It’s impossible not to make all the connections regarding the terrible school shooting at Oxford High School in Oakland County, Michigan, in which four students were shot and killed by 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley and several others were injured.
The shooter’s parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, now charged with several counts of involuntary manslaughter and held on $500,000 bond each, bought him the gun that he used, had a very clear idea of what he was going to do — after being warned by school officials about violent drawings he made, and after he was found searching on his phone for ammunition — and they didn’t try to stop him.
They didn’t take out him of school. They let him proceed. And they knew he’d kill.
The Crumbleys are a family deep in the far-right Trumpist movement, radicalized just like the January 6th insurrectionists into a cult of violence. They’re akin to a militia family or a familial terrorist cell, taking cues from what they see in the culture or on social media, inspired by messages from those they view as their leaders.
A clear motive isn’t necessary to deduce from their actions that the Crumbleys are angry and they are trying to intimidate others, enabled by a hate movement that promotes grievance and sees violent actions as a means to an end.
Jennifer Crumbley, who praised Donald Trump and grotesquely bragged on social media about getting her teen son a firearm as a “Christmas present,” appears to have been taking orders from extremist politicians within the Republican Party — the same ones who have defended the January 6th insurrectionists as “political prisoners.”
Those extremists who encourage violence — from gun-toting anti-Muslim Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Beobert of Colorado to white supremacist sympathizers Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina — now control the House GOP. They aren’t punished by leadership for their violence-inciting speeches and actions because leaders like Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are immensely fearful of them, bowing to Trump, who emboldens these extremists.
After the not guilty verdict two weeks ago in the case of another teen killer, Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who killed two people at a Black Lives Matter protest and claimed self-defense, Cawthorn gloated about the verdict, urging his legions to follow Rittenhouse’s lead and to be “armed and dangerous.”
And only a few weeks ago, Cawthorn, speaking at an event, warned about attempts in American culture to “demasculate” boys, and he issued a command: “And I’m telling all you moms here — the people who I said are the most vicious in our movement — if you you are raising a young man, please raise them to be a monster! Raise them to be a freedom-loving patriot.”
To end this thread, everyone needs to be clear that this is the GOP strategy. The GOP wants more mothers just like this. Just ask Madison Cawthorn who recently said, \u201cIf you are raising a young man, raise them to be a monster!\u201dpic.twitter.com/KS590W6Cgv— MeidasTouch.com (@MeidasTouch.com) 1638467426
To end this thread, everyone needs to be clear that this is the GOP strategy. The GOP wants more mothers just like this. Just ask Madison Cawthorn who recently said, “If you are raising a young man, raise them to be a monster!”
Jennifer Crumbley followed that command, whether she directly saw the video or picked up on it and all the other similar demented messages coming out of the extremist and violent white supremacist movement which is now embraced by the Republican Party. She’d written an open letter to Trump days after the election in November of 2016, praising him, including for his vows to allow more weapons to proliferate in society.
The letter is actually a case study of indoctrination into the Trump cult, particularly chilling because Crumbley describes herself as having been a “pro-choice” feminist and supporter of LGBT rights who “used to be a Democrat” and who struggled with voting for Trump for those reasons. But she gave in. No matter any of her prior beliefs, Crumbley was perfectly primed to get drawn into the Trump cult as Trump tapped into the toxic white grievance that consumed her.
She loved his vow to build “the wall,” she wrote, which would stop “people that come over here from other countries and get free everything,” while she and her husband are “good fucking Americans that cannot get ahead.” (Like many racists, she even announced, "I am not a racist,” in making these statements. )
In the open letter she also lauded Trump for his empty (and now, even more laughable) promises to “shut down Big Pharma” and “make health care affordable for me,” in addition to his promise of “allowing my right to bear arms.” Crumbley ended the letter by showing how deeply she’d been sucked in: “I have NEVER had this much belief in one person, and you are it.”
People like that never turn back. They make excuses for the failures of Dear Leader, and just keeping following on the road to even more extreme, violent actions. By 2021 this woman was buying her son a gun for Christmas and sitting on the sidelines after learning he’d engage in violent actions.
Jennifer and James Crumbley even allowed their son to post a photo of the hideous “gift” to his Instagram account, where he wrote, “Just got my new beauty today. SIG SAUER 9mm. Any questions I will answer.” According to the AP, he included “an emoji of a smiling face with heart eyes.” The next day Jennifer Crumbley posted on social media, apparently from a shooting range, that it’s “mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present.”
When school personnel contacted Jennifer Crumbley by voicemail and email, warning her that Ethan was seen by a teacher searching on his phone for ammunition, she didn’t respond — but she did text her son: “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”
The next day the Crumbleys were called to the school after a teacher saw a drawing and notes Ethan made, including a drawing of a handgun and the words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” The parents refused to take him out of school and decided to just go back to work. Of course they could surmise what he was planning. And hours later, not surprisingly, Ethan went on a shooting rampage.
Just like many of the January 6th insurrectionists — equally drawn into the cult of violence that is Trumpism — the Crumbley parents went on the run, cowards refusing to face the consequences of their recklessness. After their son was arrested and after the Oakland County prosecutor announced they’d be charged on counts of involuntary manslaughter, the Crumbleys became fugitives, attempting to hide out until they were apprehended over the weekend in Detroit (and they’ve shown “no remorse,” according to the Oakland County sheriff).
These people were ready to let their son rot in prison — the son they enabled to engage in mass murder — while playing out their own little insurrection.
All the while, the Crumbleys were likely proud they’d raised a monster, just as they’d been told to do by the white supremacist terrorist movement that has been embraced by the GOP.
Defending themselves against accusations of gerrymandering, the Ohio House speaker and Senate president hired a team of lawyers with a history defending North Carolina against what a federal court called one of the “largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered.”
A spate of special interest and voter advocacy groups have filed four lawsuits alleging that Ohio officials produced maps that segment voters to give Republicans an unfair partisan advantage and cement in a veto-proof majority. House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman, both Republicans from Lima, opted against retaining counsel through the attorney general and hired their attorneys from the Nelson Mullins law offices in North Carolina.
Two lawyers they chose, Thomas Farr and Phillip Strach, are well-known in legal circles for defending North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting proposal and the state’s sweeping voter restriction law passed in 2013. After years of litigation, both were overturned by the courts, which found they were designed to dilute and disenfranchise Black voting power.
“It’s not a mistake. I’m sure they looked at their resumes and said, ‘Wow, we need them,’” said Bob Hall, former director of voter rights advocacy group Democracy North Carolina, of the hiring. “They’re hard-nosed, win by whatever it takes for their Republican clients.”
After hearing arguments on the North Carolina redistricting plan drawn and enacted in 2011, a three-judge federal court panel in 2017 stated the maps were “among the largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered by a federal court” that amount to a “widespread, serious, and longstanding” constitutional violation. In a similar lawsuit regarding the composition of two majority-Black congressional districts, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the maps, deeming them unlawful racial gerrymanders.
Nelson Mullins was first hired as “special counsel” Aug. 17 to “provide the Ohio General Assembly with redistricting advice,” according to a letter sent to Strach from the Attorney General’s Office, obtained in a public records request. Roughly one week later, the Ohio Redistricting Commission held its first public hearing. Republicans unveiled their first redistricting proposal Sept. 9.
Both Farr and Strach also defended North Carolina against a challenge to a 2013 North Carolina law that required voters to present state-issued identification at the polls, limited early voting, rolled back “souls to the polls” Sunday voting, ended same-day voter registration and more. A panel on the 4th Circuit of Appeals overturned the law on constitutional grounds. The judges wrote that the law targeted Black voters “with almost surgical precision” and purports to solve voter fraud and other “problems that did not exist.” The U.S. Supreme Court declined to resurrect the law on an appeal.
A third lawyer representing Cupp and Huffman, John Branch, reportedly represented Republican Mark Harris in a state investigation after Harris’ campaign operative was criminally accused and later convicted of ballot fraud in a 2018 North Carolina congressional election.
Spokesmen for Cupp and Huffman did not respond to inquiries about the North Carolina lawyers’ role advising lawmakers on the maps or why or how they selected counsel. Strach did not respond to an email or voicemail. Farr declined to comment.
Then-President Donald Trump nominated Farr in 2017 to serve as a federal judge in North Carolina. Despite the U.S. Senate’s historic confirmation churn of Trump’s judicial appointments, the Republican-controlled Senate declined to confirm Farr.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina and the only Black member of the Senate GOP caucus, withdrew his support and effectively foundered the nomination, according to The Washington Post. Scott cited a 1991 U.S. Department of Justice memo that detailed Farr’s work as counsel to the 1984 and 1990 campaigns of the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, a North Carolina Republican.
The U.S. Department of Justice had settled with Helms’ campaign after determining it mailed nearly 124,000 postcards to Black voters as part of a “ballot security” campaign, suggesting they were ineligible to vote, and could be prosecuted for doing so. The DOJ memo states this was part of an attempt to “intimidate and threaten black voters.”
“Farr’s lifetime crusade is to disenfranchise African Americans and deprive them of their rights,” said Hillary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau in 2018, joining a coalition of civil rights groups opposing Farr’s nomination. “He belongs nowhere near a bench of justice.”
‘A pretty clear choice’
Several people familiar with North Carolina politics indicated Farr and Strach are well-known names in Republican circles — Strach serves on an “Election Integrity Committee” for the state Republican Party. Given the swirl of lawsuits filed around redistricting and voting restrictions in the state, they said it makes sense that Ohio would look to North Carolina given the circumstances.
“I would say that it’s probably a pretty clear choice,” said Michael Bitzer, a professor of history and politics at Catawba College. “They wanted the experience and expertise of having to deal with a fairly intensive and divided dynamic.”
Hall, from Democracy North Carolina, said while North Carolina may have ultimately lost in court, the state legislature was effective in drawing out the litigation so several election cycles could be held using district maps that would later be overturned.
“That’s what this team is experienced at doing,” he said. “Helping their clients. Even if they ultimately lose, they can delay the ultimate decision so they can have another cycle or two or three with the maps that are already drawn.”
Gerry Cohen, a professor of public policy at Duke University who worked for the North Carolina legislature for more than three decades, said defending Republicans in the state is Strach and Farr’s bailiwick.
“I would say that Farr and Strach are among the most competent redistricting lawyers nationally,” he said. “If you were looking for folks, they would be some of the ones that would come to mind right off the bat.”
Susan Tebben and Nick Evans contributed reporting.
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John Reaves works as a high school English teacher in Henrico County but commutes 30 miles to work from his home in Louisa. The drive takes time away from his kids, including his young daughter, and the current school year has been tough on him.
Henrico, like every division across Virginia, is back to in-person learning, and Reaves sometimes feels like he’s scrambling to get students caught up after they spent a year and a half isolated at home. The district is dealing with staffing shortages, and teachers are back to their normal responsibilities, including getting kids ready for regularly scheduled standardized testing. Reaves is still committed to teaching, but he knows plenty of colleagues who have considered leaving the profession.
“The general feeling is that many people are at least thinking about career switching,” he said. “It’s just been a lot to keep track of and a lot to be responsible for.”
Henrico County isn’t alone in predicting shortfalls. Over the last three years, the number of unfilled teaching positions across Virginia has spiked by nearly 62 percent, rising from 877 in the 2018-19 school year to 1,420 in 2020-21, according to data from the Virginia Department of Education. In August this year, 76 of the state’s 132 districts reported nearly 5,000 cumulative educator vacancies, according to the state Board of Education.
The growing shortages, which include positions such as school counselors and social workers (classified as educators by the department), have long been a concern for state leaders. But the COVID-19 pandemic has kicked those fears into overdrive amid anecdotal reports that even more teachers are leaving the field.
“Like much of the nation, Virginia continues to face a shortage of educators entering and remaining in Virginia’s public schools,” the Board of Education warned in its latest report to the General Assembly. “This shortage predated the pandemic but is likely to be severely exacerbated by it for years to come.”
The issue of teacher shortages has become a national debate as a growing number of local divisions — as well as some national polls — predict an impending staffing crisis. While some surveys indicate more than half of teachers across the country have considered exiting the profession, other data indicates that most haven’t actually left, and that fears of an education system in turmoil are largely overblown.
Some local numbers also appear to paint a rosier outlook. In some of the state’s largest divisions, including Henrico and Prince William County, turnover rates actually went down between 2019 and 2021. Some districts did see large departure numbers, including Virginia Beach, where 602 educators left the school system (which employs more than 5,000 teachers) between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021. But the district was able to hire or shift 596 educators into open positions, leaving relatively little lost ground.
Still, recruitment specialists for local school divisions say those numbers don’t always tell the full story. Anne Glenn-Zeljeznjak, the coordinator of recruitment and retention for Virginia Beach Public Schools, said an additional 79 educators have left the district from July to December this year. And while many divisions are ultimately able to fill open positions, hiring has become a significant administrative burden. With frequent vacancies, school leaders — especially principals — are spending more and more of their time screening applicants or aggressively recruiting for the positions.
“I think what people aren’t seeing is the work that goes into identifying qualified applicants,” Glenn-Zeljeznjak said. “It’s like seeing a beautiful cake for a wedding. They’re seeing the cake, but hours and hours and hours have gone into making sure that it’s beautiful.”
There’s also concern that the most recent numbers aren’t a reflection of what’s to come. Kenya Jackson, the talent acquisition ambassador for Henrico County, said the economic uncertainty of the pandemic seemed to encourage some educators to remain in the field — especially when unemployment was growing and they were able to teach remotely. Now classes are back in session, she’s seen some teachers leave mid-year. The district currently has more than 100 vacancies, and COVID-19 is still casting a shadow on classrooms.
“Teachers are back in the face-to-face environment,” Jackson said. “They’re having to teach all day with a mask. Meanwhile, other industries are reimagining how to conduct their businesses. Many companies have work-from-home options. So, there’s more of that work-life balance in the sense of, ‘Oh, maybe I don’t have to be face-to-face all the time.’”
While shortages are often being examined through the lens of the pandemic, experts worry some of the biggest impacts might be felt years down the road. Virginia was able to sustain a small growth of enrollment in teacher preparation programs from 2010 to 2018, according to one report from the Center for American Progress. But nationwide, enrollment has dropped by more than a third, and plummeted even further among some programs amid the pandemic.
Education advocates also worry that Virginia’s low teacher salaries could deter new graduates from taking jobs at state public schools— even if they gain degrees from in-state universities. According to the Board of Education’s most recent report, Virginia ranks 26th in the country when it comes to average pay for educators. But when those salaries are compared to the average wages of other college graduates, the state ranks even lower.
Lawmakers have approved pay increases over the last several years, including the most recent budget cycle. But there’s broad consensus that it hasn’t been enough to close the gap between teacher salaries offered in many parts of the state and the national average, said Joan Johnson, the assistant superintendent for VDOE’s Department of Teacher Education and Licensure.
At the same time, student enrollment is growing across the state, and educators say they’re being asked to take on more and more responsibilities. Substitute teacher shortages are widespread from Fairfax County to Southwest Virginia, and many teachers have been forced to take on classes when colleagues are absent.
Some districts, including Henrico and Virginia Beach, are paying educators who fill in for coworkers, but Reaves said that’s only part of the struggle. Virginia pediatricians have reported a sharp spike in anxiety and depression among school-aged children and some students are having a tough time adjusting back to in-person learning in addition to getting caught up on curriculum. Reaves said there’s pressure to reverse learning loss quickly, even though many students are struggling with more basic needs.
“I want these kids to be ready for college, but sometimes they’ve got to get a little more comfortable with just being around people,” he said. “Those kinds of soft skills that wouldn’t really be on an SOL. I sometimes feel those should take precedence, and that puts a real strain on your responsibilities as someone trying to administer a curriculum.”
After a 2020 report found basic failures in how effectively Virginia’s education department was addressing teacher shortages, Johnson said the state has launched a number of new initiatives. Her department’s funding was shored up, and for the first time, it’s collecting data not only on the number of vacancies across the state but the reasons teachers are leaving the field. That data is expected to be released later this month, with the hope of using it to refine retention and recruitment strategies.
Funding has also increased. The General Assembly allocated $11.5 million in federal relief dollars toward hiring efforts, including sign-on bonuses for new teachers. Some divisions are also offering bonuses to existing educators, and Johnson said there’s now state funding to support early recruitment initiatives, including some school clubs directed toward students with an interest in the education field.
Still, some districts are struggling. Teacher turnover increased by nearly two percentage points between 2019 and 2021 in Loudoun County, even as the growing district added positions. At the end of January, there were 98 vacancies across the division, which has found itself at the epicenter of Virginia’s wars over critical race theory and transgender student rights.
Roanoke City has also seen a rise in educators leaving the district, and currently has 28 teacher vacancies. According to Jackson, the talent acquisition ambassador for Henrico County, many districts are increasingly filling those slots with provisionally licensed teachers — educators who don’t yet meet all the requirements for a full teacher’s license.
“They’re becoming a much more significant part of the pipeline,” she said. In some ways, they’re an important asset for local school divisions. Glenn-Zeljeznjak, who handles recruitment for Virginia Beach, said many of their provisionally licensed teachers can quickly complete all the requirements for full licensure, and the state is currently examining those requirements in hopes of making it easier for more people to enter the profession.
It’s not a perfect solution, though. Jackson said more districts are depending on provisionally licensed teachers to fill critical shortage areas, including special education, which has the largest number of vacancies across the state. But those students often have intensive needs, and she said many provisionally licensed teachers across the board aren’t always expecting the challenges that come with teaching.
“Someone may have been a math major and now they’re a math teacher,” Jackson said. “But they might not have been in the classroom since the same time they were a student. And now they’re teaching, fulfilling their licensure requirements and learning their craft, all while sometimes teaching our most fragile students.”
As a result, some districts are struggling with provisionally licensed teachers dropping out of the field. It’s also an equity issue. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, a state watchdog agency, found that some rural and high-poverty divisions had disproportionately high numbers of conditionally licensed teachers. In Petersburg, they made up 36 percent of the division’s educators, according to the 2020 report.
The influx of new educators also means more experienced teachers are helping to train their colleagues, as well — another responsibility they’re bearing amid the ongoing pandemic.
“And that’s also overwhelming,” Jackson said. “Because our veteran teachers are having to mentor differently than what they’ve ever had to before.”
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