started in 2021 in various cities and "anonymity supports it stance," which does not have a clear meaning.
Jordan took his objections to social media, where he stirred a 79-comment debate on the Nextdoor app before his post was removed. He said a group of 48 Roswell residents want the city to amend the handbill law and require a city permit for publications like The Pamphleteer so possible code violations could be traced and enforced.
"I don't know what it is about this that set us into action," Jordan told the AJC during a Thursday phone call. "I think it's the fact that my 15-year-old kid brought it to me. We don't let our kids use social media. For that to show up in our driveway was disturbing."
Handbills, which The Pamphleteer appears to fall under, are protected by the First Amendment and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a case where permitting would be required to distribute handbills in 1938, Roswell Assistant Attorney Michael Petty said during the forum.
Mayor Lori Henry, who said she is the victim of "fake news," has invited Jordan to meet with her and a city attorney to further discuss The Pamphleteer.
Jordan told the AJC Johns Creek residents plan to make public comments at a City Council meeting in that north Fulton city Monday.
Johns Creek Councilman John Bradberry said in a call with the AJC that he knows little about The Pamphleteer, but supported residents sharing their concerns. He also said that in his support for the First Amendment, he wasn't sure that the city should or could do anything about the publication.
"I'm really not interested in policing content unless it breaks a constitutional (threshold)," he said. "I do regret that we're getting to a point where rather than refuting points, people want them banished."
Bradberry said maybe critics should start their own publication.
In an email to the AJC, Johns Creek resident Janet Mitchell said The Pamphleteer has been upsetting. It was distributed to every home in her large subdivision, she said. Mitchell said she's not part of a group that plans to comment on the paper at Monday's City Council meeting.
"People are so vulnerable, politically needy, and anxious to have their dark beliefs supported — no matter whatever egregious form that takes — that they greedily buy in to lies in their driveway," Mitchell said. "The so-called politics, including the Jan. 6 (riot at the U.S. Capitol), have crushed me — in my family, in my neighborhood, in the country I love."
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