Mass shooting in Buffalo: Tucker Carlson and other right-wing conspiracy theorists share the blame

In the 16 months since Jan. 6, 2021, Donald Trump and the hosts Fox News hosts — especially its top-rated personality, Tucker Carlson — haven't exactly been subtle in approving of what happened and longing to see more right-wing violence. Trump has publicly mused about issuing pardons to the Capitol insurrectionists if he wins back — or rather steals back — the White House in 2024. Like many of the far-right Republicans in Congress, Trump has also made a martyr out of Ashli Babbitt, the QAnon believer who was shot during the Capitol riot when she tried to break into a secure area and quite likely attack members of Congress. Carlson, meanwhile, has been at the forefront of popularizing various often contradictory conspiracy theories, mostly intended to portray the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as noble patriots and lambaste any Republican who dares say otherwise. While these GOP leaders and media personalities are generally careful to avoid direct calls for violence, their overall message of sympathy and support for right-wing terrorism is undeniable.

This article first appeared in Salon.

So Saturday's mass shooting in Buffalo, while horrifying, is really no surprise.

The alleged shooter who killed 10 people and injured three others in a Buffalo supermarket is 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who appears to have target a busy location in a predominantly Black neighborhood. As has become far too common with these kinds of mass murders, Gendron reportedly live-streamed the massacre on video, and apparently also published a manifesto that echoes many of the paranoid right-wing talking points one can hear every day streaming from the mouths of Fox News hosts and Republican politicians: a series of scurrilous lies about "critical race theory," George Soros and the "great replacement."

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Now a familiar refrain will commence. No doubt we will be hear a great deal of umbrage in the coming days from Republican leaders and right-wing pundits. "How dare you blame us?" they will proclaim, in almost hysterical terms, acting shocked, shocked, that anyone would suggest that their words have had horrible consequences. The point of this fake outrage will be to make it too emotionally exhausting to hold them accountable, and to reinforce the ridiculous victim complex that fuels the American right as it increasingly slides into fascism. But let's not mince words: These folks share the blame. They have been encouraging violence, and violence is what they got.

The "great replacement" theory has been a favorite of Carlson's for some time now. This particular paranoid hypothesis is deeply rooted in neo-Nazi and other white nationalist circles. A cabal of rich Jewish people, the theory holds, has conspired to "replace" white Christian Americans with other races and ethnic groups in order to gain political and social control. Carlson doesn't actually say "Jews," and generally blames the sinister plan on Democrats, socialists or unspecified "elites," but otherwise has kept the conspiracy theory intact. (Antisemitism remains the mix by singling out individual Jewish people especially Soros, as the alleged ringleaders.) It's not like Carlson only invokes this narrative on occasion. As Media Matters researcher Nikki McCann Ramirez has documented, Carlson is obsessed with this idea that the people he calls "legacy Americans" — a not-so-veiled euphemism for white Christians of European ancestry — are under siege from shadowy forces flying the banner of diversity. He uses anodyne terms like "demographic change" to make the point, but has gotten bolder more recently, using the word "replacement" to make it even clearer that he's borrowing his ideas from the white-supremacist fringe.

According to a New York Times analysis, in fact, Carlson has invoked the "great replacement" theory in over 400 episodes of his show, one of the most popular cable news shows in the country.

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Carlson has also explicitly linked this conspiracy theory to the threat of violence, repeatedly "warning" that America faces a new civil war unless these fictional conspirators stop trying to "replace" his cherished "legacy Americans." The GOP base has been getting the message. A poll conducted in December showed that nearly half of Republican respondents buy into the idea that there's a conspiracy to "replace" white Christians with different racial and ethnic groups. That proportion has probably risen since then, as Carlson's deluge has further mainstreamed this delusional and dangerous notion. Unsurprisingly, there has been a concurrent rise in hate crimes, of which this Buffalo shooting is merely the most dramatic recent example.

When called out for stoking a conspiracy theory that is likely to inspire violence, Carlson inevitably plays the victim, accusing liberals of being "hysterical" and characterizing these criticisms as "cancel culture." This only encourage his viewers to embrace the conspiracy theory even more, telling themselves that they (and he) are bold truth-tellers fighting against the forces of liberal oppression. That's why the how-dare-they posturing we will almost certainly see from Carlson and other right-wing pundits in coming days so predictable. This article, for instance, will quite likely be characterized as hysterical name-calling or an attempt to censor bold political speech. But let's understand this feigned outrage for what it is: an attempt to leverage an act of terrorism in a way that leads people to accept it or even condone it.

RELATED: Trump's anti-vaccine hysteria has a mission: violence

The "great replacement" theory fits in with the larger pattern of right-wing Republicans (especially our former president and his allies) and Fox News pundits encouraging not just right-wing paranoia, but the inevitable acts of violence that flow from it. The most straightforward example of this, of course, is the relentless rewriting of the history of Jan. 6, which began in the immediate aftermath and continues to this day. Republican leaders in Congress voted down Trump's impeachment only weeks after the riot and have tried to block congressional efforts to uncover exactly how the attempted coup went down.

Over this past winter, Fox News, Trump and other GOP leaders made another big push towards political violence, hyping outrageous conspiracy theories about COVID vaccines and encouraging their audiences toward aggressive acts of so-called resistance. As with Carlson, these threats are often packaged as "warnings," as when Trump declared on Fox News in February, "You can push people so far and our country is a tinderbox too, don't kid yourself." Around the same time, Carlson, Sean Hannity, Carlson and Glenn Beck all started pushed the idea that anti-vaccination fanatics were potentially justified in using violence as "self-defense."

Indeed, as the shooting was unfolding in Buffalo, there was an overt call for right-wing violence at Trump's rally in Austin, Texas, where oock geezer turned gun advocate Ted Nugent told the crowd of 8,000 that he'd "love" it if they all "went out and just went berserk on the skulls of the Democrats and the Marxists and the communists." In his speech afterward, Trump praised Republican politicians in Texas, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who have slavishly proven their loyalty to him.

Many of the people arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 , 2021, have stopped being apologetic about what they did, and are now portraying themselves as martyrs and heroes. Last week, one of the most prominent ringleaders on the insurrection, Tim "Baked Alaska" Gionet, a troll to the very end, dramatically declared at a hearing that he was changing his plea. He had agreed to plead guilty to a lesser offense, but now wants to plead not guilty, even though he filming himself inside the Capitol during the riot and put the evidence online. Other Jan. 6 defendants have also become more confrontational, including pulling a gun on probation officers, acquiring new guns in defiance of a court order, or claiming that their actions on that day amounted to "self-defense." In fairness, why shouldn't they feel emboldened? Most Republican voters, along with the party's leadership, are more interested in making excuses for Trump's coup than holding anyone accountable for it.

And all of the above doesn't even touch on the way Republican politicians and right-wing media have mainstreamed the QAnon conspiracy theory by regularly slurring Democrats, LGBTQ folks and their allies as "groomers." Demonizing political opponents with false allegations of pedophilia is unbelievably slimy, even by Republican standards. It also serves to inspire or encourage potential acts of violence, by dehumanizing their targets and creating a delusional narrative that makes such attacks seem justified.

RELATED: Tucker Carlson's insecurity and the "great replacement" theory

Perhaps the horror unleashed in Buffalo on Saturday will cause Carlson and his allies to rethink their paranoid, racist and inflammatory rhetoric. That is doubtful, however. After all, this is just the latest in a series of mass shootings inspired by the "great replacement" theory, including the Walmart shooting in El Paso that left 23 dead and the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in which 11 people died. Since those massacres, the "great replacement" theory has only become more popular with Republican voters, largely thanks to Carlson and similar figures on the right. It has also become popular with Republicans, including J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee in Ohio's Senate race. Just this week, the conspiracy theory got another round of hype as Republican pundits and politicians pretended to believe that President Biden was stealing baby formula from Americans to feed "illegals," their slur for refugees applying for asylum. Those who would support deliberately starving babies for racist and xenophobic reasons aren't likely to feel any real empathy for the victims and their families in Buffalo. We cannot legitimately hope that they will be chastened by this latest round of violence, but we can make clear that their hateful rhetoric helped to unleash it.

You can credit MAGA misogyny with the surge of Pennsylvania's terrifying new right-wing darling

Donald Trump is not happy about the shape of the Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania. His fame and celebrity thirst led him to endorse TV star Dr. Mehmet Oz, an accomplished surgeon who gave it all up for the easy cash of peddling snake oil. But now it looks like Oz may lose his primary, dealing an embarrassing blow to Trump's fragile ego. Worse, Oz may not even lose to the generic Republican candidate, David McCormick, a walking MAGA-hat whose bland white guy looks can pass as "normal" to low-info swing voters. (I like to call this "pulling a Glenn Youngkin.") No, the surging candidate is Kathy Barnette, a hard-right commentator and crank in the style of Christine O'Donnell or Todd Akin — in other words, weird enough to pull in national attention, but with extreme views that could sink her in a general election race.

"Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the General Election against the Radical Left Democrats," Trump ranted in a statement released Thursday. He complained that she "has many things in her past which have not been properly explained or vetted," and argued that "Oz is the only one who will be able to easily defeat the Crazed, Lunatic Democrat in Pennsylvania."

Politico describes Barnette's poll surge as "somewhat puzzling." It's not, however, if one has been carefully following how much the backlash to the #MeToo movement and rising anger at feminism has been fueling Trumpism. Trump won in 2016 thanks to a widespread sexist tantrum over a woman, Hillary Clinton, winning the Democratic nomination for president. Trump reinforced the misogyny message throughout his campaign, starting with mocking a female journalist for menstruating and ending with an absurdly insincere apology for the "Access Hollywood" tape in which he can be heard boasting about sexual assault.

Barnette's entry into the Misogyny Olympics is outrageous even by MAGA's low standards. She's been circulating a video and a story about how her mother was raped at 11 years old in 1971. While the subsequent birth of Barnette is treated like a beautiful sacrifice on her mother's part, it is worth noting that she didn't exactly have many choices as a Black child in Alabama before Roe v. Wade.

As feminist writer Jessica Valenti noted in a recent newsletter, "people talk about abortion as if something is ending," but in reality, access to abortion secures opportunities for women. Citing how her abortion made possible her marriage, daughter and career, Valenti wrote, "Anti-choicers like to pose hypotheticals about the remarkable baby a woman could have if she just didn't get an abortion: What if they cured cancer? None ask if that woman herself might change the world." When we're talking about rape victims who are literal children, it's even more stark; their entire futures can depend on having access to abortion.

Barnette calls the rape "horrible" in the video, but — by the anti-choice logic she's appealing to with her messaging — if forced childbirth is a beautiful thing because it results in "life," wouldn't that make forced impregnation beautiful as well? Indeed, MAGA circles went nuts last week over an event at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, where one speaker declared, "Not your body, your choice. Your body is mine and you're having my baby." It's why the anti-choice movement also opposes birth control. People who are compelled by the idea that a person wouldn't be here if a woman had ended a pregnancy will likely find other potential roadblocks to giving birth, including preventing pregnancy via contraception or a woman's right to refuse sex, suspicious as well.

Barnette's appeal to the MAGA base isn't exactly mysterious. The anti-choice crowd has always romanticized stories of women submitting to extreme levels of oppression. It puts an ennobling gloss on what is actually a deeply sadistic attitude towards women.

As much as he may loathe admitting it, Trump's objections to Barnette echo concerns that have already been expressed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In April, McConnell gave a speech noting that Republicans are in a good position for the midterms unless they "screw this up" by running "unacceptable" candidates. As Russell Berman noted in the Atlantic later that month, McConnell is likely thinking of "the GOP's missed chances in 2010 and 2012," where lunatic candidates lost races they could have otherwise won. In at least two cases, it was because of "defending their opposition to abortion even in cases of rape."

Well, Barnette isn't just opposed to abortion rights for rape victims. She's built her entire campaign around it. Anti-choicers like to leverage stories by people who claim they are products of rape because they know it shuts down some arguments. That doesn't mean those stories win people over, though. "Being forced to give birth to a rapist's baby in junior high is good, actually" is a bad campaign slogan, no matter how many personal testimonies you put behind it. Republican strategists desperately want the campaign to be about anything but forced childbirth, but Barnette may make that impossible in Pennsylvania.

Clearly, the GOP powers-that-be are worried about Barnette.

Plus, that's just one of her many truly fringe positions. Reporters haven't even really started digging and the research on her bigoted statements has started to pour out in volumes, documented at length on her own radio program. She compared being Muslim to "Hitler's Nazi Germany view of the world." She compared same-sex marriage to marriage between "one older man and a 12-year-old child." (Which is notably similar to the configuration that led to the forced childbirth she celebrates.) "Two men sleeping together, two men holding hands, two men caressing, that is not normal," she claimed. She bemoaned LGBTQ rights as a "barrage to normalize sexual perversion."

It's a race that's expected to get a lot of national attention because Pennsylvania is a swing state. Barnette sticks out from a crowded field of MAGA-heads because of her race and gender, but also because, as Trump suggests, there's a great deal not known about her yet. That opens the door to investigations into her background. Clearly, the GOP powers-that-be are worried about Barnette, because they're placing opposition research about her in the right-wing press not unlike the ongoing campaign to destroy Madison Cawthorn, the extremist MAGA congressman from North Carolina. Unlike states where the local media has been thoroughly destroyed, Pennsylvania still has some popular local newspapers like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Philadelphia Inquirer, which make it harder for shady politicians to avoid press scrutiny.

Barnette sticks out from a crowded field of MAGA-heads because of her race and gender, but also because, as Trump suggests, there's a great deal not known about her yet.

It's a tough year for Democrats, who are taking the blame for inflation and general American malaise, but the public is starting to get quite angry about issues like the upcoming overturn of Roe v. Wade. All this makes her a very bad candidate for the GOP in this race.

But if Barnette is a bridge too far, as Trump fears, he only has himself to blame. His electoral success in 2016 — even though he never once won the popular vote — emboldened the GOP base to believe they could win elections by running any troll they want. Trump hasn't exactly done much work to discourage this idea. He's backed Herschel Walker in Georgia, who lied about graduating college and is accused of threatening to kill his ex-wife. He's backed a Nebraska gubernatorial candidate with eight sexual assault allegations. Prior to endorsing Oz, Trump's man in the Pennsylvania senate race was Sean Parnell, whose wife accused him of beating her and punching a door into a child's face. Trump has no discernible objection to candidates with ugly attitudes about violence towards women. His cold feet around Barnette might change a few minds. But in a GOP primary system that is mostly a race to the bottom, it's not a surprise someone like her is pulling ahead.

Susan Collins goes full MAGA on abortion

Republican Sen. Susan Collins still wants voters to believe she is pro-choice. During the hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Collins defended her decision to vote for the Federalist Society-linked judge by claiming to believe his assurances to her that he had no plan to overturn Roe v. Wade. In the three and a half years since, there's been a raging debate over whether she said that because she's stupid, or just a liar that knows she can't win in Maine without maintaining the illusion that she's a moderate Republican.

So she continues to insist on Kavanaugh's pro-Roe credentials, even after he cast an anti-Roe vote in 2020 with the minority of the court. Facing down a genuinely pro-choice Democratic challenger in 2020, Collins voted against confirming Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Observers noted, however, that she could get away with it because Barrett had enough votes to get confirmed anyway. Then after a draft opinion from the Supreme Court was leaked, showing that her beloved Kavanaugh was once again voting to overturn Roe, Collins insisted that it was "completely inconsistent" with what Kavanaugh told her in meetings prior to his confirmation.

Republicans used to write anti-abortion bills that had exceptions for health or for victims of rape or incest, but this new crop of abortion bans are absolutist.

I've always believed Collins isn't that big an idiot but is simply that big a liar.

Kavanaugh, after all, repeatedly lied under oath — in comically obvious ways — during his confirmation hearing. Collins rewarded him with a vote to confirm and then was rewarded handsomely for her vote with donations from the Federalist Society, money which likely helped push her over the top in her 2020 campaign. On Wednesday, she and other fake moderate Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted against the Women's Health Protection Act, which codifies Roe and recognizes abortion as a right. By taking this vote, Collins and Murkowski reveal beyond any reasonable doubt that they are not, in fact, pro-choice, even as they continue to insist otherwise on TV.

RELATED: Is the Federalist Society rewarding Susan Collins for her Kavanaugh vote with campaign cash?

Sure, Collins is still pretending that she's pro-choice despite repeatedly standing in the way of abortion rights. She put out a statement defending her vote by accusing the Democrats of designing the bill to fail. She claimed that the bill eliminates "basic conscience protections that are relied upon by health care providers who have religious objections to performing abortions."

This, like the claim to believe Kavanaugh wouldn't overturn Roe, is flat-out false. The bill only protects the right of doctors to perform abortions. It certainly doesn't require any doctor to do so. Even the most robust pro-choice activists don't want, say, an ophthalmologist in the business of providing abortions just because patients ask. And while it would be nice if there weren't any misogynist gynecologists using religion as a cover to deny women abortions, it's also for the best that such bigots aren't in the business of dealing with patients who need compassionate and safe care.

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Collins also claims she plans "to continue working with my colleagues on legislation to maintain" abortion rights, citing an alternative bill she and Murkowski have written that supposedly protects abortion rights. In fact, the bill allows states to pass serious restrictions that make it hard, if not impossible, for providers to operate. If any bill is "designed to fail," it's this one Collins wrote that she knows full well will never come up for a vote.

Just a few years ago, both Murkowski and Collins were willing to be moderates in deed as well as word, voting against Donald Trump's 2017 effort to repeal Obamacare. Now they won't even stand up for a right that is supported by a strong majority of Americans. This reflects a larger shift to the right in the GOP. Those who aren't willing to go along with it face the danger of being purged. Much of the purge is centered around loyalty to Trump's Big Lie, but it's also clear that Republican politicians increasingly feel that they must toe the MAGA line in all ways — even on abortion rights — or else face losing to primary challengers that are even more far-right than they are.

RELATED: Why can't Susan Collins admit that she was wrong about Brett Kavanaugh?

Republicans used to write anti-abortion bills that had exceptions for health or for victims of rape or incest, but this new crop of abortion bans are absolutist. Republicans used to be more circumspect about their hostility to contraception access, but now are speaking more openly about plans to repeal the right to use birth control, as well. Justice Samuel Alito's leaked draft opinion really underscores how shameless the misogyny has become, as he quite literally cites a pro-rape witch-burner from the 13th century as an authority on whether women have legal rights. (He was not for the idea!) In this environment, it's no surprise that Murkowski and Collins feel their careers would be in real danger if they stood against the rabidly misogynist GOP base on the issue of abortion rights.

The whole situation is a perfect illustration of the greatest conundrum of current American politics: undemocratic election systems and high rates of voter complacency allow Republicans to be wildly overrepresented in federal power.

On the first front, the problem is simple enough. More Americans vote for Democrats, but because electoral maps favor rural and suburban areas over urban ones, Republicans win disproportionate numbers of seats. On the latter front, the issue is a little more complicated. Primary voters tend to be both more ideological than general election voters. So Republicans keep sending far-right radicals to the ballot. They then win mainly because a huge chunk of voters don't pay much attention to politics, and have no idea that they're voting for foaming-at-the-mouth MAGA radicals.

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The election of Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia is the most recent example of the latter phenomenon. The man is a Trumpster through and through. However, he managed to tamp down on the most rabidly fascist behaviors in public, giving Democratic Virginians an excuse to skip voting and allowing some swing voters to feel okay backing him. And sure enough, now Virginia voters are feeling betrayed by how far-right Youngkin turned out to be. Of course, this was entirely predictable if they had just paid a modicum of attention.

I've always believed Collins isn't that big an idiot but is simply that big a liar.

Collins, in particular, seems like she's trying to thread the needle by not taking actions that could alienate the MAGA base while putting on an empty pro-choice act for moderate voters. It goes a long way to explain her comically over-the-top reaction to a group of pro-choicers writing a demand that she vote for abortion rights in chalk on her sidewalk. The cops were called to deal with what Collins described as "the defacement of public property in front of our home." After having the cops called on them for "defacement" that will disappear the next time it rains, the chalkers returned to write messages reminding Collins that they also have a right to free speech.

Collins obviously does not like any kind of message that might remind her moderate voters that she is not actually pro-choice. But her reaction of trying to get the chalkers arrested speaks volumes about why she's gone full MAGA, instead of quietly retiring like so many of her more moderate Republican friends have done. Her entitled reaction echoes the same MAGA petulance that led Trump to call for shooting Black Lives Matter protesters and pushed Trump supporters to storm the Capitol rather than accept a lost election. Collins is all aboard with the power-at-any-price mentality, especially since it's other women who will have to suffer the consequences of forced childbirth.

NOW WATCH: Screaming Alex Jones berates his own viewers for not buying InfoWars products

Screaming Alex Jones berates his own viewers for not buying InfoWars products

Republicans are lying to you about Roe

Despite the fact that forced childbirth has been a major goal and central organizing strategy of the GOP for approximately four decades, Republican political strategists don't exactly seem stoked about a leaked draft opinion indicating that the GOP-controlled Supreme Court plans to overturn Roe v. Wade outright. Turns out that abortion rights are very popular, likely due to people's well-documented enthusiasm for fornication without procreation. With the midterms just a few months away and Democrats signaling that they intend to make this a major issue, Republicans are scrambling for a political strategy to make their mandatory childbirth policy seem not as bad of an idea as it obviously is.

On Tuesday, Axios leaked a three-page talking points memo from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). The strategy that the Republican campaign strategy group suggests is to lie. A lot. Lie every chance you get. Lie about everything, all the time. Lie so often that the media stops bothering to fact-check you and your opponents grow exhausted trying to disprove your lies. It's a tried-and-true trick for the GOP.

RELATED: Samuel Alito's leaked anti-abortion decision: Supreme Court doesn't plan to stop at Roe

The document is remarkable as a snapshot into not just the ease with which Republicans lie, but also their total dependence on keeping voters in the dark about their true beliefs and intentions. Most of the claims on this document are flat-out lies, and even when they aren't — such as the fact that Democrats oppose "even limiting abortion to the first trimester" — they are attempts to distract voters from the true view of Republicans, which is a ban on all abortions in any trimester. The entire GOP political strategy is geared around pulling the wool over voters' eyes.

The document is remarkable as a snapshot into not just the ease with which Republicans lie, but also their total dependence on keeping voters in the dark about their true beliefs and intentions.

True to form, this short document is so packed full of lies that it's impossible to debunk all of them. But just the section titled "FORCEFULLY REFUTE DEMOCRAT LIES REGARDING GOP POSITIONS ON ABORTION AND WOMEN'S HEALTH CARE" is a marvel in protesting-too-much. Nearly everything they label as a "lie" would, in the common parlance, be better described as the truth.

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"Republicans DO NOT want to throw doctors and women in jail. Mothers should be held harmless under the law," reads the document.

Of course, this is a lie.

Lousiana is already drafting a bill that would imprison both doctors and patients for abortion under homicide laws. Twenty-six states have or are expected to pass abortion bans, and nearly all come with criminal penalties. In Texas, a woman was already arrested for abortion, and the charges were only dropped when negative national attention fell on the state. But sustained media outrage will fade when such arrests are common, which is what Republicans are clearly counting on.

"Republicans DO NOT want to take away contraception," reads another bullet point.

Of course, this is the Republican Party that, under President Barack Obama, repeatedly threatened to shut down the government in an attempt to take away contraception services. This is the party that has waged an all-out war on public clinics that provide contraception services. This is the party that had a total meltdown when the Obama administration passed a rule requiring insurance plans to cover birth control. Their most popular pundit at the time accused women who use birth control of being sex workers. Republicans took the anti-insurance fight to the Supreme Court, where the anti-abortion justices signed onto a plan to cut off birth control coverage that women had already paid for. This is the party that, under Donald Trump, cut off funding for birth control services and appointed an HHS secretary who believed employers should be able to fire women for using birth control. This is the party that, under George W. Bush, backed a massive program to teach every public school student that condoms don't work and birth control pills make you unlovable. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who is the head of NRSC, personally signed a bill as Florida governor to take birth control services away. Plus, more Republicans all the time are admitting they want to overturn Griswold v. Connecticut, the decision that legalized contraception.

The problem is that conflict-averse Democrats avoid calling Republicans out for this nonsense.

If they don't want to take away birth control, why do they keep trying to take away birth control?

RELATED: Adoption means abortion just isn't necessary, SCOTUS claims: That's even worse than it sounds

The document goes on to lie about the science, which is standard operating for the party of vaccine and climate denialists. It repeatedly calls Democrats "extremists," even though Democratic views are in line with the strong majority of Americans that want Roe upheld. It recommends that Republicans talk about "late-term" abortions, eliding the fact that red states define "late" as two weeks after the first missed period, before most pregnant people experience symptoms.

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It's hard to flag what is the most egregious lie in this, but the most telling may be the insistence that "If Roe v. Wade is overturned, state and local officials closest to the people will make laws that reflect the will of their states." That may be true in the short term, but only because Joe Biden is president and will veto any abortion ban that Congress passes. But should Donald Trump, as planned, steals — or heaven forbid, actually wins — the 2024 election, Republicans will almost certainly pass a national ban on abortion.

This isn't just speculation. Congressional Republicans are already drafting the bill, likely with an eye toward passing it on January 21, 2025. In the meantime, however, the plan is to make sure that blue states are not, in fact, free to keep abortion safe and legal. As Mark Joseph Stern of Slate reports, Republicans are exploring "new laws that prevent people from crossing state lines to terminate a pregnancy." They are also building out a legal framework where red states can legally prosecute abortion providers in blue states. For instance, a red state court could rule in favor of the family of a rapist who sues a blue state provider for aborting the victim's pregnancy. The anti-Roe Supreme Court is likely to rule that such judgments must be upheld. As battles ranging from those over slavery in the 19th century to those over same-sex marriage in the 21st show, systems where human rights exist in some states but not others tend to collapse under the contradictions.

RELATED: Supreme Court puts Democrats on notice: Stand up for abortion rights or risk losing everything

Republican lies are laughably easy to punch through, but it's not surprising that Scott and the NRSC think they can get away with this. The problem is that conflict-averse Democrats avoid calling Republicans out for this nonsense. As Rebecca Traister wrote in New York this week, Democratic leadership reacted to the Roe leak with "words that ultimately felt bloodless." Most leaders won't even say the word "abortion," much less explain why Republicans are lying about their intentions.

The NRSC document paints a hysterical picture of Republicans under siege from "angry" and "strident" Democrats. If only! Then perhaps the voters Democrats are trying to woo over would actually start to understand that things are serious and human rights are very much in peril. But, as it is, Republicans have an opportunity to lie their heads off about their radical forced childbirth plans, and they have every intention of exploiting it.

Life after Roe: Republicans are already targeting the right to a public education

Despite glib right-wing claims to the contrary, as many legal scholars and constitutional experts were quick to point out, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's leaked draft opinion ending abortion rights opens the door wide open for the reversal of decades of human rights litigation. At issue is Alito's rejection of the ninth amendment, which states that the "enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." Or, in plain English: Plenty of rights are guaranteed by implication in the Constitution — such as a right to privacy — even if not explicitly delineated. Despite his alleged "originalism," however, Alito was quite clear that he feels the opposite is true: If it ain't singled out by name in the Constitution, it's not a right.

"The Constitution makes no reference to abortion," he writes in the draft opinion that was leaked to Politico. As political scientist Scott Lemieux noted, this is a "junior high school debate society" argument unworthy of anyone with a law degree, much less a Supreme Court seat. But it does open the door to repealing birth control rights, same-sex marriage, and decades worth of social progress that religious zealots like Alito deplore.

Already, excited Republicans are drafting bills that would throw women in prison for "homicide" for abortion and end same-sex marriage rights. (Meanwhile, they are also restoring the "right" of parents to marry an 11-year-old off to an adult man.) But while Republicans are dusting off their obsessive desire to police American bedrooms, they are starting to notice that Alito's argument has implications for all the human rights they wish to end.

RELATED: Samuel Alito's leaked anti-abortion decision: Supreme Court doesn't plan to stop at Roe

On Wednesday, Texas's Republican Governor Greg Abbott announced that his administration wishes to "resurrect" a 1981 Supreme Court case that guarantees the right of all children to public education. The case in question is Plyler v. Doe, in which the court looked at a Texas law that withdrew funds from public schools that enrolled undocumented immigrants as students. After determining that undocumented immigrants are, indeed, "persons," the court struck down the Texas law.

While Republicans are dusting off their obsessive desire to police American bedrooms, they are starting to notice that Alito's argument has implications for all the human rights they wish to end.

That's where the GOP is, circa 2022: Arguing that zygotes are "persons," but living, breathing children of immigrants are not.

Indeed, the entire segment of the Joe Pags show that Abbott appeared on was nauseating in its preference for cruelty over common sense. The host whined that "public property tax dollars" are being spent on "children who are 5, 6, 7, 10 years old, who don't even have remedial English skills." Of course, that is what schools are there to teach. Kids that age also don't know how to read or write or do math. Pags clearly needs remedial education in what schools are for, if "teaching kids stuff" is not on his list of imagined purposes.

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This is likely just the beginning of a feeding frenzy of right-wing challenges to 70 years, or possibly more, of decisions securing human rights.

Alito's draft opinion involves both sneering at "the latter part of the 20th century" and a lengthy, bitter diatribe about how the court is not bound by precedent. It's an open invitation for conservatives to "resurrect" any case going back to the 1950s, no matter how settled it is in the public view. VDare editor Peter Brimelow, who the New York Times reported once worked directly for Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, was exuberant about the possibilities.

Peter Brimelow, a former National Review editor who now runs the racist website VDARE, celebrated the Roe news by posting on the alt social media site Gab: "Next stop Brown vs. Board!"
— Nick Martin (@nickmartin) May 3, 2022

If that sounds improbable, I invite readers to once again read Abbott's comments about his intention to end public education for the children of immigrants. The same racism puts the educational rights of Black children on the chopping block. Conservatives already won one pro-segregation case before the GOP-controlled Supreme Court in 2006. With Alito inviting more cases like this, things are likely to get quite hairy.

RELATED: Salon investigates: The war on public schools is being fought from Hillsdale College

This is likely just the beginning of a feeding frenzy of right-wing challenges to 70 years, or possibly more, of decisions securing human rights.

Nor should anyone assume this will be limited by racial grievance politics.

As Kathryn Joyce has extensively reported for Salon, the long term goal of the radical right — of which Abbott has strenuously tried to demonstrate he is a member — has been the total destruction of public education. It makes sense, of course, that the same people who think that government should play no role in providing health care also object to the government providing education. Those cards have been traditionally held close to the chest, concealed by stalking horses such as "charter schools." But lately, more conservatives have been forthright about their ideological opposition to the concept of public education.

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Just last week, Fox News host Lisa Kennedy argued that another Supreme Court case challenging the secularism of public schools offers an opportunity to "rethink whether or not we have public schools." She added, "Maybe we should not have the government involved in education at all." And, as Joyce reported last week:

In 2021, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran declared that Republicans would win the political "war" in education, while sketching out a plan to lure so many students out of public schools that the damage to the system would be permanent. This month, Chris Rufo, the Manhattan Institute fellow who turned "critical race theory" into an amazingly effective political scapegoat, bluntly explained that "to get universal school choice you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust."

"Resurrecting" long-forgotten cases like Plyler plays into this scheme. The far-right Supreme Court has already elevated the claim that rights not explicitly named in the Constitution aren't real. Now they may have an opportunity to declare that children do not have a right to education and states do not have an obligation to provide it. The whole thing would be sold to Republican voters through racial grievance, as a way to deny children of color educational access, of course. But the Supreme Court deciding that the right to education doesn't exist would naturally make it much, much easier to end public education altogether.

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Despite all the whining and crying from Republicans about the "leak," what's evident is that the right is stoked about Alito's draft opinion. It folds in decades of specious right wing arguments that posit that the government has absolutely no obligations to its citizens: No duty to protect human rights, no need to provide services like education or health care. This ideology has long been called "libertarianism," but in truth it's just uniquely American flavor of fascism. There's no planet where "liberty" is expanded by forcing women to give birth or keeping children illiterate. Republicans can see their dystopian agenda for the United States coming into view, and they couldn't be more excited.

How to stick it to MAGA -- and win the abortion wars

In response to the publication of the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, Republicans have decided what they want to talk about: Leaks and the supposed evilness of them. The same people who support Donald Trump and his ongoing efforts to overthrow democracy are all gunning for Oscars for their feigned umbrage on behalf of the integrity of our governmental institutions.

It's not a huge mystery why Republicans want to talk about this non-issue instead of the actual matter at hand, which is the nationwide GOP effort to ban abortion. It's because Republicans know full well that their actual positions on the issue aren't just indefensible, but embarrassingly so. They definitely don't want to talk about the non-logic fueling Justice Samuel Alito's nasty, incel-esque "argument" against Roe. And they mostly don't want to talk about why they hate abortion so much. When they do, they end up sounding like snarling right-wing pundit Erick Erickson.

Dear people upset Roe is dying. I want you to remember the feeling of dread you have right now. Now understand this is nothing compared to the feeling you'll have on the day of judgment you think is a myth. Repent.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) May 3, 2022

RELATED: Samuel Alito's leaked anti-abortion decision: Supreme Court doesn't plan to stop at Roe

Notice that, even as he's raging about how God will rain down punishment, Erickson is coy about what, exactly, is causing that feeling of "dread" he's so excited about. It's easy to suss what he's talking about, however: That fornicators are scared right now because they are about to face the punishment of forced childbirth for their dirty sex-having ways. Coward that he is, Erickson argues through implication, instead of speaking plainly. Erickson knows, as do all Republicans, that fornication is incredibly popular among the American public. And so while punishing the sex-havers — at least the uterus-bearing sex-havers — is the whole purpose of abortion bans, Republicans would rather talk about anything else.

Recent history shows how being proudly on the side of pleasure is a winning argument for the left.

One would think, seeing how frightened Republicans are, Democrats and the larger progressive community would press their advantage and make the discussion about the very thing Republicans don't want to talk about, which is sexual freedom. But nah, the focus on the left has been almost exclusively on the most dour subjects: Maternal mortality, economic privation, rape victims being forced to carry babies, and, of course, the ubiquitous coat hanger.

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Very little is said about the reason why the vast majority of abortions happen, which is that someone had consensual sex but didn't want a baby. Republicans may be afraid to talk about sex, but in still-puritanical America, progressives aren't exactly excited to discuss the subject, either. We leave it to our British counterparts to broach the subject for us.

It's easy to see why progressives want to focus on the most dire outcomes from abortion bans. Images of dead women and starving babies are believed to create moral urgency around the issue. The talk about the sexual desire that leads to most unwanted pregnancies feels frivolous. The problem is that it's too easy for Republicans to dismiss the dire outcomes as fringe cases that have no impact on most voters. Alito even does as much in his draft opinion, complaining that "mortality rates" shouldn't be "the only factor that a State could legitimately consider." Unfortunately, Republicans understand what Democrats struggle with: The focus on the worst outcomes allows the average voter to think, "Well, that's sad, but I don't see what it has to do with me."

By reframing the issue around sexual freedom, however, progressives would have an opportunity to make the discussion salient to people's lives and identities, which has a much bigger impact on voting choices. It reframes the issue as a battle between sex-positive progressives who want people to enjoy their lives versus dour Bible-thumpers who want your life to be gray and sexless. As I've argued before, voters want to be on Team Fun People instead of Team Sanctimonious Scolds.

RELATED: Why the right-wing is having a complete meltdown over the Supreme Court's leaked anti-abortion draft

Republicans get this. That's why they rarely defend their rancid bigotry on its own terms, but instead try to pretend the debate is over fun-loving free speech jokesters versus the cancel-culturing "woke mob." It's why conservatives were so successful at convincing millions of Americans to forgo common sense COVID-19 prevention, even vaccination. From the get-go, the argument was that the sanctimonious left wants to destroy your fun, and the way to rebel is to take serious risks with COVID-19. People like being on the side that presents itself as "fun" and "freedom-loving." Republicans take full advantage, even though, in reality, they're the people trying to ban books and threaten you with hell for fornication.

Indeed, being Team People Who F*ck is such a better position that GOP troll Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida incoherently tried to argue feminists want abortion access because they can't get laid.

How many of the women rallying against overturning Roe are over-educated, under-loved millennials who sadly return from protests to a lonely microwave dinner with their cats, and no bumble matches?
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) May 4, 2022

"You need abortion because you don't know the touch of a man" is an argument that obviously makes no sense. Somehow, however, it worked well enough as a troll, because few people were willing to point out that sitting at home with your cats is not how you get pregnant on accident. Instead, Gaetz got lots of sanctimonious replies. If more folks had been willing to point out that it's the sex-having ladies — who mostly don't have to pay for it! — who get abortions, then he might have hesitated.

Even recent history shows how being proudly on the side of pleasure is a winning argument for the left. During the George W. Bush administration, the right got really bold about their anti-sex views. While the laughably flimsy pretext that they're "pro-life" was still bandied about, Republicans — emboldened by having a fundamentalist Christian in the White House — started openly arguing for a national sexual standard that expects all Americans to abstain from sex until marriage. (And for all LGBTQ people to embrace lifelong chastity, as well.) The Bush administration imposed "abstinence-only" education on schools. Republican politicians aggressively argued against contraception use in public, insisting, as then-Indiana governor Mike Pence told CNN in 2002 "the only true safe sex is no sex." Republicans would sometimes even argue that married couples should only have sex for procreation.

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Forced by this aggressive prudery to actually talk about sex, progressives started, in many cases reluctantly, making the positive argument for consensual sex. With sex-positive feminists leading the way, there was robust public discussion about everything from porn to kink to issues of consent. There were even Slutwalks, as feminists stood up for their right to get laid without getting raped. Sex got so normal that it kind of got a little less sexy. Republicans flat-out lost on the abstinence issue, so much that they basically never talk about it anymore. But, as Erickson's tweet and Alito's opinion — which hints at future fights over birth control access and reinstating sodomy laws — shows, conservatives still aren't keen on the freedom to screw, even as they want to talk about anything else.

Republicans get this. That's why they rarely defend their rancid bigotry on its own terms, but instead try to pretend the debate is over fun-loving free speech jokesters versus the cancel-culturing "woke mob."

Unfortunately, in recent years, the left has largely abandoned the role of being the fun ones. Instead, we all too often lean directly into the worst stereotypes of progressives as dour scolds who can't even take a joke. Part of the problem is the stress of the Donald Trump presidency and the COVID-19 pandemic left a lot of people in a humorless mood. But I also blame social media, especially Twitter, which creates an atmosphere of competitive sanctimony. Self-righteous preenings gets shares and retweets. Shaming people for having fun or making jokes is an easy way to score points in the endless, pointless competition of social media. For understandable reasons, activists and thought leaders on the left spend a lot of time on social media. But you become what you pretend to be, and spending so much time performing the role of wet blankets is starting to sour the entire movement — and make it very difficult to convince anyone that being a progressive is a party they want to be invited to.

RELATED: Stop feeding Joe Rogan's trolls: Progressives must reclaim the politics of pleasure

There's been a lot of talk about how, even though Roe is toast, Democrats might be able to bank on the backlash to win seats and protect reproductive rights legislatively. Certainly, the unwillingness of Republicans — even a motormouth like Donald Trump — to talk about this issue suggests that there's weight to this political strategy. But there's also a danger. All the talk about coathangers and rape victims really brings people down. Yes, it's important, but it's depressing. Depressing is demoralizing. It can cause people to check out of politics entirely, rather than listen to yet another lecture on why it's super bad to make 13-year-old rape victims have babies. Believe me, they know.

So, as difficult as it may be to overcome the puritanical impulse baked into the American psyche, the left needs to talk about sex again. Not just the bad parts, but why sex is good and why people should be free to pursue their happiness. A fight between the fun-loving freedom people versus sanctimonious prudes like Erick Erickson and Sam Alito is a fight that Democrats can win. We need to argue not just about people surviving, but people thriving. Freedom and pleasure arguments may not score points on Twitter, but they win people over in the real world.

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Samuel Alito's leaked anti-abortion decision: Supreme Court doesn't plan to stop at Roe

It's fitting that, if the Supreme Court is going to overturn Roe v. Wade, they'd have the justice with the most incel-esque affect be the one to write the opinion. Samuel Alito has always been the conservative on the court who was least able to conceal the right-wing resentment that fuels him, glowering his way through President Barack Obama's State of the Union addresses and generally being a whiner on the level of Donald Trump. Clarence Thomas might be the most unhinged member of the court, Amy Coney Barret the most uncanny, and Brett Kavanaugh the best at spittle-flecked public meltdowns. But if I had to bet money on who is most likely to spend their nights on sleazy internet forums, whining that feminism has "ruined" women, it would 100% be on the court's creepiest member, Alito.

Late Monday night, Politico leaked a draft of the Supreme Court opinion, written by Alito, that would, without reservation, overturn Roe and allow states to ban abortion outright. (Which they are already doing.) Though heavy with legal-ese, Alito's misogyny shines through like a deplorable beacon. His contempt for the very idea that women are rights-bearing people is not hard to discern, even as he claims to hold no ill will towards them. Sewn throughout this decision is a deep, abiding belief that women simply aren't people in any meaningful sense. Women's lives, ambitions, pain, joys, and autonomy have absolutely no value he can discern. Instead, he treats women as ambulatory uteruses who have no more right to reject a pregnancy than your refrigerator has a right to reject holding your milk and eggs.

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The inability — or unwillingness — to think of women as rights-bearing people kicks in early in this draft decision, when Alito complains that, "far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue," Roe "enflamed debate and deepened division." The unsubtle implication of this is that if anyone doesn't like women having rights, then well, that right just has to go. The language may be fancier than Donald Trump's "grab 'em by the pussy" rant, but the logic is the same. Yeah, it's your body, ladies, but if someone else wants to use it, as Trump memorably said, you have to let them do it.

Samuel Alito has always been the conservative on the court who was least able to conceal the right-wing resentment that fuels him.

Alito's tendency to imagine women as appliances instead of people is inescapable. He blithely dismisses the idea that forced childbirth is a burden on women, claiming medical costs are "covered by insurance or government assistance" and after the baby is born, all a woman must do is "drop off babies anonymously" and should have "little reason to fear that the baby will not find a suitable home."

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Alito doesn't acknowledge that a woman might have objections to being pregnant outside of the financial burden to her family or fears for the baby's future. Being pregnant and giving birth is inherently difficult and time-consuming. Pregnancy affects your relationships with everyone from the person who impregnated you to your family to your friends and work colleagues. Pregnancy is notoriously impossible to conceal from others! But these burdens simply do not rate in Alito's imagination, any more than one would ask if the oven suffers when you turn it on.

And if women don't like it, he sneeringly writes, well, "[w]omen are not without electoral or political power," as they still retain their right to vote. It's an argument in such idiotic bad faith that even Twitter trolls don't dare make it. That some women don't like abortion doesn't mean that all women should be denied the right. But Alito doesn't pause to consider that women are a diverse, complex group of people. Great idea, giving someone with such a mean imagination the right to abolish the human rights of millions.

RELATED: Republicans simplify their defense of Texas abortion ban: Women are too stupid to have rights

Speaking of women's suffrage, it's a good thing it was obtained by constitutional amendment. If it weren't, we can't be sure that Alito wouldn't be taking potshots at that right, as well. Alongside his contempt for women as rights-bearing people, this draft opinion is rife with loathing of any social progress made after the 19th century. Alito repeatedly notes that no right to abortion was legally established before "the latter part of the 20th century," as if the relative newness of the legal right inherently makes it illegitimate.

"Until the latter part of the 20th century, there was no support in American law for a constitutional right to obtain an abortion. Zero. None," he writes, the whiny tone unmistakable.

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Of course, there are a plethora of rights that were not established until the latter part of the 20th century.

Women did not have the right to use birth control, have their own credit cards or bank accounts, be paid fairly for their work, or decline sex with a husband until the latter part of the 20th century, either. Jim Crow laws and segregated schools were still legal until the latter part of the 20th century. And, crucially, the rights to have sex in the privacy of your own home — even with someone of the same sex — and to have a same-sex marriage were established even later, in the 21st century.

I challenge anyone to read Alito's draft opinion and his repeated, scornful invocation of "the latter part of the 20th century," as if everything that progressed during that time is a stain on our nation.

Alito is aware of all this, and indeed, cites many of the cases that established these rights in his decision. He glibly dismisses the possibility that overturning Roe will lead to the overturn of the right to birth control or any LGBTQ rights, however, claiming that those are different because none involve "potential life." But just as he claims that there should be no legal distinction between pre- and post-viability abortions, it's easy to see how one could argue that contraception and homosexuality threaten "potential life" by redirecting sexual energies away from conception. This isn't outlandish speculation, it is already the argument that the anti-choice movement makes against both legal contraception and legal homosexuality.

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Alito tries to cover his rear by writing, "Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion." But Bush v. Gore has similar language in it, and that hasn't prevented it from being used as precedent in literally hundreds of cases. More importantly, the whole of the decision suggests Alito doesn't believe his own claims that other human rights aren't in danger. As Slate's legal expert Mark Joseph Stern noted on Twitter, Alito's one sentence is contradicted by paragraphs of contemptuous language about the illegitimacy of all those decisions from "the latter part of the 20th century" and equally lengthy diatribes about how the court's duty to respect precedent is overrated.

Second, the meat of Alito's opinion is a lengthly repudiation of "unenumerated rights" that are not laid out in the Constitution. The Supreme Court may only protect these rights, Alito says, if they are "deeply rooted" in history. Abortion is not. Neither is same-sex marriage.
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) May 3, 2022

As Stern notes, Alito "makes it extremely clear that he is *not* including" decisions that legalized same-sex sexual relations or marriage." Republicans have elsewhere indicated that, however. After they end Roe, they're coming for Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision that legalized same-sex marriage. After all, the conservatives on the court — including Alito — voted against Obergefell the first time. Now they have another crack at it, with a majority that opposes the right. Anyone would be a fool to think they aren't eager to take it. And frankly, if privacy rights are delegitimized by the court, Griswold v. Connecticut, which legalized contraception, is on the chopping block. It is, after all, the first case that established the privacy rights all these other cases are built on.

RELATED: I was one of the lawyers who helped win marriage equality. And yes, the GOP can take it away

In a recent column at the Washington Post, Paul Waldman argued that the Republican agenda is "a return to the 1950s, a dramatic rollback of social progress." He notes this is no exaggeration, citing multiple Republican politicians who have admitted that they want to overturn Griswold v. Connecticut, allowing birth control to be banned again. But of course, when progressives argue that Republicans want to undo the past 70 years of progress, they get accused of hyperbole, on the specious grounds that the same people who voted for Donald Trump couldn't be that bad.

Well, I challenge anyone to read Alito's draft opinion and his repeated, scornful invocation of "the latter part of the 20th century," as if everything that progressed during that time is a stain on our nation. Republicans are willing, indeed eager, to force childbirth on people as a punishment for sex. In itself, that is an argument against the idea that Republicans are constrained by morality, decency, or empathy. Republicans are coming for the whole panoply of women's rights, LGBTQ rights, and racial equality. They don't even bother to hide it. It's just a matter of the public believing Republicans when they show us who they are.

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Behind church doors: White evangelicals are quietly fueling Trump's Big Lie

"There's one thing that I know for sure," declared Gene Bailey, the pastor of Eagle Mountain Church International, before a crowd of thousands recently gathered at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. "The raw truth was on Nov. 3, 2020, President Donald J. Trump won the election."

Later during the summit on the 2020 presidential election, which was broadcast live to a Facebook audience of over 300,000 followers, Hank Kunneman, the pastor of One Voice Ministries, proclaimed: "There is a payback coming!"

The pastor went to rave about how President Joe Biden belongs in prison for "treason" and a "demonic agenda."

RELATED: How Christian nationalism drove the insurrection: A religious history of Jan. 6

The late April event is chilling — but remarkable, mainly for how unremarkable it is.

Forget Jesus Christ and the "good news" about salvation. All across red state America, the true faith of evangelical churches lately often seems more about Donald Trump and trumpeting the Big Lie. As Charles Homans at the New York Times wrote in late April:

In the 17 months since the presidential election, pastors at these churches have preached about fraudulent votes and vague claims of election meddling. They have opened their church doors to speakers promoting discredited theories about overturning President Biden's victory and lent a veneer of spiritual authority to activists who often wrap themselves in the language of Christian righteousness.

In the mainstream media and the eyes of much of the public, there's a secular cast to the false claims that Biden "stole" the 2020 election, which is being used to justify a national GOP campaign to actually steal the election for Trump in 2024.

From Rudy Giuliani sweating through his hair dye to Steve Bannon's self-aggrandizing to the hard-drinking Proud Boys, the face of the Big Lie is that of the all-American dirtbag, someone who is more likely to be out on Saturday harassing women in bars than up early on Sunday for church. But while those figures certainly get attention, the larger threat to democracy likely comes from the well-organized, well-funded white evangelical movement, which has managed to reorganize itself around Trump's Big Lie out of the glare of much mainstream media attention.

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From the beginning, the religious right was the backbone of Trump's Big Lie. As Kathryn Joyce reported for Salon on the anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, in the run-up to the riot, "allegations about the 'stolen' election became nearly inseparable from messages of apocalyptic faith." The crowd that turned out that day was largely driven by religious fervor. Popular religious right figures were responsible for sending thousands of people to the Capitol to do Trump's bidding. Since then, the Christian nationalist devotion to the Big Lie has only grown stronger. Six out of 10 white evangelicals claim Biden stole the 2020 election, compared to 37% of white Christians from mainline churches.

The enthusiasm for the Big Lie among white evangelicals comes back primarily to one thing: Racism.

78% of white evangelicals agreed with the statement that "America is in danger of losing its culture and identity."

Scrape away the easily disproven conspiracy theories about voting machines and stolen ballots and what you're left with is the animating belief of the Big Lie, which is that conservative white people are entitled to rule, no matter what. The Big Lie puts a moral gloss on this argument, by recasting the opponents of democracy as the "victims" of a "stolen" election. Actions like trying to throw out the vote total in racially diverse cities in 2020 and rewriting election laws to marginalize voters of color, however, tell the true story. The Big Lie is about preserving white supremacy, even if the cost is ending democracy.

RELATED: From the Pilgrims to QAnon: Christian nationalism is the "asteroid coming for democracy"

Anthea Butler, a religious studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of "White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America" explained the history of the evangelical movement last year in an interview for Religion & Politics.

"There's a prevalent belief around evangelicalism that the movement was formed in the 70s in response to Roe v. Wade," she noted. In reality, however, "It wasn't abortion that fired them up—it was integration, taxation, busing, and similar issues."

As Dartmouth historian Randall Balmer has carefully documented, while religious right leaders like Jerry Falwell liked to portray their movement as anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ, it really started as a pro-segregation movement. Falwell first made a name for himself by preaching about the evils of integration. He started really getting into political organizing around the issue of the federal government stripping tax-exempt status from private schools, such as his own Lynchburg Christian School, which barred Black students. Falwell later publicly recanted his segregationist beliefs, but only in the most surface of ways. White supremacy is still foundational to white evangelical culture, which is why they continue to be Trump's strongest base of support.

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It's easy to see how much racism is in the DNA of white evangelical culture in a recent New Yorker article about Liberty University, which was founded by Falwell and, until recently, was run by his son Jerry Falwell, Jr. University leadership talks a big game about racial diversity, but whenever there's even a hint of a challenge to white supremacy on campus, the administration comes down on students like a hammer. As Megan K. Stack reports, "members of the student government drafted an anodyne condemnation of white supremacy" in response to the deadly white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, but the administration functionally blocked it. Falwell then defended Trump's claim that the neo-Nazis and other white nationalists were "very fine people."

White evangelicals are embracing conspiracy theories, Trumpism, and, ultimately, a war on democracy itself.

A similar fight went down when a small group of students tried to organize a demonstration in support of Black Lives Matter after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. The administration totally panicked in response, as Stack notes:

They were told to stop using the words "Black lives matter" and "protest"; "demonstration," they recalled the administrators admonishing them, sounded less violent. They were asked to organize an academic discussion instead of a protest, or perhaps an athletes-only gathering in one of the sports halls. "They were just being very passive-aggressive," Williams said. "They were just trying to water down the statement 'Black lives matter.' "

When the students continued to press forward with the plans, the administration refused to provide campus police protection. Afterward, the school released a statement emphasizing that it was "student-led and student-created," lest anyone mistake them as supporting this anti-racist movement.

RELATED: Jerry Falwell Jr. is the true face of white evangelicals — and dumping him changes nothing

A November PRRI poll found that while they espouse anti-racist views when asked directly about race, 78% of white evangelicals agreed with the statement that "America is in danger of losing its culture and identity." To my mind, that question is an excellent measure of white supremacist sentiment, as it's hard to imagine what else people are thinking of when they talk about American culture and identity. They certainly aren't reacting to the long-standing tradition of America as a nation of immigrants, the traditions of secularism, or any of the other progressive values about equality and freedom that the liberal majority of Americans believe in. Instead, what they clearly believe is that people like them are the only legitimate rulers and that it's "fraud" if the majority of Americans disagree.

The truth is that white evangelicals are, in fact, a shrinking portion of the American public, but not because of immigration or Black Lives Matter or antifa or any of the other bogeymen that Republican propagandists prop up. It's because of evangelicals' own intolerance and bigotry. Younger Americans simply don't truck with it — even at Liberty University, students speak out about it! — and so are leaving the pews in large numbers. Heaven forbid, however, that evangelicals admit they only have themselves to blame and change their views to become more accepting of diversity. Instead, white evangelicals are embracing conspiracy theories, Trumpism, and, ultimately, a war on democracy itself.

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Madison Cawthorn scandal exposes how the GOP depends on right-wing media to delude their base

In a world where so much news is just plain depressing, it's an unexpected delight to watch the Republican establishment pull out their bag of dirty tricks and rat-f**k one of their own. And boy, it couldn't be happening to a nicer guy: Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, part of the freshman class of Republicans who work more as full-time trolls than traditional lawmakers. Man, Republicans really hate this guy.

In just the past week, the efforts to destroy Cawthorn have included GOP-funded attack ads against him, a push to have his alleged financial crimes exposed, and, what's most fun of all, an "oppo dump" of embarrassing photographs. First, Politico published photos of Cawthorn at a party, drinking and wearing lingerie.

JUST IN: New photos obtained by @politico appear to show Madison Cawthorn wearing women's lingerie. Cawthorn recently accused fellow Republicans of attending cocaine orgies.
— No Lie with Brian Tyler Cohen (@NoLieWithBTC) April 22, 2022

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When he blew that off, another bit of blackmail was leaked to the Daily Mail, this time a video of one of Cawthron's male staffers patting him near the crotch.

they are coming down so hard on this guy that i half wonder if the cocaine orgies are real
— b-boy bouiebaisse (@jbouie) April 29, 2022

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As New York Times opinion columnist Jamelle Bouie is alluding to, the reason that Republicans appear to be pulling out all stops to destroy Cawthorn has nothing to do with Cawthorn's flirtations with Nazism, his regular run-ins with the law, or his unsubtly inciting language. Nah, it's because he went on some podcast run by something called the "Warrior Poet Society" and declared that Republican congressmen in their 60s and 70s invite him to orgies and do cocaine in front of him.

The Cawthorn scandal is a hilarious good time and no one should feel bad about laughing over it.

Considering that breathless urban legend-style stories are the lingua franca of right-wing media, one would think that Republicans would just blow this one off as Cawthorn doing what he usually does, which is talking smack to get attention. But nah, the party has gone all-out to destroy him, which only has the effect — as Bouie noted — of making the story seem truer, by dint of their extreme defensiveness.

RELATED: What is a "warrior poet"? The neologism that connects New Agers and Madison Cawthorn, explained

Republicans are plenty media-savvy, especially around dirt-flinging, so there's little doubt that they understand the dangers of the Streisand effect. This anti-Cawthorn campaign suggests that they are willing to make a trade-off, however: Keep the story alive in the mainstream media in order to destroy Cawthorn's reputation in right-wing media. In other words, as silly as all this is, there's actually a substantive takeaway here: This story shows just how much more Republicans depend on an elaborate and often subterranean conservative media system than they do the mainstream media. They're way more worried about cocaine-and-orgies talk on a Christian podcast — one few in the legacy media had even heard of — than what's printed in the New York Times.

The GOP has been incredibly successful at convincing their voters to reject all forms of reality-based information in favor of existing in a bubble of right-wing disinformation. Worse, that bubble isn't just composed of, or even primarily composed of, major media outlets that ordinary news consumers have heard of, like Fox News. Conservative media consumers are embedded in an infinite-seeming number of smaller and often independent outlets that fly under the radar of most people who aren't in the bubble. Until this scandal, the "Warrior Poet Society" was totally unknown to outsiders. But outlets like that are the primary media diet of many people inside the conservative bubble. That show has over a million YouTube subscribers! And, on the rare occasion right-wingers do interact with mainstream media sources, these voters have been inoculated against accepting those sources by being told that it's "fake news."

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It is not exactly shocking news to consumers of mainstream media to hear Republicans on Capitol Hill like to tie one on. New York Magazine published photos and details in 2017 of one of the infamous parties at the D.C. townhouse of former Donald Trump advisor Steve Bannon. True, neither sex workers nor cocaine was mentioned in the article, but a reader walks away with a strong sense that Republican parties get pretty wild, especially by the standards of their Midwest Christian voters.

This anti-Cawthorn campaign suggests that they are willing to make a trade-off, however: Keep the story alive in the mainstream media in order to destroy Cawthorn's reputation in right-wing media.

But neither Bannon nor his guests cared much. Why should they? None of that information will penetrate the information bubble Republican voters have constructed for themselves, of fundamentalist YouTubers and Facebook personalities like Ben Shapiro and Candace Owens. Inside that bubble, the image of Republican politicians is very different: That they're all pious, clean-living Christians who spend their Saturday nights in prayerful reflection instead of sucking down overpriced cocktails at the bar in Trump's D.C. hotel. Indeed, the image Cawthorn was trying to construct of himself on the "Warrior Poet Society" podcast was as a teetotaling naif who cannot believe the deviance he's exposed to in the big city.

RELATED: Fellow Republican rips freshman GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn over "insane" threat of "bloodshed"

That's why the leakers of these photos and video believe that it will damage Cawthorn. It shows he isn't the wide-eyed Christian ingenue who is shocked that people stay out past 10pm. Even more telling is how tame the content of the oppo dump is. The lingerie photos clearly are clearly just a goof. The supposed crotch-touching video is really more of a leg-touching video, only really scandalous to men who are so homophobic they think any physical contact between men is gay. But for people who live inside the conservative media bubble, this sort of stuff could easily be read as Satanic decadence.

The Republican goal here is clearly getting Cawthorn out of Congress and, more crucially, out of the right-wing media ecosystem. There's little he can say to mainstream reporters that impacts them. However, there's an ever-present danger that his need for attention will cause him to blow up their spot on the only media outlets they care about, which are these unknown-to-outsiders right-wing sources.

RELATED: Can Fox News viewers be deprogrammed? Paying them to watch CNN makes them less gullible

Recently, a study was released by Yale and U.C. Berkeley researchers showing that, if Fox News viewers are paid to switch to CNN instead, their engagement with reality dramatically increases. They were better at understanding scientific information and more cognizant of facts. But as soon as they returned to Fox News, they slipped right back under the waves, living in a world of right-wing fiction that has no relationship to reality.

Imagine how much worse that effect is for the millions of Republicans — the most energized and active members of the base — whose media diet is largely made up of YouTube shows and right-wing podcasts and Facebook personalities. For those folks, Fox News is the "mainstream" source that they watch to validate the even more delusional crap they get off their internet buddies. Keeping those people ignorant and fired up about nonsense is the backbone of the Republican political strategy. That's why the GOP is so intensely worried about what their politicians say on YouTube shows, and not so much about what they say on cable news or to the Washington Post.

None of which is to deny that Republican voters have autonomy. They actively choose to live in the world of right-wing fantasy. They could turn on CNN or read a newspaper if they wanted. They prefer stuff like "Warrior Poet Society," because it flatters their basest instincts. They want to be ignorant, and their leaders want them to stay that way.

The Cawthorn scandal is a hilarious good time and no one should feel bad about laughing over it. But it also speaks to this darker truth of how much Republicans depend on voters who self-insulate from reality — and what lengths they will go to in order to keep their voters inside that right-wing media bubble.

Stunning texts blow the lid off of Trump's Big Lie

There was much that was compelling about Monday's CNN dump of another couple thousand coup-related Mark Meadows texts into the public domain. We learned Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., can't spell and that former Secretary of Energy Rick Perry apparently signs his text messages with his name and phone number. But while the linguistic faux pas of people conspiring to overthrow democracy are entertaining, I must confess that what I found most riveting and illuminating was the way the texts pulled back the curtain on how Republicans generate their lies.

Meadows' texts offer a glimpse into the apparently routine Republican brainstorming sessions about which false narratives they knowingly plan to inject into the conspiracy theory dissemination machine anchored by Fox News and social media. We see this in the flurry of texts that were spread around on January 6, 2021, when Donald Trump's co-conspirators began to realize that the violence of the insurrection was hurting their efforts at justifying the coup. Trump aide Jason Miller texted Trump's social media manager and Meadows his ideas for "tweets from POTUS." They included a conspiracy theory blaming the violence on "ANTIFA or other crazed leftists" and falsely accusing the media of "trying to blame peaceful and innocent MAGA supporters for violent actions." As the CNN reporters wrote, "Trump's allies in Congress appeared to get the message." In real-time, you can see them workshopping the details of this conspiracy theory, inventing details like how "Antifa dressed in red Trump shirts."

RELATED: Newly revealed Mark Meadows texts appear to contradict denials by Marjorie Taylor Greene, Rick Perry

Republicans may not be able to spell good, but holy crap, they are masters at generating disinformation, often on the fly, that will go viral among their followers. Of course, they are aided heavily by having a follower base that doesn't care what is true or what is false. The average Republican voter now happily parrots obvious lies, glad to be of service to the larger fascist cause.

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Monday's cache of texts was quickly followed by a Tuesday report from ProPublica and Frontline that, once again using a massive cache of once-secret documents, illustrated how much Trump's co-conspirators knowingly fabricated evidence and used false testimony to create the illusion of a "basis for Trump's claims that the election had been rigged."

That these folks were just making it all up as they went along isn't even particularly subtle. Over and over, Trump's lawyers like Sidney Powell or Big Lie proponents like MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell would claim they had some proof of voter fraud which they would hand to low-level staffers or private investigators. And every time, those folks would warn them that the evidence they claimed to have was fraudulent. Inevitably, however, Trump's cronies would ignore those warnings and use the lies anyway either as propaganda or in court filings.

It's tempting to shrug off these revelations. Politically plugged-in progressives have long assumed that all these folks are knowingly lying. The lies are so silly and often so self-contradictory — and the people disseminating so obviously evil — that these texts just feel like confirming what we already knew. But this hard evidence matters.

RELATED: Sorry, New York Times: Republicans aren't "concerned" about democracy — they want to destroy it

There's still a mushy middle of voters who aren't yet convinced that Republicans are such cynical liars, and instead want to believe they're just a little deluded by partisan fervor. The potential legal ramifications could help convince them.

As has been widely reported, the likeliest defense is "we didn't know any better," if Trump and his co-conspirators were ever tried for their various crimes committed during the coup. The argument would be that they "sincerely" believed that the election was stolen and their efforts were an attempt to rectify this supposed great wrong. But the massive trove of documents showing they knew full well there was no voter fraud and certainly no stolen election cuts against this defense. It also takes away any excuse for the Department of Justice to keep avoiding criminal charges against the coup's leaders, including Trump.

But what truly fascinates me is how these documents illustrate how the right-wing disinformation machine works. Being wrong never bothers them, because they think concepts like "true" and "false" have no value at all.

What is clear from reading these texts and other documents is that the Big Lie is not really abut persuading anyone that the election was stolen. It's more about creating so much noise that the truth never has a chance. It's about creating a permission structure that allows Trump, his allies, and — crucially — his followers to say whatever they need to in a moment to justify their desire to overthrow democracy. Truth doesn't matter to them. Making sense doesn't matter to them. It's about setting the concept of rational, evidence-based discourse on fire, thereby eliminating the main obstacle to their raw exercise of power.

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It's telling how right-wingers will ping pong from one conspiracy theory to another, depending entirely on whether it's useful in the moment, and indifferent to whether or not it flatly contradicts the lie they were claiming to believe five minutes ago. After all, new lies can always be made up on the spot! As ProPublica's reporters write, when one of Trump's team's conspiracy theories "was debunked, they'd move on to the next alternative and then the next." Being wrong never bothers them, because they think concepts like "true" and "false" have no value at all.

We see how this works with the January 6 conspiracy theories. While the riot was happening, and it looked like it would make Republicans look bad, Miller threw out the "blame antifa" lie and the minions got to work on it. It was, indeed, trendy for a time for Trump followers to parrot that lie. In the weeks after the Capitol insurrection, about half of Republican voters were espousing some version of the "antifa did it, the MAGAs were peaceful" conspiracy theory. As the months wore on and it became clear, however, that Trump was proud of inciting the riot and wanted to take credit for it, the narrative shifted. Instead of "antifa did it," it became "the insurrectionists are heroes." Republicans who held to the old violence-is-bad line, such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, were put on blast by the talking heads at Fox News until they gave in and acceded to the new violence-is-justified narrative. Sure enough, the Republican base got the message. Now the majority of them have stopped saying that the rioters were "antifa" and instead are calling them "patriots."

Republicans collectively understand that empirical truth can be destroyed as long as they stick together

This shift matters, because it reinforces what I've been arguing for months now about the Big Lie: Republican voters don't actually "believe" it. Instead, like their leaders, the Republican base simply doesn't care what's true and, frankly, finds truth to be an annoying obstacle on their way to power. So they're happy to do their part to lay waste to the idea that truth has any value at all.

Republicans collectively understand that empirical truth can be destroyed as long as they stick together, especially in a media environment where reporters are frequently allergic to calling lies out as lies. With nothing to lose from lying and everything to gain, MAGA world, from their top dog Trump to every ordinary person spewing nonsense on Facebook, is fully committed to the destruction-of-truth project. If Miller says "antifa did it," then they will all pretend to believe that. When the narrative changes to "MAGA did it, but it was justified," they will happily shift, without giving a fig that the new lie contradicts the last one. Truth simply doesn't matter to Trump and his followers. All that matters is power, and they will say or do whatever it takes to get it.

Twitter should have died long ago — let Elon Musk take it out back and shoot it

There's a scene in the first of the "Matrix" movies — the only decent one, IMHO — where one of the resistance fighters, Cypher (Joe Pantoliano), betrays the cause in order to get reinstated in the simulated reality of the Matrix. His reasoning is sympathetic enough: Life in the "real world" is a miserable slog, with crap food, bad clothes and uncomfortable lodgings. Inside the Matrix, however, life is far more comfortable — even if it's all an illusion. "I know this steak doesn't exist," Cypher explains, but he is willing to give up his compatriots in order to experience it.

It's a compelling scene that helps explain that kind of existential tradeoff. Viewers are meant to ask themselves if they would really give up freedom — which, let's face it, can sometimes seem like an abstract ideal — in exchange for a really good steak. Most of us, no doubt, believe we wouldn't take that trade. But if you spend even 15 minutes on Twitter, you realize how many people are willing to be sucked into an evil alternate reality created by computer algorithms that appear to hate the human beings they feed upon — even without offering a delicious cut of meat steak as bait. All it takes is endless, asinine conversation, driven and dictated by the worst people in our society.

RELATED: Elon Musk's threat to take over Twitter: Trolls — not "cancel culture" — are ruining discourse

Elon Musk is buying Twitter for a sum of money so large as to be meaningless to all normal people. That's enraging many or most Twitter users, but it also feels appropriate. After all, that platform is largely controlled by trolls. So why shouldn't one of the biggest trolls on the platform own it outright? It's a little like Snoop Dogg buying Death Row Records. Of course, trolls never wrote "Gin and Juice." They are just draining the life out of our democracy.

As I argued a couple weeks ago, when Musk first started making sounds about buying Twitter, his plan to let the already obnoxious troll problem spiral out of control will likely sound the death knell for the social media behemoth. Trolls are good for business on social media, up to a point. But if they take over too much, they run all the normal people off. Then the trolls leave too, because they're hapless and forlorn without non-trolls to troll. Soon it's just a ghost town, like Donald Trump's utterly pointless platform Truth Social.

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Would it actually be such a bad thing if people abandon Twitter in droves? That platform and its user base are starting to remind me of those couples who stay in a relationship long after it stopped working, afraid to break up because they lack the ability to imagine what they'd do with their newfound freedom. All day, every day, people are on Twitter talking about utter bullshit or getting sucked into bad-faith arguments. It's a colossal waste of time, but they keep at it, mostly because they're imprisoned by the fear that somehow they'll miss out on what "everyone" is talking about if they walk away. Journalists and media people in particular feel trapped by Twitter. It's legitimately important for such folks to be "in the know," and Twitter's greatest and most diabolical trick is convincing us that knowing what's happening is the same thing as knowing what's happening on Twitter.

The problem, however, is that Twitter offers incentives that distract people away from genuinely important stories and redirect them toward stuff that, in a marginally sane world, just wouldn't matter much. (Or, often, wouldn't matter at all.) When journalists are addicted to Twitter, they start letting those warped priorities shape their coverage, often for the worse.

RELATED: Right-wing Twitter imitations don't work — and Trump desperately wants back on real social media

For instance, as Heather Digby Parton wrote for Salon on Monday, it's an absolute travesty that one of the biggest political scandals in American history is unfolding right now, but it's barely making a ripple in media coverage. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, exploited his shadow staff position in the White House to aid Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the corrupt murderous de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, and was rewarded with $2 billion. Kushner even appears to have helped MbS cover up the gruesome murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. In a pre-Twitter era, this story would have been an all-consuming media scandal. It's got everything: Murder, intrigue, huge sums of money and an international villain so sinister he could have come from a Bond film.

But the story of Kushner and the prince has barely surfaced in the current media environment. I blame Twitter. Twitter favors stories that allow users to engage self-righteous preening, or at least cheap dunks on easy targets. As I write this, for instance, a top trending topic is "Marshall Law." That refers to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's efforts, after the 2020 election, to pressure Donald Trump into staging a military coup. Of course that's an important story — in theory. But in practice, the substance of the story is being ignored in favor of a morbid fascination with Greene's apparent ignorance. (Just in case you're not on Twitter and have been living in a hermitage, she misspelled "martial law" as "Marshall.")

This isn't about the danger that folks like Greene and Trump pose to democracy. It's about extremely online liberals who can't resist a chance to show off their superior command of grammar and spelling, compared to the right-wingers they hate, and it's about the fact that mockery matters more to the Twitter algorithm than the potential end of democracy does. Something like Kushner's Saudi scandal — which is fascinating to read about, but doesn't drive "engagement" or angry debate on social media — doesn't even stand a chance in such an environment.

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What would life look like after Twitter? Maybe it would actually be the inverse of Cypher's experience in "The Matrix." I've been spending much less time than I used to on Twitter lately, and honestly it's been great. I read articles all the way to the end. I talk to people I love. I work out. I take walks. I read books. I even, as they say online, touch grass. Although that's usually meant as an insult when it's flung at someone on Twitter, I think it's actually great advice. Grass smells nice and is soft. You never have to block it for saying "OK groomer" at you.

On an individual basis, getting off Twitter is bound to benefit people's mental health. I believed in the promise of community when I first joined up in 2007, but I've found that it's mostly a bunch of people talking past each other, at least when they're not actively fighting each other. When I'm online, I can sometimes surrender to the ugly notion that I hate other people. Then I go out and talk to actual human beings offline. Mostly, they're great, when they're not sucked into the competitive bad faith of Twitter. I highly recommend turning off social media, and that goes double for journalists, who really need to step away from the reality-distorting machine of Twitter and breathe the air of the real world once in awhile. So maybe Elon Musk is doing us a favor right when we most need it, by forcing us off a platform that we otherwise find just too hard to quit.

Libs of TikTok took Trump's place – and inadvertently revealed the right's ever-growing sociopathy

How many millions of words have been exhausted by pundits trying to figure out what appeal Donald Trump has to the MAGA base? For years, theories were floated about his "populism" and the way that his run on "The Apprentice" deluded people into thinking he was actually a successful businessman. Much digital ink was spilled wondering how his followers didn't notice his comical comb-over, orange make-up and the massive gap between his self-image as a tough manly man and the doughy senior citizen that he actually is. The curiosity lingers: What accounts for the charisma that his followers see that is utterly invisible to people with any modicum of decency?

Turns out the secret to Trump's success was not all that mysterious and staring us right in the face, 240 illiterate letters at a time: The man is a relentless Twitter troll.

So "relentless Twitter troll" is now the main skillset required not just to skyrocket to the top of the GOP attention economy, but to become the de facto party leader. When Republicans think of who they want as their leader for both the policy agenda and political strategy, the main thing they're now looking for is someone with that right combination of total moral depravity and desperation for attention that drives them to abuse social media in the worst possible way.

We know this to be true because in the months since Trump was kicked off Twitter and Facebook for inciting a violent insurrection, Republicans found a new person to be the party leader in all but name: An anonymous Twitter troll who posts under the name "Libs of TikTok."

RELATED: On Twitter, "Libs of TikTok" stokes culture wars outrage

Well, she was anonymous until this week, when heroic Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz, who deserves all the Pultizers, published the name of the masked queen of the GOP: Chaya Raichik, a Brooklyn-based real estate salesperson. From the safety of anonymity, Raichik reposts TikTok videos made by ordinary Americans, mostly LGBTQ people, "often including incendiary framing designed to generate outrage." Videos originally meant for small and friendly audiences are dangled out for the right's daily Two Minutes Hate sessions. Raichik uses accusations of "grooming" to justify what is, in reality, a virtual effort to revive the practice of gay-bashing. All the worst people in America — including Fox News hosts and Joe Rogan — adore the account. Meanwhile, people have lost jobs and been subject to terror campaigns due to Raichik's abuse.

The uncut sociopathy on display at Raichick's account means that, without even revealing her identity, she has become what Lorenz describes as "an agenda-setter in right-wing online discourse," and what Media Matters staffer Ari Drennen characterized as "a wire service for the broader right-wing media ecosystem." Her targeted harassment often goes viral and is frequently shared on Fox News for a national audience.

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But Raichik hasn't been just the functional editorial director of Fox News. Her relentless drumbeat of queerphobia has, seemingly overnight, reshaped the entire political agenda of the GOP. On the state level, Republican lawmakers have focused their energies on crushing LGBTQ rights with "don't say gay" laws, bans on gender-affirming care, and even forcing CPS workers to harass families with trans kids. On the Senate level, Republicans have circled back to the idea of overturning Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. In Tennessee, a bill meant to remake marriage into a straights-only institution has already been filed.

"Triggering the liberals" is the main reason for being a Republican these days.

What's notable about all these efforts is that, following Raichik's lead, Republicans rarely bother to make coherent arguments against LGBTQ rights. Instead, their rhetorical strategy is focused mainly on trolling, primarily in the form of calling anyone who argues against these bigoted policies a "groomer." No one who flings that word around, of course, actually thinks that LGBTQ people and their allies are in a conspiracy to sexually abuse children. It's a pure troll, meant to be so beyond the pale that even responding to it slimes the person falsely accused. Republicans are so excited by this troll that they even used it to smear Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson with similar insinuations during her Senate confirmation hearing. No one believed the accusations — in fact, her approval ratings went up in response — but persuasion is not the point. The point of the troll is to get everyone arguing about the false accusation of "groomer" so that they're not arguing about the real issue here: LGBTQ rights.

RELATED: The goal of the GOP's QAnon-influenced "groomer" troll: More political violence

Not surprising from a party that is so unable to defend their policy preferences that they got rid of the party platform and have pulled out of nationally televised debates. When Sen. Rick Scott of Florida tried to issue a shadow party platform that called for ending Social Security and raising taxes on disabled people and veterans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell responded with anger. No one is to puncture the bubble of secrecy that's been established around what Republicans actually stand for. No one knows better than Republican leaders that their actual ideas are indefensible. Instead of trying to defend their ideas, they instead mire the public debate in bullshit and noise through relentless trolling.

It works in no small part because ordinary Republican voters care little about policy, and are mainly focused on tribalistic hatred and resentment of liberals. "Triggering the liberals" is the main reason for being a Republican these days. The new class of Republican leaders are selected mainly for their trolling skills. That's why people like McConnell or House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy may be the nominal leaders of the GOP, but the people they answer to are insurrectionist dirtbags like Georgia's Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. These folks have nothing positive to offer the world, but they are extremely good at trolling. The result is that the official party leaders cater to the trolls, letting them set the agenda and never putting up any real resistance to their excesses.

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Of course, the most dramatic example of this phenomenon is former president Donald Trump, a man who loves Vladimir Putin and declared on national television that injecting bleach into your lungs might be a good cure for COVID-19. He's a man without conscience and without reading skills beyond the third grade. He is also the god-king of the GOP. He sits on his throne in Mar-A-Lago, watching Republican politicians debase themselves before him to get his approval out of the hope that his trollish grace will result in electoral wins. They don't respect him or like him, but he is a very good troll who reliably triggers the liberals, so they must pay fealty.

Republicans would rather engage in a go-nowhere debate over what is "doxxing" rather than answer hard questions about why they've made such a monstrous person their de facto leader.

Of course, Trump has been deprived of what remains the most potent weapon in the troll's arsenal: social media. Without it, his provocations often go into the ether, with nary a liberal triggered or a reporter even paying attention. And not for lack of trying, either. On Monday, Trump issued a press release that basically called on Ukraine to surrender (though he tried to spin the demand as "working out some kind of agreement" with Putin) and threatened "everyone will be DEAD" if they don't stop fighting the Russian invasion. Leveraging genocidal threats against a fledgling democracy is nuclear grade sociopathy, but Trump barely made a ripple with it. Without social media, his trolling is mostly stillborn.

RELATED: Birth of a "Troll Nation": Amanda Marcotte on how and why conservatives embraced the dark side

Raichik, on the other hand, still has a Twitter account and is still using it to dish up bloody red meat to the ugliest souls in America. And even when she was outed, she and her defenders continued to use trolling as their main rhetorical strategy. They're currently pretending to be outraged at Lorenz "doxxing" Raichik. This is, of course, laughable bad faith, since the entire point of Libs of TikTok is to expose private citizens to millions of bigots who will harass them, threaten them, and try to get them fired. But miring the public discourse in a bad faith "debate" over doxxing is about making sure people aren't talking about what really matters here: That one of the two main political parties in the country takes their marching orders from an anonymous Twitter troll who has dedicated her life to personally ruining people's lives to punish them for being queer.

One can see why Republicans would rather engage in a go-nowhere debate over what is "doxxing" rather than answer hard questions about why they've made such a monstrous person their de facto leader. There are no good answers to those questions. The real answers are "we suck" and "holy crap, we are the absolute worst." They know they can never win a public debate based on reason and evidence, which is why they resort to childish, bigoted provocation. It's a reminder why Trump and his acolytes turned to violence on January 6, which Raichik apparently bragged about participating in. They have nothing to offer, in terms of persuasive arguments or meaningful ideas. All they have is inchoate hate. The entire Libs of TikTok debacle is yet more proof that the party of Trump is nothing but a troll nation.

Desperate Republicans throw a temper tantrum after the public rejects their culture war nonsense

There's no surer sign that Republicans have given up on trying to appeal to moderates and swing voters than declaring war on Disney. Things were already getting dicey when GOP leaders and Fox News pundits went all-in on this strategy of accusing anyone who disagrees with them of being child molesters. Flinging such risible and obviously false accusations at innocent people tends to backfire on the accusers, as demonstrated by the way Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson saw her approval ratings rise after enduring three days of charisma-free Republican politicians falsely implying she had some affection for pedophiles. But you know they've lost the plot when they're running around trying to argue that Disney, which most Americans view as the gold standard in family-friendly entertainment, is covertly converting the nation's children into perverts.

I'm just saying: If your idea of championing "family values" is delaying parents who are trying to get their kids into Disney World, you need some remedial classes on how to win friends and allies.

RELATED: There are no moderate Republicans: Greg Abbott, Glenn Youngkin and GOP self-immolation

As most folks who follow the news know by now, the reason that Republicans are melting down at Disney — and even threatening to take away tax breaks and regulation exemptions from the mammoth corporation — is because of the company's dollar-short condemnation of the "don't say gay" law that Trumpian Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed last month. The bill is part of a larger — and also incredibly unpopularwar on free speech and public schools being waged by a GOP that is reacting to President Joe Biden's election by doubling down on their most fascistic impulses.

They are creating a lot of pointless trouble, but in the process, end up reminding most people of how awful conservatives truly are.

But for all the chest-thumping and threats that DeSantis and his fellow Republicans are making at Disney, this meltdown is actually telling a different story: Republicans believe they are losing the culture war.

The GOP is the party that spent decades extolling the alleged virtues of free markets, criminally low tax rates, deregulation, and other policies meant to give corporations near-total power over American life. The only reason they'd turn their backs on that mission, even slightly, is because they know they're losing the public debate over this "don't say gay" bill and are reacting out of clawing desperation.

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The Disney hate is but one example of how Republicans, in their efforts to score points in the culture war, are messing with the business interests that have long been their real source of funding and power.

As Sophia Tesfaye explained last week at Salon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also recently made the mistake of offending his corporate benefactors with his ill-advised and pointless blockade of the border, which resulted in major economic losses for companies who depend heavily on goods that are shipped in from Mexico. Abbott's goal here was Trumpian fascist theater, where he deliberately caused traffic snarls in some convoluted effort to make some point about how much he hates Latino immigrants. But all most people saw were trucks full of stuff they want to buy and sell getting stuck in a deliberately induced traffic jam, with much of the perishable goods simply going to waste. Texas Republicans, however, seemed to have learned no lessons from that debacle.

RELATED: Boycotting Disney and Oreos: The red flags that MAGA is a cult

In response to Citigroup announcing that its insurance plan would cover travel expenses for employees who need to travel out of state to get abortions, state Rep. Briscoe Cain threatened the bank with economic retaliation by barring them from doing any business with local governments.

Republicans try to justify these ridiculous political battles by telling a little fairy tale about the "woke" corporation. In this telling, the majority of everyday working Americans shared the cultural values of far-right Christian nationalists. But then these "woke" corporations came along and started shoving "Hollywood" values on unwilling Americans. So exacting economic punishment on companies for supporting LGBTQ and female employees is the only way to bring those companies in line with what Americans supposedly want.

In reality, of course, the opposite is true.

Strong majorities of Americans support LGBTQ rights and legal abortion. Meanwhile, most of these corporations have long offered heavy financial support to Republicans. Most of these companies flat out don't care either way about the human rights issues — they just have their eye trained on the bottom line. After all, these corporations were willing to fund Republican culture warriors so long as those same Republicans backed low taxes and deregulation.

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Corporations like Disney and Citigroup now find themselves on the right side of these culture war issues for the same bottom line reasons. The popularity of LGBTQ rights and reproductive health care is evident and companies don't want to offend their customer base. Just as importantly, it hurts their businesses when some of their employees don't have basic rights to safety and health care access. Disney doesn't want to lose LGBTQ employees who need to flee Florida so their kids can go to an accepting school. Citigroup doesn't want to pay for maternity leave for employees who didn't even want to be pregnant. These companies aren't imposing "woke" values on a community. They're responding to the fact that they operate in communities that have "woke" values.

What we're seeing from Republicans is panic in the face of what they perceive, in many ways correctly, as their lack of power to force their hateful, reactionary views on the larger public. It's not like DeSantis is unaware that Disney's pro-LGBTQ stance is reactive, not proactive. But he has a limited ability to force everyday Americans to share his belief that gay people need to be forced back into the closet. His attacks on Disney are coming from a place of weakness, an effort to attack the symptoms, and not the cause of the backlash against his overt abuse of LGBTQ students and teachers.

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There's a similar whiff of desperation when it comes to the ongoing Republican book banning efforts. Absolutely, it's alarming that Republicans are censoring books in schools and pulling them off library shelves in a bid to keep people from reading about how racism is real and LGBTQ people are normal. But it's also pathetic, as school and library books simply aren't the main source of that information. More people probably learned about the 1921 Tulsa race massacre because of the HBO show "Watchmen" than from a public school history class. Most discussions about systematic racism — which Republicans slur as "critical race theory" — are happening online or at kitchen tables, in response to events like the George Floyd murder and the subsequent protests. The shift in public support towards LGBTQ rights happened because of debates that were happening largely outside of classrooms. Republicans forced abstinence-only programs on public schools for years, and it did nothing to convince the majority of young Americans to avoid premarital sex.

To be certain, Republicans can do a ton of damage with their culture war. We see that in the sheer economic losses from Abbott's border stunt. They will be able to successfully ruin the lives of teachers and students with frivolous "don't say gay" lawsuits. Women will be forced to give birth or end up maiming themselves, due to abortion bans. Libraries are in danger of being shuttered and authors of books demonized as "woke" are facing death threats. All these impacts are very real and alarming.

RELATED: Banning math books and attacking libraries: Republicans ramp up their mission to spread ignorance

But what Republicans can't do is the one thing they desperately want: Get the public to agree with their theocratic, backwards views. In that sense, the Disney blockade was the perfect symbol of modern conservatism. They are creating a lot of pointless trouble, but in the process, end up reminding most people of how awful conservatives truly are.

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Republicans are ramping up their mission to spread ignorance

When Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis rolled out a bold new plan to crush public education under the boot of literacy-suspicious authoritarians, Republicans swore up and down that this was not actually the war on public schools it looked like. A pair of deliberately vague bills — one aimed at censoring "critical race theory" and another at banning "instruction" on "sexual orientation and gender identity" — were justified with disingenuous claims that Republicans merely wanted to protect children from "indoctrination" and even "grooming." Critics, however, noted that the funding and organization behind these efforts linked the DeSantis plan to a larger religious right assault on the very concept of public education.

Then Florida banned over two dozen math textbooks, proving critics right. This is, and always has been, an assault on education itself. DeSantis praised the ban, declaring that the books are "indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism, especially, bizarrely, for elementary school students."

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The only thing that's bizarre is the attempt to reframe mathematics education as "critical race theory." It's been clear for months that when Republicans talk about "critical race theory," they are not talking about the college-level academic theory that looks at the legal infrastructure that supports racial inequalities. Instead, it's a catch-all phrase to demonize any history book or literature that acknowledges that racism is real. Now, the circle of censorship is expanding to basic math.

Thinking is the enemy of authoritarianism.

To those who have been carefully watching the GOP as they become more openly fascistic, none of this is surprising. As I wrote in December, authoritarians have long taken a dim view of the very concept of education. Even basic literacy and math skills are viewed as a threat because they open the door to critical thinking. Above all else, Republicans do not want a population armed with critical thinking skills. While it doesn't get much mainstream press coverage, conservatives have long been nurturing anger over federal education guidelines, often called "Common Core." These standards aim to give kids a real understanding of math and how it works, instead of simply memorizing multiplication tables and quitting before they get to calculus. Having people understand concepts on a deeper level terrifies the right, however. They prefer a populace that's kept ignorant because they are prone to blindly following authority.

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So under such circumstances, it's not a surprise that Republicans are expanding their war on learning past schools and targeting libraries, as well. On Sunday, the Washington Post published a chilling story looking at this nationwide attack on reading through one Texas community's battle over the local public library.

The religious right in Llano, Texas has been bullying the local library to pull books deemed "pornographic filth," mostly because the books admit racism is real, that LGBTQ people exist and that human beings are naked under their clothes. If that sounds like an exaggeration, it's not: One of the books targeted is "In the Night Kitchen" by Maurice Sendak, a children's book that has a drawing of a naked child that is only "pornographic" to people who think all nudity, even children's nudity, is about sex. Another book is "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates, clearly targeted for the "pornography" of being about how racism is a real problem that affects real people.

As the Post reports, the GOP book banners, "some of whom did not even have library cards," have made incredible headway at circumventing the library's rigorous protocols against censorship. They've been working through the head chair of the governing body of Llano County, a Republican named Ron Cunningham, who simply walked right into the library and pulled the books he didn't want other people to read off the shelf.

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"The board also needs to recognize that the county is not mandated by law to provide a public library," Cunningham wrote in a letter to Bonnie Wallace, a far-right activist who has been granted secretive but wide-ranging censorship powers. After the Post confronted Cunningham with this letter, which was obtained under a FOIA request, he replied with pablum about how the county is "committed to providing excellent public library services." But, of course, the true attitudes are coming out in that letter and the relentless hostility to educators and librarians in general.

As Kathryn Joyce has demonstrated through expansive reporting for Salon, once you look past the surface talk about "protecting" children and towards the actual organizers and brain trust for the right, it becomes clear that the long-term goal here is destroying public education. In some cases, the plan is to replace it with private and for-profit "schools" that teach fake right-wing science and history. Realistically, for most people who can't afford private school tuition, this GOP plan would likely mean no real education for their kids at all. This is absolutely fine by the authoritarian right, of course, which views functional literacy as a gateway drug to that dreaded "critical thinking." Plus, if poor and middle-class kids don't finish high school, that means that the children of the wealthy have fewer people to compete with for spots in elite universities.

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As Umberto Eco wrote in his fundamental examination of fascism, "All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning." To be functionally literate, instead of being incapable of reading much more than a street sign or a Donald Trump tweet, is to open the door to thinking. Thinking is the enemy of authoritarianism.

To be certain, most Americans — even most Republican voters — don't think literacy, much less math skills or scientific knowledge, are bad things. And they certainly wouldn't approve, if they found out how expansive the Republican war on education actually is. That's why these leaders dress up their hatred of education with conspiracy theories about "critical race theory" and "grooming." It's about distracting voters from what's really going on: a full-blown assault on the ability of all kids to receive a basic education.

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That said, the abject terror that has been instilled in the average Republican voter of "wokeism" has opened the door to radicalizing them towards a fascist view that literacy itself is the enemy. As this battle in Llano shows, it doesn't take much to get conservatives to start taking a dim view of the mere existence of books and libraries. Take this recent propaganda video from Tucker Carlson and Fox News, an unwittingly campy portrayal of "manhood" as being a matter of throwing tires and drinking raw eggs.

I promise you are not prepared for Tucker's latest montage
— nikki mccann ramírez (@NikkiMcR) April 16, 2022

It's a short step from this sort of imagery to portraying the more cerebral pastimes of reading and studying as emasculating wastes of time. As Eco writes, to the fascist, "Thinking is a form of emasculation." We're already most of the way with the right, which has taken to demonizing school teachers as "groomers" and using the word "professor" as a slur term. It's a movement led by Trump, a man who is proudly illiterate and whose social media writers would deliberately inject grammatical errors and misspellings into his tweets to keep up his image as someone who can barely read. Republicans are swiftly reimagining illiteracy not as an embarrassing flaw, but as an aspiration. A child's right to education is caught directly in the crosshairs.

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Republicans follow Putin's playbook: Target LGBTQ rights first

The conservative government was alarmed at the rise in the numbers of young people espousing LGBTQ identities. So leaders decided it was time for a crackdown. Claiming that it was all about "protecting" the children from supposedly sexually predatory adults, a "don't say gay" law was passed that barred "promoting non-traditional relations to minors." Defenders of the law insisted that LGBTQ people were "not being discriminated against in any way." However, as human rights advocates pointed out, the law was so vaguely worded as to bar any open expression of queer or trans identities. Simply being out of the closet became reason enough to be accused of "gay propaganda," since, after all, one could read that as a signal to minors that being gay is okay.

This is Florida now— but it was Russia first.

Florida in the year 2022 is where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law that threatens financial ruin for any speech that could be construed as "instructing" kids about LGBTQ identities. But nine years ago, the same controversy was centered in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin signed a federal "don't say gay" law. The only difference is Putin could apply it to the whole nation, whereas DeSantis can only exert power on public schools in his state. In both cases, however, the same baseless justification was used: kids were being "groomed" by adults with nefarious intent so speech needed to be restricted to protect kids. In both cases, however, the actual reason for the law is to force people to live in the closet and punish anyone speaking out on behalf of equal rights.

Though it's not being talked about much, if at all, in the mainstream media, the 2013 ban on "gay propaganda" in Russia and the current Florida law barring any "instruction" on "sexual orientation or gender identity" are incredibly close to each other. So close, in fact, that's it's impossible to imagine that DeSantis and his allies didn't draw inspiration from the same Russian dictator who is currently waging a genocidal war on Ukraine.

As NPR reports, "don't say gay" bills are spreading as Republicans in over a dozen states have introduced copycat legislation meant to ban books and shove teachers and students back into the closet. There's good reason to think Putin inspired this current raft of "don't say gay" bills beyond just the similarity in how the bills are worded and the same "groomer" lies being used as justification. The American religious right has long and deep ties to Putin and the authoritarian government in Russia. Indeed, they've spent years specifically advocating for and supporting the "don't say gay" law in Russia.

As Right Wing Watch reported in 2014, "several American Religious Right leaders have spoken loudly in favor of Putin's crackdowns on gay people." Worse, "American anti-gay activists quietly provided intellectual backing and international support that directly and indirectly fueled the resurgent anti-gay movement in Russia." In a 2017 report, the site noted, "The Kremlin, through financing and conferences, has also built up ties with America's Religious Right."

In other words, the religious right has long been aware of Putin's "don't say gay" law and the lies his government used to defend it. It's not a coincidence that the same ideas and rhetoric are being deployed by Republicans here. Indeed, at the same time Russia passed its "don't say gay" law in 2013, they also passed an "anti-blasphemy" law that recommended jail sentences up to three years for "offending religious feelings." If that sounds familiar, it should. The same kind of language is being used in the Republican war on what they call "critical race theory." For instance, the "Stop WOKE" bill DeSantis is also pushing bans any materials that discuss racism that white people claim causes them "discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress." The anti-"critical race theory" movement in the U.S. has been used to ban books teaching that slavery or the civil rights movement happened, just as Russia's "anti-blasphemy" law is used to punish any criticism of the Christian right.

Despite Putin's claims to the contrary, human rights advocates were right about the impact of his "don't say gay" law: The Russian "don't say gay" law has been used as an all-purpose excuse to crack down on LGBTQ rights, all under bad faith claims of "protecting" children. Public materials that portray same-sex couples have been censored. Gay rights activists have been arrested. People were fired for being out of the closet. Pride parades were banned. Right now, the Russian government is trying to shut down one of the nation's biggest LGBTQ rights groups. Ukrainian citizens worry that the campaign of terror against queer people will be extended to their country if Russia succeeds in its invasion. WNBA star Brittney Griner is being held hostage in Russia right now, and while the official excuse is drug-related, gay rights activists are accusing the government of holding her in no small part because she's an out lesbian. And while the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the "don't say gay" law in 2017, unsurprisingly that's done little to stop the human rights abuses in Russia.

Due to Russia's horrific invasion of Ukraine and the seemingly unending war crimes being committed there, most Republicans have become shy about the pro-Putin sentiment that's been churning through their party for years and was only amplified by Donald Trump's robust admiration for the Russian dictator. But it is hard to ignore that this explosion of "don't say gay" and "critical race theory" bills look like they were directly inspired by Russia's "gay propaganda" and "anti-blasphemy" laws. Even the justifications — wild accusations of "grooming" and whining about the dominant class's hurt feelings — sound identical. The American right's affinity for Putin's Russia is still going strong, even if some of them are being a little quieter about it these days.