Disinformation has neighbors fighting in small-town America

Gary Fiyalko doesn’t wear a mask. Won’t wear one. Gary believes masks are for political sheep. He’s ready for this Covid hoax to be over. Layne Postilion came to a realization over the summer: She cannot associate—either online or IRL—with those who are reaping the benefits of a racist society, regardless of what that means for her small business. Randy Urbance thinks there’s probably not much of a difference between a vote for President Trump and a vote for Joe Biden. Gary, Layne, and Randy say they no longer talk to some friends and family because of what they believe.

What else do they have in common? They’re all Americans in their 40s who grew up in a small town called Milford, Mich., population 6,515. Milford is a place where it’s hard to walk down Main Street without seeing someone you know. It’s car country, home to the General Motors Proving Ground. It has a couple of stoplights and a Fourth of July parade that makes you wonder if you’ve traveled back in time. Milford also sits in one of the states that will decide the presidency next month. Its votes are valuable. But there’s a war in Milford and small-town America: It’s neighbor vs. neighbor when it comes to politics, race relations, and public health.

Some folks are abandoning long-held friendships. Many families aren’t speaking. The holidays may prove particularly tough. It’s hard being civil. There’s a “BLM, Masks, Covid-19” administrator’s note on the town’s Facebook Bulletin Board that warns: “EVERYTHING is political and polarized these days.” It reminds visitors to the page that “hostile comments or posts or wishing harm against any individuals or groups will be grounds for removal.”