Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who spoke at former President Donald Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally in Washington, D.C. on January 6, is named in a civil lawsuit alleging that he incited the violent mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol Building that day. Brooks is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the case, insisting that he did nothing wrong on January 6. And Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin, this week in her column, argues that Attorney General Merrick Garland should not side with Brooks.
The civil lawsuit that Brooks is facing was filed by Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell and also names former President Trump, Donald Trump, Jr. and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
At the "Stop the Steal" rally, Brooks urged supporters of then-President Donald Trump to start "kicking ass" in response to Trump's election fraud claims — which had been repeatedly debunked. Swalwell's civil lawsuit alleges that Brooks was inciting the January 6 riot with such rhetoric. But Brooks contends his actions were legally protected.
"On Tuesday," Rubin explains, "the Justice Department and the House of Representatives will file briefs explaining to a federal court whether each believes that Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) was acting within the scope of his employment when he allegedly incited the violent attack on the Capitol and sought to subvert the peaceful transfer of power on January 6. This sounds absurd, but in effect, Brooks is asking the Justice Department to certify that he was acting in the scope of his duties when he tried to overthrow the government."
Rubin continues, "If he succeeds, he would be immune from suit, and the Justice Department would step in on behalf of the government in civil suits arising from the violent insurrection. It would be a gross error and invitation for future insurrections if either the House or Justice Department agreed that Brooks is protected. How can encouraging a mob to disrupt the Electoral College tabulation possibly be within Brooks' duties? That would be akin to saying Gen. Robert E. Lee was acting within the scope of his duties in the U.S. Army when he attacked Union troops. Sedition is not within the scope of any official's duties."
Rubin goes on to make her point by quoting an op-ed by attorney Laurence H. Tribe, an expert on constitutional law, that was published in the Boston Globe on July 19.
Tribe wrote, "If the attorney general decides to treat such action as merely one way of discharging official duties, then self-government will become a mirage — and those who are guilty of trashing it will have been placed beyond the reach of legal accountability to those they injure…. That would mean that popular sovereignty is dead, and the twin principles that no one is above the law and that every legal wrong deserves a remedy might as well be tossed into history's dust heap."
Ethics expert Walter Shaub, who isn't quoted in Rubin's column, has also been weighing in on Swalwell's lawsuit and the arguments Brooks is making to the DOJ.
In a recent newsletter, Shaub noted, "Here's how this lawsuit could spark serious long-term consequences when it comes to holding political leaders accountable for wildly incendiary speech: Brooks has asked Attorney General Garland to certify that he was acting within the scope of his official duties as a member of Congress when he spoke to the crowd…. If Garland grants this request and persuades the court to agree, the certification would effectively immunize Brooks by dismissing him from the lawsuit and substituting the government as a defendant."
Shaub argues that "if Garland certifies that Brooks was acting within the scope of a congressional representative's duties, he will be legitimizing the incitement of a mob" and sending a "message to elected officials" that "they can act with impunity, even when their actions are inconsistent with the oath they took to support and defend the Constitution."
Rubin concludes her op-ed by warning that if Garland agrees with Brooks, he will be sending out a message that Trump and his allies are above the law.
"We need an attorney general to aggressively pursue facts and bring actions against Trump and his supporters where warranted," Rubin writes. "If not, Garland would have inadvertently affirmed Trump's argument that he was above the law."
South Carolina's "castle doctrine" and "stand your ground" laws provide legal protection to shoot people in many situations.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) praised the state relying on armed citizens to self-police during a Monday evening appearance on Fox News.
"I'll tell you this, if you do this crap in South Carolina, you'll be lucky if you go to jail. You'll be lucky if somebody doesn't shoot you," he said.
"So I say that because we've lost deterrence. These big Democratic cities and states have lost deterrence," Graham claimed. "People feel no longer feel afraid to assault somebody in the streets."
Former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele fact checked the GOP senator.
"Umm Senator perhaps you should speak with your state Law Enforcement Division before jawboning about South Carolina shooting people as a deterrence to violent crime: The murder rate went up around 25% in 2020; aggravated assault went up around 9% in 2020," Steele noted, citing a report from Fox Carolina.
J.D. Vance is getting desperate. The author of a book now famous for being adapted into the worst Netflix movie of all time is running for Senate in Ohio, hoping to use the same down-home country boy cosplay that effectively fooled both country club Republicans and the Hollywood liberals who bought "Hillbilly Elegy" to gain the trust of actual Ohio Republican voters. So far, however, the Yale law school-educated venture capitalist with a campaign bankrolled by one of the most sinister Silicon Valley financiers, Peter Thiel, has not received the open-armed welcome he clearly expected. The fight between Vance and the other Republican candidates, Josh Mandel and Jane Timken, has turned into a battle of who can be the Trumpiest. Vance's air of being a try-hard — compared to the more authentic racist pandering that emanates from Mandel — has left him falling way behind in the polls. Even moves like apologizing abjectly for past Trump criticism just end up being a reminder that, even though Vance is every inch the hardline authoritarian, he is bad at hiding what political science professor Scott Lemieux described as "his disdain for members of the Appalachian working class who have not shared his good fortune." And so, to gain ground, Vance has turned to a tactic that has become the primary form of discourse in the GOP, post-Donald Trump: trolling.
Largely, the competition takes place on Twitter, where Vance says dumb and annoying stuff in an attempt to attract liberal outrage and mockery, and ideally, get journalists to write pieces framing him as a pre-eminent triggerer of the liberals. So far, Vance has pretended that he wasn't familiar with New York City and wondered if it was "like Walking Dead Season 1 or Season 4." (He ended up staying in the Hamptons.) He has tried to frame support for universal adult suffrage in the U.S. as a matter of "global oligarchy," an unsubtle head nod to racist conspiracy theories fueling the most fascist fringes of the GOP. And he pathetically joined in on the right-wing dunking on Gen. Mark Milley for his comments suggesting that racism is bad.
Now Vance, grasping for headlines, has started to argue that childless adults should not have the right to vote. The excuse for this is that the childless have "no physical commitment to the future of this country." He targeted Vice President Kamala Harris, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as people who, because they are childless, should be blocked from the franchise. Notably, three of the four are people of color and one is gay, underscoring how much this gambit is about appealing bluntly to the MAGA belief that only people that are like them deserve to have a say in government.
This move is unlikely to bolster Vance's chances, in no small part because he just is bad at hiding how much he doesn't believe his own B.S. (Like most in his elite social class, Vance waited until his early 30s to have children.) But the fact that he went there is troubling in and of itself because it illustrates just how much Republican politics have turned into a trolling contest. The result is the rapid decline into authoritarianism and even fascism among the GOP base.
Vance is doing this because he's running well behind Mandel, whose platform can basically be summed up as "Gilead was actually a utopia." That sounds hyperbolic, but no, for real, he's been arguing that we "need a Judeo-Christian revolution in this country" and that a belief in God should be enforced "in the classroom, in the workplace, and throughout society." Mandel's got a leg up, however, because he comes across as more sincere in his fanaticism.
But even though Vance's strategy won't work for him, it still injects real poison into the political bloodstream.
Fox News picked up on Vance's idea and had a segment where they pretended to "debate" this notion, but really, the point was to gin up jealousy in their audience of supposedly hedonistic childless liberals who are living it up while you, Fox News viewer, had the hard life of diapers and paying for band camp. It was more grist for the spite mill that has become the whole of right-wing politics these days.
Vance, of course, is just part of the larger Republican troll-industrial complex, in which Republicans attract attention and money from the base by competing to see who can be the worst. Recent examples include Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas (and, of course, Trump himself) whining that Cleveland's baseball team dropped a racist mascot, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis selling anti-vaccination gear at his campaign website, and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene calling Air Force veteran Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a "traitor" because of his outspoken opposition to the fascist insurrection on January 6.
These kinds of tactics work to get support from the GOP base. DeSantis has become a favorite for Trump's running mate if/when he runs for president again in 2024. Cruz is both one of the most hated men in D.C. and one of the strongest fundraisers, filling his coffers with eff-the-liberals dollars. And Taylor Greene, whose bug-eyed ravings regularly attract liberal dunks and outrage, is one of the biggest fundraisers in the House.
The problem, of course, is that constantly upping the ante in a shitbird contest means spreading political ideas that have real impacts on real people. For instance, Republicans like DeSantis got into a contest over who could be the most hostile to efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic. The result was that Republican voters decided the best way to show their right-wing bona fides was to refuse the vaccine. Now COVID-19 rates are soaring — and Florida is leading the pack with new infections.
Vance's rhetoric contributes to the larger push of Republicans getting increasingly radical in the belief that people who aren't like them have no right to vote. It really amped up during Trump's drawn-out, failed coup after the election, which he repeatedly justified by insinuating that voters in cities like Philadelphia and Detroit were inherently illegitimate. Unfortunately, long after Vance is gone from the political scene, his "helpful" illustration of who doesn't deserve the right to vote — three politicians of color and one gay politician — will linger in right-wing rhetoric, having been validated by his status as a member of GOP elite and, sadly, a best-selling author. As Republicans in state government continue to look for ways to kick people off voter rolls and declare urban voters illegitimate, people like Vance help justify their efforts.
Here, of course, is where readers will ask, "What can I do to fix this?"
I wish I had better answers. Because this is mostly about intra-Republican politics, it's hard for outsiders to do much. The only thing liberals can do is strive to not reward these tactics by providing the outrage or the dunks that someone like Vance is using to burnish his liberal-triggering credibility. If you must draw attention to it (as I'm doing here), the only approach is to go meta — explain what he's doing and why, instead of simply arguing back or getting angry, which is what he's trying to bait progressives into doing. But outside of this, the Republican race to the bottom may have to be something we're stuck with until it plays itself out, which could get very ugly indeed.
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