Treating Lin Wood’s Wild Conspiracy Theories As a Psychiatric Symptom Invites Him to Play Free Speech Martyr
The State Bar of Georgia has asked pro-Trump lawyer L. Lin Wood to undergo a psychiatric examination in response to complaints stemming from his role in promoting bizarre conspiracy theories about the presidential election. Wood is refusing, which may result in the suspension of his license to practice law.
By focusing on Wood’s mental state rather than his conduct, the state bar invites him to portray himself as a First Amendment martyr. A psychiatric evaluation “will violate my First Amendment right to free speech,” Wood told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And if they do that and this harms me, then I will strongly consider suing them, and it will be a significant lawsuit.”
Millions of Americans, including former President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, believe (or at least claim to believe) that the election was stolen through an elaborate scheme involving tricky voting machines and massive paper-ballot fraud. That extraordinary popular delusion can be understood as a political phenomenon driven by familiar human frailties such as tribalism and confirmation bias. But it is not in any meaningful sense a medical issue.
Psychiatry routinely treats weird things people say as evidence of mental illness. But if believing wild claims about election fraud were enough to qualify for a psychiatric label, most Republicans would be diagnosable. That premise is not just condescending and pseudoscientific but morally misleading, since it lets people off the hook for endorsing grave allegations with no basis in fact, whether sincerely or cynically.
If Trump’s election fantasy is caused by a mental disorder beyond his control, it would be manifestly unjust to hold him legally accountable for recklessly promoting it, as his impeachment aims to do. Likewise with Giuliani, who last week was hit with a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit for repeatedly making false claims about the involvement of Dominion Voting Systems in the imaginary plot that supposedly denied Trump a second term. Ditto former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, whom Dominion sued on January 8.
“Sidney Powell is a crazy person,” the New York Post declared in a December 27 editorial urging Trump to “stop the insanity.” The Post was speaking figuratively. But if its description of Powell is taken literally, meaning that her conspiracy mongering is a product of mental illness, shouldn’t her behavior elicit sympathy and “treatment” rather than anger and lawsuits?
Maybe Wood is a special case. Even in the
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