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With Covid-19, the Alex Jonesification of the GOP is now complete

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Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.

A poll released on Friday found that 44 percent of Republicans–and half of those who say their primary source of information is Fox News–believe that Bill Gates “wants to use a mass vaccination campaign against Covid-19 to implant microchips in people” so the globalists or the lizard-people or whomever can track our movements. More disturbingly, perhaps, was that only one-in-four of both Republicans and Fox News viewers said that claim was false.

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Crowds at these goofy anti-lockdown rallies have called for Bill Gates, who is investing billions in tackling the pandemic, to be locked up for unspecified crimes. If the anti-Semitic and conspiratorial John Birch Society had dominated the GOP in 1953, Jonas Salk, who developed the first effective vaccine against polio, probably would have faced similar nonsense.

There’s a popular myth that the Birch Society was excommunicated from the GOP by serious members of the Republican establishment, but as Jeet Heer wrote during the 2016 campaign, that is “almost completely false.”

The Birch Society didn’t disappear after Buckley’s “excommunication,” but continued to be a major force on the right, peaking in influence in the 1970s and still existing to this day. More to the point, Bircher paranoia never went out of fashion on the right: It’s there in everything from Birtherism—Trump’s first excursion into the world of Obama conspiracies—to the antics of Glenn Beck and Alex Jones.

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In this sense, Trump is more symptom than cause. But the emergence of Covid-19, shortly after Trump’s acquittal by the GOP, has pushed the mainstream right entirely over the edge. Broad swaths of the coalition believe that the virus was man-made–only 37 percent of Republicans told Pew that it was a natural occurrence back in April. The idea that the media are hyping the danger to hurt Trump–outlandish on its face given that the disease has spread across the entire planet–is almost universally embraced by the right.

The Republican nominee for Oregon Senate is a QAnon devotee. Presumably, she believes that prominent Democrats are in league with the Deep State to molest and eat babies. The party is also “backing away” from a House candidate in California who spread, among other things, conspiracy theories about Seth Rich, a former Clinton staffer who was murdered during a robbery in DC. The most outrageous claims are mainstream in today’s GOP.

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Conspiracy theories are a coping mechanism, a way of seeing some sort of order in a chaotic world. The pandemic has made it more so, and this kind of nonsense is proliferating across the coalition, sometimes with deadly effects.

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Relatedly, from The Daily Beast:

A shocking report suggesting that the coronavirus was “release[d from] the Wuhan Institute of Virology” in China is now circulating in U.S. military and intelligence circles and on Capitol Hill. But there’s a critical flaw in the report, a Daily Beast analysis reveals: Some of its most seemingly persuasive evidence is false—provably false.

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Donald Trump has no power to order states to lift lockdown measures on houses of worship, but he blustered to that effect anyway on Friday. But we should understand the game: Most states are moving to reopen anyway, and would have eased restrictions on in-person services in the next week or two anyway. According to PoliticoTrump is ginning up a stupid new front in the culture war for the simple reason that his support among the religious right appears to be slipping.

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The anxiety over Trump’s standing with the Christian right surfaced after a pair of surveys by reputable outfits earlier this month found waning confidence in the administration’s coronavirus response among key religious groups, with a staggering decline in the president’s favorability among white evangelicals and white Catholics. Both are crucial constituencies that supported Trump by wide margins in 2016 and could sink his reelection prospects if their turnout shrinks this fall.

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Trump’s COVID-19 vaccine czar, Moncef Slaoui, has a “huge conflict of interest,” according to The Huffington Post, which reports that “federal filings revealed he holds $10 million in stock options in one of the companies working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.”

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Easiest grift in the world…

The Trump administration has reportedly inked a $1.3bn deal with a North Dakota construction firm aiming to build 42 miles of border wall after its CEO praised the president in multiple interviews with conservative media. [The Independent]

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Trump’s move to fire Steve Linick, the State Department Inspector General who had been investigating Mike Pompeo, got a lot of attention but Trump also fired the U.S. Department of Transportation’s watchdog, Mitch Behm, who had been investigating Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, according to CREW.

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At DOT, the acting IG was overseeing a high profile investigation of Secretary Chao’s alleged favoritism benefiting her husband Senator Mitch McConnell’s political prospects, but has now been replaced with a political appointee from within the agency. The acting IG’s ouster calls into question the future of the Chao-McConnell investigation, other critical oversight, and whether the watchdog was dismissed for unearthing damaging information.

This move is the latest salvo of Trump’s assault on oversight. And it looks like the President made sure to cover all his bases to block accountability, not only nominating an IG to succeed the experienced watchdog who held the post, but also demoting the acting IG who was investigating Chao, and installing a political appointee to serve in his place while the Senate considers a permanent replacement. To make matters worse, Trump’s pick to be the new acting IG, Howard “Skip” Elliott, already has a job overseeing the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an office he will now also be in charge of policing.

Related:

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Also related…

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A lot has happened during the Trump years that would have been difficult to predict in 2015 or 2016. This, via The Washington Post, is not one of them:

The Trump administration has discussed whether to conduct the first U.S. nuclear test explosion since 1992 in a move that would have far-reaching consequences for relations with other nuclear powers and reverse a decades-long moratorium on such actions.

The United States has not conducted a nuclear test explosion since September 1992, and nuclear nonproliferation advocates warned that doing so now could have destabilizing consequences.

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A normal political party would probably be distancing itself from Georgia Sen Kelly Loeffler. She’s taken fire for apparently engaging in insider trading, and is trailing behind both fellow Republican Doug Collins and Democrat Raphael Warnock in the polls.

But Loeffler holds an advantage because of her party’s corruption, according to The New York Times

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Trump personally pushed the state’s governor, Brian Kemp, last fall to select Mr. Collins to fill the vacant Senate seat Ms. Loeffler now occupies. But the governor wanted to appoint someone who he felt could expand the party’s appeal in the suburbs of Atlanta, where Republicans have been shedding support in recent years. Ms. Loeffler’s vast wealth was an added appeal; she has pledged to pump $20 million or more of her own fortune into the race.

Ms. Loeffler’s supporters in Washington want Mr. Trump to understand what he would be risking by abandoning the wealthy Ms. Loeffler: her husband, one top Senate Republican official noted on Friday, just donated $1 million to Mr. Trump’s “super PAC” last month, and the couple have directed tens of thousands of dollars more to key Senate races.

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We’ll leave you this week with three stories which highlight that the cruelty is indeed the point–along with some greed.

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Politico reported that “more than 40,000 National Guard members currently helping states test residents for the coronavirus and trace the spread of infections will face a ‘hard stop’ on their deployments on June 24 — just one day shy of many members becoming eligible for key federal benefits.”

The looming loss of crucial frontline workers, along with questions about whether the administration is shortchanging first responders, would require a delicate messaging strategy, the official — representing FEMA’s New England region — told dozens of colleagues on [an] interagency call.

“We would greatly benefit from unified messaging regarding the conclusion of their services prior to hitting the 90-day mark and the retirement benefit implications associated with it,” the official said.

 

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2020 Election

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During an appearance on CNN on Friday morning, former Defense Secretary William Cohen - who also served in the U.S. Senate as a Republican -- denounced Donald Trump in no uncertain terms, saying his use of military personnel against anti-police brutality protesters is a sign he has set the country on the path to a dictatorship.

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Trump ‘crossed the line’ with the military this week — leading retired officers to revolt: former general

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Appearing on CNN's New Day with host John Berman, retired Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute explained that Donald Trump finally went a bridge too far this week with retired military officials when his administration deployed military police to turn on peaceful protesters in a Washington D.C. park.

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2020 Election

Trump is bleeding support from the only voters who have stuck with him since 2016

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President Donald Trump is losing support from his evangelical base as he lurches from one crisis into another.

Numerous polls show that religious Americans, like most other Americans, disapprove of the president's performance, and that could imperil his re-election chances, reported the New York Times.

Nearly 80 percent of white evangelicals -- a group that's already shrinking as a share of the electorate -- approved of Trump's performance in March, but his handling of the coronavirus pandemic has bled 15 points from their support, according to a new poll from Public Religion Research Institute.

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