The dark side of Mother Teresa's order, according to nuns who left

One of the most striking things about the new podcast "The Turning: The Sisters Who Left" is how some of the former nuns describe their experiences with life behind the walls of Mother Teresa's world-famous order, the Missionaries of Charity: in language reminiscent of the way we talk about cults.

This article was originally published at Salon

They use terms like "isolation" and "brainwashing." They were only permitted to write home once a month and visit home once every decade. They describe what it feels like to look at a single human: as having a direct line to holiness.

Of course there were beautiful, spiritually affirming moments, too — times where these women felt achingly close to the God for whom they'd given up their normal lives — but for some, the suffering and separation were too much. "The whole idea was to make you feel as alone as possible," Kelli Dunham, a self-described "ex-nun," said.

It was enough to make some fantasize about escaping — and some did. Through "The Turning," a new 10-episode podcast by Rococo Punch and iHeartMedia, producer and host Erika Lantz tells their stories.

"I really am interested in stories that don't have a clear right and wrong," Lantz told Salon in an interview. "I think there's a lot of gray in the story. There are different sets of facts and, depending on what perspective you're using to look at them, you might have a very different opinion of what they mean."

Understanding their journeys starts with understanding the cultural power of Mother Teresa herself. Though she wasn't canonized as a saint until 16 years after her death in 1997, she was recognized as saintly by many in the Catholic church and beyond long before then due to her charitable work, especially after she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

The order she founded in 1950, the Missionaries of Charity, ran soup kitchens and opened and staffed orphanages and schools for the underprivileged across the globe (though not without some controversy), and still manages homes for the terminally ill. Over the course of 71 years, thousands upon thousands of women took vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and "wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor."

Because of that, Lantz said, Mother Teresa's name has become a "synonym for kindness."

"It's like the shorthand in our culture," she said. "When I started working on this project, I noticed that people would drop her name as a metaphor. Even in 'Tiger King,' and this isn't a direct quote, but you had someone introduce Carole Baskin as 'the Mother Teresa of Cats.'"

Many of the women with whom Lantz spoke, even if they had left the order, said that the reverence towards Mother Teresa was absolutely warranted. "She was so close to God and you knew it when she was there," one said.

But life within the order Mother Teresa had created was hard.

The sisters kept a rigid schedule that began at 4:30 a.m. and only included 30 minutes of unstructured recreation time, which was most often spent catching up on work that hadn't gotten done. Though they were required to go everywhere in pairs, the nuns were never allowed to have private conversations and would instead recite prayers together.

This was to encourage chastity, a virtue that, as Lantz found out in her reporting, Mother Teresa was strict about maintaining, almost to the point of paranoia. After all, the Missionaries of Charity were spiritually wed to Jesus and were organized to "satiate the thirst of Jesus Christ on the Cross for Love and Souls."

It's a telling detail that Mother Teresa was so intently focused on Christ's crucifixion. While, as Lantz put it in "The Turning," one would anticipate that the scriptural passages that would have most impacted Mother Teresa would have centered on Jesus' interactions with the poor, sick and hungry, she was perhaps most moved by how his pain catalyzed his holiness.

This was reflected in how the sisters lived in their respective convents, the series reports. Why would you pray from a chair when you could kneel on the hard ground? Why would you open the windows or wear one less layer when you could simply swelter? Why, as in the case of one nun, would you rest in bed after sustaining major burns when you could go back to work in almost unspeakable pain?

However, as Lantz found out, the emphasis on achieving holiness through suffering didn't stop there. As is revealed early in "The Turning," the sisters would frequently engage in self-flagellation.

Mary Johnson, a former nun and author of "An Unquenchable Thirst" — who also spoke with Salon back in 2013 about her experiences in the order — joined the Missionaries of Charity when she was 19 after seeing Mother Teresa on the cover of TIME Magazine.

She detailed her first self-flagellation session to Lantz, remembering how the bundle of cords she was given left her upper thighs streaked with red and white lines. In the bathroom stall next to her, there was another, more experienced nun doing the same thing.

This shocked Lantz, who said that the effects of that kind of trauma, even if self-inflicted, are lasting for many of the former sisters.

"I don't think anyone pictures Mother Teresa and imagines that her sisters are whipping themselves daily," she said. "I know Mary Johnson had told me, at one point, she asked her now-husband to beat her — he did not, I should say —because she craved a way to have relief from guilt."

As Johnson told Lantz, the extreme nature of the religious order is part of its appeal, but it also contributes to some of the "cultishness."

"It did surprise me that multiple sisters started using words like 'cult' or 'mind-control' or being 'brainwashed,'" Lantz said. "It doesn't necessarily mean those women thought they were in a cult, but it often felt like the closest thing they could compare it to. And it's interesting — often we think of cults as being on the fringes of society, but here we have the Catholic Church and Mother Teresa, who is so admired around the world."

"I think it's important to look at any institution with power with a critical eye and examine what role that power plays," she added. "When you have a strict vow of obedience, where the superior is a direct voice of God, you're creating a power dynamic."

Throughout "The Turning," Lantz examines how that power dynamic played out in other ways through abuses, betrayals and forbidden love. She also teases out, quite beautifully, a question that many will enter the series thinking: "Why didn't these women leave sooner?"

"It's hard because you believe that Jesus has been fervently calling you to this, it's what you must do," Lantz said. "Once you take that vow of obedience, that includes obeying God's will for you. Then Mother Teresa is also telling you that you've been called. It's hard to leave that. For some it's impossible."

Why Anna Duggar stays: A woman who left Quiverfull movement says 'there's a huge martyr's mentality'

Vyckie Garrison remembers watching Michelle Duggar, the matriarch of the then-TLC program "14 Children and Pregnant Again!" on television and feeling a twinge of envy. It was 2004, and Garrison had seven children of her own whom she was raising and homeschooling within her fundamentalist, "radically pro-life" Christian community in Nebraska.

"I remember thinking, 'Look at her actually doing it,'" Garrison told me in a phone call from her new apartment in Albania. "I was in awe of her. Her kids, they seemed like they were completely on-board. They have the same mentality and the same giving spirit. She was my idol. Well, not 'idol' because we couldn't have idols, but, you know."

The Duggar family's foray into reality television also marked many Americans' first introduction to Quiverfull ideology, a theological movement that interprets the Old Testament Psalm, "Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of [children]," as a command to reproduce often, sans any birth control or family planning. For the record, the Duggars don't claim to be Quiverfull, though they do reference that verse on their website in response to the question, "Why have such a large family?"

TLC positioned the Duggars, led by Michelle and husband Jim Bob, as a benign oddity, a kind of oversized "Waltons" family where episodes centered largely on pregnancy announcements, chaperoned courtships and managing a home large enough for the family.

Over the course of a decade, the family eventually ballooned up to 19 children. There was some controversy along the way, as the Duggars actively lobbied against abortion access and for legistlation that discriminates against transgender individuals; writer Nina Burleigh described the family as "good TV. Good, sugarcoated rat poison, politically speaking."

But it wasn't until 2015 that their fame bubble would finally burst, when it was revealed that the couple's eldest son, Josh Duggar, had molested at least five girls — four of whom were his sisters — when he was 14 or 15 years old.

TLC canceled the show and several months later, Josh was at the center of another sexual scandal. During a data breach at Ashley Madison, a website that caters to users seeking discreet affairs, it was revealed that Josh was a user of that site. He issued an apology saying that he was "the biggest hypocrite" and that he had been "viewing pornography on the Internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife."

Fast-forward to this year. On April 29, Josh Duggar was arrested and later released on bail after being charged in federal court with receipt and possession of child pornography, including images of minors under the age of 12.

Josh Duggar isn't the only evangelical Christian man to see scandal in recent years — there's been former Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelist Bill Gothard and megachurch pastor Dave Reynolds, to name a few — but the very public nature of his family's life before his conviction, especially as it relates to childbearing and parenthood, makes his fall somehow more striking.

Just a few weeks before his arrest, Josh's wife, Anna, had announced the couple was pregnant with their seventh child. According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office, Josh could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted and Anna will be left to essentially raise their family on her own.

It's a stark reality, the kind unfit for even the most salacious TLC show, that spotlights the dark underbelly of patriarchal Christianity. While men are sold a promise of life where they are revered as the spiritual head of the household — a life in which their virility and manhood is unquestioned — when it comes to the Quiverfull movement, what's in it for the women?

* * *

Unlike Anna Duggar and many women in Quiverfull families, Vyckie Garrison was not raised in the church.

It wasn't until she became pregnant during a short-lived relationship with an older man who had lied about having a vasectomy, ending up in the offices of a faith-based crisis pregnancy center, that she was first introduced to some of the basic principles of "Christian family values."

While she waited for the results of her pregnancy test, she was shown the 1984 anti-abortion film "A Silent Scream." When the staff returned to confirm that Garrison was pregnant, they informed her by saying, "God blessed you."

"I didn't think I had any option but to be a mom, but I knew I was going to suck at it," Garrison said. "That's when I really started turning towards religion. I wanted a map, a guidebook, 'Motherhood for Dummies.'"

Garrison found it in the curriculum and radio programs of Focus on the Family, an evangelical parachurch group that rails against pre-marital sex, LGBTQ rights, divorce and abortion and promotes "the permanence of marriage" and "the value of children."

While homeschooling her daughter, Angel, Garrison was introduced to fundamentalist Christian women who viewed motherhood as a mission field.

"There was a lot of talk of women being submissive and anti-birth control or, as we put it, 'radically pro-life,'" Garrison said. "I had health complications that made [getting pregnant] a life-threatening condition, but it's really pushed on the moms that you should be like Jesus and you are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes."

Garrison, who was married at this time to a man named Wesley Bennett, went on to have six more children despite the health risks because it's what she thought the Bible called her to do.

"The women would tell me, 'Missionaries risk their lives every day and they do it because it's their calling,'" she said. "'When they get to heaven, they'll get their martyr's crown.' There's a huge martyr's mentality."

Garrison embraced the lifestyle, even starting a newspaper for families that adhered to the Quiverfull philosophy. In a blog post that she'd written before becoming pregnant with her seventh child, Garrison said, "Whether a couple has a dozen children or only one, it is important to welcome them in the same spirit in which we would receive the Lord Jesus Himself."

However, things at home were reaching a boiling point.

Bennett eventually became verbally abusive, "very controlling and wanted to know everyone's thoughts." Furthermore, Garrison was seemingly always on the verge of a complete physical and mental breakdown due to the toll a seemingly endless cycle of nursing and pregnancies was having on her body.

"But I had that martyr's mentality; I was going to do everything to ensure this home for my kids," she said. "But I looked at my kids and they were not thriving. I sucked at homeschooling and they were not happy."

She began corresponding with her uncle, an inquisitive atheist who asked her questions about her chosen lifestyle. When Garrison realized that, other than pointing to scripture he didn't believe in, she didn't have answers for why she lived how she did, something clicked. She realized that she and her children both deserved better.

A few weeks later, she fled to Kansas City to stay with a friend; when she eventually returned after divorcing her husband, she successfully retained custody of her seven children.

Garrison is an atheist now and lives in Albania, halfway across the world in an apartment where you can catch a glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea from the living room window.

In the years since her "quivering days" she co-founded and maintained the blog "No Longer Quivering," a resource for women like her who plan on leaving the movement.

"The women, they get into it for the kids," she said. "But that's also why they get out."

* * *

In her academic essay, "Christian Patriarchy Lite: TLC's 19 Kids and Counting," Christy Ellen Mesaros-Winckles said that while the concept of being "barefoot and pregnant" lost overall social cachet decades ago, it's still alive and well in the Quiverfull movement.

And while, Mesaros-Winckles said, the theology underlying the Duggars' beliefs was often underplayed, "conformity and a rigid male leadership hierarchy often place women in the Quiverfull movement in subservient roles."

According to Garrison, that's the system in which she found herself trapped — and in which Anna Duggar, who has been conspicuously silent about her husband's various scandals, likely feels trapped as well.

Is she blameless? Perhaps not. But she is undoubtedly a victim of a patriarchal system designed to make women feel like they don't have a choice to leave.

"The situation she is in is just impossible," Garrison said. "The only way she can save herself and her children — she would just have to give up her idea of her faith."

'Blew my mind': Son of Sam serial killer may not have acted alone -- according to new Netflix show

Netflix's new series "The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness" digs into the idea that there's more to the Son of Sam serial killer case we thought we knew . . . and that we're still not safe.

Starting in July 1976, over the course of 13 months more than a dozen men and women in New York were shot in seemingly random attacks. These would become known as the Son of Sam murders after police found a handwritten note left at a crime scene in which the killer referred to himself as Son of Sam and promised the violence would continue.

As the city was gripped by growing fear, police embarked on what was then one of the biggest manhunts in the city's history. Eventually, they arrested David Berkowitz, a young man living in Yonkers who greeted law enforcement by saying, "Well, you got me." He would go on to confess to all of the shootings and claim that "Sam" was a spirit who spoke to him through a black Labrador that belonged to his neighbor, who, it should be noted, was also named Sam.

However, a new Netflix docuseries, which is largely based on the writings of the late crime journalist Maury Terry, looks into the theory that Berkowitz likely didn't act alone — and that he was actually part of a wide-spreading Satanic cult.

It sounds outlandish enough that "The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness" director Joshua Zeman said that, at first, he thought that it was just nonsense.

"Of course I didn't believe it," Zeman told Salon in a recent interview. "Not in the least. I thought it was all Satanic panic."

However, the more Zeman started digging into Terry's work, including his book about Berkowitz called "The Ultimate Evil," the more plausible it became. "And honestly, it scared the s**t out of me."

However, while some law enforcement officials agreed with Terry, and pointed to evidence that there had potentially been different shooters during some of the attacks, many just wanted the case to be closed. Amid the tension, Terry's reputation — and ultimately, his sanity — was under attack.

Zeman spoke with Salon about the making of the four-part docuseries, how the Son of Sam murders changed the face of tabloid journalism, and how Maury Terry made a "deal with the devil" in his reporting,

There are several main throughlines in "The Sons of Sam" that I want to talk about, but the one that was particularly interesting to me as a journalist was the way the business of news shifted after the publishing of the Son of Sam letters by reporter Jimmy Breslin. Could you talk some about how the case impacted journalism?

I think that's one of the most interesting things as well, especially as a true crime journalist. It wasn't just the investigation and it wasn't just Maury. I just think people don't really understand the impact that the Son of Sam story had on modern-day journalism.

In essence, journalism, true crime journalism and true crime changed with the Son of Sam. It started a tabloid war, which happened between the Daily News and the New York Post, but this is also where [Rupert] Murdoch realizes one of the most important lessons of his professional career: Fear sells better than sex.

You can look back and see that he was using the Son of Sam as kind of a test case. The landscape of journalism today — you can actually chart a path from "Son of Sam and that early fearmongering, which was coming from both sides, to the rise of tabloid journalism. It literally started like two or three years after Son of Sam with the rise of "A Current Affair," "Inside Edition," Bill O'Reilly, Maury Povich and that kind of reporting.

That idea, "fear sells," is so important when it comes to how true crime is made today.

Right, it definitely feeds into how we cover crime and serial murder. I think we are coming to a bit of a reckoning in terms of coverage and what it means. I'm not just talking about victim-blaming and some of the subtle things, but understanding what our role as creators and consumers is. I love true crime, I love true crime fans, but at the same time, I think we need to kind of understand what this all means.

It's interesting you bring that up because there is a point early in the series where, again, Jimmy Breslin appeared on television amid the Son of Sam' manhunt. He's talking about how people are interested in the murders and an interviewer poses the question to him, "Do you think that's a healthy interest?" How do you grapple with that same question as someone who is producing true crime?

I've done three true crime series and two true crime documentaries, right? I wouldn't call it "healthy," but for me, well — what's interesting about true crime isn't the murder part of it. It's what lies beneath the surface. It's the social stories and the social justice stories that we tell that lie underneath. Whether that's stories, for example, about how the internet was theoretically was supposed to make the world safer, but in the eyes of some sex workers, it makes it far more dangerous. Or how, in other cases, true crime allows us to look at law enforcement through a different lens.

It has shown us how much more transparent law enforcement needs to be.

[True crime] shows us how trauma goes and there's no such thing as closure. Like, I could tell you all the stories that I've learned and that's far more important than this kind of "murder" part of it — the blood splatter, the "CSI" effect, right?

This feels like an apt time to bring up Maury Terry. How did you two initially connect?

I had done a film about five missing children in my hometown of Staten Island called "Cropsey." While I was investigating that case, we kept hearing rumors from a lot of the cops and journalists that somehow these missing children were connected to the Son of Sam case and, more importantly, that Berkowitz didn't act alone. There was a cult behind him and that these missing children were connected to that cult.

I didn't initially believe it, but [after reading "Ultimate Evil"] I went to go meet Maury and I found him to be just this super interesting kind of character. He knew so much about true crime, especially in New York. He knew all about the cases that I was fascinated with, but he knew the truth behind them — what we didn't learn in the New York Post or the Daily News.

But at the same time, he had obviously fallen down the rabbit hole and, as a true crime journalist, I looked at his story as a cautionary tale for myself, but also a cautionary tale for everyone. He was so invested in the truth and the idea of truth. The most ironic thing is you end up having a serial killer telling him, "Look, dude, no matter how much evidence you have, the world is not going to believe you."

That moment blew my mind.

There's this moment in the documentary where Maury Terry described how he had a perfectly normal life before the Son of Sam case, but that it was almost impossible for him to go back to that normalcy. Having looked at this case and his writings closely, what do you think the tipping point for him was?

That's interesting. The switch, in my eyes, flipped right when the book came out because the police called him a crackpot. And, to an investigative journalist, that's the worst thing in the world. At the same time, I think there was this wave of Satanic panic flowing across the United States and suddenly, that movement looked to Maury for validation.

In turn, Maury found validation in the Satanic panic movement because, suddenly, here were a bunch of people who were willing to listen to what he had to say. He made a deal with the devil and sold his soul to the tabloid press in exchange for coverage. But tragically, I think that ended up undermining the veracity of his original investigation.

In the series, you spoke with a historian who studies the occult and he made the statement that once you start looking for symbols or messages associated with the occult, you're going to start seeing them everywhere. As a filmmaker, were you worried about falling down the same rabbit hole Maury did once you started checking into those connections?

It's funny, I didn't want to do the documentary at first because I was afraid of falling into that same rabbit hole that Maury Terry had fallen into. I didn't want to do it. I was like, "Oh my God, this guy — he's gone."

The irony of me saying that is that I've already fallen. In a way, doing this documentary was the breadcrumbs to find my out. It sounds kind of falsely meta, but it's not. Sometimes these cases become your life, and that's no joke.

It's alluring though, right? What's so interesting was going through all this news footage with the idea that Berkowitz didn't act alone. I was looking at it from a slightly different perspective and I would start seeing things and question, "Was that real? Was it not?" It was super fascinating.

I've seen a fair amount of true crime documentaries where directors have to obviously overcome not having archival footage of the event they're covering. You had a wealth of footage. What was the process of gathering and disseminating that footage like?

I originally didn't want to make this documentary, right? Despite Maury Terry telling me again and again — begging me to please do this documentary — I went off and made another series about the Long Island Serial Killer called "The Killing Season." While I was making that film, Maury Terry passed away.

Suddenly, I got a call from his family saying, more or less, "He left you his files." In those files was all this footage that he had, some of his numerous interviews with David Berkowitz. For some reason, he had never told me had those files. He never told me about the footage.

Suddenly I said, "Okay, now we can make a documentary." A lot of the process was just going through stuff and weeding it out. It was an embarrassment of riches, and then his book is a 600-page sprawling epic, if you will. The challenge was trying to get as much in there as possible while still telling a cohesive story. I could have done eight episodes so easily, honestly.

Speaking of Maury's book, how did you come to the decision to have Paul Giamatti narrate his writings?

I had worked with Paul at one point a long, long time ago. We had discussed that he has a certain affinity for the . . . esoteric. He likes things that are interesting and cool. And Paul just has a knack for embodying a character, whether on-screen or in audio.

And when Maury's family called me up, they said, "Wow, Paul Giamatti is so good. He was so good I forgot it wasn't Maury."

"The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness" is now streaming on Netflix

New 'bombshell' motion in 'Making a Murderer' case points finger at someone else Steven Avery knew

There's new movement in the "Making a Murderer" case, but whether it inspires a Netflix follow-up remains to be seen. For now, Steven Avery is still behind bars after being convicted of murdering photographer Teresa Halbach.

"Making a Murderer" attorney Kathleen Zellner filed a motion Monday afternoon in Manitowoc County that alleges Avery's nephew Bobby Dassey was seen moving Halbach's car onto the Avery property. A former Wisconsin newspaper delivery driver signed a sworn affidavit attesting that he notified the sheriff's office at the time of Halbach's disappearance that he witnessed this, but was never contacted for more information.

"Mr. [Thomas] Sowinski was a motor-route driver for Gannett Newspapers, Inc. and delivered papers to the Avery Salvage Yard in the early morning hours of November 5th of 2005," the motion reads. "Prior to delivering the newspapers to the Avery Salvage Yard, he turned onto the Avery property and witnessed two individuals, a shirtless Bobby Dassey ("Bobby") and an unidentified older male pushing a dark blue RAV-4 down Avery Road towards the junkyard."

As Zellner told The Patch reporter John Ferak, "this is an evidence bombshell in the Avery case."

As outlined in the popular Netflix docuseries "Making a Murderer," Avery was once already wrongfully convicted and served 18 years in prison for a sexual assault he did not commit, though was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2003. Two years later, as Avery was in the midst of civil lawsuit against Manitowoc County to recover $36 million dollars in damages for his wrongful conviction, he and his nephew, Brendan Dassey — who is Bobby's brother — were arrested in connection to Halbach's murder.

Her car, a dark blue RAV-4, was found by law enforcement on November 5, 2005, just hours after Sowinski alleges he saw it being pushed by Dassey. However, when Sowinski called the sheriff's office to file a report, he says he was told by a female officer, "We already know who did it." He was told to leave his phone number, but no one ever called to follow up on his tip. That phone call was not included in evidence during Avery's trial either.

The newly filed motion — which can be viewed in its entirety here — has left viewers of the series with some questions. Here's what you need to know about how it could impact the Halbach case.

What role did Bobby Dassey play in Steven Avery's conviction?

As Zellner mentions in the motion, Bobby "was the State's primary witness against Mr. Avery at his trial." Prosecutor Ken Kratz told the jury that Bobby was the last person to see Halbach alive and that he should be recognized for his credibility as "an eyewitness without any bias."

During the trial, Bobby told the jury that he observed Halbach, who was a photographer for Auto Trader Magazine, arrive on Avery's property and begin taking photographs of his mother's van. He testified that he then saw her walk to Steven Avery's door.

"After seeing this woman walking toward your Uncle Steven's trailer, did you ever see this woman again?" Kratz asked, to which Bobby responded, "No." He testified that when he returned from hunting later that evening, Halbach's vehicle was no longer in the driveway.

What does this mean for Steven Avery's legal case?

Zellner argues that the prosecution committed a Brady violation because they suppressed evidence that was favorable to the defense and was material to an issue at the trial.

The motion reads: "The suppressed evidence from Mr. Sowinski was favorable to the defense and material to a pivotal issue in trial because it would have 1) destroyed the credibility of Bobby as the State's primary witness; 2) established that Bobby was directly involved in the murder of Ms. Halbach; and 3) established that Bobby planted evidence to frame his uncle, Mr. Avery."

Consequences of a Brady violation can include having a conviction vacated, as well as disciplinary actions against the prosecutor.

Will this impact Brendan Dassey's conviction?

Brendan Dassey's attorneys have long maintained that his confession that he assisted in the murder of Teresa Halbach was coerced by Manitowock County law enforcement. However, after navigating through lower courts, his legal team failed to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case in 2018. His only chance at parole is in 2048; he's been serving in prison since he was 16 years old.

However, in a 2019 interview with the Daily Beast, Zellner said that if Avery is freed that may "ultimately help him" as Brendan Dassey's legal team could go back to the lower court in Wisconsin with new evidence to dispute the validity of the confession.

"But the problem in the post-conviction world is there are so many procedural hurdles," she said.

Who was the second man allegedly seen pushing the car?

According to Sowinski, the man pushing the car with Bobby was at least 6-feet tall and had a beard between 8 to 12 inches long. Zellner said in her interview with The Patch that the man does not match the description of Scott Tadych — whom she has previously theorized might be involved in the murder — and "it certainly does not match Steven Avery."

For now, the man remains unknown.

Piers Morgan lashes out at 'delusional Duchess' and 'woke brigade' in lengthy new rant

Former ITV commentator Piers Morgan — who walked off the set of "Good Morning Britain" earlier this month after being called out for incendiary comments about Meghan Markle — has doubled down on his assertions that Markle is lying about the racism she experienced as a member of the British Royal Family.

In a lengthy opinion piece for The Mail on Sunday Morgan chronicles his feelings, day by day, since the "Good Morning Britain" fallout on March 9. The rant ranges from detailing threats that his sons have received and weighing in on the Teen Vogue editor debacle, to defending Sharon Osbourne and of course dismantling everything in that bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey.

The longer Markle and Prince Harry went on, the less he believed. The most sensational implication, Morgan alleges, is that their son, Archie, was barred from being a prince because of his skin color.

"It sounded complete nonsense when she said it, and it is; he's not a Prince because, technically, the great grandchildren of the Monarch are not bestowed with titles 'Prince' or 'Princess' unless they're in the direct line to the throne," Morgan wrote.

"This rule applies regardless of the child's mother's ethnicity. So, the most serious assertion, one that has already sent racially charged America into a tailspin of outrage, was a falsehood presumably designed to cause maximum harm to the Royals."

He also disagreed with Markle's claims that the British tabloids targeted her specifically because of systemic racism.

"Meghan's had no worse media treatment than other Royal brides such as Diana, Fergie, Kate, Camilla or even that other Monarchy-rattling American divorcee, Wallis Simpson," he wrote. "But she's the first to claim negative press has been motivated by racism, and it's a very dangerous charge to make with so little to back it up."

Morgan also said that he quit his position at ITV because he refused to issue an apology for statements he made on-air about disbelieving Markle's assertion that, after having persistent suicidal thoughts while pregnant, she sought help from a senior royal but was rebuffed because "it wouldn't be good for the institution."

"I was ashamed to have to admit it to Harry," Meghan said in the interview with Winfrey. "I knew that if I didn't say it, I would do it. I just didn't want to be alive anymore."

Morgan latched onto this story on "Good Morning Britain," saying, "Who did you go to? What did they say to you? I'm sorry, I don't believe a word she said, Meghan Markle. I wouldn't believe it if she read me a weather report."

In response, more than 41,000 viewers wrote in to Ofcom, the United Kingdom's media regulator to complain. However, Morgan said he wasn't going to issue an apology just to satisfy the "woke brigade."

"I reached a moment of total gut clarity," Morgan wrote in his column. "[F]**k it, I wasn't going to apologise for disbelieving Meghan Markle, because the truth is that I don't believe Meghan Markle. And in a free, democratic society, I should be allowed not to believe someone, and to say that I don't believe them."

Morgan also wrote about the repercussions of "The Talk" co-host Sharon Osbourne supporting him. Osbourne, who exited the show as of last Friday, came under fire initially when she tweeted "@piersmorgan I am with you. I stand by you. People forget that you're paid for your opinion and that you're just speaking your truth."

Twitter users began responding that Osbourne herself was racist for aligning herself with Morgan. This led to Osbourne engaging in a fiery argument with her co-host Sheryl Underwood, who is Black, about why people were calling her racist or why Morgan's statements were racist.

"I will ask you again, Sheryl," Osbourne raged. "I've been asking you during the break. I am asking you again — and don't try and cry because if anyone should be crying, it should be me — this is the situation. You tell me where you have heard him say — educate me, tell me – when you have heard him say racist things. Educate me! Tell me!"

Osbourne eventually apologized for her behavior, then backtracked, even as reports about her allegedly using racist slurs with her former co-hosts resurfaced.

Morgan said that what happened to Osbourne and him was "outrageous," but it isn't really about Markle.

"She's just one of many whiny, privileged, hypocritical celebrities who now cynically exploit victimhood to suppress free speech, value their own version of the truth above the actual truth, and seek to cancel anyone that deviates from their woke worldview or who dares to challenge the veracity of their inflammatory statements," Morgan wrote.

"No, it's about a far bigger issue than one delusional Duchess . . . As Winston Churchill said: 'Some people's idea of it [free speech] is that they are free to say what they like but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.'"

Speaking of prime ministers — Morgan also used his lengthy diatribe as an opportunity to tease that a political run may be on his mind. He recounted an encounter with a flower seller who allegedly stopped him on the street to say, "Piers, mate, you should be Prime Minister. We'd all vote for you. You stand up for what you believe in."

Morgan replied, "I mean, who on earth would vote for a polarising, scandalous journalist with a posh name who refuses to apologise for anything . . ." This isn't the first time Morgan has hinted at his political aspirations. In January, he told The Sun, "Listen, if it's my turn to serve, and the people want me, who am I to ignore the will of the people?" Subtle.

According to Variety, Associated Newspapers, which is the publisher of The Mail on Sunday, lost a court battle with Markle recently over a copyright dispute, although the group is appealing the judgment.

How Evangelicalism's racist roots and purity culture teachings catalyzed the Atlanta killings

On March 16, Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, killed eight people during three separate spa shootings outside Atlanta. He cited "sexual addiction" as his defense, which started a sort of media tug-of-war about Long's motivations, especially after Atlanta Police reported that Long told them the killings weren't "racially motivated."

This article originally appeared at Salon.

However, seven of the gunman's eight victims were women; six were identified as Asian and at least four of those killed were of Korean descent. Their names were Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon C. Park, Hyun J. Grant, Suncha Kim and Yong A. Yue.

Despite the denials, the killings are a hate crime that exists at the intersection of misogyny, xenophobia and racism, and underpinning it is the toxicity of Evangelical purity culture. Long was a longtime member of Crabapple First Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist Church in Macon, and reportedly told police that he viewed the people who worked at the spas as "temptations" he needed to "eliminate," indicating that he set out with the intention of attacking Asian women whom he perceived to be sex workers. Police have given no indication that the victims were sex workers.

Long's statement is reminiscent of how some Christian men excused the actions of the late apologist Ravi Zacharias who, as Christianity Today reported in an explosive 2020 expose, was credibly accused after his death in May of sexually abusing multiple massage therapists who worked at two day spas he co-owned in the Atlanta suburbs. Several of the women were immigrants, and it was late rrevealed that a different woman, who was also an immigrant, told investigators that "after he arranged for the ministry to provide her with financial support, he required sex from her." She called it rape.

His posthumous fall from grace was a shock to many Evangelical Christians; his organization Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, was viewed by many as a successor to that of late evangelist Billy Graham, and former Vice President Mike Pence spoke at his funeral.

But then came the excuses.

Nick Stumbo, the founder of Pure Desire Ministries, a Christian organization that is dedicated to giving participants "freedom from unwanted sexual behavior" through group and individual counseling, wrote a blog post about sexual misconduct among Christian leaders following news of Zacharias' sexual abuse.

"Here's a truth you might be missing: they aren't doing this on purpose," Stumbo said. "These leaders aren't trying to live a double life, not most of them anyway. Most of them are trying — desperately trying — to live a God-honoring life, do the ministry they have been called to do, and banish the 'deeply troubling and wholly inconsistent' conduct from their lives."

He continued: "Their hearts cry out to do the right thing. Their soul longs for real freedom. But a deep rut of sexual dysfunction continues to trip them up and take them to places they never meant to go."

To many Christian men like Stumbo, the women who spoke out against Zacharias weren't victims; they were anonymous stumbling blocks in a great man's life, obstacles to be bested. It's a line of thinking that is deeply rooted in Evangelical teaching and colored by the tradition's insidious sexism and racism — which were on full display through Christian right's overwhelming support of former President Donald Trump — all of which Long would have become well acquainted with during his time in the church.

* * *

Purity culture became a pop culture buzzword in the mid-2000s after several young pop stars — including the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato — donned purity rings. While most of these celebrities eventually took off their rings as they grew out of their totally wholesome Disney-approved images, as I've written about before, in my Evangelical church, purity wasn't something you could simply shed.

If you were a woman, premartial sex would render you essentially worthless. There were a variety of metaphors that were used to illustrate this: Women who had sex were sticks of gum that, after being chewed by someone else, were rendered less flavorful for the next person who planned to take a bite. We were the roses with our petals torn off, a shattered perfume bottle, a damaged bicycle. "Nobody wants damaged goods," a youth leader once explained to me.

And while inherent to all these metaphors was the implication that women were the inanimate objects that were acted upon, there's also the simultaneous belief that it is a woman's God-given mandate to prevent the men in her life from "stumbling" towards lust.

We were given these lessons, too: Don't wear tight-fitting pants as they can cause a man to think impure thoughts. Depending on how you are naturally built, maybe you'll be told that you shouldn't even be wearing pants at all and are assigned to navigate adolescence in a series of dowdy skirts. Shirts should be cut no lower than the length of two horizontal two fingers below your collarbone. Body jewelry is frowned upon and make-up should be kept natural.

"Only harlots wear liquid eyeliner," another youth pastor once told us.

Women's status as stumbling blocks to purity — or even as intentional temptresses — is only amplified in Bible studies that are targeted at Evangelical men. "Every Man's Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time" is a best-selling series of books about Christian sexuality.

"A red-blooded American male can't watch a major sporting event without being assaulted by commercials showing a bunch of half-naked women cavorting on some beach with some beer-soaked yahoos," one passage reads. "What's a man to do?"

It continues: "To attain sexual purity as we define it, we must starve your eyes of the bowls of sexual gratification that comes from outside your marriage. When you starve your eyes and eliminate 'junk sex' from your life, you'll deeply crave 'real food' — your wife. And no wonder. She's the only thing in the cupboard and you're hungry!"

Let's put aside, for now, the really problematic assertion that a healthy marriage is one in which you have sex with your partner just becase they're there and you have no other options in your sexual cupboard. The term "assaulted by commercials'' is interesting in that it plays into another common Christian narrative — that of spiritual battles. You put on the "armor of God," as written about in Ephesians, to engage in the fight between good and evil.

In Christians' daily lives, temptation is something to be attacked head-on and vanquished. It's language that is frequently espoused from the pulpit, and language that also bears a striking resemblance to Long's statement to police in which he said he described his victims as temptations to be eliminated.

* * *

Evangelical purity culture is dangerous in that, despite promising the opposite, it positions women as dehumanized, sexual objects — a walking collection of body parts that can provoke temptation — and that it is their responsibility to keep men from straying.

This is especially true for women of color, who have long been exoticized through the church's particular brand of colonialist missionary work.

The word "evangelical" comes from the Greek term euangelion meaning "gospel" or "good news," and per the New Testament book of Mark, Christians are commanded to "go into all the world and preach the good news." Growing up in the church, I vividly remember missionaries visiting for special services once they had returned to the States to set up old-school slideshows packed with photographs from their trips. They would talk about the work — handing out Bibles, leading church services, building houses of worship — they had done in these countries, which were often positioned as almost otherworldly.

While, as the Atlantic reported, some Christian denominations are currently trying to pull back from the "white savior complex" style of mission work in favor offering genuine humanitarian aid or serving their own communities more intentionally, the International Mission Board, which is the Southern Baptist Convention's missionary society, still describes their work as "bring[ing] the good news to the helpless and the hopeless."

While Long may assert that his crimes weren't "racially motivated," growing up in a the Southern Baptist church, he would have been familiar with this language — language that is reminiscent of what I heard from the pews in the '90s — that was meant to both encourage a sense of "otherness" and excuse attempts at domination, cultural and otherwise, of people of color, including those of Asian descent.

Long isn't the only example of how the ugliness of the rhetoric behind that language, as well as the misogyny that underpins it, can dangerously collide in public and encourage violence. Donald Trump was a thrice-married candidate that paid hush money to an adult entertainer and bragged about grabbing women by the genitals. His blatant racism only escalated during his term in office and his use of the phrases "Wuhan flu" and "China virus" directly contributed to the current rise in violence against Asian Americans.

And he enjoyed overwhelming support from Evangelical Christians along the way.

Some have left the church because of it. As Salon reported, Beth Moore, a major female Evangelical leader, announced earlier this month that, as a survivor of sexual assault, she "can no longer identify with Southern Baptists." Meanwhile, the #LeaveLOUD movement is gaining momentum among Black Christians who no longer see a home for themselves in white Evangelical spaces. In both instances, denominational leadership reportedly seems more keen to stomp out voices of dissent than do the work necessary to unravel generations of harmful teachings.

On Friday morning, Crabapple First Baptist Church, Long's home church, released a statement about the killings.

"We want to be clear that this extreme and wicked act is nothing less than rebellion against our Holy God and His Word," it said. "Aaron's actions are antithetical to everything that we believe and teach as a church. In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the actions of Aaron Long as well as his stated reasons for carrying out this wicked plan."

It continued: "No blame can be placed upon the victims. He alone is responsible for his evil actions and desires. The women that he solicited for sexual acts are not responsible for his perverse sexual desires nor do they bear any blame in these murders. These actions are the result of a sinful heart and depraved mind for which Aaron is completely responsible."

The language used, the focus on sex, only continues the narrative that a man in the church has been raised to believe is the expected, natural order of his existence without acknowledging its roots. The culture that the church chooses to perpetuate tells a more complicated story specifically dealing with race.

As the Washington Post reported, Long's church is part of a group in the Southern Baptist Convention called Founders Ministries that has pushed the convention in a more conservative direction in recent years. The group has described the labeling of "white fragility" as "racism" and called critical race theory "godless and materialistic ideologies."

And while there's no evidence currently online about the church's teachings about sexuality — following the killings, Crabapple First Baptist deleted their social media accounts, including photographs and videos of past sermons — Long's own dehumanizing language about his victims tells us enough.

Armie Hammer accused of rape and 'other acts of violence'

Actor Armie Hammer has been accused of rape by a woman identified as Effie. The woman, who held a press conference on Thursday with her attorney Gloria Allred, said that the alleged sexual assault took place in 2017, during which the actor "violently raped [her] for over four hours in Los Angeles," and that she thought Hammer was going to kill her.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

As IndieWire reported, Effie indicated that she had met Hammer in 2016 when she was 20, and the two engaged in an on-again, off-again relationship with him until 2020.

"On April 24, 2017, Armie Hammer violently raped me for over four hours in Los Angeles," Effie said during the press conference, "during which he repeatedly slapped my head against a wall, bruising my face. He also committed other acts of violence against me to which I did not consent."

"I thought that he was going to kill me," she said, adding that he then left "with no concern for my well-being . . . I have come to understand that the immense mental hold he had over me was very damaging on many levels."

Allred said, "We look forward to learning if Mr. Hammer, rather than his representatives, will be willing to assist investigators in their search for the truth."

In January, a social media account called House of Effie posted screengrabs of sexual text messages allegedly sent by Hammer between 2016 and 2020. Some of the fantasies described in the screenshots are graphic, including one in which Hammer said he wanted to "bite pieces off of" the recipient. In another, he said, "I am 100% a cannibal. I want to eat you. F**k. That's scary to admit. I've never admitted that before."

Allred did not comment on whether her client was behind the social media page.

The salacious headlines about Hammer being a cannibal wrote themselves, and eventually the actor dropped out of two projects — "The Offer," a Paramount+ series about the making of "The Godfather," and "Shotgun Wedding," a comedy with Jennifer Lopez. Hammer was then dropped by WME, his agency.

Hammer issued a statement at the time: "I'm not responding to these bulls**t claims but in light of the vicious and spurious online attacks against me, I cannot in good conscience now leave my children for four months to shoot a film in the Dominican Republic. Lionsgate is supporting me in this and I'm grateful to them for that."

On Thursday, his attorney, Andrew B. Brettler of Lavely & Singer, issued an additional statement to Variety.

[Effie's] own correspondence with Mr. Hammer undermines and refutes her outrageous allegations. As recently as July 18, 2020, [Effie] sent graphic texts to Mr. Hammer telling him what she wanted him to do to her. Mr. Hammer responded, making it clear that he did not want to maintain that type of relationship with her.
It was never Mr. Hammer's intention to embarrass or expose [Effie's] fetishes or kinky sexual desires, but she has now escalated this matter to another level by hiring a civil lawyer to host a public press conference. With the truth on his side, Mr. Hammer welcomes the opportunity to set the record straight.

Brettler added that all of Hammer's interactions with his sexual partners have been "completely consensual, discussed and agreed upon in advance, and mutually participatory. . . . [Effie's] attention seeking and ill-advised legal bid will only make it more difficult for real victims of sexual violence to get the justice they deserve."

Variety reported that Hammer is being investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department. "We can confirm that Armie Hammer is the main suspect in an alleged sexual assault investigation that was initiated Feb. 3 of this year," a spokesperson for the LAPD told the publication.

Effie hopes that Hammer will finally be held accountable for his actions.

"I feel immense guilt for not speaking out sooner, because I feel that I might have been able to save others from becoming victims," she said. "By speaking out today, I hope to prevent others from falling victim to him in the future. I want other survivors of sexual assault around the world to feel empowered and know that they are heard, believed, understood, supported, and loved."

Evangelicals lost a major female leader over Trump supporter hypocrisy – will other women follow?

Beth Moore has been viewed for decades, as the "Evangelical Julia Roberts meets Oprah," according to Anne Helen Peterson's recent "Culture Study" newsletter. Moore has published over 20 Bible studies, and her Living Proof conferences drew thousands of women who would pack into stadiums to hear her speak about topics like insecurity, forgiveness and godliness. A 2008 simulcast of her speaking called "Living Proof Live" is estimated to have been watched by over 70,000 people at 715 locations.

As a Southern Baptist, Moore established herself as a singular voice in a denomination that is dominated by male thought leaders, and offered a generation of evangelical women an opportunity to see themselves in her and through her work. Now, however, Moore has announced she's breaking from the Southern Baptist Convention largely because as a sexual assault survivor, she couldn't reconcile with evangelicals' overwhelming, hypocritical support of Donald Trump. This raises the question of whether her followers, and other women, will follow suit.

"I am still a Baptist, but I can no longer identify with Southern Baptists," Moore told Religion News Service Tuesday. "I love so many Southern Baptist people, so many Southern Baptist churches, but I don't identify with some of the things in our heritage that haven't remained in the past."

LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing division of the Southern Baptist Convention which has published her books in the past, also confirmed the break with Moore.

The rift between Moore and the Southern Baptist Convention began in 2016, days after the Access Hollywood tape, in which former president Donald Trump bragged about grabbing women's genitals without their consent.

Moore tweeted at the time, "I'm one among many women sexually abused, misused, stared down, heckled, talked naughty to. Like we liked it. We didn't. We're tired of it."

She followed up by encouraging Christians to "wake up" to the environments of entitlement that women have had to navigate. "Are we sickened?" she tweeted. "Yes. Surprised? NO."

As she told Religion News Service, she was disheartened that Trump ascended to become "the banner, the poster child for the great white hope of evangelicalism, the salvation of the church in America." She also expressed shock that he was so embraced by the denomination — one that has long contributed to and been guided by "purity culture" — despite Trump's cavalier attitudes towards sexual assault.

However, if you've paid attention to news surrounding evangelical leaders over the last several years, it's not surprising. In 2020, former Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. tumbled into one scandal after another, before finally, officially plummeting from grace.

It began in 2019 when, as Politico reported, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen helped "clean up racy 'personal' photographs" of Falwell's wife, Becki, including one of her in a French maid costume, which Falwell had allegedly sent to a number of employees at his evangelical university.

Then there were the photos of Falwell that surfaced last August, showing him with his pants partially unzipped and his arm around a woman whom he later claimed was his wife's assistant. Two weeks later, he claimed that his wife had engaged in a "fatal attraction type" affair with Giancarlo Granda, a former pool attendant-turned-Miami businessman. Granda then released a statement of his own claiming that Falwell both knew of and observed his sexual relationship with Becki "from the corner of the room." Later, he posted a statement on Twitter describing Falwell as a "predator," who had sent Granda an image of a female Liberty University student exposing herself at their farm.

The hypocrisy felt overwhelming, as students at Falwell's university are all required to adhere to a strict code of conduct called "The Liberty Way," which forbids premarital sex, same-sex relationships, alcohol and "obscene language," while also requiring that students "dress modestly at all times."

It's worth noting that Falwell was an adamant supporter of Trump, and that he wasn't the only alleged predator. Since 1998, about 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, as the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reported in 2019. They also found that in the past 20 years, more than 700 victims have been abused, with some urged to have abortions and "forgive their abusers."

Their investigation came after, as I reported in 2018, there was a call to put together a register of "Southern Baptist clergy and staff who have been credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse."

Instances of sexual assault and harassment are both enmeshed in the denomination's fabric and rarely brought to light. Those who perpetuate the abuse rarely see consequences when it comes to their standing in the Convention.

Take, for example, a 2018 case when the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson — a key figure in the denomination's resurgence over the past decade — was fired when the board of trustees found that he had "lied about his treatment of an alleged rape victim in 2003, and that in 2015 he tried to meet, with no other officials present, with another woman who had reported a sexual assault so he could 'break her down,'" according to the Washington Post.

Additionally, Tennessee megachurch pastor Andy Savage stepped down that year from his position after confessing to having had sexual contact 20 years ago with Jules Woodson, who was at the time a high school student in the group he led as youth pastor. While Savage describes his actions as a "sexual incident," Woodson wrote that Savage drove her to a deserted back road, sexually assaulted her, then asked for forgiveness and pleaded with her "not to tell anyone what had just happened."

Some congregants hoped these headline-grabbing incidents would cause change, and leaders spoke about said change broadly.

"The #MeToo moment has come to American evangelicals," wrote Albert Mohler, president of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on Facebook in 2018. "And I am called to deal with it as a Christian, as a minister of the Gospel, as a seminary and college president, and as a public leader."

However, Southern Baptist support for Trump didn't waver through his presidency, nor his attempt at re-election, and there's a possibility that as key female figures like Beth Moore exit the denomination, other women may go with them — especially those who have been victimized by men in church leadership.

There's a growing precedent for women looking to leave the denomination. As Sarah Stankorb wrote in her piece "These Evangelical Women Are Abandoning Trump and Their Churches," women all over the country were having crises of faith because male leadership supported "the thrice-married, profane, biblically illiterate, sexually predacious candidate [who] mirrored no beatitudes," all while demanding their sexual purity.

Purity culture wasn't really about the sanctity of the family, but the subjugation of women, Rev. Carol Howard Merritt, minister and author of the 2018 book Healing Spiritual Wounds, told Stankorb. Women who had been taught not to even "front hug" male friends for fear of stirring their sinful sexual impulses watched as Donald Trump became entangled with evangelical culture. "He could go around talking about grabbing women by their pussies, but women were shamed for any sort of sexual act before marriage," Howard Merritt says. "The hypocrisy of it just became massive."

And that hypocrisy and sexism, combined with female leaders like Moore leaving the denomination, could cause an exodus of emboldened, like-minded women.

Kate Bowler, a historian at Duke Divinity School who has studied evangelical women celebrities, said Moore's departure is a significant loss for the Southern Baptist Convention. Bowler told the Religion News Service that Moore is one of the denomination's few stand-alone women leaders, whose platform was based on her own "charisma, leadership and incredible work ethic" and not her marriage to a famed male pastor.

"Ms. Moore is a deeply trusted voice across the liberal-conservative divide, and has always been able to communicate a deep faithfulness to her tradition without having to follow the Southern Baptist's scramble to make Trump spiritually respectable," Bowler said. "The Southern Baptists have lost a powerful champion in a time in which their public witness has already been significantly weakened."

The 8 biggest bombshells from Oprah's Meghan and Harry interview -- from racist royals to tabloid bias

In CBS' highly anticipated special on Sunday night, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, spoke to Oprah Winfrey, opening up about their decision to leave the British royal family and the fractured relationships they left in their wake.

It was an explosive interview — enough so that it cost CBS a license fee of between $7 million and $9 million to air, per The Wall Street Journal — in which Harry described how meeting Meghan made him realize that he was trapped within the system of the royal family. This was only exacerbated by concerns over Meghan's mental health, the blatant racism to which she and their son, Archie, were subject, and ruthless tabloid scrutiny.

The couple realized together they wanted something different, and have since relocated to California, where they are focusing on a number of media projects, including a documentary co-produced by Winfrey about mental wellness and illness, and bringing attention to systemic racism.

"I'm just really relieved and happy to be sitting here with my wife by my side," Harry said. "Because I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like for [Diana] going through this process by herself all those years ago. Because it has been unbelievably tough for the two of us, but at least we have each other."

Here are the biggest takeaways from the interview:

Meghan had "very clear and real" thoughts of suicide during her pregnancy with Archie and was denied help

Perhaps the biggest revelation during the couple's interview with Oprah was that Meghan said life as a royal threatened her mental health and left her feeling deeply isolated; this culminated while she was pregnant with her son, Archie, in 2019. She described persistent suicidal thoughts.

"I was ashamed to have to admit it to Harry," Meghan said. "I knew that if I didn't say it, I would do it. I just didn't want to be alive anymore."

Meghan said she asked a senior royal (among them, Prince William, Duchess Kate, Prince Charles, Duchess Camilla, Prince Edward, Countess Sophie, Princess Anne and Queen Elizabeth) about seeking inpatient care, but was rebuffed because "it wouldn't be good for the institution."

At that point, Meghan said, she was left without options. She had surrendered her passport and driver's license upon joining the family. "I couldn't, you know, call an Uber to the palace," she said.

Harry has also spoken about his own struggles with mental health. In a 2017 interview with The Telegraph, he said that he came "very close to total breakdown on numerous occasions, when all sorts of grief and lies and misconceptions are coming to you from every angle," and that this led to years of panic attacks.

As a result, he said he knew he and Meghan needed to get out for both the health of his family, and indicated that he thought of his mother, the late Princess Diana, during the process.

"My biggest concern was history repeating itself," he added. "And what I was seeing was history repeating itself, but far more dangerous[ly] because you add race in, you add social media in."

At least one royal family member expressed "concerns" over "how dark [their son Archie's] skin might be" when Meghan was pregnant with him

While Meghan was pregnant with their son Archie, she said, there were "concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born," since Meghan is biracial. There has been much speculation over who would have instigated or participated in those conversations, but in a Monday interview with CBS This Morning, Winfrey said she ruled out two people during an unaired conversation with Harry.

"He did not share the identity with me, but he wanted to make sure I knew — and if I had an opportunity to share it — that it was not his grandmother nor grandfather [Queen Elizabeth or Prince Philip] that were part of those conversations," she said.

Additionally, Meghan said she and Harry actually did want a prince title for Archie so he could have access to security, but the royal family did not follow the usual conventions and denied the title.

The depth of the U.K. tabloids' power and bias revealed

"There is this invisible contract behind closed doors, behind the institution and U.K. tabloids," Harry told Oprah. He then indicated that certain members of the British royal family would wine and dine certain reporters to get better press.

"There is a level of control by fear that has existed for generations," he said.

Meghan said that certain tabloids would have holiday parties at the palace.

"There is a construct that's at play there and because of the beginning of our relationship, they were so attacking and inciting so much racism, really, it changed the risk level because it wasn't just catty gossip," she said. "It was bringing out a part of people that was racist in how it was charged – and that changed the threat, that changed the level of death threats, that changed everything."

The couple did not spend much time refuting specific tabloid stories, though they used one as an illustration of how the press would turn stories around on Meghan. Oprah had asked about reports that Meghan had made Kate, Prince William's wife, cry during an argument about dresses for the flower girls.

According to Meghan, the opposite was true; Kate had actually made her cry, but the palace wouldn't allow anyone to speak publicly to set the record straight. However, Meghan said, Kate later apologized and sent flowers.

Filmmaker Tyler Perry played a role in the couple's move to the United States

Right before the novel coronavirus was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization in March, a British tabloid published the exact location where Harry and Meghan were living outside of Vancouver. The couple, who were in the middle of "stepping back" from their roles as senior royals, were without a royal security detail and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who had been aiding in their protection, had announced they were going to scale back the assistance they were offering.

"Suddenly it dawned on me, 'Hang on, the borders could be closed,'" Harry told Oprah. "The world knows where we are. It's not safe, it's not secure. We probably need to get out of here."

That's when help came from an unexpected source: actor, director and producer Tyler Perry.

For three months Meghan, Harry and Archie stayed at one of Perry's houses in Southern California with a full security detail. According to Markle, the couple didn't "have a plan," but Perry's kindness "gave us breathing room to try to figure out what we were going to do."

They didn't elaborate on the story any further, but some have speculated on social media that Perry may have opted to help the couple since they were, in part, fleeing the racist harassment of the British tabloids and a royal family that wouldn't stand up for them.

"They were willing to lie to protect other members of the family," Meghan told Oprah, without specifying to whom she was referring. "But they weren't willing to tell the truth to protect me and my husband."

Prince Charles has stopped taking Harry's calls

British tabloids had run multiple stories alleging that Harry had "blindsided" his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, with his and Meghan's decision to step away from their roles as senior members of the royal family. Harry denied this in his conversation with Oprah, saying that he had too much respect for her.

"I had three conversations with my grandmother, and two conversations with my father before he stopped taking my calls," Harry said. "And then he said, 'Can you put this all in writing?'"

Harry believes his father won't speak to him anymore because he had taken his life into his own hands and was acting outside royal tradition.

"This is not a surprise to anybody," he said. "It's really sad that it's got to this point, but I've got to do something for my own mental health, my wife's and for Archie's as well."

He continued: "I feel really let down. Because [my father's] been through something similar, he knows what pain feels like, and Archie's his grandson."

Meghan and Harry had a secret backyard wedding before the televised Royal Wedding

According to Meghan, when she walked down the aisle during her and Harry's internationally aired royal wedding on May 19, 2018, the couple had already been married for days.

"Three days before our wedding, we got married," Meghan said. "We called the archbishop and we said, look, 'This thing, this spectacle is for the world, but we want our union between us."

Harry punctuated the revelation by singing the phrase, "Just the three of us" to the tune of "Just the Two of Us." According to Meghan, the vows they have framed in their bedroom are from that private ceremony.

The couple is expecting a girl

In one of the lighter moments of the interview, Meghan and Harry revealed that they were expecting a baby girl sometime this summer and that this would likely be their last child.

"To have any one or any two, but to have a boy and then a girl — what more could you ask for?" Harry told Oprah. "But now we've got our family. We've got the four of us, we've got our two dogs. Done."

Meghan and Harry had originally announced their second pregnancy on Feb. 14. "We can confirm that Archie is going to be a big brother," the couple said in a statement. "The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are overjoyed to be expecting their second child."

They're living off the inheritance left to him by Princess Diana

Harry told Oprah that he and Meghan were financially "cut off" from the royal family early last year, and have since relied on the inheritance left to him by his mother.

As The Telegraph reported, Prince William and Harry were both left around $8 million by their mother, which was invested and accrued interest. On his 30th birthday, Harry ultimately inherited $30 million.

"I've got what my mum left me, and without that, we would not have been able to do this," Harry said.

Harry said that he thinks his mother may have anticipated this turn of events."I think she saw it coming," he said. "I certainly felt her presence throughout this whole process."

Sacha Baron Cohen trolls Rudy Giuliani yet again -- culminating a year of cinematic resistance

It was a big week for actor Sacha Baron Cohen, who received Golden Globe and SAG Award nods for both his role as Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev in Amazon's "Borat" sequel and his turn as Abbie Hoffman, the activist and comedian whom Cohen played in Netflix's "The Trial of the Chicago 7." Both movies also earned additional nominations in their category and for other cast members, with a total of 11 nods all together.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Naturally, the funnyman used this moment in the sun to troll Rudy Giuliani, America's Mayor and unexpected scene-stealer of "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm."

"I'm so honored — and in the event that we don't win, I promise to hire Rudy Giuliani to contest the results," he said in a statement released in response to the Globe nominations.

Baron Cohen also acknowledged the actual breakout star of the "Borat" sequel (sorry, Rudy), in addition to the man behind "Chicago 7."

"These nominations are a tribute to the talented creative teams that led and supported both films from inception to this moment. I especially want to congratulate the visionary of 'Chicago 7,' Aaron Sorkin, and 'Borat's' Tutar, the incredible Maria Bakalova," he continued. "These two films are different, but they share a common theme — sometimes we have to protest injustice with our own farce."

That last line is revealing in how Baron Cohen's career has culminated in a confluence of cinematic resistance. On a surface level, the roles he played seem extremely different: a prankster who has no qualms about sprinting out of a luxury hotel in hot pink lingerie, and the real-life protester and founder of the Youth International Party. And while the films show Baron Cohen's range as both a comedian and a dramatic actor, they are unified by the use of humor as a way to actively subvert and challenge corruption.

As such, it shouldn't be a surprise that both movies released during 2020 and that Baron Cohen is now receiving his due. During a year marked, amid a global pandemic, by political chicanery and wild conspiracy theories that ultimately resulted in an attempted insurrection on the United States Capitol, he made the case for using or embodying absurdism to attack what's laughably reprehensible about our society.

That concept is partially what inspired the actor to pull his iconic gray suit out of the closet and resurrect the character of Borat in 2020's "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm," in which his caricatured Kazakh reporter travels American with his teenage daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) on a bizarre mission. As Baron Cohen told the New York Times in October, he saw a huge change in American society from the first time he went to shoot "Borat" 15 years ago to the time he made the sequel.

"In 2005, you needed a character like Borat who was misogynist, racist, anti-Semitic to get people to reveal their inner prejudices," he said. "Now those inner prejudices are overt. Racists are proud of being racists.'' When the president is "an overt racist, an overt fascist,'' he added, "it allows the rest of society to change their dialogue, too.

"My aim here was not to expose racism and anti-Semitism," he said of the sequel. "The aim is to make people laugh, but we reveal the dangerous slide to authoritarianism."

Over the course of the sequel's 90 minutes, Baron Cohen's Borat sneaks into CPAC dressed as Trump, hunkers down with some QAnon conspiracy theorists and brings us the now-infamous "shirt tuck" incident.

In a scene near the end of the film, Bakalova as Tutar goes undercover as a far-right journalist who scores an interview with Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani, to supposedly discuss the administration's COVID-19 response. However, things devolve as Tutar flirts heavily with Guiliani, touching his knee several times.

Eventually, Tutar invites Giuliani into the hotel bedroom, in which hidden cameras catch Giuliani asking for her number, patting her backside and then lying back on the bed and putting his hand down his pants. Borat bursts into the room at that point to interrupt.

As Salon reported in October, Giuliani has maintained through several interviews that the scene was "doctored" footage.

"The Borat video is a complete fabrication. I was tucking in my shirt after taking off the recording equipment," Giuliani wrote in a tweet on Oct. 21. "At no time before, during, or after the interview was I ever inappropriate. If Sacha Baron Cohen implies otherwise he is a stone-cold liar."

Baron Cohen responded, "If he sees that as appropriate, then heaven knows what he's intended to do with other women in hotel rooms with a glass of whiskey in his hand." As Salon's Roger Sollenberger reported, Giulliani had classified the scene as a political "hit job" "in retaliation for his recent smears on Democratic nominee Joe Biden's son, Hunter."

Although not quite as salacious, Baron Cohen's role in "The Trial of the Chicago 7" fulfilled a similar function thanks to Abbie Hoffman's real-life beliefs and actions. In an interview for the January cover story of "Variety," he discussed how he was always drawn to Hoffman because he understood the power of humor to attract supporters to the peace movement.

"He knew that by becoming a standup he would have a greater impact on the crowd, and his aim was to influence people, to get people to take immense risks to fight the war in Vietnam," says Baron Cohen. "He used humor to inspire followers, and he realized that absurdity was a way to undermine institutions that he thought were corrupt."

As Baron Cohen continues to inspire with his outrageous and outspoken ways, one can't help hope that he takes home at least one award for "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm," if only to hear Giuliani's name in the acceptance speech. Now that would be a great justice.

Here is a full list of Golden Globe nominations, and a full list of nominees for the Screen Actor Guild Awards.

Steven Mnuchin's wife Louise Linton plays a cannibalistic killer in trailer for her weird new film

The trailer for Louise Linton's new movie "Me You Madness" dropped on Thursday, and well, it's a lot.

I'm here to offer a description of a film that, while real, feels more like an insane game of GOP-adjacent "Mad Libs." "Me You Madness" stars Linton, the wife of former Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, as a sociopathic bisexual woman who, per IMDB, "hunts down and kills men with crossbows, martini glasses, and kitchen knives in order to eat them."

Catherine Black (Linton) is a 1980s Malibu hedge fund manager who is addicted to fashion, money and sex. "You may think that I'm a materialistic, narcissistic, self-absorbed misanthrope," Black muses in a voiceover in the trailer below. "I don't deny it."

Her life is an endless parade of stacks of cash, spin classes and metallic boots — that is until Tyler, played by infamous "Gossip Girl" star Ed Westwick, answers her ad for a roommate. Tyler, a petty criminal, thinks he's struck gold when he rolls up to her beachside mansion; Catherine thinks she's found her next meal. It's a love story for the modern ages (made all the weirder by the recent allegations that actor Armie Hammer allegedly identifies as "100% a cannibal").

Linton is not primarily known as an actress, though she's had several small roles in low-budget horror movies and on shows like "CSI: NY"; she did, however, write, direct and finance "Me You Madness" through her production company Stormchaser Films.

Rather, she rose to a certain level of infamy in 2017 when she Instagrammed a photo of herself and Mnuchin disembarking a military jet following a trip to Fort Knox. She added hashtags that nodded to her designer apparel #rolandmouret, #hermesscarf, #tomford and #valentino. A woman responded with the comment, "Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable," which incensed Linton.

"Aw!!! Did you think this was a personal trip?! Adorable!" Linton responded. "Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol. Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country?"

Me You Madness - OFFICIAL TRAILERwww.youtube.com

Three months later, Linton accompanied her husband to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington. Someone took a photo of her holding up a sheet of freshly printed dollar bills while wearing elbow-length black leather gloves. The image went viral — as did the frequent comparisons to Cruella de Vil — and cemented her status as a real-life cartoon villain.

With that in mind, perhaps Linton's lines in the trailer that detail her obsession with "the accumulation of money" are a self-aware nod to the public's perception of her? Perhaps. In interviews, Linton has expressed that the movie is an attempt to subvert the femme fatale steretotype, with a little "American Psycho" thrown in for good measure.

But according to the New York Times, the weirdest parts of the camp-fest aren't revealed in the trailer.

"In one sequence that plays like an MTV video, Catherine caresses frozen, severed male body parts while dancing to 'Let's Hear It for the Boy' in stiletto-heeled boots." writes Brooke Barnes. "There is a drug-fueled poolside orgy. Please, pretty please, stay around for the madly spinning nunchaku, thong leotard and choreographed 'tomayto-tomahto' conga."

"Me You Madness" debuts on demand on Friday, Feb. 12.

Behind Donald Trump's childish Diet Coke button

President Joe Biden had a busy first day in office. He halted construction on the border wall and re-established DACA protections. He rejoined the Paris Climate Accord and recommitted the United States to the World Health Organization. And, according to broadcast journalist Tom Newton Dunn, Biden removed Donald Trump's "Diet Coke button," which the former president used to request cold sodas on-demand.

This article first appeared in Salon.

"When @ShippersUnbound [Tim Shipman] and I interviewed Donald Trump in 2019, we became fascinated by what the little red button did," Dunn tweeted. "Eventually Trump pressed it, and a butler swiftly brought in a Diet Coke on a silver platter. It's gone now."

Throughout Trump's presidency, his obsessive love of the beverage was well-documented. In 2017, the Washington Post published that he reportedly drank a dozen cans of Diet Coke per day and, while the majority of Americans are just finding out about the Diet Coke button, that same year, Demetri Sevastopulo wrote for The Financial Times about how he noticed the red button on Trump's desk. He jokingly asked if it was the nuclear button, to which Trump replied, "No, no, everyone thinks it is. Everyone does get a little nervous when I press that button."

According to the Associated Press, the button has been a fixture "on the Resolute Desk that presidents have used for decades," though not for summoning diet soda. The fact that Trump appropriated for it for such use is, frankly, unsurprising. Its existence is a reminder for some of the most laughable parts of Trump's personality (and its removal seems to have been an almost a necessary exorcism).

While assigning goodness or inherent value to a food item can turn into an uncomfortable pseudo-classist exercise (like when the New York Times hosted a quiz where readers could guess whether refrigerators belonged to Biden voters or Trump voters based on their contents), there's a certain "Home Alone 2: Escape to New York" childishness inherent to slapping a button 12 times a day as a way to demand a Diet Coke on a silver platter.

It's a warped idea of what fanciness or indulgence denotes, which is both a perfect encapsulation of Trump's public persona and, in part, what led to Diet Coke's heyday in the '90s.

Consider the often-memed image of Trump and Melania standing, wax figure-like, in their $100 million New York penthouse. It's gaudy and gold-covered with columns, chandeliers and frescos reminiscent of a Cheesecake Factory dining room. That photograph is the visual definition of the adage, "You can't buy taste."

Trump's tastelessness was a glaring, omnipresent facet of his presidency. A photograph that feels strikingly similar was taken in 2019, when Trump invited the Clemson Tigers, that year's national college football champions, for a White House dinner, only to serve them a buffet of Filet-O-Fish sandwiches and slices of Domino's pizza, a choice that many criticized as racist and classist. He stands beneath a portrait of Abraham Lincoln with his arms outstretched over a mahogany table, stacked high with cardboard burger boxes and flimsy plastic packets of fast food sauces that were balanced inside pewter gravy boats.

"We went out and we ordered American fast food, paid for by me," he told reporters that night. "Lots of hamburgers, lots of pizza. Three hundred hamburgers. Many, many French fries."

It may seem odd that a well-documented fast food devotee (and former McDonald's and Pizza Hut spokesperson) like Trump would opt for Diet Coke instead of the real thing, but it's important to consider what the beverage likely meant to him.

In his essay "The Decline and Fall of Diet Coke and the Power Generation That Loved It," Nathan Heller asserts that while the Coca-Cola company tried to endear the beverage to "hip, scrappy youths, it became, enduringly, the beverage of the power generation that emerged across the Clinton years and cheered tie-less, outside-the-box, rule-bending thought in business and in life."

"During the late eighties and nineties, Diet Coke seemed less fussy, less patrician, less 'Frasier' than second-wave coffee," Heller wrote."It helped define a novel archetype of masculinity — the bootstraps kid who'd made it big, who was cool and modern, in a suit."

This is, despite the fact, that diet soda was traditionally marketed to women as a way to control weight. Emily Contois, the author of "Diners, Dudes and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture," wrote that while Coca-Cola went after male and female customers with Diet Coke, unlike their previous diet product Tab, they were largely unsuccessful.

"Men (and broader culture) seemed to deem the beverage derisively feminine in later decades," Contois wrote. "For example, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution an unidentified Coca-Cola executive declared that diet is a 'four-letter word' for men, or at least those aged 16–24."

When I emailed Contois to inquire as to why she thought President Trump, a leader who was deeply preoccupied with a limited and pugilistic view of masculinity, would drink Diet Coke, her answer was succinct.

"Trump seemed to believe that rules, of any sort, don't apply to him," she wrote via email. "That guided his food and beverage choices — from a dozen Diet Cokes a day to well-done steak with ketchup to copious fast food — and much of his presidency."

While it's impossible to know what exactly Diet Coke meant to Trump (though we know it was something he would request during tense conversations, like when he cried out for one while discussing purchasing the rights to a story about an alleged affair he had with ex-Playboy model Karen Mcdougall), the bizarre optics surrounding the revelation of the Diet Coke button is a fitting epilogue to his presidency. It's a reminder of a man who could have just used an office mini-fridge to satiate his cravings, but obviously liked the feeling of being able to summon a servant with a cold drink at the push of a button. While so many of his stump speeches were bolstered by ramblings about being a man of the people, his actions consistently contradicted that — even down to how he took his dozen daily sodas.

But the Trump era has concluded, and the Oval Office already looks different. Where a bust of Fred Trump used to preside over the office, there is now a statue of labor organizer Cesar Chavez; Trump's beige rug has been swapped out for a royal blue replacement, and a portrait of Andrew Jackson was taken down in favor of a painting of Benjamin Franklin. No word yet on whether the Resolute Desk button will be replaced — and if so, what pushing it will summon.

Zodiac's cipher codebreaker speaks out

Sam Blake, an Australian mathematician, first learned of the Zodiac Killer's unsolved ciphers — a series of encrypted messages — from a documentary in the 1990s. His interest marginally increased in 2007 after the release of David Fincher's "Zodiac," but it wasn't until last year that it completely was cemented while watching code-breaking expert David Oranchak's "Let's Crack Zodiac" YouTube series.

This article first appeared on Salon.

The series was dedicated to solving the codes the Northern California serial killer sent in letters to newspapers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the ciphers, called the 408 cipher, was solved in 1969 by a schoolteacher and his wife, but it did not reveal the killer's identity; the additional three puzzles remained unsolved for over 51 years, despite advances in computer technology.

"[Oranchack] put together some really good videos where he did a deep dive into the analysis of the 408 cipher, then he did a couple of talks at the American Cryptogram Association on the unsolved 340 cipher," Blake said. "I really liked his approach, it was very analytical. And when I saw his presentation, I thought there were probably a couple of things I could suggest, to see if he'd tried before."

Blake's suggestions snowballed into him and Oranchak formally working together, along with Belgian programmer Jarl Van Eycke, to solve the cipher, which is organized as a grid of 63 unique, mysterious symbols.

Two weeks ago, they succeeded after spending a year using Van Eycke's code-breaking computer program and more than 650,000 variations written by Blake. The cipher roughly translates to say:

"I HOPE YOU ARE HAVING LOTS OF FUN IN TRYING TO CATCH ME
THAT WASN'T ME ON THE TV SHOW
WHICH BRINGS UP A POINT ABOUT ME
I AM NOT AFRAID OF THE GAS CHAMBER
BECAUSE IT WILL SEND ME TO PARADICE ALL THE SOONER
BECAUSE I NOW HAVE ENOUGH SLAVES TO WORK FOR ME
WHERE EVERYONE ELSE HAS NOTHING WHEN THEY REACH PARADICE
SO THEY ARE AFRAID OF DEATH
I AM NOT AFRAID BECAUSE I KNOW THAT MY NEW LIFE IS
LIFE WILL BE AN EASY ONE IN PARADICE DEATH"

On Dec. 11, the FBI verified the cipher had been solved by "private citizens."

"The Zodiac Killer case remains an ongoing investigation for the FBI San Francisco division and our local law enforcement partners," the organization said in a statement. "The Zodiac Killer terrorized multiple communities across Northern California and even though decades went by, we continue to seek justice for the victims of these brutal crimes."

According to Blake, the 340 cipher was much more complex than the 408 cipher because of its organization. It not only required decoders to work out the key for the letters, but the direction that the letters ran as well.

"I've been asked before if I thought the Zodiac understood how much more difficult he made it by doing this and I doubt he did, because otherwise he wouldn't have put such contemporary material in the contents of the cipher," Blake said. "Like 'that wasn't me on the TV show,' that's something you would have probably wanted to come out sooner than 51 years about he wrote it in there."

There are a lot of theories about who the Zodiac is or was, and numerous online groups and subreddits dedicated to investigating and picking them apart. Blake believes that the enduring interest in the case is that he was very much "his own self-publicist."

"He didn't just send ciphers into newspapers," Blake said. "He sent multiple, multiple letters, communications, cards and drawings. Threats to blow up busses and all sorts of things. He really kept himself in the public eye doing that."

The mysterious nature of those ciphers, as well as the fact that the crimes remain unsolved, cemented the Zodiac Killer as a kind of dark pop culture symbol that has endured through the true crime boom. "Dirty Harry," which stars Clint Eastwood, is very loosely based on the Zodiac case and features a killer (Andrew Robinson) who calls himself "Scorpio." Fictional killers who send messages like the Zodiac ciphers have appeared in everything from "Criminal Minds" to the anime series "Death Note."

Just last year, FX aired "The Most Dangerous Animal of All," a four-part documentary series that explored Gary L. Stewart's search for his biological father, Earl Van Best Jr., only to uncover evidence that perhaps suggests his father was the Zodiac Killer.

Blake wouldn't classify himself as a huge fan of true crime, but he is interested in documentaries that detail the strides in science that are enabling investigators to catch series killers.

"For example, I really enjoyed watching different presentations given by Paul Holes about how they used familial DNA and genealogy to catch the Golden State Killer," Blake said. "I believe many cases have been solved using that technology which is amazing. My interest in them is more the methods of catching them than the actual underlying perpetrators."

There are still two Zodiac Killer ciphers that remain unsolved, called the Z13 and Z32 ciphers. The Z13, in particular, has fascinated researchers for over 50 years because it is immediately preceded by the phrase, "My name is . . ."

Blake said that he and his team are interested in turning their attention to those, and he's currently going to see if the university where he works would be willing to finance their research.

"At the moment, it's been sort of a side project," Blake said. "But now that we've had this success and it's looking like we're heading in the right direction in terms of solving these, I'd like to certainly devote more time to it."

Bless Joe Biden for bringing pets back to the White House

Over the weekend, President-elect Joe Biden fractured his foot while playing with Major, his German shepherd. After the news broke, it was momentarily unclear what the collective response would be.

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The biggest laugh of 2020 was the way the Trump administration travesty died with a whimper

This story is part of a series on good things that happened in 2020. Read them all here.

I woke up just in time to see Donald Trump's tweet that started it all: "Lawyers News Conference Four Seasons, Philadelphia. 11:00 a.m."

It was four days after the election — a Sunday — and I'd crashed out the night before after endlessly refreshing the AP Politics Twitter feed and analyzing the cursed New York Times election needle for what felt like 90 hours straight. But for the first time in years, I woke up with a glimmer of political hope for our nation as it looked like Trump's window to victory was closing.

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