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Former gun industry insider explains why he left to fight for the other side

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Back in November NPR had an interesting interview in which Dave Davies interviews Ryan Busse. You can listen to the interview at the link; the text report begins:

Author Ryan Busse jokes that he was born with “a shotgun in one hand and a rifle in the other.” It’s a shorthand he uses to explain the significant role that guns played in his childhood in western Kansas.

“I grew up hunting and shooting with my father. Guns were things we used on the ranch and farm,” he says. “The few times that we got to spend together doing something fun and enjoyable, oftentimes it was with a gun. … [Guns] are things that became very culturally important to us.”

After college, Busse went to work for the firearms manufacturer Kimber America, where he was so good at marketing the weapons that he became a rising star of the industry. But over the years, he became disillusioned when he saw the NRA refuse to consider gun controls after mass shootings.

“After Columbine, [the NRA] stumbled upon this idea that fear and conspiracy and hatred of the other could be used to drive and win political races,” he says. “And, accidentally, those are exactly the same things that in high doses drove unhealthy portions of firearm sales.”

Busse notes that when he first started out, weapons manufacturers refused to market high-powered automatic weapons to the public. But, he says, the gun makers and the NRA have since embraced military-style weapons and tactical gear, branding them as symbols of masculinity and patriotism. This is when, he says, “the frightening vigilante activity that we have seen with Kyle Rittenhouse or the various other incidents across the country really got its start.” (Rittenhouse was tried and acquitted of all charges related to the shooting deaths of two men and the wounding of another during protests in Kenosha, Wis., in 2020.)

Busse eventually left the gun industry. In 2020, he accepted a position as an adviser to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, and in 2021 he was hired as a senior advisor to the gun violence prevention group Giffords. He says he still owns and uses guns, and he believes in Americans’ right to do the same.

But, he says, “I also know that every right that we enjoy has to be balanced with the appropriate amount of responsibility. And I believe that over time … that has gotten badly out of whack.”

Busse has written a new book called Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry that Radicalized America.

Interview highlights

On what changed the way he viewed the gun industry

When Sandy Hook happened, our boys were almost exactly that same age. It was just horrific to think about it, and so I became more disillusioned and more troubled, and it just became this sort of perilous existence. It was much tougher. And I couldn’t hold my tongue. That knife edge was tougher to walk on. ..

I did my best to try to change the things I can change. Something I didn’t see coming, perhaps, was the degree to which the industry grew and changed into this behemoth. I didn’t see the unbelievably huge ballooning of guns and the gun industry’s importance in politics. When I started, really, it was very much like a small cottage industry. Everybody knew everybody. The companies were pretty small, but much like many other facets of America, it grew into something so large that I was deluding myself to think that I could have a measurable impact on something that had grown that large and powerful.

On how the NRA identity and strategy changed

My grandfather, who was a proud FDR Democrat, his favorite hat was the big black NRA gold-lettered hat. … the NRA to him meant safety and camaraderie and responsibility. Then my father was an NRA member and up until the point where he disavowed his membership, we received the NRA magazines in our home. … They were about interesting guns or shooting competitions or trapper leagues or things of that sort. Never about the impending doom of our republic or some conspiracy theory. … It’s often reported that the NRA is sort of a tool of firearms manufacturers. I found it to be exactly the opposite: The NRA ran the show. They set the course for the industry and everybody followed, and nobody questioned.

On how the NRA and the industry reacted to the 1999 Columbine school massacre . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2022 at 6:57 am

What lies behind the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and the murderers’ conviction

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Heather Cox Richardson wrote last night:

oday, Judge Timothy Walmsley sentenced the three men convicted of murdering 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery on February 23, 2020, as he jogged through a primarily white neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia. Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan chased Arbery in their trucks, cornering him on a suburban street. Travis McMichael shot and killed the unarmed Arbery, while Bryan filmed the encounter from inside his truck.

While the men were convicted of several different crimes, all three were convicted of felony murder or of committing felonies that led to Arbery’s death. Under Georgia law, they each faced life in prison, but the judge could determine whether they could be paroled. Judge Walmsley denied the possibility of parole for the McMichael father and son, but allowed it for Bryan. Under Georgia law, that means he will be eligible for parole after 30 years.

The state of Georgia came perilously close to ignoring the crimes that now have the McMichaels and Bryan serving life sentences.

Gregory McMichael was connected to the first two district attorneys in charge of the case, both of whom ultimately recused themselves, but not until they told law enforcement that Georgia’s citizens arrest law, dating from an 1863 law designed to permit white men to hunt down Black people escaping enslavement, enabled the men to chase Arbery and that they had shot him in self-defense. In late April, the state’s attorney general appointed a third district attorney to the investigation. “We don’t know anything about the case,” the new district attorney told reporters. “We don’t have any preconceived idea about it.”

On April 26, pressure from Arbery’s family and the community had kicked up enough dust that the New York Times reported on the case, noting that there had been no arrests. Eager to clear his name, and apparently thinking that anyone who saw the video of the shooting would believe, as the local district attorneys had, that it justified the shooting, on May 6 Gregory McMichael arranged for his lawyer to take the video to a local radio station, which uploaded it for public viewing.

The station took the video down two hours later, but not before a public outcry brought outside oversight. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case, and two days later, on May 7, GBI officers arrested the McMichaels. On May 11, the case was transferred to Atlanta, about 270 miles away from Brunswick. On May 21, 2020, officers arrested Bryan.

On Wednesday, November 24, a jury found the three men guilty of a range of crimes on the same day that the first district attorney turned herself in to officials after a grand jury indicted her for violating her oath of office and obstructing police, saying she used her position to discourage law enforcement officers from arresting the McMichaels.

The Arbery case echoes long historical themes. Arbery was a Black man, executed by white men who saw an unarmed jogger as a potential criminal and believed they had a right to arrest him. But it is also a story of local government and outsiders, and which are best suited to protect democracy.

From the nation’s early years, lawmakers who wanted to protect their own interests have insisted that true American democracy is local, where voters can make their wishes clearly known. They said that the federal government must not intervene in the choices state voters made about the way their government operated despite the fact that the federal government represents the will of the vast majority of Americans. Federal intervention in state laws, they said, was tyranny.

But those lawmakers shaped the state laws to their own interests by limiting the vote. They actually developed and deployed their argument primarily to protect the institution of human enslavement (although it was used later to promote big business). If state voters—almost all white men who owned at least some property—wanted to enslave their Black neighbors, the reasoning went, the federal government had no say in the matter despite representing the vast majority of the American people.

After the Civil War, the federal government stepped in to enable Black men to protect their equality before the law by guaranteeing their right to vote in the states. But it soon abandoned the effort and let the South revert to a one-party system in which who you knew and what you looked like mattered far more than the law.

After World War II, returning veterans, civil rights lawyers, and grassroots organizers set out to register Black and Brown people to vote in their home states and got beaten and murdered for their efforts. So in 1965, Congress stepped in, passing the Voting Rights Act.

It took only about 20 years for states once again to begin cutting back on voting rights. Then, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, and states promptly began to make it harder to vote. Since the 2020 election,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2022 at 12:45 pm

Shaken by the Jan. 6 attack, Capitol workers quit jobs that once made them proud

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Paul Schwartzman and Peter Jamison have an interesting report in the Washington Post of an ominous trend in public service: justifiable fear of the public. (Link is a gift link that bypasses the paywall). Their report begins:

The House staffer quit after awakening one night and imagining a pack of Proud Boys amassing outside his apartment door. Another left after questioning whether strangers he encountered had helped plot the insurrection. A police officer resigned, still agitated by the frantic voices of co-workers she recalled hearing on her radio scanner that day.

“What’s the plan?” one had asked.

“I’ve got an officer down!” another had shouted.

A year ago, they all worked at the U.S. Capitol, a citadel of American democracy they believed was as impervious to attack as any center of Washington power. But Jan. 6, 2021, upended all that. An invading mob of Donald Trump’s followers destroyed that sense of security — not only on that day but in the long year that followed.

“There’s a dark cloud over Capitol Hill,” said Jodi Breiterman, a Capitol Police officer who submitted retirement papers in November after almost 21 years on the force, and will officially leave the agency in mid-January. “I look at officers’ faces, and they’ve changed. They’ve lost weight and they don’t know why.”

In the months since the insurrection, senators and representatives have chronicled the trauma of Jan. 6, recalling how they cowered behind seats in the House chamber and barricaded themselves in offices as Trump acolytes pounded on doors and shouted threats of violence.

Yet alongside the political leaders, there were hundreds of Capitol workers who suffered their own trauma that day. They are the supporting cast on the edges of Washington’s biggest stage: the legislative aides, police officers, custodians and cafeteria workers who keep the business of government moving and ensure that the Capitol is safe, clean and well-functioning.

In many cases, they soldiered on after the insurrection, entrenched in positions that can be high-pressure and demanding even on routine days. But for other Capitol workers, Jan. 6 became a psychic tipping point, a reason to leave jobs that had made them targets for threats and potential danger.

“The idea that you’re in a place where your life is at risk was just — on top of everything else — the clinching factor for me,” said Rich Luchette, 35, a former senior adviser to Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.). “It becomes overwhelming at some point.”

A sign of the enduring trauma, Luchette said, occurred a week or so after the insurrection, when the sounds of partying neighbors woke him up in his Navy Yard apartment. As he opened his eyes, his first thought was: “Are there Proud Boys out in the hallway?”

Luchette had considered looking for a new job before Jan. 6. By July, he had found one.

In any given year, staff turnover at the Capitol is constant, making it difficult to quantify the number of employees who quit or retired because of the insurrection. More than 100 U.S. Capitol Police officers had departed as of early December, a figure that was a sharp increase over the previous year.

On a typical day, the 290-acre Capitol complex is a veritable city unto itself, spread out over multiple blocks, with its own subway system, an array of cafeterias and a workforce approaching 30,000 people.

Jan. 6 was anything but typical, with the coronavirus having kept many employees at home. Yet, no matter where they were as the insurrection unfolded, Capitol employees could not help but feel violated as they saw rioters invade and vandalize their workplace.

Another former House staffer, a Democrat who quit months after Jan. 6, said the toll of that day grew as time passed.

“I got to the point where my mental health just took an absolute nose dive because I was still trying to process all this stuff,” said the former aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she fears retribution from Trump supporters.

Death threats continued to arrive daily by phone from constituents who were convinced that Democrats had stolen the election. “It absolutely broke me to know that people would be fine if my boss was dead, if I was dead, if my co-workers were dead,” she said. “The American people stopped believing in the institution. And if they don’t believe in it, what the hell are any of us doing working for it?” . . .

Continue reading. (Again: this is a gift link that bypasses the paywall.)

The effort to destroy the US government and bring down US democracy is serious and on-going.

Written by Leisureguy

2 January 2022 at 7:03 am

Of Course Kyle Rittenhouse Was Acquitted

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Adam Serwer writes in the Atlantic:

The United States is a nation awash in firearms, and gun owners are a powerful and politically active constituency. In state after state, they have helped elect politicians who, in turn, have created a permissive legal regime for the carry and use of firearms, rules that go far beyond how courts originally understood the concept of self-defense.

These laws have made it difficult to convict any gun owner who knowingly puts themselves in circumstances where they are likely to use their weapon—that is, anyone who goes looking for a fight. It should come as no surprise then, that Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges after shooting three men in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020, killing two of them. Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber were killed; Gaige Grosskreutz was injured but survived to testify against Rittenhouse at his trial.

According to Wisconsin law, Rittenhouse need not have proved that he acted in self-defense—rather, the state had to prove that he did not. Even if Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha with a firearm because he wanted to put himself in the position to use it, as David French writes, “the narrow nature of the self-defense inquiry is one reason people can escape responsibility for killings that are deeply wrongful in every moral sense.” Under some circumstances, Wisconsin law allows an individual to provoke an attack and still claim self-defense.

It is one thing to argue that the jury reached a reasonable verdict based on this law, and another entirely to celebrate Rittenhouse’s actions. Much of the conservative media and the Republican Party, however, don’t see the killings as “wrongful” in any sense, instead elevating Rittenhouse as the manifestation of retributive violence against their political enemies.

The shootings took place across the backdrop of protests and riots in Kenosha that followed a police officer’s 2020 shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year old Black man, in the back and side, and the nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd. Rittenhouse’s critics contend that his intentions were racist, because he showed up armed in anticipation of protests on behalf of Black rights, while his advocates maintain that he was defending the city from rioters and point out that his victims were white.

The ideological battle lines recall the 2013 George Zimmerman trial. In Zimmerman’s case, prosecutors said he assaulted 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s defense claimed the then-29-year-old had been attacked by Martin, whom Zimmerman had been following. Even though Martin would have had reason to be concerned about a grown man following him, the law was designed to accommodate people like Zimmerman, who was armed, and his defense attorneys were able to create enough reasonable doubt among the jurors to secure his acquittal.

Conservatives saw Zimmerman as a martyr who acted in self-defense, unfairly vilified by a liberal press. Martin’s supporters saw him as yet another Black teenager perceived to be menacing both by authorities and by those who consider themselves adjacent to the authorities, as one of many Black children never extended the benefit of the doubt to which others are accustomed. But Zimmerman wasn’t simply acquitted; some on the right embraced his actions as the fulfillment of a violent fantasy.

Few people ever use a firearm in self-defense—doing so is rare even for police officers—so the extreme elements of right-wing gun culture have to conjure the specter of impending catastrophe in order to maintain their political salience. Sometimes this manifests in deranged reveries of armed revolution, sometimes in overt fantasies of murdering urban minorities, and sometimes in the make-believe of resisting a supposedly tyrannical government. Right-wing gun culture is not unlike the wellness industry, in that it requires the cultivation of a sustained insecurity in its audience in order to facilitate the endless purchase of its products. You can never be too skinny, and you can never have too many guns to stop the impending communist takeover.

Not content to maintain that Zimmerman was innocent of murder, some of his supporters lived vicariously through his gunning down of a Black teenager. People bought Trayvon Martin shooting targets. Right-wing pundits marked his birthday with jokes, and spread falsehoods about his background in an attempt to retroactively justify Zimmerman’s killing of him. Some people turned Zimmerman into a hero, because he killed the kind of person they liked to imagine themselves killing. The fact that then-President Barack Obama empathized with the fear of many Black parents, that their children will be seen not as children but as dangerous threats, by saying that if he had a son “he’d look like Trayvon,” only added to the fantasy’s appeal.

The legal questions in the Rittenhouse trial—like those of the Zimmerman trial—have become entangled with the political ones. In the aftermath of the January 6 attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election, some conservative media have escalated their justifications of political violence. In this context, Rittenhouse has become a folk hero for the same reason Zimmerman became one—not because they see him as a scared child who acted rationally in a frightening situation, but because they see him as a soldier in a war against the enemies of America as they want it to be. Like Zimmerman, Rittenhouse killed the kind of people some on the right like to fantasize about killing.

As the historian Caroline Light writes in Stand Your Ground, English common-law traditionally held that self-defense could be invoked only as long as one attempted to retreat, if possible. There were important exceptions such as defending one’s home, a concept known today as the “castle doctrine.” In the aftermath of Reconstruction, American courts began expanding the circumstances under which certain men could invoke the right of self-defense; an Ohio court determined in 1876 that “a true man, who is without fault, is not obliged to fly from an assailant, who by violence or surprise maliciously seeks to take his life, or to do him enormous bodily harm.” In the 21st century, state legislatures passed legislation such as “stand-your-ground laws” that extended the circumstances under which “self-defense” could be invoked further. But from the beginning, such laws were bound up in the perceived social morality of the invoker, and those whom the right was being invoked against. The “true man” could take his castle anywhere.

Consequently, which acts of violence are considered legitimate self-defense has always been highly political. For most of American history, white men alone had a right of self-defense that included both their persons and property. Although the concept of armed self-defense is not inherently racist in the abstract—many 1960s civil-rights figures bore arms when not protesting—in practice the American legal system has tended to see certain claims of self-defense as more legitimate than others. “Our embrace of lethal self-defense has always been selective and partial,” Light argues, “upholding a selective right to kill for some, while posing others as legitimate targets.”

Zimmerman had a right to defend himself; his supporters could see Martin only as the sort of person the right of self-defense was meant to be invoked against. In Georgia, Travis McMichael, on trial for murder after he, his father, and a friend chased Ahmaud Arbery through their neighborhood, before pulling guns on him, has similarly sought to justify his actions as self-defense. “It was obvious that he was attacking me, that if he would’ve got the shotgun from me, then it was a life or death situation,” McMichael testified. “And I’m gonna have to stop him from doing this, so I shot.” Even the white nationalists facing a civil lawsuit over their 2017 riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, have sought to invoke their right to self-defense.

There is a paradox of fragility here, in which a moment of fear—perhaps one imbuing the deceased with supernatural strength—is invoked to justify homicide, and the dead who would be alive but for this moment of terror subsequently become a symbol of the frightened man’s valor. At a certain point the logic of this sort of “self-defense” becomes indistinguishable from a custom that simply allows certain people to get away with murder. This is the legal regime that a powerful minority of gun-rights advocates have built—one in which Americans are encouraged to settle their differences with lethal force, preferably leaving as few witnesses capable of testimony as possible.

The fact that Rittenhouse has become a folk hero among Republicans points to darker currents within the GOP, where justifications for political violence against the opposition are becoming more common. The party finds the apocalyptic fear of impending leftist tyranny useful not only for turning out its supporters, but also for rationalizing legislative attempts to disenfranchise, gerrymander, and otherwise nullify the votes of Democratic constituencies. Engineering the American political system so that Republicans’ political rivals are unable to contest their power is a less forceful solution than killing people, but the political goal is similar: to never have to share power with those they disagree with.

For this reason, the party defends those who engage in rhetoric threatening violence against their political enemies and silences those who denounce it. Whether it’s Donald Trump justifying his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, Republican members of Congress threatening their colleagues, or Fox News hosts praising Rittenhouse for “doing what the government should have done,” the desire to kill your political opponents is a sentiment no longer confined to the dark corners of the internet. The . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2021 at 7:52 pm

In Honduras Land Battles, Paramilitaries Infiltrate Local Groups — Then Kill Their Leaders

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Jared Olson reports in The Intercept:

DANIEL GARCÍA FIRST received the text message, which showed the muzzle of an AK-47 above a blurry road, at 7:30 p.m. “You’re alive because God is great and powerful,” the sender wrote, “but I don’t think you’ll have the same luck this week. I’ll see you soon, love.”

García knew the message was serious. Rumor had it he’d been placed on a kill list of five land rights activists in Honduras. The first of the five, his friend Juan Manuel Moncada, had been assassinated just four days earlier.

At around 10 o’clock that night, the presumed messengers made good on their threat: Four or five men with balaclavas, bulletproof vests, and AK-47s rolled up on motorcycles and surrounded García’s property, where they proceeded to chat and smoke cigarettes while looking over the barbed wire fence into his adobe-walled house. García lay inside, paralyzed with fear.

He said they looked like soldiers. But they weren’t. They were paramilitaries who, in a resurgent campaign of violence and aggression that began this summer, have been targeting a land rights cooperative trying to protect land it retook from a corporate palm oil giant.

“When you see a soldier show up in front of your house,” García said of the July encounter, “you realize they aren’t a soldier, they’re there to murder you.”

Honduras’s Hot Zone

García lives in the community of Panamá, in the Bajo Aguán Valley, a “hot zone” notorious as one of the country’s most militarized regions. Land conflicts in the Aguán date back to the early 1990s, when Dinant, a Central American transnational and consumer goods corporation specializing in African palm oil production, began buying off collective farmlands, ultimately obtaining a majority of farmlands in the region. The purchases were carried out in an environment of killings, disappearances, and death threats against campesino or rural leaders and were contested by human rights workers, journalists, and the farmers themselves.

After a 2009 U.S.-backed military coup, many campesinos reoccupied the farms — spurring a campaign of largely targeted assassinations by private security guards and Honduran security forces that left over 150 farmers dead. In 2014, international pressure momentarily put the brakes on the killing spree by disparate armed actors, opening a new era of conflict in which well-organized paramilitary groups became the main drivers of violence. Leading the two largest groups were a former soldier and a private guard who previously provided security for Dinant, with other former soldiers, police officers, and private security guards among their ranks.

The paramilitaries’ strategy begins with infiltrating social movements, killing off key members, and then installing armed groups inside communities to terrorize their residents into exile or silence, according to eyewitness testimony, interviews with more than a dozen local residents, and affidavits made on behalf of asylum-seekers in the U.S. If successful, the armed groups will extinguish land rights movements and seize back control of the palm oil lands Dinant claims as its own.

Residents of the Aguán valley say the military is complicit in the paramilitary violence. Some residents claim that the military has armed the paramilitaries, while others argue that the military, given its omnipresence in the region, is at minimum aware of the paramilitary units and has done little to stop their violence.

Those suspicions were inflamed after photos began circulating on social media of a paramilitary leader at an event with Honduran soldiers in the Aguán this spring: “The context of the photos is what we’ve been submitting complaints [to the authorities] about already,” said Hipólito Rivas, a local activist who’s faced death threats from the armed group, “that as the head of the paramilitary group, we confirmed that he has support from the Army.”

Honduran special forces had already been entangled with a paramilitary group that infiltrated a farmer organization in the village of La Confianza in the mid-2010s, according to an affidavit from a human rights worker that two Hondurans submitted as part of their applications for asylum in the U.S. The affidavit details how a former special forces officer, Celio Rodríguez, joined land rights movements, including MUCA (“Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán,” per its Spanish acronym), and then rose to a leadership position under the pretense he’d protect communities from violence. But he turned out to be organizing a paramilitary death squad. The members of Grupo de Celio, as it is known, were frequently seen in contact with an active-duty special forces commander named German Alfaro, who was the head of the Xatruch, an elite military police task force, and then later FUSINA, another special forces unit active in the Aguán, according to the affidavit. Grupo de Celio was also seen doing military training on a palm plantation with soldiers and a well-known assassin named Osvin Caballero, now in prison on account of several high-profile murders. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2021 at 4:49 pm

Bloodshed: A Report of Events During the January 6 Insurrection

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The Washington Post continues it trilogy of reports — Before, During, and After — of the events of the insurrection. As I did in my earlier post of the “Before” instalment, I am using a gift link (no paywall) to link to the complete report. It begins:

President Donald Trump had just returned to the White House from his rally at the Ellipse on Jan. 6 when he retired to his private dining room just off the Oval Office, flipped on the massive flat-screen television and took in the show. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, thousands of his supporters were wearing his red caps, waving his blue flags and chanting his name.

Live television news coverage showed the horror accelerating minute by minute after 1:10 p.m., when Trump had called on his followers to march on the U.S. Capitol. The pro-Trump rioters toppled security barricades. They bludgeoned police. They scaled granite walls. And then they smashed windows and doors to breach the hallowed building that has stood for more than two centuries as the seat of American democracy.

The Capitol was under siege — and the president, glued to the television, did nothing. For 187 minutes, Trump resisted entreaties to intervene from advisers, allies and his elder daughter, as well as lawmakers under attack. Even as the violence at the Capitol intensified, even after Vice President Mike Pence, his family and hundreds of Congress members and their staffers hid to protect themselves, even after the first two people died and scores of others were assaulted, Trump declined for more than three hours to tell the renegades rioting in his name to stand down and go home.

During the 187 minutes that Trump stood by, harrowing scenes of violence played out in and around the Capitol. Twenty-five minutes into Trump’s silence, a news photographer was dragged down a flight of stairs and thrown over a wall. Fifty-two minutes in, a police officer was kicked in the chest and surrounded by a mob. Within the first hour, two rioters died as a result of cardiac events. Sixty-four minutes in, a rioter paraded a Confederate battle flag through the Capitol. Seventy-three minutes in, another police officer was sprayed in the face with chemicals. Seventy-eight minutes in, yet another police officer was assaulted with a flagpole. Eighty-three minutes in, rioters broke into and began looting the House speaker’s office. Ninety-three minutes in, another news photographer was surrounded, pushed down and robbed of a camera. Ninety-four minutes in, a rioter was shot and killed. One hundred two minutes in, rioters stormed the Senate chamber, stealing papers and posing for photographs around the dais. One hundred sixteen minutes in, a fourth police officer was crushed in a doorway and beaten with his own baton.

All in the first two hours.

Trump watched the attack play out on television and resisted acting, neither to coordinate a federal response nor to instruct his supporters to disperse. He all but abdicated his responsibilities as commander in chief — a president reduced to mere bystander. The tweets Trump sent during the first two hours of rioting were muddled at best. He disavowed violence but encouraged his supporters to press on with their fight at the Capitol. And throughout, he repeated the lie that the election was stolen.

His “Make America Great Again” army was on the march, just as he had commanded at the rally. The president had directed his followers to head to the Capitol in a forceful show of “pride and boldness” to pressure lawmakers to try to overturn the results of an election he falsely claimed had been rigged. And there they were, literally fighting to keep Trump in power.

“He was enamored with [how] ‘all these people are coming to fight for me,’ ” said a senior Republican close to him. “I don’t think he appreciated what was going on.”

An investigation by The Washington Post provides the richest understanding to date of Trump’s mindset and the cost of his inaction as democracy came under attack. It also reveals new aspects of an extensive pressure campaign by the president and those around him to get Pence to block certification of the election results — including a last-ditch appeal on the night of Jan. 6, after the riot was over, by attorney John C. Eastman, who urged Pence to reject electors as Congress reconvened.

In a statement, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich disputed The Post’s findings as “fake news” and falsely cast people who entered the Capitol that day as “agitators not associated with President Trump.”

The Post’s investigation also found that signs of escalating danger were in full view hours before the Capitol attack, including clashes that morning among hundreds of pro-Trump demonstrators and police at the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. The mounting red flags did not trigger stepped-up security responses that morning, underscoring how unprepared law enforcement authorities were for the violence that transpired. Yet some officials knew what to expect; Rep. Liz Cheney had hired a personal security detail out of fear for her own safety. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 November 2021 at 11:38 am

Red Flags Ignored Before January 6 Insurrection

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The Washington Post has a lengthy and detailed report [gift link: no paywall – LG] of what was known by law enforcement and the FBI in the days leading up to the invasion of the Capitol on January 6, an invasion that ultimately resulted in 5 deaths. The report contains many links, often to popups that provide more information. The report begins:

The head of intelligence at D.C.’s homeland security office was growing desperate. For days, Donell Harvin [As the head of intelligence at D.C.’s homeland security office, Harvin led a team that spotted warnings that extremists planned to descend on the Capitol and disrupt the electoral count.] and his team had spotted increasing signs that supporters of President Donald Trump were planning violence when Congress met to formalize the electoral college vote, but federal law enforcement agencies did not seem to share his sense of urgency.  On Saturday, Jan. 2, he picked up the phone and called his counterpart in San Francisco, waking Mike Sena before dawn.

Sena listened with alarm. The Northern California intelligence office he commanded had also been inundated with political threats flagged by social media companies, several involving plans to disrupt the joint session or hurt lawmakers on Jan. 6.

He organized an unusual call for all of the nation’s regional homeland security offices — known as fusion centers — to find out what others were seeing. Sena expected a couple dozen people to get on the line that Monday. But then the number of callers hit 100. Then 200. Then nearly 300. Officials from nearly all 80 regions, from New York to Guam, logged on.

In the 20 years since the country had created fusion centers in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sena couldn’t remember a moment like this. For the first time, from coast to coast, the centers were blinking red. The hour, date and location of concern was the same: 1 p.m., the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 6.

Harvin asked his counterparts to share what they were seeing. Within minutes, an avalanche of new tips began streaming in. Self-styled militias and other extremist groups in the Northeast were circulating radio frequencies to use near the Capitol. In the Midwest, men with violent criminal histories were discussing plans to travel to Washington with weapons.

Forty-eight hours before the attack, Harvin began pressing every alarm button he could. He invited the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, military intelligence services and other agencies to see the information in real time as his team collected it. He took another extreme step: He asked the city’s health department to convene a call of D.C.-area hospitals and urged them to prepare for a mass casualty event. Empty your emergency rooms, he said, and stock up your blood banks. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and the gift link bypasses the paywall. Links in the report take you to actual documentation of evidence (PDFs and the like). The report is amazingly detailed, complete, readable, and frightening.

The report includes a clickable table of contents. Here it is without the links:

The Attack

BEFORE
102 days to go
63 days to go
53 days to go
48 days to go
36 days to go
25 days to go
19 days to go
16 days to go
7 days to go
6 days to go
3 days to go
2 days to go
38 hours to go
18 hours to go
DURING
AFTER

The “During” and “After” reports will be published later. I will blog those with gift links.

Written by Leisureguy

1 November 2021 at 2:32 am

How the US fails to take away guns from domestic abusers: ‘These deaths are preventable’

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The US values guns more than it values lives — especially women’s lives. Jennifer Gollan for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting reports in the Guardian:

Editor’s note: This story was produced by the non-profit newsroom Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. Get its investigations emailed directly to you.

Paige Mitchell and Bradley Gray forged a bond over tragedy. Late one Sunday in October 2009, Mitchell’s husband borrowed a motorcycle from a neighbor on a whim, rumbled down a back road in rural Moundville, Alabama, and careened to his death. Almost exactly a year later, at almost precisely the same time of night, Gray’s wife died on the same county byway when her car crashed into a tree. Fate seemed to push Mitchell and Gray together, making their relationship hard to sever even as it descended into dysfunction.

Mitchell treated Gray’s son, Bradley Jr, like one of her own children, bringing him on outings with her daughters, Kayla and Kaci. Gray, who worked for a construction company, mowed Mitchell’s lawn and did repairs around her house. They went to concerts and cruised the Black Warrior River in Gray’s boat. Mitchell, a hairdresser with a gregarious personality, was glad to have someone to laugh with. But a darkness hovered over their relationship. Gray drank – a lot. And when he drank, his temper exploded. After beating a friend with a baseball bat in 2014, he was charged with felony assault, though the case was eventually dismissed.

Gray tried rehab, but he couldn’t stay sober, Mitchell’s family said. Many of the people who loved him gave up. Mitchell felt sorry for him, her family said; like the German shepherd she rescued and the foster children with disabilities she took in, she thought she could help him heal.

After Gray hit her in the chin with a metal hand-grip exerciser, bruising her face and and leaving her worried she would lose her tooth, Mitchell began to give up, too. But Moundville is tiny, and they kept running into each other. On the night of 9 July 2015, she went to Gray’s home to pick up her car and collect her belongings after another split. This time, according to the police, he showed her a Glock in a holster and threatened to use it: “I will blow you away.” Police arrested Gray at his house and confiscated his gun, evidence of a potential crime. Prosecutors charged him with third-degree domestic violence, punishable by up to a year in jail.

Then Gray bumped into Moundville’s police chief, Ken Robertson, in a convenience store and started “really ranting”, Robertson recounted in a deposition five years later. Gray called Robertson and his officers “you sons of bitches” and demanded that they return his gun. “Let me see what’s going on and we will rectify the situation,” Robertson told him.

Back at the station, Robertson read Gray’s arrest report – and, over the objections of another officer, he handed back the gun. The former police chief, who is now a sheriff’s deputy for Hale county, didn’t respond to requests for an interview. But in his deposition, he offered an explanation of sorts: police didn’t have a search warrant for the weapon, he said. In his view, “there was zero legal reason to keep it”.

In fact, under Alabama law, police could have – and should have – sought a court order to retain the gun through a process known as condemnation, said the Hale county district attorney, Michael Jackson, whose jurisdiction includes most of Moundville. Giving back the gun, Jackson told Reveal, “was a big mistake”.

That error was compounded a few weeks later after Gray pleaded guilty to the domestic violence charge. Along with a 30-day suspended jail sentence and a year’s probation, he was ordered to enroll in anger management classes. The timing was crucial: under a state law that had taken effect the previous week, on 1 September 2015, Gray’s domestic violence misdemeanor conviction meant he was no longer allowed to possess a firearm or have one “under [his] control”. As a convicted abuser, Gray was now also permanently barred from possessing a firearm under federal law.

If Robertson’s department had held on to the Glock, the rest of the story might have been different. But Gray had his gun – and the new Alabama statute didn’t spell out a procedure for him to surrender it. Nor was there any requirement for law enforcement to seize it. In his deposition, Robertson acknowledged that Gray was no longer allowed to have a firearm, but he said he didn’t follow up on the case: “We don’t have the authority to go and start checking everybody that’s been convicted.” He also admitted that he’d never notified Mitchell that he’d given back the Glock. The law didn’t require it.

A little more than a year later, Mitchell, then 37, ran into Gray unexpectedly at a friend’s place and made it clear one more time that the relationship was over. “Brad was trying to convince her otherwise, and she was moving on,” said Sylvia Ray, Mitchell’s aunt and adoptive mother.

Hours later, just before dawn on 26 January 2017, Gray broke in to Mitchell’s house through the back door, according to her family. When Mitchell’s foster child woke and went to check on the noise, Gray told her to go back to bed. In the living room, he found 14-year-old Kaci, who had been asleep on a couch by the front door, and shot her in the neck, according to her autopsy.

Next he turned the Glock on Mitchell, firing a single bullet into the back of her head.

The shooting was over so quickly that 10-year-old Kayla slept through it. She discovered the bodies of her mother and sister when she woke the next morning to get ready for school.

As officers waited on his front porch soon after to question him, Gray fired one last shot with the gun he wasn’t supposed to have. He died at a hospital three days later.

Preventable deaths

Every 16 hours somewhere in the US, a woman is fatally shot by a current or former intimate partner. The numbers have been soaring: gun homicides by intimate partners jumped 58% over the last decade, according to never-before-published FBI data analyzed for Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting by James Alan Fox, a professor and criminologist at Northeastern University. The pandemic has been an especially lethal period for abuse victims, Fox found; gun homicides involving intimate partners rose a stunning 25% in 2020 compared with the previous year, to the highest level in almost three decades. Women accounted for more than two-thirds of the victims shot and killed by intimate partners last year.

Many of these killings involve . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 3:07 pm

Kyle Rittenhouse and the New Era of Political Violence

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Charles Homans has a lengthy article in the NY Times on how physical violence is now accepted by some as proper political engagement. (Link is a gift article: no paywall. At the link, you can listen to an audio of the article. The article begins:

Practically all of it happened on camera — many cameras, on phones held aloft like candles through the tear gas and firework smoke, feeding fragments of footage and livestreams to the many platforms.

It began with the video of a white police officer shooting a Black man named Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., a small lakefront manufacturing city, on Aug. 23, 2020. Over the following nights, Kenoshans found themselves inside a compressed version of the national experience since the killing of George Floyd three months earlier. A demonstration at the site of the shooting grew larger and angrier and gave way to smashed police cruisers; an officer was knocked unconscious with a brick. Within hours, officers in riot gear were firing rubber bullets and pepper balls beneath a pall of smoke from torched municipal trucks, and black-masked arsonists were setting fire to public buildings.

The next day, the mayor attempted a news conference but was forced to retreat inside the public-safety building ahead of a furious crowd that broke the glass of the building’s front doors. That night, police officers defending the county courthouse used a sound cannon and tear gas on demonstrators. Several streets’ worth of businesses and a parole office went up in flames. A man in his 70s trying to defend the Danish Brotherhood Lodge and a store next door sprayed rioters in their faces with a fire extinguisher until a man hit him with a concrete-filled plastic bottle, breaking his jaw.

The footage ran in fiery loops on Fox News and Newsmax. It fueled rumors and conspiracy theories, outraged monologues on talk radio and conversations within the White House, which themselves spilled back onto Fox News. It ricocheted around the online platforms themselves, among people who, by the third day, Aug. 25, were convinced they had to do something — who, when reaching for an explanation of what they had done after the fact, would often reach for a video. When I asked one local man what possessed him to leave his home armed with a rifle and intent on defending a pizza place across town, whose owner he did not know, he directed me to the footage of the beating outside the Danish Brotherhood Lodge. “This,” he wrote to me in a Facebook message, “was what triggered us citizens that day!”

They called themselves citizens or patriots, and the demonstrators and media often called them militias, but it would have been most accurate to call them paramilitaries: young-to-middle-aged white men, mostly, armed with assault-style rifles and often clad in tactical gear, who appeared in town that evening arrayed purposefully around gas stations and used-car lots. Their numbers, based on video footage and firsthand accounts, may have run anywhere from the high dozens to the low hundreds, but no official estimates were made. Law-enforcement officers seemed to have broadly tolerated, and occasionally openly expressed support for, their activities, despite the fact that many of them were violating the same emergency curfew order under which dozens of demonstrators were arrested.

One of the most extensive records of their appearance was made by Kristan T. Harris, the Milwaukee-based host of a streamed talk show called “The Rundown Live” (“covering news and conspiracy that your local news won’t”), a sort of junior cousin of Alex Jones’s conspiracist Infowars media empire. Harris was also a prolific livestreamer, a frequent presence at protests and other happenings in the Upper Midwest. An advocate for armed citizens’ groups (though not actually a gun owner himself), Harris had been at plenty of assemblies where military-style hardware was ostentatiously carried. “It’s a penis-measuring contest — let’s call it what it is,” he told me. But it was immediately clear to him, in Kenosha, that something had shifted: “When people say, ‘Hey, take your positions, they’re coming our way’ — that, to me, sounds like war.”

A handful of figures, rifles in hand, were visible in silhouette on the roof of a car dealership. “We’ve got militia on the roof here, and it’s pretty neat,” Harris told his viewers. “They’re here to protect the local neighborhood and buildings, they said.” Out front, two young men stood sentry with rifles in front of a silver sedan. “Get my good angle,” one of them said, leaning nonchalantly against the driver’s side door. He smiled. “I’m Kyle, by the way.”

Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, who lived just across the state line in Illinois, arrived in Kenosha the night before. The next day, he joined several other young men in the defense of the dealership where Harris encountered him. Less than two hours later, he would shoot three men, killing two and wounding the third, and transforming himself, in an instant, into a Rorschach test. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

26 October 2021 at 4:51 pm

A Brief History of Guns in the U.S.

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Cathy Shufro writes for Johns Hopkins School of Public Health:

et’s start with a few facts about firearms in the U.S.: Americans own 393 million guns, the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey reports.

Firearms can be found in 44% of U.S. households, according to a 2020 Gallup survey.

And, tragically: Almost half of Americans know someone who has been shot, a 2017 Pew Research Center report noted.

How did we get here? Marketing, politics, racism, fear, and other forces have contributed to America’s exceptional proliferation of guns.

Soon after the end of the Civil War, gunmakers with surpluses sought peacetime customers. They convinced dry goods stores to sell handguns alongside flour and sugar; they ran classified ads in newspapers; and they told parents that a rifle would help “real boys” to develop “sturdy manliness.” Private gun ownership dramatically expanded.

The end of slavery catalyzed the formation of armed groups, some seeking to protect newly freed Black men, others to terrorize them. After Reconstruction failed, supremacist military groups like the White League in Louisiana used guns to threaten and sometimes murder Black men attempting to vote.

While the popular imagination holds that gunslingers sauntered down the dusty streets of Western towns, that’s largely a myth, according to UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, JD. “Frontier towns—places like Tombstone, Deadwood, and Dodge—actually had the most restrictive gun control laws in the nation,” Winkler wrote in the Huffington PostWhen visitors arrived in Dodge City, Kansas, they encountered a billboard announcing, “The Carrying of Firearms Strictly Prohibited.”

Indeed, by the early 1900s, 43 states limited or banned firearms in public places. Gun control would become sharply divisive only with the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, made law after the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. The legislation limited interstate sales of firearms but did too little to satisfy gun control advocates including President Lyndon Johnson.

By the late 1990s, fear became a potent selling point as cultural attitudes changed. In a 1999 poll, most gun owners said they kept guns for hunting and target shooting; only 26% cited protection as paramount. By 2015, however, 63% cited self-defense as a primary motivation for gun ownership, according to a 2015 National Firearms Survey. In reality, having access to a gun triples a person’s risk of suicide and nearly doubles the risk of being a homicide victim, according to a 2014 Annals of Internal Medicine meta-analysis. For a woman living with an abusive partner, the risk of being murdered increases fivefold if the partner has a gun, according to an American Journal of Public Health study led by Jacquelyn Campbell, PhD, MSN, a faculty member of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy at the Bloomberg School.

As gun owners increasingly emphasized self-defense in recent decades, restrictions on carrying concealed firearms evaporated. Whereas in 1990 concealed carry in public spaces was illegal in 16 states (including Texas), by 2013 all 50 states and Washington, D.C., allowed some civilians to carry hidden guns.

At the same time, gunmakers have redesigned their wares. “Technology has focused on making smaller and smaller handguns, with more lethality, and with almost no attention to safety,” says Josh Horwitz, JD, who directs the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. For example, the popular $450 Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 2.0 pistol is 6 inches long and carries 15 9mm cartridges. And children now have their own firearms, like the 2½-pound, .22-caliber Crickett (“my first rifle”). Its gunstock comes in pink, camo, and “amendment”—Second Amendment text overlaid on American flags.

Horwitz says lobbyists and owners of military-style weapons increasingly embrace “the insurrectionist idea.” Since 2009, he has warned of armed citizens who claim that “threatening violence against government officials is within normal bounds of political discourse.” [!! – LG]

The multiplication of “stand-your-ground” laws marked another shift in American attitudes, with Florida taking the lead in 2005. Today, 34 states give gun owners the right to use deadly force outside of the home with no duty to retreat or use other means to protect themselves. The laws “make it much easier for a person to legally kill someone,” writes University of Texas sociologist Harel Shapira, PhD, who credits the laws with “the militarization of everyday life.”

“In almost any aspect of public health, culture and policy are reinforcing and reflecting each other,” says Daniel Webster, ScD ’91, MPH, director of the Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy. “You gradually see carrying a gun around as normative.” Forty years ago, if someone brought a gun to a party, Webster says, “you would have been shocked. It would have been incredibly abnormal.” Now, gun ownership is a lifestyle choice, one rooted in the individualism “baked into our culture and our laws.”

In recent decades, the . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

26 October 2021 at 10:59 am

It takes a good man with a gallon of milk to stop a bad man with a gun

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Written by Leisureguy

24 October 2021 at 10:17 am

Posted in Daily life, Guns

Political spark that ignited firestorm across dry, divided land

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Evan Osnos writes of his book, Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury:

This book is the story of a crucible, a period bounded by two assaults on the country’s sense of itself: the attack on New York and Washington, on September 11, 2001, and the attack on the U.S. Capitol, on January 6, 2021.

The Harvard Gazette has an excerpt from the book:

On a hillside three hours north of San Francisco, a rancher waded through a meadow that rustled with golden grass. His name was Glenn Kile, and he lived in a sliver of the American West so blessed by nature that indigenous people called it Ba-lo Kai — the “verdant valley.” But on this day, the terrain was merciless. The temperature was 103 degrees, and it had been in the triple digits for days. All of the hottest summers in California history had arrived in the past 20 years, and the fields of the verdant valley had acquired the bone-dry smell and snap of straw.

A hundred feet from his house, the rancher stopped at the sight of a small hole in the gray-black soil at his feet. It was the mouth of an underground wasps’ nest. He lifted a steel hammer and pounded a rusty iron stake into the hole to seal it. But the clash of metal on metal spat out a spark, and the spark struck the field, and the field began to burn.

In half an hour, the inferno was 20 acres wide and racing toward a horizon of dried-out forests and scattered homes, a terrain that firefighters call “wildland” — a realm of nearly perfect tinder that is less a place than a condition. The rancher’s spark ignited the largest wildland fire in the history of California, a record that would soon be broken and then broken again. They named it the Mendocino Complex Fire, and it raged for a month — a jet engine of wind and flame, consuming an area more than twice the size of New York City, a landmark in the annals of a warming world. When, at last, the inferno was extinguished, the state of California ruled that Kile was not liable for the catastrophe. He had lit the spark, but the roots of the disaster ran deeper. The fire was the culmination of forces that had been gathering for decades.

That story reminded me of an old line about politics, from a book by the Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong. “A single spark,” Mao wrote, “can start a prairie fire.” Mao knew little of America, but he knew brutal truths about politics. Living in Washington in the years of Donald Trump, I often thought about that image of a landscape primed to burn. Sometimes it felt like metaphor, and sometimes it felt like fact. But eventually I came to understand it as something else — a parable for a time in American history when the land and the people seemed to be mirroring the rage of the other.

I left the United States a little over a year after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The country was preparing to go to war in Iraq, and I reported from Baghdad, Cairo, and elsewhere in the Middle East. A few years later, I settled in Beijing, where I met Sarabeth Berman, from Massachusetts, who had gone abroad as a young producer of theater and dance. We married and eventually prepared to go home. If we stayed abroad too long, Sarabeth said, we would find it hard to go back at all.

In 2013 we made plans to move to Washington. Coming home always holds the promise of a new way of seeing. In the 1940s, after covering the war in Europe, author John Gunther returned to America. At times he felt like “the man from Mars,” he wrote in “Inside U.S.A.,” published in 1947. In Gunther’s case, some features of his home unnerved him; the segregation of the South “out-ghettoes anything I ever saw in a European ghetto, even in Warsaw,” he wrote. But other encounters thrilled him. On his travels across the country, he took to asking people, “What do you believe in most?” He was told: work, children, Thomas Jefferson, God, the golden rule, the Pythagorean theorem, a high tariff, a low tariff, better agricultural prices, happiness, good roads, and Santa Claus. But the most frequent response was, as he put it, “the people, if you give them an even break.”

Sarabeth and I landed at Dulles International Airport on July 7, 2013. At passport control, I picked up a brochure with the title “Welcome to the United States.” It was published by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, and it had a cover photo of the Washington Monument and cherry trees in bloom. The brochure began, “We are glad that you decided to travel to the United States to visit, study, work, or stay.”

I started keeping track of changes that had taken place during my years away, including some tiny details. Walking by the window of Brooks Brothers, the suit-maker, I noticed that it was selling suits with flag pins preattached to the lapel. A corporate spokesman told me that it was intended to advertise suits made in America. The company had adopted the practice in 2007, when Republicans were lambasting then-President Barack Obama for not wearing a flag pin.

Other changes felt so vast it was difficult to grasp their full dimensions. In 2013, the United States passed a threshold in the long evolution of immigration and diversity: For the first time in American history, the number of nonwhite newborns surpassed the number of white newborns. Initially, the gap was barely perceptible, no more than a thousand out of more than 3.8 million babies born that year. But it began to grow. As the son of a refugee, I considered it an exhilarating milestone, a mark of renewal, but I could see that many other Americans did not.

In the case of some changes, I was most startled by how thoroughly people had adapted to them. I was waiting for an Amtrak train one morning when a video screen in the station’s boarding area started playing a public-service announcement. If someone started firing at us, the voice-over explained, we should “take flight” or “take cover.” On the screen, an actor with white hair and a blue blazer huddled behind a pillar. As a last resort, it said, take action: “Yell, and look for surrounding objects, including your belongings, to throw and use as improvised weapons.”

Mass shootings were happening, on average, every nine weeks — nearly three times as often as a decade earlier. Barely six months had passed since the most heart-wrenching: a 20-year-old in Newtown, Connecticut, had killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But in American politics, that event had already faded. Politicians had offered “thoughts and prayers,” but an effort to pass new gun-control measures had failed in Congress. When I glanced around the waiting area, people were absorbed in other things. I felt like Gunther’s man from Mars.

The country had responded in very different fashion to the trauma of September 11, 2001. When Al Qaeda destroyed the towers of the World Trade Center, the historian Tony Judt wrote: “From my window in lower Manhattan, I watched the 21st century begin.” Twelve years later, the event had acquired a unique symbolic power. In the years since, Americans had been attacked more than twice as many times by far-right terrorists as they had by Islamic terrorists, yet when researchers in 2016 asked people to estimate the share of Muslims in the country, Americans, on average, estimated one in six. The real number was one in a 100.

I began to notice how far fear was reaching into our political life. Before going abroad, I had lived in Clarksburg, West Virginia, a small Appalachian city where I worked at the local paper, The Exponent Telegram. The day after September 11, the editors had published a humble declaration of commitment to a story Americans tell ourselves: “Far be it for a small-town daily newspaper to suggest what the government’s reaction should be,” they wrote, but one thing must be clear: “We are a free society, which prides itself on its diversity, its exchange of ideas and its willingness to tolerate dissent”; the attacks must “strengthen our ideals rather than shatter them.” That month, after someone desecrated a mosque in the West Virginia city of Princeton — the vandals drew the picture of a lynching and the name “Jamaal”— neighbors rallied in the mosque’s defense, and the response became a point of local pride.

But by 2008, a poll showed that one-fifth of the public in West Virginia believed that Obama was a Muslim, and hate crimes, which had subsided after 2001, were climbing, according to the FBI. In 2013, someone vandalized the mosque again, but the local reaction was quieter that time. Churches condemned the assault, but the sheriff said the incident did not meet the threshold of a hate crime. Muslims who had lived in West Virginia for generations described a growing sense of isolation. (Four years later, during a Republican Party rally in the West Virginia Capitol, someone hung a poster of the burning World Trade Center and a photo of Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, one of the first Muslim women in Congress. The caption read, “I am the proof you have forgotten.”)

Those fissures in American life were part of a larger fracturing. The United States had the largest economy in the world, with median incomes higher than they had ever been, but the living standards for millions of people had stagnated or declined. Twenty-seven states were so short of cash to fix potholes that they were returning some of their paved roads to dirt. At the same time, three men — Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos — had more wealth than the entire bottom half of the U.S. population combined. Every hour, Bezos earned $149,353 — which was more than the typical American worker earned in three years.

When scientists reported the startling fact that life expectancy was declining, it sounded like a national problem. But it was not. In West Virginia’s McDowell County, male life expectancy had sunk to 64 — a level on a par with Iraq. In neighboring Virginia, men in Fairfax County could expect to live 18 years longer. The chasms between American lives had become so vast that the vanishing common ground could no longer carry the weight of American institutions, a prospect that the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned against when he told a friend, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

America wasn’t just losing a story of itself; it was losing a habit of mind, a . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2021 at 10:05 am

Lessons Learned from Two Gun-Violence Epidemics

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Daniel Webster writes at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health:

came to Johns Hopkins in 1987 to get my doctorate and focus on public policies that enhance public health and safety. Initially, I focused on reducing motor vehicle deaths, but gun violence was engulfing U.S. cities in the late 1980s, including Baltimore. In neighborhoods near our campus, young lives were being lost to gunfire. The sharp upward trajectory looked like that of an uncontrolled infectious disease. Encouraged by my adviser, Stephen Teret, I decided to focus my career on preventing gun violence.

The current surge in homicides reminds me of when I entered the field. Just as in the 1986–1994 epidemic of gun violence, Black Americans living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty and disinvestment have been the hardest hit. Social factors, including structural racism, contributed to both epidemics, but so have the proliferation of firearms, weaknesses in gun laws, and problems enforcing gun laws.

There are some positive differences in our response to the current epidemic of gun violence compared to the prior one. Previously, the response was dominated by more arrests, more incarceration, and increased investment in law enforcement. This time, policymakers are funding public health approaches. Community violence prevention programs have become integral to local strategies. Reducing violence and abuses by police and policies to promote racial equity have become high priorities.

But as new solutions have emerged, so have new challenges. Firearms constructed with kits purchased online and DIY videos are a new pipeline for firearms. Social media amplifies conflicts that are often settled with gunfire. Egregious acts of police violence have curtailed effective partnerships between law enforcement and community groups.

I’ve studied community violence interruption programs in Baltimore since 2007 and have had the privilege of being friends with some of the programs’ brave workers like Dante Barksdale. He was an effective violence interrupter for Safe Streets Baltimore in the McElderry Park neighborhood and later worked for Baltimore City recruiting and mentoring violence interrupters.

Dante was murdered earlier this year. Like many others in Baltimore, I was devastated by his loss. I learned much from Dante and others in Safe Streets. They taught me about the deep deprivation and trauma that is common among those involved in gun violence. They also acknowledged that their ability to prevent shootings depends somewhat on law enforcement being a credible deterrent to gun violence. Sadly, that’s been lacking in Baltimore and many other cities.

While some in public health have called for abolition or dramatic defunding of police, I think public health professionals should partner with police to develop new models for community safety that minimize harms from the criminal justice system. Our goal should be to push law enforcement to focus more on eliminating racial disparities, reducing serious violence, and being accountable to community members. Our police should be trauma-informed and able to engage collaboratively with multiple sectors.

To stem the current surge in gun violence, we need smarter policies to reduce gun availability in risky contexts. The Center I lead has helped strengthen laws to keep firearms from individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders and advance the adoption by 17 states and the District of Columbia of extreme risk protection order laws. Our research provides evidence that strong background check requirements that include handgun purchaser licensing can reduce the diversion of guns for criminal use, firearm-related homicides and suicides, mass shootings, and law enforcement officers being shot. We know that states with these policies have rates of civilians being fatally shot by law enforcement that are about a quarter as high as those of states that lack them. Our national surveys show that three-quarters of Americans support these policies and a similar proportion of gun owners in states with purchaser licensing support the laws.

We also are rigorously studying laws governing . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Many civilian deaths by firearms could be prevented by sensible modifications to gun policies.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2021 at 12:19 pm

Heather Cox Richardson on the slow-moving coup being carried out now in the US

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Richardson writes in her column tonight:

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post today ran op-eds from Republicans or former Republicans urging members of their party who still value democracy to vote Democratic until the authoritarian faction that has taken over their party is bled out of it.

In the New York Times, Miles Taylor and Christine Todd Whitman wrote, “We are Republicans. There’s only one way to save our party from pro-Trump extremists.” Taylor served in the Department of Homeland Security and was the author of the 2018 New York Times piece by “Anonymous” criticizing former president Trump. Whitman was governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001, after which she headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush.

Taylor and Whitman note that “rational Republicans” had hoped after Trump’s defeat that they might take back the party, but it is clear now, they write, that they are losing the party’s “civil war.” But while they originally hoped to form a new party, they now agree that the only way to stop Trumpism “is for us to form an alliance with Democrats to defend American institutions, defeat far-right candidates, and elect honorable representatives next year—including a strong contingent of moderate Democrats.” To defend democracy, they write, “concerned conservatives must join forces with Democrats on the most essential near-term imperative: blocking Republican leaders from regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives” and the Senate.

They call for Republicans to put country over party and back moderate Democrats, while also asking Democrats to concede that “there are certain races where progressives simply cannot win and acknowledg[e] that it makes more sense to throw their lot in with a center-right candidate who can take out a more radical conservative.”

At the Washington Post, Max Boot takes an even stronger stand: “I’m no Democrat—but I’m voting exclusively for Democrats to save our democracy.” Boot is a Russian-American specialist in foreign affairs who identifies as a conservative but no longer supports the Republican Party. He writes: “I’m a single-issue voter. My issue is the fate of democracy in the United States. Simply put, I have no faith that we will remain a democracy if Republicans win power. Thus, although I’m not a Democrat, I will continue to vote exclusively for Democrats—as I have done in every election since 2016—until the GOP ceases to pose an existential threat to our freedom.”

Boot singles out the dueling reports from the Senate Judiciary Committee about the nine ways in which Trump tried to pressure then–acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen to back his claims of election fraud. The Democrats on the committee established these efforts with an evidence-based report, only to have the Republicans on the committee, led by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), respond that the president was simply trying to promote confidence in the election results and that since he did not ultimately replace Rosen with another lawyer who promised to use the Justice Department to challenge the election—after the other leaders of the Justice Department threatened to resign in a mass protest—he did not actually abuse his office.

Boot writes, “It is mind-boggling that a defeated president won’t accept the election outcome…. What is even more alarming is that more than 60 percent of Republicans agree with his preposterous assertion that the election was stolen and want him to remain as the party’s leader.”

Taylor, Whitman, and Boot are hardly the first to be calling out the anti-democratic consolidation of the Republican Party. Yesterday, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, managed Trump’s first impeachment trial, and sits on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, gave an interview to CBS’s Face the Nation in which he called the Republican Party “an autocratic cult around Donald Trump” that is “not interested in governing” or “maintaining the solvency of the country.”

But what makes today’s op-eds stand out is that they are from former Republicans, that they are calling not for a separate party but for Republicans to shift their votes to the Democrats, and that their identification of the Republicans as an existential threat to our democracy is being published in major newspapers.

Mainstream television and newspapers have been slow to identify the radicalization of the Republican Party as a threat to democracy. The Eastman memo, uncovered by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa at the end of September in their new book Peril, flew largely under the radar screen, explained away as more of Trump being Trump even as it laid out, in writing, the steps to overturn the 2020 election and even as we knew that the former president tried to put that plan into place. A study by Media Matters showed that ABC, NBC, and CBS all chose not even to mention the memo; they reach more than 20 million Americans.

On Saturday, a monologue by comedian Bill Maher about the Eastman memo titled “Slow Moving Coup” laid out in 8 minutes how Trump tried to steal the 2020 election and how, when officials resisted him, he set out to solidify his power for 2024. Maher woke people up to the ongoing crisis in our democracy.

Maher’s monologue, along with the draft Senate Judiciary Committee report, which sets out in detail the efforts the former president made to bend the Department of Justice to his will, seems to have driven home to members of the press the fact that they cannot present today’s news as business as usual, especially after their presentation of the debt ceiling crisis as a political horse race when one side was trying to save the country and the other to destroy it. In the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday, journalist Will Bunch wrote: “The future of American democracy depends, frankly, on whether journalists stop burying their head in ‘the work’ of balanced-but-misleading reporting and admit that, yes, actually, we are at war.”

Bunch pointed out that on Friday, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 October 2021 at 9:32 pm

Gun Policies that Save Lives

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Brennen Jensen writes at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health about some sensible and practical gun policies to minimize the dangers guns pose to the public. In my view the government is obligated to protect the public by (for example) driver licensing, vehicle inspections, checking the quality and purity and cleanliness of drinking water, air, food, and drugs, and so on. Protecting the public from the harms guns have caused is much the same.
With more than 390 million guns in civilian hands, the U.S. has more firearms than people. This daunting fact can make the problem of gun violence seem unsolvable. But research led by the Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy has identified laws that are already making a difference—primarily by keeping guns from people who shouldn’t have them.

EXTREME RISK PROTECTION ORDERS 

When individuals are behaving dangerously and make credible threats to harm themselves or others, judicial authorizations called ERPOs allow law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from these individuals—and prohibit them from purchasing guns. “These are people who are in crisis and truly at risk of committing violence, either self-directed or directed at others,” says Shannon Frattaroli, PhD ’99, MPH ’94, a professor in Health Policy and Management. “These orders provide a tool for intervening to temporarily remove guns from the mix.” In all states with such laws—currently 19 plus the District of Columbia—law enforcement can petition courts for these orders. In some states, family members, intimate partners, clinicians, and school administrators may do so as well. “Compared with other gun violence prevention policies, these are relatively uncontroversial,” Frattaroli says. “There’s been tremendous interest in them from lawmakers.” While more research is needed, studies from Connecticut and Indiana, which have had these laws for over 15 years, estimate that one life was saved for every 10–20 gun removal actions.

COMPREHENSIVE BACKGROUND CHECKS AND PURCHASER LICENSING LAWS 

These approaches are used to prevent gun purchases by individuals with past criminal activity, outstanding warrants, or mental health or substance abuse issues. Federally mandated background checks at the point of sale ensure that the purchaser isn’t on a national database of those prohibited from gun ownership. (The law does not apply to private gun sales.) Licensing laws require purchasers submit applications in person to local or state law enforcement. The process involves background checks, waiting periods, and sometimes fingerprinting. “If you want to buy a gun this afternoon, you can’t do it without this license,” says Alexander McCourt, PhD ’19, JD, MPH, an assistant scientist in HPM. Connecticut has required background checks and licensing since 1995. The combined laws reduced firearm homicides by an estimated 27.8% and firearm suicides by 23.2%–40.5%, according to a 2020 study McCourt co-authored. The study, which examined four states, shows that background checks alone are not effective in reducing firearm homicides or suicides. “It seems to work best to have both in place as a way of making sure that everything’s valid and to double-check the system,” McCourt says.

REMOVING GUNS FROM PEOPLE WITH DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDERS 

Research shows that a woman is five times more likely to be killed in a domestic violence situation if a gun is present. Federal law prohibits people under DVROs issued after a court hearing from possessing firearms. (Some states strengthen this prohibition to include ex parte restraining orders, those issued by a judge in emergency situations.) The federal law defines domestic partners as people who are or were married or living together, or those who have a child together. Some states also include couples who are dating—an important addition, notes April Zeoli, PhD ’07, MPH, an associate professor at the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice. “Dating partners make up about half of the people who commit intimate partner homicide,” she says. Another area where these laws need tightening: While those newly placed under restraining orders are flagged in background check databases, Zeoli says some courts don’t order the relinquishment or removal of existing firearms—a step that could save lives. “My research suggests that in states where the law requires or allows judges to order gun relinquishment, intimate partner homicide decreases an estimated 12%,” Zeoli says.

DATA-DRIVEN LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSE 

Police have long focused on getting illegal guns off the streets, especially in violence-prone areas. In Baltimore and beyond, police often rely on stop-and-frisk practices to detain and search individuals suspected of carrying guns—a “general tactic often too broadly applied,” says Center director Daniel Webster, ScD ’91, MPH, a Bloomberg Professor of American Health in Health Policy and Management. A 2020 report by Center researchers suggests a more data-driven and accountable strategy. Webster envisions specialized . . .
Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2021 at 1:40 pm

The Constitutional Crisis Has Arrived

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Robert Kagan has a lengthy piece in the Washington Post that’s well worth reading — and that link is gift article that skips the paywall. His essay begins:

“Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation.”  — James Madison

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial. But about these things there should be no doubt:

First, Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. The hope and expectation that he would fade in visibility and influence have been delusional. He enjoys mammoth leads in the polls; he is building a massive campaign war chest; and at this moment the Democratic ticket looks vulnerable. Barring health problems, he is running.

Second, Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the California recall contest.

Meanwhile, the amateurish “stop the steal” efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Those recalcitrant Republican state officials who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to “find” more votes for Trump are being systematically removed or hounded from office. Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process. As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may “revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election” by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed “technical infractions,” including obstructing the view of poll watchers.

The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn’t have.

Today’s arguments over the filibuster will seem quaint in three years if the American political system enters a crisis for which the Constitution offers no remedy.

Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian. They have followed the standard model of appeasement, which always begins with underestimation. The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power. The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way — if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if Trump had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. As it was, Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

These were not the checks and balances the Framers had in mind when they designed the Constitution, of course, but Trump has exposed the inadequacy of those protections. The Founders did not foresee the Trump phenomenon, in part because they did not foresee national parties. They anticipated the threat of a demagogue, but not of a national cult of personality. They assumed that the new republic’s vast expanse and the historic divisions among the 13 fiercely independent states would pose insuperable barriers to national movements based on party or personality. “Petty” demagogues might sway their own states, where they were known and had influence, but not the whole nation with its diverse populations and divergent interests.

Such checks and balances as the Framers put in place, therefore, depended on . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 2:12 pm

Why Americans Die So Much

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Derek Thompson writes in the Atlantic:

America has a death problem.

No, I’m not just talking about the past year and a half, during which COVID-19 deaths per capita in the United States outpaced those in similarly rich countries, such as Canada, Japan, and France. And I’m not just talking about the past decade, during which drug overdoses skyrocketed in the U.S., creating a social epidemic of what are often called “deaths of despair.”

I’m talking about the past 30 years. Before the 1990s, average life expectancy in the U.S. was not much different than it was in Germany, the United Kingdom, or France. But since the 1990s, American life spans started falling significantly behind those in similarly wealthy European countries.

According to a new working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Americans now die earlier than their European counterparts, no matter what age you’re looking at. Compared with Europeans, American babies are more likely to die before they turn 5, American teens are more likely to die before they turn 20, and American adults are more likely to die before they turn 65. At every age, living in the United States carries a higher risk of mortality. This is America’s unsung death penalty, and it adds up. Average life expectancy surged above 80 years old in just about every Western European country in the 2010s, including Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the U.K., Denmark, and Switzerland. In the U.S., by contrast, the average life span has never exceeded 79—and now it’s just taken a historic tumble.

Why is the U.S. so much worse than other developed countries at performing the most basic function of civilization: keeping people alive?

“Europe has better life outcomes than the United States across the board, for white and Black people, in high-poverty areas and low-poverty areas,” Hannes Schwandt, a Northwestern University professor who co-wrote the paper, told me. “It’s important that we collect this data, so that people can ask the right questions, but the data alone does not tell us what the cause of this longevity gap is.”

Finding a straightforward explanation is hard, because there are so many differences between life in the U.S. and Europe. Americans are more likely to kill one another with guns, in large part because Americans have more guns than residents of other countries do. Americans die more from car accidents, not because our fatality rate per mile driven is unusually high but because we simply drive so much more than people in other countries. Americans also have higher rates of death from infectious disease and pregnancy complications. But what has that got to do with guns, or commuting?

By collecting data on American life spans by ethnicity and by income at the county level—and by comparing them with those of European countries, locality by locality—Schwandt and the other researchers made three important findings.

First, Europe’s mortality rates are shockingly similar between rich and poor communities. Residents of the poorest parts of France live about as long as people in the rich areas around Paris do. “Health improvements among infants, children, and youth have been disseminated within European countries in a way that includes even the poorest areas,” the paper’s authors write.

But in the U.S., which has the highest poverty and inequality of just about any country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, where you live is much more likely to determine when you’ll die. Infants in the U.S. are considerably more likely to die in the poorest counties than in the richest counties, and this is true for both Black and white babies. Black teenagers in the poorest U.S. areas are roughly twice as likely to die before they turn 20, compared with those in the richest U.S. counties. In Europe, by contrast, the mortality rate for teenagers in the richest and poorest areas is exactly the same—12 deaths per 100,000. In America, the problem is not just that poverty is higher; it’s that the effect of poverty on longevity is greater too.

Second, even rich Europeans are outliving rich Americans. “There is an American view that egalitarian societies have more equality, but it’s all one big mediocre middle, whereas the best outcomes in the U.S. are the best outcomes in the world,” Schwandt said. But this just doesn’t seem to be the case for longevity. White Americans living in the richest 5 percent of counties still die earlier than Europeans in similarly low-poverty areas; life spans for Black Americans were shorter still. (The study did not examine other American racial groups.) “It says something negative about the overall health system of the United States that even after we grouped counties by poverty and looked at the richest 10th percentile, and even the richest fifth percentile, we still saw this longevity gap between Americans and Europeans,” he added. In fact, Europeans in extremely impoverished areas seem to live longer than Black or white Americans in the richest 10 percent of counties.

Third,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including this interesting factoid:

Air pollution has declined more than 70 percent since the 1970s, according to the EPA, and most of that decline happened during the 30-year period of this mortality research.

Related, via a post this morning by Kevin Drum:

Drum notes:

The US death rate from COVID-19 is no longer skyrocketing, but it’s still going up. Our mortality rate is 150% above Britain and more than 1000% higher than Germany.

I imagine the primary causes are widespread refusal (especially in Red states) to wear masks, to avoid crowds, and to be vaccinated, all obvious steps that significantly reduce the likelihood of infection and thus reduce the likelihood of death.

Note this headline in the NY Times this morning: “The U.S. is falling to the lowest vaccination rates of the world’s wealthiest democracies.” From that article:

. . . Canada leads the G7 countries in vaccination rates, with almost three-quarters of its population at least partially vaccinated as of Thursday, according to Our World in Data. France, Italy and Britain follow, with percentages between 70 and 73. Germany’s rate is just ahead of Japan’s, at around 65 percent.

The U.S. vaccination curve has leveled dramatically since an initial surge in the first half of this year, when the vaccine first became widely available. In a push to vaccinate the roughly 80 million Americans who are eligible for shots but have not gotten them, President Biden on Thursday mandated that two-thirds of American workers, including health care workers and the vast majority of federal employees, be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 1:11 pm

The effort to overthrow US democracy

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Heather Cox Richardson from last night:

Four years ago today, racists, antisemites, white nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis, and other alt-right groups met in Charlottesville, Virginia, to “Unite the Right.” The man who organized the rally, Jason Kessler, claimed he wanted to bring people together to protest the removal of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a local park. But the rioters turned immediately to chants that had been used by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s: “you will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” and “blood and soil.” They gave Nazi salutes and carried Nazi insignia, and many brought battle gear and went looking for fights. By the end of August 12, they had killed counterprotester Heather Heyer and had injured 19 others. After the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency, the rioters went home.

The Unite the Right rally drew a clear political line in America. Then-president Donald Trump refused to condemn the rioters, telling a reporter that there were “very fine people, on both sides.”

In contrast, former vice president Joe Biden watched the events at Charlottesville and concluded that the soul of the nation was at stake. He decided to run for president and to defeat the man he believed threatened our democracy. Biden was especially concerned with Trump’s praise for the “very fine people” aligned with the rioters. “With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it,” Biden said, “and in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”

Four years later, it is much easier to see the larger context of the Charlottesville riot. The political threat of those gangs who tried to unite in Charlottesville in 2017 recalls how fascism came to America in the 1930s: not as an elite ideology, but as a unification of street brawlers to undermine the nation’s democratic government.

In 2018, historian Joseph Fronczak explored the arrival of fascism in the U.S. In an article in the leading journal of the historical profession, the Journal of American History, Fronczak explained how men interested in overturning Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency in 1934 admired and then imitated the violent right-wing gangs that helped overturn European governments and install right-wing dictators.

The United States had always had radical street mobs, from anti-Catholic gangs in the 1830s to Ku Klux Klan chapters in the 1860s to anti-union thugs in the 1880s. In the 1930s, though, those eager to get rid of FDR brought those street fighters together as a political force to overthrow the federal government.

While they failed to do so in an attempted 1934 coup, Fronczak explains, street fighters learned about the contours of fascism once their power as a violent street force was established. He argues that in the U.S., fascism grew out of political violence, not the other way around. Mobs whose members dressed in similar shirts, waved similar flags, and made similar salutes pieced together racist, antisemitic, and nationalistic ideas and became the popular arm of right-wing leaders. In America, the hallmark of budding fascism was populist street violence, rather than an elite philosophy of government.

The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville had the hallmarks of such a populist movement. Leaders brought together different gangs, dressed similarly and carrying the emblem of tiki torches, to organize and attack the government. Rather than rejecting the rioters, then-President Trump encouraged them.

From that point on, Trump seemed eager to ride a wave of violent populism into authoritarianism. He stoked populist anger over state shutdowns during coronavirus, telling supporters to “LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” His encouragement fed the attacks on the Michigan state house in 2020. And then, after he repeatedly told his supporters the 2020 presidential election had been stolen, violent gangs attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to overturn the government and install him as president for another term.

While that attempted coup was unsuccessful, the empowerment of violent gangs as central political actors is stronger than ever. Since January 6, angry mobs have driven election officials out of office in fear for their safety. In increasingly angry protests, they have threatened school board members over transgender rights and over teaching Critical Race Theory, a legal theory from the 1970s that is not, in fact, in the general K–12 curriculum.

Now, as the coronavirus rages again, they are showing exactly how this process works as they threaten local officials who are following the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to require masks. Although a Morning Consult poll shows that 69% of Americans want a return to mask mandates, vocal mobs who oppose masking are dominating public spaces and forcing officials to give in to their demands.

In Franklin, Tennessee, yesterday, antimask mobs threatened doctors and nurses asking the local school board to reinstate a mask mandate in the schools. “We will find you,” they shouted at a man leaving the meeting. “We know who you are.”

Her column includes notes and comments, and those are worth reading. For example:

Elizabeth B. Scupham          1 hr ago

I read from Jeff Sharlet yesterday: ” A little while ago I drove slowly across the country visiting rightwing churches & individuals. What I found confirms a change I’ve been observing for the last 5 yrs: It’s really, truly, not issue-driven. What the Rightwing base wants, fundamentally, is a fight. Which, of course, is a core principle of fascism, albeit in its rapidly mutating, inchoate American form: A longing for redemption through violence, identity through the destruction of your foes.

The January 6 beating and attempted murder of Officer Michael Fanone makes that clear. As Officer Fanone has noted, he was down on the ground, incapacitated–and yet the mob kept beating him and calling for his death. He was, he notes, not an “impediment” to their stated goal of gaining entry to the Capitol to “stop the steal”; and yet instead of pursuing that goal, they kept beating him. Some of this is mob frenzy; but I’ve encountered the same sensibility among people sitting calmly in church lobbies: A desire to destroy one’s enemies as an end in itself.

So Trying to finesse policy differences or even “cultural” differences (read: white supremacy self-aware or not) isn’t noble, or pragmatic; it *misses the point.* The point, of much of the Right now, is conflict for its own sake, a belief that fighting will make them whole, or “great” again.”

And as a reminder of the particular Americans who want violence in their politics:

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2021 at 7:30 am

“You Say You Want A Revolution …”: The Right Embraces Authoritarianism

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Michael A. Cohen writes in Truth and Consequences:

At the Bulwark, Charlies Sykes has a smart piece looking at the growing embrace of dictatorship on the far right.

He cites a recent article in American Greatness, an online publication that styles itself as the intellectual home of Trumpism, titled The Salazar Option, which celebrates the reign of Portugal’s fascist dictator António de Oliveira Salazar.

The crux of the argument made by Christopher Roach, an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness, is that the right can no longer acquiesce to liberal indoctrination. “The forces of the aggressive, secular Left are not going to let any of us retreat into our own enclaves,” says Roach. “They will hunt down every last private clubpizza shop, and bakery out of mere spite. They will steal your kids and destroy your life.”

“Passive resistance” is a fool’s errand, says Roach, as he argues that history teaches that “the only thing that worked” in resisting “revolutionary leftist power …was the acquisition of real power.” Hence the reverence for Salazar, whose regime Roach describes as “undoubtedly authoritarian” … but “far less intrusive and far less damaging to society than the alternative.”

According to Roach, the brutality that defined the 1926 coup in Portugal, led by Estado Novo that overthrew a left-wing government, is a feature, not a bug. “Estado Novo and its supporters did not treat its enemies with kid gloves,” says Roach. “They were not limited by self-defeating notions of ‘principle.’ Hostile and revolutionary elements—whether domestic Communists, fascist syndicalists, internal political factions, or international high finance—were treated as equal potential dangers.”

For months now, political observers have noted the conservative movement’s increasingly authoritarian bent, so I suppose it’s not surprising that a publication devoted to promoting Donald Trump would unabashedly embrace such a message. But after reading a number of posts at American Greatness, I was struck by something even more disturbing — the increasingly existential, even eliminationist rhetoric emanating from the far right. Liberalism is presented not as an ordinary political or cultural movement. Instead, it is a clear and present threat to America’s future and the American people. To read American Greatness is to believe that America is in the last throes of liberal indoctrination, and the time is now to confront it with force, if necessary.

“First They Came For Our Putters … and I Said Nothing”

American Greatness is rife with references to “cultural catastrophe” and the “ongoing leftist cultural indoctrination of America’s future.” The usual conservative bugaboos are trotted out, such as “the explosion of violent crimes in American cities,” “disease-bearing illegal aliens,” “and the takeover of the military and education by the intersectional Left.” A former congressman from Arkansas, Thaddeus McCotter, laments the impact of the left’s “climate cult” on children because, and I’m not making this up, there is now a New York-based miniature golf course focused on the theme of climate change. “‘Fun’ is subordinate to and subsumed beneath politics and power,” writes McCotter. “Only if one has been ‘informed’—i.e., indoctrinated and submissive—will the Left let you have fun.”

Once piece compares vaccine mandates to the Shirley Jackson short story, “The Lottery,” in which a child is chosen by lottery to be stoned to death as a human sacrifice. This idea of vaccine and mask mandates being an attempt at societal control and an example of the left’s burgeoning tyranny is a recurrent theme on American Greatness.

John Conlin, who bills himself as an “expert on organizational design and change,” compares the calls from Democratic leaders for vaccine mandate to that of genocidal leaders:

Listen carefully to the Biden Administration, the Squad, and all the rest. They are tyrants in the making and if they had the power and ability, they would surely use it. From the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, to Stalin, to Mao, to Islamist supremacists, to Venezuela and Cuba and many others, the road to tyranny—and the end of individual freedom—started with “I’ll just make them . . .”

Conlin implores his readers to “Vote and live like your very freedoms—and the lives of all you love—hang in the balance. They do.” Comparing the president and his congressional supporters to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge might also lead one to conclude that voting is the least you should do to forestall this outcome.

Roger Kimball, the editor and publisher of The New Criterion, decries the “tyrannous spirit” that is driving “lockdowns, the mask mandates, and the smug, hectoring, politically correct demands for proof of vaccination.” He says, “the weaponization of public health diktats … is simply the latest manifestation of the profoundly anti-democratic spirit” and “at some point, there will be a revolt.”

According to Kimball,

“The longer the arbitrary insanity persists, the more violent the reaction will be. The question is whether we are at or are approaching the point of crisis. Will the voters stand for another lockdown as we approach the 2022 election? Lockdowns markedly increased the opportunities for voter fraud; 2020 showed that. That is precisely why the swamp is prepping us for another go. Let’s see if we stand by grumbling impotently or if, finally, we actually do something. I am not holding my breath.”

So we’re clear, Kimball is bemoaning the fact that there likely won’t be an armed revolt in response to public health measures around COVID-19.

The Evils of Wokeism

But it’s not just vaccinations that have the writers at American Greatness so upset. Bruce Abramson, who is “a director of the American Center for Education and Knowledge, and author of the forthcoming book, The New Civil War: Exposing Elites, Fighting Utopian Leftism, and Restoring America,” has penned an attack on what he calls the ideology of “Wokeism.” He calls it “a new world religion engaged in a stealth conquest of America, the West, and the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Abramson’s criticism of wokeism is not your usual attack on socially conscious liberals. Instead, what roused him to write his jeremiad against Wokeism is a recent poll that shows a rejection of religious affiliation by a quarter of all Americans (he dubs these Americans “nones”)

“At a societal level, religion provides the basis for morality, law, and community,” says Abramson. “Without some external anchor for basic concepts of good and evil, all morality becomes situational—rendering the rule of law untenable. In short, if a quarter of America can find true fulfillment as nones, American society is dangerously unstable (italics added).”

If you detect a strong Handmaid’s Tale vibe in this language, you’re not alone.

“It’s Just a Flesh Wound”

Conrad Black, who is a prominent Canadian news publisher and author of a reasonably well-reviewed one-volume biography of Franklin Roosevelt, focuses on the “real doubt about the integrity of voting and the fairness of the vote-counting system in key parts of six swing states” and claims 2020 “wasn’t a demonstrably fair election.”

This is standard right-wing misinformation, but it is Black’s defense of the January 6 insurrectionists that stands out. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. These people are dangerous.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2021 at 2:37 pm

How Bad is American Life? Americans Don’t Even Have Friends Anymore

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Umair Haque has a somewhat gloomy piece in Medium, which includes the chart above. He writes:

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2021 at 11:58 am

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