WOODSTOCK, Alabama — Travel just 35 minutes outside of Birmingham, and the city’s hipster breweries and manicured suburbs give way to pine forests, zero-stoplight towns, and rusted-out cars left running without fear of them being stolen.
It’s different not just because the median income goes down to $38,000 a year, or that alcohol sales are prohibited in the county except for two “wet cities” Brent and Centreville, or that churches outnumber coffee shops, or that it becomes 76 percent white, or that just 22,600 people live in a 625-square-mile area.
It’s that people in Bibb County see a world that’s very different from the one presented by the media. Here, one common thread unites Republicans, Democrats, blacks and whites, men and women, young and old: People just don’t believe the news. And that includes any news about GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, now accused of molesting a 14-year-old when he was a 30-something district attorney in the late ’70s, as well as making sexual advances toward five other teenagers.
“If he’s messing with teenagers, then he should go to jail, but I don’t believe it,” said Chasity Eldridge, a 36-year-old shopping at the small Greenpond Grocery store in Green Pond. She’s planning to vote for Moore, a fierce conservative Christian and former chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court, in the special election next month: “To me, it’s all propaganda and the media is making it up to entertain people like it’s reality television.”
In over two-dozen interviews with people in Bibb County, Moore supporters and opponents alike shared a deep skepticism and sometimes hostility toward what they see on TV, in newspapers, and on Facebook. While the revelations of Moore’s predatory behavior might work in favor of his opponent, Democrat Doug Jones, they seem to be having very little impact in a county where Donald Trump carried 77 percent of the vote in 2016.
“I don’t believe it’s true at all.”
Some pointed to all the “conflicting narratives out there,” saying it’s getting harder to filter what’s true and what’s being disseminated to generate a political outcome.
“For the average Joe who works 60 to 70 hours a week, is taking care of kids, going to baseball practices and school events, it’s hard in this era to figure out what’s real and what’s fake,” Chris Elliot, a 36-year-old dad wearing camo shorts and a Captain America shirt who works nights on the assembly line at the Mercedes Benz plant close to Tuscaloosa, told VICE News while he was getting a milkshake out of a machine at Greenpond Grocery.
Elliot said he was rethinking his support for Moore but isn’t sure the newspaper stories are real. “So I try to trust my gut, pray for the best, and hope the Lord’s will will be done,” he said.
Others are adamant that the women accusing Moore, including Leigh Corfman, who gave a series of media interviews Monday about how he lured her to his house and seduced her when she was 14 and he was 32, must be making it all up.
“I don’t believe it’s true at all,” said Dency Blake, a 26-year-old cashier at the Greenpond Grocery, who doesn’t plan on voting (“I don’t care nothing about politics”). She added that she’s “tired of all these women popping up at the last second. I think they just want attention.”
Blake’s colleague Brittany Adams, a 23-year-old from Woodstock, said she herself had been a victim of sexual abuse by an older man, “someone who wasn’t famous,” she said. Even so, she doubts the accusations against Moore: “It’s hard to tell what’s true and not true these days.”
“It looks to me like someone doesn’t want him in office.”
“Why didn’t it come out until just now?” she asked, adding that “it looks to me like someone doesn’t want him in office.” Adams said she doesn’t plan to vote on Dec. 12, regardless.
But it’s not just Republicans. People who didn’t support Trump said they were skeptical of the information about Moore coming from established channels.
“I ain’t taking sides on whether he’s guilty or whether the accusers are telling the truth.,” Bobby Anderson, a machine operator from Brent who was buying tall-boy six-packs of Budweiser and Bud Light at a Dollar General store, told VICE News. Anderson, who is black, does not support Trump, and said he’s undecided on who to vote for on Dec. 12. “The choice, it ain’t clear,” he said.
Anderson’s cynicism applies not just to the media but to the entire political system. “Whether Doug [Jones, the Democratic nominee] or Roy wins, nothing is going to change in the South. They always say all these things to get in office,” he said, a resentment toward the powers-that-be echoed repeatedly in this rural part of Alabama.
And that disgust with Washington could motivate people rallying behind Moore or also depress turnout among people who would like vote for Jones.
“I’m not nothing, and they just tell you what you want to hear to get your vote and then don’t do anything,” said Kristen Glasgow, a 22-year-old from Woodstock who’s a test driver at the Mercedes plant. Glasgow said she has no plans to vote in the Senate race and doesn’t have an opinion about the Moore accusations. Both Anderson and Glasgow, a black man and a young woman, are the type of voters Jones needs en masse in order to win as a Democrat in Alabama.
“I think they’re trying to drive him out of office because he believes in God.”
The disaffection in this poorer, more rural county could be pervasive and perhaps even more intense throughout the state. Bibb County isn’t even the worse off, with some other counties having median incomes as low as $19,500 a year, according to the U.S. Census.
Alabama has a well-earned reputation of outsiders telling them what to do. “The state’s motto is “We Dare Defend Our Rights,” said Dan Carter, a historian specializing in conservatism and the South and the author of “The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservativsm and the Transformation of American Politics.” In practice, that means a paranoia about ‘outsiders.’ For 200 years, the majority of white Alabamians have seen themselves besieged by abolitionists, carpetbaggers, civil rights ‘agitators’ and anyone who criticized white supremacy and their cultural and racial domination of the state.”
But suspicion of outsiders doesn’t totally explain the disbelief of news about Moore. Most people VICE News talked to argued that Moore was the victim of a conspiracy. There was a wide range of opinions on who exactly was orchestrating the conspiracy. Some pointed the finger at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, others accused the “Fake News media.” A few suggested the Democrats, and several just left it as a shrouded “they.”
“I think they’re trying to drive him out of office because he believes in God,” said Chris Martin, a 35-year-old construction worker sipping milk and smoking a cigarette outside the grocery store in Woodstock.” He’s the only one that believes in God out of all of them in Washington.”
Martin’s friend Zach Cook in nearby West Blocton, who jumps between construction jobs and side gigs like selling pot, was one of only two people who said he was inclined to believe the media reports. “There’s gotta be something to it with all of these women with similar stories,” he said. But Cook said he can’t vote because of past felony convictions. Some formerly convicted felons’ right to vote was restored this past year but only after a period of supervisions and if their crimes did not meet the state’s definition of “moral turpitude.” Those crimes include some forms of burglary, sexual abuse, drug trafficking, murder, and “endangering the water supply.” Cook declined to say what his past crimes were.
“Moore’s being railroaded — and write that down.”
“I think they’ve been paid off by the Democrats,” Kelly McFarland, a fiftysomething woman shopping at Judy’s Korner Store, said of Moore’s accusers. “It’s not anything illegal; besides, it’s not like Bill Clinton who raped a woman and they didn’t do anything to him.” McFarland was likely referring to Juanita Broaddrick, who has repeatedly claimed since 1999 in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky scandal that the ex-president raped her in 1978 when he was Arkansas’ attorney general. A lawyer for Clinton denied in 1999 that Clinton ever assaulted Broaddrick, and he has never been charged.
“They want to knock him out,” said James Harden, a 52-year-old heavy equipment mechanic in Woodstock who was checking out from the Greenpond grocery. “Moore’s being railroaded — and write that down,” he said.
One person, however, did say she believed the women accusing Moore.
Elizabeth Bale, a 52-year-old hairstylist stopping by the Dollar General, said her own experience with abuse as an 11-year-old girl made her more willing to believe them. “Back in the day, men grew up doing this,” she said. “They just felt like if they saw a woman, they had a right to them.”
But Bale didn’t seem optimistic that many other people in the area would believe the women. “Until it happens to them, it’s so easy for them to say it’s fake,” she said.