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Police crackdown in Minnesota this week — but how different it was on Jan. 6 at the Capitol

America's police and other law enforcement agents all too frequently use lethal violence. But in fact they are capable of great restraint and self-control when they decide to employ it. The decision to use force against a given person or group is all too often a function of skin color and politics.

This article first appeared in Salon.

On Jan. 6, a mob of Donald Trump's followers, nearly all of them white, attacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to nullify the results of the 2020 presidential election. This coup attack was incited not just by Trump himself but by a neofascist movement that includes the Republican Party, white evangelical churches and the conservative "news" media.

Five people would die because of the attack on the Capitol building. At least 140 Capitol Police and other law enforcement officers were injured that day, some of them seriously. Trump's mob was armed with a variety of weapons including guns, sharpened poles, baseball bats, stun guns, pepper spray and bear mace. Other weapons, including homemade bombs and an assault rifle, were later discovered in a pickup truck parked nearby.

Some of Trump's followers carried white supremacist flags and wore neo-Nazi and other right-wing terrorist regalia. The attackers also included Christian fascists who carried a cross and shouted Biblical verses as they participated in the insurrection.

After several hours of battle, Trump's mob successfully breached the Capitol building's outer layer of defenses. Once inside, they tried to find Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other high-ranking officials whom they deemed to be "traitors." We cannot know for sure what would have happened had they captured any such people, but a gallows had been constructed in the park across from the Capitol building.

This was all part of a plan — somewhat incoherent, but determined to stop the certification of Joe Biden as the duly elected president of the United States. Trump's mob also chased Black and brown Capitol Police officers through the building while screaming racist slurs and other hateful invective.

Instead of raining down hellfire on Trump's insurrectionists, America's trillion-dollar military machine and national security forces were ordered to stand down or otherwise delayed in their reaction to the crisis. The Capitol Police were also oddly subdued and neutered in their response to this attack on the literal heart of American democracy.

Later investigations have suggested that at least some Capitol Police assisted Trump's attackers in gaining access to the building or otherwise demonstrated sympathy with their treasonous cause.

It cannot be reasonably disputed that If the attackers had been Muslims, Black or brown people, members of antifa, Black Lives Matter activists or any other variety of "leftists," such an assault would never have been allowed to take place. Law enforcement would most likely have arrested the leaders during the planning stages. If the attack on the Capitol had somehow still taken place, lethal force would have been used by the Capitol Police and other law enforcement agents without hesitation. In all, the result would have been a massacre.

A new report from the Capitol Police Department's inspector general on the events of Jan. 6 offers additional insight into how and why their officers were so relatively tame in their response to Trump's attack force. As the New York Times reports:

The Capitol Police had clearer advance warnings about the Jan. 6 attack than were previously known, including the potential for violence in which "Congress itself is the target." But officers were instructed by their leaders not to use their most aggressive tactics to hold off the mob, according to a scathing new report by the agency's internal investigator. ...
Mr. Bolton [the inspector general] found that the agency's leaders failed to adequately prepare despite explicit warnings that pro-Trump extremists posed a threat to law enforcement and civilians and that the police used defective protective equipment. He also found that the leaders ordered their Civil Disturbance Unit to refrain from using its most powerful crowd-control tools — like stun grenades — to put down the onslaught.
The report offers the most devastating account to date of the lapses and miscalculations around the most violent attack on the Capitol in two centuries.
Three days before the siege, a Capitol Police intelligence assessment warned of violence from supporters of President Donald J. Trump who believed his false claims that the election had been stolen. Some had even posted a map of the Capitol complex's tunnel system on pro-Trump message boards. …
"Unlike previous postelection protests, the targets of the pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counterprotesters as they were previously, but rather Congress itself is the target on the 6th," the threat assessment said, according to the inspector general's report. "Stop the Steal's propensity to attract white supremacists, militia members, and others who actively promote violence may lead to a significantly dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public alike."

Consider the reaction of law enforcement to recent events in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, which offer a stark contrast to the events of Jan. 6.

A Black man named Daunte Wright was stopped by Brooklyn Center police on Sunday, supposedly because his car had expired registration tags. During the traffic stop, police determined that Wright had two outstanding misdemeanor warrants. As shown by their body cameras, Brooklyn Center police detained Wright. In a moment of panic, Wright attempted to get back into his car.

Kim Potter, a 26-year-veteran of the police department, shot Wright with one round from her Glock 17 pistol. As shown by the police body camera, Potter aimed the pistol at Wright for several seconds before shooting him. Potter has claimed that she believed she discharged her Taser, not her firearm. Potter resigned from the police department on Tuesday and was charged with second-degree manslaughter on Wednesday.

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Wright's family, offered this observation to ABC's "Good Morning America" on the role of racism and racial bias in how America's police treat nonwhite people:

She was a training officer and so it's not about training, it's about implicit bias. It's about giving the same respect and consideration to people of color that we give to white American citizens. We don't see these sort of things happening to white young people that we see happening over and over and over again to young, marginalized minorities.
They could have given him a ticket, given him a notice to show up. But just like in George Floyd — they could have given him a ticket — they used the most force when it comes to dealing with marginalized minorities. And we can't have these two Americas -- one where we treat Black Americans different from white Americans in policing.

In response to Wright's killing and a larger pattern of documented police abuse against the black and brown community in the Minneapolis area (including the high-profile police killings of George Floyd and Philando Castile), this week has seen several days of largely peaceful protests. There have also been minor incidents of looting and other vandalism. During the evening hours, some protesters at the Brooklyn Center Police Department and an FBI satellite office have thrown water bottles and other projectiles at local police and other law enforcement.

As occurred during the George Floyd protests last summer, the governor of Minnesota, the Brooklyn Center mayor and other area leaders have deployed the National Guard, state police and other forces. In response to the evening protests and curfew, law enforcement have used tear gas and stun grenades, and deployed at least one armored vehicle, snipers and tactical teams.

It hardly needs stating that nothing even close to that level of force was used against the Trump followers who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Militarized police, in Minneapolis and elsewhere around the country, are trained to view Black and brown communities and the people who live there as "insurgents" and "enemies." Importing the logic and tactics and training from America's forever wars abroad has resulted in a dangerous escalation of violence against non-whites, the poor, undocumented immigrants and other communities and individuals deemed to be a threat. White communities, especially those which are middle class and affluent, are not subjected to such violence.

Writing at Tom Dispatch, William Astore explains what happens when America's imperial forces come home in the form of police and other law enforcement:

It's taken years from Ferguson to this moment, but America's cops have now officially joined the military as "professional" warriors. In the wake of George Floyd's murder on May 25th, those warrior-cops have taken to the streets across the country wearing combat gear and with attitudes to match. They see protesters, as well as the reporters covering them, as the enemy and themselves as the "thin blue line" of law and order.
The police take to bashing heads and thrashing bodies, using weaponry so generously funded by the American taxpayer: rubber bullets, pepper spray (as Congresswoman Joyce Beatty of Ohio experienced at a protest), tear gas (as Episcopal clergy experienced at a demonstration in Washington, D.C.), paint canisters, and similar "non-lethal" munitions, together with flash-bang grenades, standard-issue batons, and Tasers, even as they drive military-surplus equipment like Humvees and MRAPs. (Note that such munitions blinded an eye of one photo-journalist.) A Predator drone even hovered over at least one protest. …
It's not enough to say that the police are too violent, or racist, or detached from society. Powerful people already know this perfectly well. Indeed, they're counting on it. They're counting on cops being violent to protect elite interests; nor is racism the worst thing in the world, they believe, as long as it's not hurting their financial bottom lines. If it divides people, making them all the more exploitable, so much the better. And who cares if cops are detached from the interests of the working and lower middle classes from which they've come? Again, all the better, since that means they can be sicked on protesters and, if things get out of hand, those very protesters can then be blamed. If push comes to shove, a few cops might have to be fired, or prosecuted, or otherwise sacrificed, but that hardly matters as long as the powerful get off scot-free.

What do we know about how America's police treat Black people, as compared to white Trumpists and other right-wing extremists who attacked the Capitol and continue to menace the country?

Police are more likely to use force against Black people, including lethal force, as compared to white people in comparable scenarios. At every level of encounter with America's law enforcement and criminal justice system, Black people are treated more harshly and punished more severely than white people charged with identical or comparable crimes.

As part of the failed "war on drugs," Black and brown people are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated for drug possessions as compared to white people, even though all racial groups use drugs at roughly comparable rates.

Recent research has shown that peaceful participants at Black Lives Matter and other liberal and progressive marches and protests are much more likely to be arrested than are Trumpists and other right-wing extremists.

Other reporting shows that police appear much more likely to detain and arrest members of antifa and Black Lives Matter (and liberals and progressives more generally) at protests and similar events than they are Trump followers and other right-wing extremists — even when the latter are engaging in violence and other criminality.

Those outcomes corroborates research showing that white supremacists, right-wing militias and other extremist groups have extensively infiltrated police and law enforcement agencies. The FBI has reported that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists now constitute the greatest threat to public safety and security.

The subculture of American law enforcement is conservative and authoritarian. By implication, this means there is an affinity between many of America's police and Trump's followers and other right-wing extremists.

The divergent responses of law enforcement and national security forces to the Capitol attack as compared to the protests in the Minneapolis area (and in other parts of the country) against police brutality and thuggery are not examples of "hypocrisy," a "double standard" or some type of contradiction. In fact, this is the American law enforcement system behaving almost exactly as designed. Ultimately, the police are agents of social control. The question then becomes who they are controlling, and who is most often the target of their lethal force and other violence.

American law enforcement values property over people. It is a tool for enforcing the power and privilege of white people over nonwhites. It protects the interests of the rich and corporations over those of the poor and working class.

America is correctly described as a type of "carceral society" where the working class and the poor, the homeless, nonwhite people, the mentally ill and otherwise disabled, migrants and refugees, and other marginalized groups are surveilled and subjected to arrest, abuse and incarceration to a far greater extent, and in more brutal ways, than rich, white middle- and upper-class people.

There has been much discussion about a need for an American reckoning to heal the country's wounds caused by neofascism, white supremacy and the social inequality and injustice that have been exposed and accelerated by the Age of Trump and the coronavirus pandemic. Part of that reckoning must involve acknowledging how America's police reproduce, enforce and encourage the violence, racism, cruelty and injustice that fuel Trumpism and American neofascism.

This upper-class traitor walked away from billions — and he's here to tell us how 'wealth hoarding' will create more Trumps

Rich people may live on the same planet as the rest of us, but they exist in their own very special world.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed millions of people and caused economic, social, and political crises around the world. During this time of tumult, the world's richest people have seen their income and wealth grow immensely. For example, the world's billionaires have increased their collective wealth by a trillion dollars, at least a 50 percent expansion compared to the previous year.

In the United States, the language of "essential workers" is summoned to describe how the working poor are exploited by huge corporations like Amazon and Walmart. The billionaires who own or control such corporations are becoming even wealthier while preventing their employees from earning a living wage or organizing to defend their rights, health and safety.

Propaganda economy-speak about the alleged "K-shaped recovery" also masks the true extent of poverty and human misery that has been caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the Trump regime's negligent, if not criminal, response.

Of course, while many millions of people have been imperiled by the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. and around the world, the very rich received early access to vaccines and lifesaving experimental treatments.

Money has been enshrined as a form of free speech in American politics. This has translated into enormous power and influence over the machinery of democracy. The predictable outcome is the peoples' democratic will is smothered, if not wholly ignored by elected officials; what political scientists describe as "plutocratic populism" is doing the work of American neofascism and autocracy.

Gangster capitalists are escalating their exploitation of the rainforests, jungles, and other crucial habitats and wilderness areas. This only increases the likelihood that other pandemic-scale diseases such as COVID-19 will spread from animals to humans.

How have the plutocrats responded to these crises and others? Instead of displaying social responsibility, many of the world's richest individuals and families are building bunkers, buying fortified islands or even making ultimate plans to abandon the planet.

What is it like to be a member of that social class? Chuck Collins knows. He was born into the Oscar Mayer meat and cold cuts family fortune. At age 26, he was compelled by conscience to give away his inheritance in an act of solidarity with the poor and broader community. Living his principles of human solidarity and social change work, Collins is now director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Collins is also the author of several books, including "Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good" and "Is Inequality in America Irreversible?" His new book is "The Wealth Hoarders: How Billionaires Spend Millions to Hide Trillions."

In this conversation, Collins explains how wealth hoarding negatively impacts American society, and how the very rich use the "wealth defense industry" to hide their assets in order to avoid paying taxes — and to remain above the law in other ways as well. Donald Trump is a prime example of that corrupt and dangerous plutocratic class.

He also discusses the unspoken cultural rules of the wealthy and the antisocial values and beliefs which guide their lives. At the end of this conversation, Collins debunks right-wing talking points about "the death tax" and "makers and takers" that are used to propagandize far too many "working-class" Americans into voting against their own economic self-interest.

During America's ongoing pandemic and this age of death, the rich have become even more powerful and wealthy while "essential workers" are being sacrificed. Unions have been further undermined and income is stagnant, if not declining, for the average American. There is mass unemployment and human misery. Given your life and decision to walk away from an inherited fortune, how do you make sense of this moment?

In a way, the pandemic was the great reveal of what happens when you allow a society to pull apart economically, socially, racially and politically. The fact that billionaires have seen their wealth increase and so many other people have lost so much — their lives, livelihoods, their savings, and their health. In my opinion, we should be making a big pivot and a transition in American society because of these lessons learned. There is a broader recognition that we need to do things to lift up the most vulnerable, pay a living wage, and have proper health care. More people are also realizing how top heavy the country's wealth concentration is.

Because I have an intimate front row seat to the world of wealth, I also see things cracking at that level. There are many wealthy people who do not want our society to keep going down this path. They know it is not going to end well.

What do we do with hope? Is hope a dangerous thing in America today?

I am friends with a labor organizer named Ernesto Cortes. He used to say, "You need to cultivate your cold anger." There is hot anger at the deep and entrenched systemic inequality and systemic racism. We can take that anger and lash out or we can take the steely cold anger and steer it into transformational activities. Let's get organized. Let's get people to run for office. Right now, there is a big fight over this question: Should a small, rich minority rule over America, who want to block the social and political changes that so many people want for this country? I think the pressure is going to keep building for a political realignment.

The concept of the "moneyed classes" is a very important one. I prefer it to the "one percent" or "plutocrats," which is vague and imprecise language. What does the concept and language of the "moneyed classes" allow us to communicate to the public at large?

We are drifting toward an oligarchy or what we could also describe as a "hereditary aristocracy of wealth". We could also describe that group as consisting of "wealth dynasties." In 20 years, the sons and daughters of today's billionaires will be calling the shots, running the economy, dominating politics, blocking change that everyone else wants and even using their philanthropy as an extension of their power and influence.

America is going to be moved even more away from a democratic self-governing society and toward raw rule by money. I do not believe this is in anyone's long-term interests. I have been trying to explain to wealthy people how ecological crises impact everybody. The super-rich need to reinvest back into society in order to solve some of the problems that impact and hurt them too. It is in their self-interest.

How is the world you are describing any different from America right now?

It is a matter of degree. The inequality will be even more entrenched than it is today. It will be harder to dig out of the rut if you will. We'll have many more Donald Trumps running for office. The social safety net will be even more dismantled. There will be more political and social polarization. America may even be controlled by autocratic, totalitarian institutions. If these trends continue here in the United States, the country could look more like Brazil, a country with a very weak state, a powerful plutocratic governing class, a very small and precarious middle class and lots of desperate people. That is the dystopian outcome that could await America in 20 years.

What is life like for the rich, especially the extremely wealthy?

These people live in their own distinct realities. I grew up in middle "Richistan." I'm not from "Billionaireville." I'm not from old dynastic wealth. But I know enough about the rich to know that the higher up you get, the more unplugged you are from the day-to-day struggles of most people. In that way, wealth and privilege are a type of disconnection drug.

Some members of the very rich might be politically engaged through their philanthropy and attempts to solve social problems. Some of these people might be liberal or even radical in terms of their politics. But as a group they are far removed from people, the majority of Americans, who experience true economic vulnerability and a feeling of being the precariat.

In discussing the rich we also need to make a distinction between those who are "merely" rich and those who are the very rich. I draw that line at $30 million. At $30 million and up, we see an oligarch class that have more money than they need to meet their needs. Now members of the group are focusing on achieving more social and political power. They are focusing on using their wealth to rig the rules of society to get more wealth. It is these oligarchs who the United States should be focusing tax reforms on. They are hoarding and hiding wealth through a whole "wealth defense" industry. They are also politically engaged and rigging the system to accomplish that goal.

What does their culture teach its members? What are the unstated rules?

One rule is that capital preservation is the norm — that you want wealth to continually grow. Do not touch the principal. Do not touch the assets. If you have to ask how much something is, you can't afford it. Look like you belong everywhere.

There are other rules and cultural norms as well. Be wary of everybody. People are after your money. Be careful who you marry, because they might want to take your money. There is much distrust among this class that keeps them from having meaningful connections with other people.

Among the rich there is also a very deep mythology of deservedness. Even if you are born on third base and you inherit wealth, you repeat that line from Donald Trump: "Well, I'm from a good family. My family's virtuous. My family worked hard, even though I just happened to have picked wealthy parents. There's something virtuous about me too!" That myth of deservedness, whether it's a first-generation wealth builder, entrepreneur or old wealth, is how social inequality is justified. The implication becomes "I deserve all the wealth that I have because I am virtuous and work hard." The corollary of that logic is that those people who are not wealthy deserve to be just where they are.

My response to that culture was to ask myself, "How come I have all this money? I didn't work to get it." To me that was wrong and an example of how the system is broken. All these other people are working incredibly hard, and they experience so much risk and insecurity in their lives. Something is broken here. I know I am not alone in those feelings.

What did the choice to walk away from your inheritance cost you? By this I do not mean money, but the cost in other ways to your life.

To be honest, it did not cost me much. I have so many other types of privilege and advantage. That is the nature of multigenerational advantage. Multigenerational disadvantage is the flipside of that. The privilege and advantage include such things as being fourth-generation property owners, financial literacy, access to education and the like. I also had a debt-free college education. I'm white, I'm male. I don't have to worry about economically supporting my parents in their older years. That is a huge advantage.

What is Donald Trump an example of, in this context?

Donald Trump is an example of a second-generation wealth dynasty. He was born into a privileged circumstance, but he remade his identity. Trump pretends that he is a first-generation entrepreneur. Trump is also a crypto-eugenicist. He talks about his genes all the time. He does not speak in terms of societal opportunities or advantages, but rather in terms of some form of genetic superiority. He is not alone: There are many other rich people who think of the world in the same terms. Donald Trump received $400 million from his father. That is a great head start in life. I would like to do an experiment and give that $400 million to another hundred people and see what they do with their lives.

I see Trump as an example of a class of wealthy white people who live largely consequence-free lives.

That is an apt description. Actually, one of the things that the wealth defense industry does is to take a rich person's wealth and put it in asset protection trusts. With these trusts, for example, if a rich person drives through a red light and kills somebody, they are not going to be held financially responsible for their actions. Another scenario: What if a rich person steals money from people and then parks it in an offshore trust or some other type of account or asset? There is a law professor at the University of Richmond named Allison Tait who describes this as "high-wealth exceptionalism." The rich believe that they live by a separate set of rules. You believe you get to have a separate set of rules. And in fact, the wealthy truly do have a separate set of rules than the rest of us in America.

What does that sense of immunity from consequence do to their emotions, morals and values? That core level of what it means to be a human being?

It leads to a breakdown in empathy and a breakdown in individual responsibility for your actions. Privilege is a disconnection drug. It separates people from one another, and it also separates them from the impact of their actions or inaction.

How does the wealth defense industry work?

The wealth defense industry has many tools at its disposal. These are individual wealthy people who help other wealthy people who are worth $30 million or more. There is also a parallel industry and set of personalities who help global corporations to hide their wealth and income.

But in terms of wealthy individuals, let's consider someone who lives in another country, some mineral-rich country in the Southern Hemisphere. You've been siphoning wealth off, through bribery or through deals selling off minerals. Perhaps you are a government official. You want to get that money out of the home country because someday there will be people who want that money back.

So what do you do? You move it into an offshore tax haven. You open up a bank account. You may also create a shell company that does not have your name on it. Eventually you bring that money or company to the United States, where you can purchase a luxury condominium in somewhere like downtown Chicago or New York.

There are other ways to launder the money through the system. You can take that money to South Dakota and create a dynasty trust, where the money can just sit in an account that you control but will never be subject to accountability or taxation.

A wealthy person in the United States can also create a Delaware shell company. There are a variety of complicated loopholes that the rich use. The complication is intentional because complexity is the bread and butter of the dynasty defense industry. At the simplest level, what is being done is to create a labyrinth of ownership structures to pretend that the billion dollars that you have is no longer in your name. When the tax collector comes, you just hold up your hands and say, "It's not my money!"

How do you explain to the average American how the wealth defense industry impacts their lives?

One, it is tax avoidance, which translates into the narrative from the government and elected officials that there is no money, we have to cut services, we can't afford low-cost student loans or mortgage subsidies. We can't alleviate poverty because supposedly there isn't any money. The impact on the average American is also manifest in how the wealth defense industry empowers and enables kleptocrats. It makes social inequality worse. The wealth defense industry and wealth hoarding also enables anti-democratic concentrations of wealth and power.

How do we rebut the right-wing narrative that there are "makers" and "takers" in society and that these discussions of social inequality and economic injustice are just "class warfare" or a politics of resentment?

It's a diabolical framing of the world, one that ignores how we are all interdependent. Even rich people are dependent on the public investments and property law protections in American society. None of these rich people do it alone. They exist in a society that makes it possible.

And what of the "working-class" Republicans and Trump supporters in "middle America" who are obsessed about the "death tax" and class warfare? That right-wing propaganda has been very effective these last few decades.

We have lived through 40 years of intensified class war, where the wealthy have rigged the rules to funnel more income and wealth to the top of the economic pyramid. People who work for wages are being punished. Such an outcome is what happens when you tip the economy to the benefit of wealth against work and against wages.

In terms of the wealth tax, if you have less than $12 million, you are never going to pay this estate tax. It's not a tax on success. It's a tax that slows the creation of these democracy-distorting wealth dynasties. The wealth tax is a good tax.

The rich have funded campaigns to make people think, "Oh, you're going to have to pay the death tax. And that farmer over there is going to have to pay the death tax." It's just helpful to say, "Hey Joe on the barstool there, do you have more than $23 million, you and your spouse? Well, why are you bellyaching about that? Why are you defending the plutocrats who are picking your pocket?"

If rich people were taxed in the same way as regular people — bus drivers, schoolteachers, nurses and the like — what would American society look like?

On a fundamental level, America would be a much better place to live in. There would be so much less stress and fear and division. We would not have people afraid that a job loss or divorce or illness would lead them to destitution and having to live in a car. In the '50s, '60s and '70s, it seemed as if American society was moving towards more egalitarianism. But then the country took a huge wrong turn in the late '70s and '80s. It does not have to be that way.

Leaked video reveals a GOP plan to intimidate Black and brown voters in Houston

Donald Trump's neofascist slogan, "Make America Great Again," was always best understood as a threat against nonwhite people, women, the LGBTQI community and others for whom "the good old days" were in many ways not very good at all.

This article was originally published at Salon

Although Trump may no longer be president, the Republican Party and his followers are still continuing with his crusade.

Because Republicans understand they cannot free win free and fair elections, their party — and the larger white right — is simply trying to stop Black and brown people from voting in Georgia (and soon in many other states as well). This Jim Crow-style campaign is part of a nationwide strategy by the Republican Party and its agents to keep those Americans who support the Democratic Party from being able to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote.

Today's Jim Crow Republicans have mated white supremacy and neofascism, in search of creating something like Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin's "managed democracy." The result is a horrible mixture of right-wing racial authoritarianism and anti-democratic fervor. In their attempt to create a new type of American apartheid, the Republicans and their agents are willing to use all means available, legal, quasi-legal or illegal.

As revealed Thursday by Common Cause Texas, the Republican Party in Harris County — which contains Houston and is the third most-populous county in the nation — is planning to organize what is described as an "Election Integrity Brigade" of thousands of pro-GOP election workers and poll watchers. This group of Republican operatives will be sent into predominantly Black and brown communities to engage in de facto acts of voter intimidation and harassment under the pretext of stopping "voter fraud."

This "Election Integrity Brigade" will be a permanent group, not just a list of volunteers called out during election season. As explained by the Republican official who conducted the briefing obtained by Common Cause Texas, the goal is to also recruit poll watchers and other volunteers through "military partnerships." Such a plan is especially troubling given Donald Trump's coup attempt and his followers' attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 and the prominent role played by retired or active members of the military and law enforcement.

In an evident nod to racist fears and bigotry, Harris County Republican leaders explains that these poll watchers must have "courage" and "confidence" to do such work in Houston's Black and Latino communities.



NBC News offers additional details:

Harris County GOP Chair Cindy Siegel confirmed in a statement to NBC News that the program aims to recruit "an army of volunteers" throughout the county as a way "to engage voters for the whole ballot, top to bottom, and ensure every legal vote is counted." Siegel also called Common Cause "a radical leftist group that is blatantly mischaracterizing a grassroots election worker recruitment video in a shameful effort to bully and intimidate Republicans."

The Harris County Republican Party's intimidation campaign is literally transcribed from the Jim Crow reign of terror, when white people in Southern states would physically prevent Black people from voting. Many of the white people who enforced these racist Jim Crow rules or regulations were armed, and even if they did not have weapons on their person at that moment, the threat of violence was omnipresent.

Once permission has been granted for these assaults on Black and brown peoples' freedom and dignity — as it was by the Age of Trump — they will only escalate in boldness, frequency and, inevitably, violence.

Of course the professional "serious people" in the mainstream news media and professional commentariat have spent recent weeks trying to talk down the concern that the Jim Crow Republicans are literally trying to take away Black peoples' right to vote.

At many of America's leading news outlets, such voices have criticized President Biden for his "tone," because he said that Republicans were engaging in "Jim Crow on steroids" in Georgia and elsewhere. Other members of the "church of the savvy" and adherents of the "view from nowhere" have also tried to litigate and parse whether the Georgia anti-democracy bill really bans giving food or water to voters in line food and water (it does), or tried to argue for reasonable interpretations of the law that leaves Republicans looking less blatantly racist. (Spoiler: Today's Republicans are in fact blatantly racist.)

Jonathan Chait at New York magazine used odd language, for example, in taking Biden to task for his choice of words and describing the Republican Party's current attack on black people's voting rights as "Jim Crow Lite":

President Biden has contributed to the confusion by describing Georgia's vote suppression as akin to, or even worse than, Jim Crow. Contrary to the president's hyperbole, it is more like Jim Crow Lite than "Jim Crow on steroids."
But Jim Crow Lite is still very bad.

Of course, the Jim Crow Republicans and their mouthpieces took to cable news and other media outlets to play the victim, bemoan "cancel culture" and deny the obvious racism and white supremacy driving their campaign to stop Black and brown people and other likely Democratic supporters from voting, a campaign that now spans 47 states and more than 350 proposed laws.

One of the most perverse claims made in defense of the Jim Crow Republican attacks on voting rights in Georgia is that turnout in Georgia and elsewhere has actually increased after barriers to vote were enacted by Republican governors and legislatures. This is like saying that if you can run faster when being chased by an ax-wielding serial killer, then he's doing you a favor.

Those public voices who are trying to downplay the dangers to democracy represented by the Jim Crow Republican Party are, in the worst case, enablers of such civic evil. In the "best worst-case scenario," those voices are offering analyses from their own myopic perch of privilege (most often the position of being white, male and affluent). They have the luxury of imagining themselves detached from "emotions," and have convinced themselves that white supremacy is controlled by a dial that can be carefully calibrated. In reality, it is more like an old, frayed but powerful electrical switch that frequently sparks, shocks whoever is touching it and possesses the potential to blow out the electricity in the entire building — or start a fire that destroys the neighborhood.

I offer a thought experiment. What if Black and brown people who support the Democratic Party started going into majority-white suburban neighborhoods where many people vote Republican, and acted as poll watchers who were trying to stop voter fraud? Given that there is much more reason to monitor Republicans for efforts to undermine, steal or nullify elections, there might actually be a legitimate need for such vigilance in white neighborhoods.

But how would white people react to that idea? Moreover, what if the Democrats were to take power across the country on the state and local level and then impose the same kinds of limitations, in an obvious attempt to interfere with conservative white people's right to vote? What do you suppose would happen then? At the barest minimum, many of the same voices now trying to minimize the danger represented by the Jim Crow Republicans' attack on voting rights would howl in outrage.

America is engaged in a dangerous type of organized forgetting in the wake of Trump's insurrection

It has been three months since Donald Trump's followers attacked the U.S. Capitol. The events of that day were surreal. It was all as if a poorly written Hollywood action movie or video game had broken through the fourth wall and become reality.

But in such a story there would have been a climax and resolution, in which the good guys arrived just in time to defeat the terrorists, the corrupt president and his cabal would be taken down, and all would be made right and good in America and the world again … until the inevitable sequel.

In the world as it exists, there will be no such conclusion — although we still await the sequel. America is stuck in a type of permanent anticlimax, in which Trump's attempted coup and the Capitol attack took place and the story abruptly ended.

The Democrats do not want proper closure to the events of Jan. 6, because to have a proper investigation, with real accountability for the plotters and other wrongdoers in the Trump regime and elsewhere, would be a "distraction." President Biden evidently agrees: He aspires to "bipartisanship" and aims to "heal the nation." There's a problem: The Republicans, by and large, were co-conspirators and collaborators in Trump's coup plot. So for reasons of self-preservation they are sabotaging even the most meager attempts to hold hearings or investigations.

The vast majority of Americans want to see those who attacked the Capitol punished for their crimes. It appears that some participants will be made into examples and imprisoned for serious crimes. Unfortunately, that also means the vast majority of Trump's forces will either go unpunished or receive the weakest of consequences.

As I warned in an earlier essay here at Salon, "to not punish Donald Trump, members of his inner circle, and his loyalists and other followers who planned, executed, or otherwise participated in his coup attempt and attack on the Capitol to the maximum degree allowed by law is to all but guarantee another such attack on the country's democracy."

Public hearings and investigations including a truth commission are also necessary to prevent a repeat of the events of Jan. 6, or something much worse. The facts must be exposed and committed to public memory. Lessons must be learned so that Trumpism and other forms of American neofascism can be identified and defeated early in their formation.

In the weeks since the horrific events of that day there have been many public warnings about what will happen if those who planned and perpetrated the attack are not properly punished and if the broader right-wing authoritarian movement in America is not stopped.

Borrowing from the therapeutic language of addiction, historian Timothy Snyder phrases it this way:

The invasion of the Capitol was a crisis, and a crisis is an opportunity. An addict might admit that he has a problem before more people get hurt. Sometimes, though, the addict misses the chance, and salves his feelings with the drug. That can feel like the only way to get through the moment of uncertainty: punch holes in the skin until that moral queasiness passes. This, unfortunately, is just what state-level Republican elected officials have done since January 6th. They are binging on voter suppression. Right now Republican state legislators are supporting over two hundred bills designed to make voting more difficult.

Philosopher Henry A. Giroux cautions about the perils of "organized forgetting" and historical amnesia:

Historical amnesia also finds expression in the right-wing press and among media pundits such as Fox News commentators Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, whose addiction to lying exceeds the boundaries of reason and creates an echo chamber of misinformation that normalizes the unspeakable, if not the unthinkable. Rational responses now give way to emotional reactions fueled by lies whose power is expanded through their endless repetition. How else to explain the baseless claim made by them, along with a number of Republican lawmakers, right-wing pundits, and Trump's supporters who baselessly lay the blame for the storming of the US Capitol on "Antifa." These lies were circulated despite of the fact that "subsequent arrests and investigations have found no evidence that people who identify with Antifa, a loose collective of antifascist activists, were involved in the insurrection."

Social theorist Umair Haque explains why appeasing fascists and other authoritarians only encourages their assaults on democracy and normal society:

At this juncture, you might interject. "But we have to make peace with fascists!" Do we? We don't. This is a big, big mistake in thought — and Biden is leading a nation to making it, collectively. ...
The GOP is becoming America's Nazi Party because the Democrats are letting it. The Democrats have all the power it's possible to have in America's political system. If they wanted to hold Nuremberg Trials, they could begin tomorrow. If they wanted to send Trumpists to be tried by the International Criminal Court, it could happen next week.
It is not happening, and it's not going to happen, because the political choice has been made not to hold Trumpists accountable for their abuses of power. But that choice also licenses the GOP to move ever further right.

Former senior national security officials continue to warn that the U.S. needs to have proper hearings and investigations into the events of Jan. 6 in order to prevent another such a domestic terrorist attack from happening again.

Considered in total, the events of Jan. 6 are knowable, not mysterious. To ignore them is to engage in a dangerous type of organized forgetting and intentional collective amnesia.

Closing our eyes will not make American neofascism go away.

If you run away from American neofascism, it will follow you.

If you try to hide from American neofascism, it will find you.

It you try to pretend that American neofascism and the Age of Trump did not happen, it will all happen again.

The United States is a young country. As Gore Vidal famously observed, "We are permanently the United States of Amnesia. We learn nothing because we remember nothing." Some Americans, such as Black people and Native Americans, as a result of their historical experience have not succumbed to amnesia and denial. Their pain and triumph, and their deep understanding of power and its consequences, grounds them in time. But as a whole culture plagued with myths of personal and collective reinvention, Americans all too readily believe that denial and avoidance are viable ways to solve our nation's problems.

Fascism cannot be defeated that way. It must be confronted at every turn. Amnesia is not a defense. It is a form of surrender.

Ancient cave painters may have been stoned, study says

When it comes to an art gallery, a cave is a strange choice of venue. Many ancient cave paintings, which mark the first known examples of artwork by hominids, are so deep under the ground that it would have taken extraordinary effort to view them. So, if you're an ancient artist, what might inspire you to paint scenes of life — things like horses, kangaroos, and a warty pig in the case of the oldest-known cave painting — that few, if any, people would ever see?

As it turns out, Israeli archaeologists may have figured out the answer. Long story short, the artists were tripping — literally.

According to a new paper in "Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture" by Tel Aviv University archaeologists, the humans who ventured into these subterranean enclosures during the Upper Paleolithic (50,000 to 12,000 years ago) would have needed to light torches in order to see what they were doing. In the process, they would have reduced the amount of oxygen in the caves, inducing hypoxia (oxygen-deprivation) in their brains. That, in turn, would have put them in a state of altered consciousness, experiencing euphoria, out-of-body experiences and perhaps even hallucinations.

Our ancestors would not have understood the science behind all of this, though. That is why the Israeli researchers speculate that they probably would have understood their experience as metaphysical in nature. Indeed, there are many people today who believe they have had spiritual experiences when they take mind-altering substances or enter a "trippy" environment, even with the scientific knowledge we currently possess about why our brains react in certain ways.

The people responsible for these drawings, the researchers speculate, might have believed that there was something special about the caves themselves.

"We discuss the significance of caves in indigenous world views and contend that entering these deep, dark environments was a conscious choice, motivated by an understanding of the transformative nature of an underground, oxygen-depleted space," the authors write. The humans who used them would have viewed the caves as sacred spaces, locations that deserved awe and reverence.

"It was not the decoration that rendered the caves significant," the authors write. "Rather, the significance of the chosen caves was the reason for their decoration."

In a separate article, the authors wrote that "the rock face itself, within the cave or the rockshelter, was conceived as a membrane, a tissue connecting the here-and-now world and the underground world beyond," according to the Israeli publication Haaretz.

Gil Kedar, one of the paper's co-authors, told Haaretz that it first occurred to her that the cave painters may have been high because she was visiting rock-art sites in Europe and kept thinking about how difficult it was to get to them.

"I wondered why they went into the dark, into such seclusion – why go to the end a kilometer inside?" Kedar asked. "These caves are scary, with narrow passages, and I kept banging my head."

It is important to note that the new paper's hypothesis does not account for cave art where the act of lighting a torch would not have induced hypoxia. Likewise, this is not the first occasion in which scholars have speculated ancient cave painters may have less than sober.

That said, the only potential evidence of this prior to the new paper — which tested its theories using data about the effects of hypoxia in high-altitude environments and software that simulated the conditions inside the tiny Paleolithic caves — came from, appropriately enough, California. In November an international research team revealed that chewed-up wads of datura, a plant that acts as a deliriant, had been found jammed in the ceiling cracks of a location known as Pinwheel Cave. Those drawings would likely have been made by a Native American group known as the Chumash.

Don't be fooled: Trump's supporters got hustled, fleeced and lied to — but They still love him as much as ever

Individuals join cults because they are seeking meaning in their lives. Many people who join cults are also lonely or emotionally damaged and want some sense of family and larger community. The cult leader sees his or her followers as extensions of their ego and an opportunity to accrue personal, financial and often sexual power. In nearly all cases, cult leader and followers are tied together in a knot of collective narcissism.

Donald Trump is a political cult leader who commands tens of millions of followers. After he finally, reluctantly accepted defeat in the 2020 presidential election and retreated to plot his next steps from his Mar-a-Lago hideout, the cult members are leaderless — at least for now.

How are they reacting to these events? Many, of course, are angry and remain trapped in collective delusion. New research suggests that some of them are experiencing despair or feeling "despondent."

A new report from Democracy Corps, a polling and research firm led by longtime Democratic strategists James Carville and Stan Greenberg, offers some insights learned from focus groups with Trump followers.

As Alternet reports, "diehard Trump voters were bitterly disappointed that he lost the election, and Democracy Corps' focus groups found that they are in a state of total despair."

Democracy Corps explained that these disillusioned Trumpists "felt powerless" in the wake of electoral defeat, and believed that the Republican Party "failed to act with the same determination and unity as the Democrats. They believed Democrats were smarter, rigged the election, had a plan to grow their support, and stuck to their guns — unlike the fickle Republican leaders who gave up on Trump."

That is of course misguided on a world-historical scale, but not entirely surprising. Nor is it surprising that racism and white supremacy play a key role in how Trumpists feel about their place in America society and politics:

Democracy Corps found that "the Trump loyalists and Trump-aligned were angry, but also despondent, feeling powerless and uncertain they will become more involved in politics…. The Trump loyalists and the Trump-aligned are animated about government taking away their freedom and a cancel culture that leaves no place for White Americans and the fear they're losing 'their' country to non-Whites."
Democracy Corps also found that "Trump loyalists and the Trump-aligned" were "angered most of all by Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Antifa" and believe those movements "were responsible for a full year of violence in Democratic cities that put White people on the defensive — and was ignored by the media."

Before Democrats and other Americans who oppose the Trump cult and the Jim Crow Republican Party celebrate their downfall, they should take a lesson from the landmark 1956 book "When Prophecy Fails," which showed that "true believers" within a cult movement will simply adjust their beliefs when faced with disappointment. Through that process, cognitive dissonance is resolved in order to justify the original predictions as somehow still being true. Such predictions could be about the arrival of alien spacecraft or the end of the world — or about how Trump's battle with the "deep state" now continues in a different form, and he and his movement will be victorious on some future date, after being "betrayed" on Election Day 2020.

When viewed through such a lens the support of Trump's followers for their Great Leader appears to be much more enduring and deeply felt than many would like to believe.

The New York Times has reported that Trump's campaign effectively stole tens of millions of dollars from his own donors through a deceptive scheme that led Trump supporters to unknowingly authorize repeated bank withdrawals and credit card charges. Even after being blatantly defrauded, many Trump followers remain loyal, like Ron Wilson, a man interviewed by the Times:

Mr. Wilson, an 87-year-old retiree in Illinois, made a series of small contributions last fall that he thought would add up to about $200; by December, federal records show, WinRed and Mr. Trump's committees had withdrawn more than 70 separate donations from Mr. Wilson worth roughly $2,300.
"Predatory!" Mr. Wilson said of WinRed. Like multiple other donors interviewed, though, he held Mr. Trump himself blameless, telling The Times, "I'm 100 percent loyal to Donald Trump."

Trump's white evangelical Christian followers also remain staunchly loyal to him, despite (if not because) of his unrepentant and chronic sinfulness, which leads some to regard him as a prophetic figure. As new research from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows, white evangelical fealty to Trump is at its core driven by a commitment to Christian nationalism, racism and a desire to overthrow secular multicultural society.

Republicans and other Trump followers have convinced themselves, or been programmed by the right-wing disinformation machine to believe that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and coup attempt was either nonviolent, did not happen at all or was a provocation staged by antifa or Black Lives Matter activists. Other polls and research show that a large percentage of Republicans generally support the events of Jan. 6 and believe political violence may be necessary to protect "traditional America" — understood as white supremacy.

Donald Trump himself may be out of power — and whether he is capable of mounting a political comeback is unclear. But his followers are not going anywhere. They have had a taste of what is possible when a fascist movement takes power and validates their pain and emptiness — and their desire to hurt those people they deem to be "un-American."

Much to the consternation of Americans who believe in the Constitution, the rule of law and multiracial secular democracy, the Republican Party and its allies are not going to change the minds of Trump's followers, or otherwise abandon them.

Why should they? Trump himself remains remarkably popular among Republican voters — more popular than the party itself. His voters still largely believe that the 2020 election was stolen by the Democrats. The right-wing terrorist insurgency inspired and encouraged by the Trump movement shows no signs of going away.

Trump may have been defeated, in other words, but Trumpism has not. That neofascist movement has many tens of millions of followers, waiting for a new strongman to emerge. When that happens — and there should be no doubt it will — will Democrats and their voters be prepared for the long hard fight to save American democracy?

Republicans have a plan to maintain power -- and it just might work

As the Brennan Center for Justice summarizes, Republican state legislators across the country "have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions [on voting] in 47 states," a 43% increase from the 253 "restrictive bills" in process in mid-February:
These measures have begun to be enacted. Five restrictive bills have already been signed into law. In addition, at least 55 restrictive bills in 24 states are moving through legislatures: 29 have passed at least one chamber, while another 26 have had some sort of committee action (e.g., a hearing, an amendment, or a committee vote).

The Jim Crow Republican Party's attempt to keep Black people in Georgia from voting is a preview of a national plan to turn the United States into a type of authoritarian state. On paper, "Republicanistan" will be a democracy — but one where one party has rigged the elections so it almost always wins, and the "opposition" must meet almost impossible standards to even be on the ballot. Even then, as seen in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, with Donald Trump's coup attempt and the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Jim Crow Republicans will look for ways to change the rules or nullify the outcome.

In public statements, leading Republicans have basically admitted that their efforts to nullify multiracial democracy are not driven by concerns about "voter fraud" or "voter security" but rather by the desire for power and control.

This has fueled an inevitable counter-narrative from the right wing and its enablers, in which the American people are being told, to borrow from Trump's command, not to believe their lying eyes.

The mainstream media largely insists on covering the Republican war on democracy as a partisan battle rather than as an attack on democracy itself by one of the country's two institutional political parties.

There are claims by some stenographers of current events — those who inhabit the "church of the savvy" and take the "view from nowhere" — that the Jim Crow Republican Party's attempts to stop Black and brown people from voting may be unseemly, but to claim that they are "racist" or "white supremacist" in nature is hysterical and exaggerated.

Such claims are just working in defense of the Jim Crow Republicans. Their anti-democracy attacks are precision-targeted against Black and brown communities. Moreover, these attacks are legitimated by racist insinuations that Black voters are "irresponsible" or that their votes are "low quality" because of alleged fraud or vote theft in "urban areas." These lies echo earlier falsehoods that the white right used during the Jim Crow reign of terror to keep Black Americans from voting.

Other defenses of the Jim Crow Republican attacks on Black and brown voters include such arguments that the recently-enacted Georgia law does not explicitly mention race or party affiliation and thus cannot be "racist." In fact, Jim Crow laws of the 19th and 20th centuries rarely, if ever, made explicit references to prohibiting Black people from voting. Contrary to popular belief, there were no flashing neon signs proclaiming that Black people could not vote. Instead, Jim Crow was enforced through apparently race-neutral laws that in practice were explicitly designed to keep Black people from voting: poll taxes, literacy tests, property tests, the "grandfather clause" and all-white primaries in which the Southern Democrats — who held an effective monopoly over the region's politics at the time — could determine who was allowed to vote. (Poor white people were impacted by some of these laws as well. They were collateral damage in upholding white supremacy.)

In total, Jim Crow was a society-wide system and culture in which violence and other threats of punishment made it clear that Black people were not allowed to participate as equal members of the polity.

Some on the right and elsewhere have tried to defend the Jim Crow Republican Party's attacks on Black and brown people's voting rights in Georgia by admitting that these laws may have a disparate impact on communities of color but do not have racist "intent."

First, that is objectively untrue. Second, such claims are cousin to the familiar deflections and excuse-making tropes such as: "He or she doesn't have a racist bone in their body." Unfortunately, no such X-ray machine, MRI scanner or other technology exists to make such a determination. What is left then for the diagnosis? We can only look at actions and outcomes. By those criteria, the Jim Crow Republican Party and the broader white right's attacks on multiracial democracy are racist and white supremacist.

Here is the most naked and dishonest attempt at deflection by the Jim Crow Republicans and their propaganda machine. They claim that the Georgia "voting security" bill does not in fact forbid giving food and water to people who are in line waiting to vote. The bill explicitly states that very thing. This is a reminder that Joseph Goebbels' "Big Lie" is sustained in practice by many little and medium-sized lies.

Black conservatives are playing their assigned role — one that can be highly lucrative — as human defense shields for white racism. They are cheerleaders for the Jim Crow Republican Party, and their task now is to argue that to protest, resist or fight back against the Georgia's anti-democracy laws and others across the country is somehow infantilizing to Black Americans. There is no reasonable way to parse the internal logic — or lack thereof — in these self-tormented claims.

All that is necessary to decipher the behavior of today's Black conservatives is to understand that these are the same people who argue that the vast majority of Black people who choose to vote for the Democratic Party are stuck on some kind of "plantation" and are incapable of "thinking for themselves" — because they choose not to support a political party that is nearly all-white and has slid into neofascism, racism and overt white supremacy.

All the smog and poisonous distractions being emitted by the Jim Crow Republicans and their allies to hide and obfuscate their hostile intent towards multiracial democracy are pierced by a single image. When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the new Republican anti-democracy law into effect on March 25, he did so under a painting of a Southern "plantation," better described as a slave labor prison camp where Black human property was tortured and worked to death.

On the power of such imagery, commentator Will Bunch writes with great clarity:

The fitting symbolism is somehow both shocking and unsurprising. In using the antebellum image of the notorious Callaway Plantation — in a region where enslaved Black people seeking freedom were hunted with hounds — in Wilkes County, Ga., as the backdrop for signing a bill that would make it a crime to hand water to a thirsty voter waiting on Georgia's sometimes hours-long voter lines, the GOP governor was sending a clear message about race and human rights in the American South.
The portrait of the plantation was the starkest reminder of Georgia's history of white racism that spans slavery, Jim Crow segregation, the rebirth of the modern Ku Klux Klan, and today's voter purges targeting Black and brown voters — but it wasn't the only one. At the very moment that Kemp was signing the law with his all-white posse, a Black female Georgia lawmaker — Rep. Park Cannon — who'd knocked on the governor's door in the hopes of watching the bill signing was instead dragged away and arrested by state troopers, in a scene that probably had the Deep South's racist sheriffs of yesteryear like Bull Connor or Jim Clark smiling in whatever fiery hellhole they now inhabit. ...
In 2021, it's tempting to call Kemp signing the bill in front of the plantation painting "ironic," when in fact it's all too fitting. Understanding the symbolism here helps us to understand what's really important, that the voting law is the latest cruel iron link in an unbroken chain of white supremacy that extends all the way back to 1619, when the first slave ship arrived in North American soil.

While the Jim Crow era may feel like centuries ago to many younger Americans, that regime was only defeated some 60 years ago. Many of the resisters, survivors, enforcers, enablers and beneficiaries of that criminal regime are alive now. Those who were and are part of the activist and protest tradition of the Black Freedom Struggle are warning the public about the peril embodied by the Republican Party and white right's attack on multiracial democracy in Georgia and across the country. These defenders of democracy know evil when they see it. Their warnings are not hysteria or hyperbole.

Ultimately, America is in a war against itself for the soul of its democracy and future. Republicanistan is much closer to becoming reality than many Americans would like to believe. We cannot allow the allure of organized forgetting or President Biden's early successes to distract us from vigilance in defense of American democracy.

Trump, inequality and white collar crime

In the United States, there is one set of rules for rich people (especially if they are also white) and another set for everyone else. That unjust and anti-democratic system is reflected across American society. The country's wealth and income inequality is so extreme (especially the race-wealth gap) that it more closely resembles that of a Third World autocracy than one of the world's richest countries and a "leading democracy."

There is the "legal" theft. The county's laws are literally written by the rich and the powerful. In turn, those laws represent their interests and goals over and above those of the average American. Political scientists have actually shown that America's elected officials on the national level are largely not responsive to the demands and needs of ordinary people.

The tax code is one such example of how the rich and powerful have created a system that rewards their class with subsidies, tax breaks, write-offs and other benefits to such a grotesque extreme that some of the country's richest individuals, families, and corporations pay no taxes at all — and in many cases actually receive "refunds" from the American people. "Job creators" and "too big to fail" are convenient shorthand to describe rent-seeking behavior and the ways many of the country's plutocrats and other members of the elite classes are economic and social parasites.

Even allowing for the fact that the nation's laws are written to serve the interests of the rich and powerful, new reporting has shown that the top 1 percent of income earners still hide or otherwise do not report at least 20 percent of their income. That theft is on a massive scale: It is estimated to cost the American people $1.4 trillion over a 10-year period. The FBI also reports that so-called white collar crime costs the American economy hundreds of billions a year.

This should not be a surprise, but is still shocking: The IRS is much more likely to audit or otherwise investigate poor and working-class people than the rich.

Of course, the rich and powerful have found a way to profit from the misery, death and destruction caused by the COVID pandemic. The Institute for Policy Studies estimates that the world's richest people have increased their wealth — measured in the trillions of dollars — by at least 50 percent during the coronavirus plague year.

In a pre-election article for the New Republic, Ankush Khardori explained how the Age of Trump and its many disasters created an ideal environment for white collar criminals:

The figures, disconcerting enough on their own, tell an incomplete story. Things are even worse than they look. Three and a half years after Trump took office, white-collar criminal enforcement is in its worst state in modern history — the result of top-down disinterest in, and occasional outright hostility toward, prosecuting financial crimes; the installation of inexperienced and occasionally inept political appointees and senior officials; and enforcement priorities that are alternately misguided, inexplicable, and politically motivated. Virtually every part of the white-collar enforcement apparatus at the Justice Department is broken.
As we approach the end of Donald Trump's first term, it's clear that it's never been a better time to be a white-collar criminal. Amid a pandemic that shows no sign of abating, as well as an economic recession that shows all signs of getting horribly worse, the question is whether anyone — including Trump's possible successor, Joe Biden — is going to do anything about it.

Ultimately, the Trump regime and its allies provide an almost ideal example of how rich and powerful people can abuse and break the law, enrich themselves by doing it, and face few if any consequences for their anti-social behavior.

Jennifer Taub is a legal advocate, as well as professor of law at the Western New England University School of Law. Her most recent book is "Big Dirty Money: The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime." Her previous book was "Other People's Houses: How Decades of Bailouts, Captive Regulators, and Toxic Bankers Made Home Mortgages a Thrilling Business."

In this conversation, Taub explains how America's two-tiered legal system encourages financial and other crimes by the very rich. She also explores how members of that group learn that behavior throughout their lives and then normalize it. In addition, Taub profiles two cases, the opioid epidemic and the 2008 mortgage crisis and financial crash, that typify the widespread harm caused by white collar crime.

Taub also reflects on a basic but powerful counterfactual: if Donald Trump had been properly punished by the law and imprisoned for the many financial and other crimes he committed earlier in life, the horror and pain caused by his presidency would likely have been avoided.

There are these hope-peddlers and others in the news media and elsewhere who keep suggesting that Donald Trump may go to jail or suffer some other severe punishments for his obvious crimes. When I hear such fables, I respond with a laugh. At worst, Trump will pay a fine. Members of his cabal who may face charges will likely do the same thing and plead out. There may be civil settlements. But none of the high-level Trumpists are going to prison. Rich people do not throw other rich people in jail. The powerful rarely if ever hold each other accountable.

Will Donald Trump ever go to prison? Wearing my lawyer hat, I am supposed to speak in a slow, sober tone and say that before there is even a discussion about whether Donald Trump spends any time in prison there has to be a process and a trial, and then after that, if the prosecution proves the case, then, yes, that day will come. My more honest and yet cynical answer is that there will not be enough consequences for Trump, given what he has done over his lifetime to this country, his ongoing harmful and dangerous behavior. Even if they "lock him up."

This is not the movie The Wizard of Oz where someone is going to pour water on Donald Trump and he is just going to melt. Ivanka and Jared and the other people in Trump's orbit and inner circle are not going to melt into a big pool of water on the floor either — and suddenly there will no longer be an oligarchy in America, or suddenly the billionaires will disappear who own most of the wealth in this country. That is not going to happen. We need to move forward. Bringing Trump to justice is not enough.

What is Donald Trump an example of?

Donald Trump is a perfect example of what is extruded from this unfair and sometimes corrupt system in America. Trump is somebody who is white, wealthy and well-connected and who used questionable behavior and sometimes criminal tactics to gain and sustain wealth and power.

What makes Trump unusual, in my opinion, is how high in society he climbed. Trump has been involved in potentially illegal activity for decades and was able to get away with making civil settlements.

Had Trump been held accountable before he ran for office back in 2015, he would have spent time in a federal prison instead of in the Oval Office. Trump is an example of the danger that we face as a society when we let people get by, because it's easier just to settle than to prosecute. For many of the civil settlements involving Trump and his businesses there could have been criminal punishments. It is just easier for the government to bring civil cases and settle with people sometimes than to charge them criminally. That is the same thing that happened after the financial meltdown of 2008, where we have examples of senior bank executives who settled their cases with regulators and then avoided criminal charges.

As a class of people, how are the rich different from everyone else? How does their world work?

Consider a rich white kid. It is a cradle-to-grave system. People from the white suburbs go to rehab, they don't go to jail. The cops tell you, "Turn down the music and go home." They don't escort you to the police station. That system of protections for the wealthy continues throughout their lives.

What does that cradle-to-grave system look like?

Leona Helmsley once said that "taxes are for the little people." Spin that out more to "Laws are for the little people." The problem with Helmsley is she said the quiet part out loud and was too mean and too greedy and so she went to a Club Fed prison for 18 months. She was the exception, not the rule.

There's a saying accountants tell their well-to-do clients: Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered. Yet for every example set, there is plenty of space for the rich and white, especially rich white men, to make mistakes and be forgiven time and again. That is also a space to be predatory and have one's behavior covered up and otherwise ignored. And it's not just about getting away with crime, it's also about getting by without all that much effort or merit.

It's the ability to be of average ambition or average motivation or average performance and still be assured a safe place to live. To still be assured a decent standard of living and the respect of society and the ability to go about your life even as an adult making mistakes. They know they won't end up living on the street because of their mistakes. It is astonishing to see how different the world of the rich is from how everyone else lives.

How does America's two-tiered legal system work in practice?

We have a double standard in the American criminal justice system that reflects and perpetuates inequality. Cutting legal corners is a tool for advancement only available to the already affluent.

The wealthy not only increase their power by evading punishment, but also benefit from a criminal justice system that incarcerates those with lower social status who also attempt to use crime to get ahead. Scale that up to a multinational corporate enterprise dodging the law, and the disparities are even more stark. Corporations guilty of felonies enter into deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements with the government and reoffend again and again. Yet high-level executives are rarely prosecuted.

Even when the exception proves the rule, and a high-status individual is prosecuted and convicted, the double standard carries into sentencing, where statutory guidelines require judges to give serious weight to a convicted felon's past contributions to their community. Such leniency fails to acknowledge that preemptively spreading around ill-gotten funds to charities is a con artist's trick to gain public trust, manipulate community do-gooders and inoculate themselves. Forgiveness is often reserved for the fortunate.

The federal prison system allows wealthy offenders better conditions than ordinary convicts, with low-security camp settings for the former and dangerous caged conditions for the latter. Often, when top-shelf felons — like 1980s junk bond king Michael Milken, 1990s lifestyle guru Martha Stewart and recently released Enron CEO Jeff Skilling — complete a prison sentence, they rejoin high society with sufficient funds to rehabilitate themselves and relaunch their careers with little lasting stigma.

In 2019, the actress Lori Loughlin, indicted in the college admissions scandal known as Operation Varsity Blues, reportedly sought to hire a crisis management firm that might fashion her redemption in Martha Stewart style. In contrast, the impact of incarceration on the poor and working class can be irreversible for both the defendant and their children for years, if not generations, to come.

What does justice look like in America for the rich and the poor, the elites versus everyone else?

We are all entrenched in a legal system that helps the most powerful protect their private property and contract rights. And that same system subordinates those with less resources and power.

The same system and same courts set up to oversee those types of private disputes also handle criminal matters with a similar mindset. Criminal laws as written, interpreted and enforced tend to punish far more severely those who take property from the wealthy, and let off the hook the giant enterprises and wealthy individuals who take things of value, including lives, from the middle class and poor.

To me, equal justice would mean that prosecutors would have a "collateral consequences" standard applied to ordinary people, not just business organizations, before they prosecute. We would have treatment available and not prison for drug offenders. We would also eliminate cash bail and only impose pre-trial detention on those who are a flight risk or a danger to their community or themselves.

In your book, you detail how the opioid crisis is an example of criminality and lack of accountability in America for the very rich. Can you share some of those details?

Purdue Pharma shows the failures on the part of the Department of Justice in terms of enforcement and repeat offending. This is a company that was prosecuted previously. In 2007, the company did plead guilty to a felony for misbranding OxyContin under the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. Three senior executives — none of them Sackler family members —pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. But the company continued on.

A decade after the 2007 guilty plea, the civil lawsuits brought by the states and private individuals begin. At the end of the Trump regime in 2020, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty again as part of a DOJ settlement with the company. This time, in addition to pleading guilty to conspiracy to violate the the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act and to defraud the United States, Purdue also pled to violating federal anti-kickback laws.There were also civil charges against the Sackler family.

But where are the criminal charges against them or other real people? This is an example of how the failure to hold individuals accountable for the crimes of the organizations they are running or participating in does not create any kind of deterrence. It is not real accountability. It completely undermines the public trust. The Sackler family made billions of dollars. They are one of the wealthiest families in America. They amassed a reported $14 billion fortune and joined the ranks of America's 20 wealthiest families. Meanwhile, more than 232,000 fellow Americans died from prescription opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2018. All these poor and working-class people died from overdoses. The message is that some lives and families matter, and others do not.

The 2008 financial collapse is another example of how the rich are not held accountable for their crimes.

The nonpartisan reports on the financial crisis show that at every link of the toxic mortgage supply chain there was actual criminality. There are many who say things like, "Well, it was perfectly legal!" That is not true. There were loan originators who were encouraging people to lie on their forms. They were using whiteout to change people's income. There was fraud throughout the process from top to bottom. Decades of deregulation helped to fuel this.

As a society we do not have to live this way. We can create a kind of shared prosperity. We can create a system where we don't have financial bubbles, or if we do have bubbles and market downturns, the people with the least do not have to suffer the most. Likewise, the people with the most do not have to gain more wealth. This is happening right now with the so-called K-shaped "recovery." I am grateful that the Biden administration seems to understand this problem and has responded with the COVID relief stimulus and hopefully the infrastructure bill gets passed as well.

There was a recent announcement that the very rich, the top 1 percent, hide 20 percent of their income or find ways not to report it. By some estimates that may be $1 trillion dollars or more over a 10-year period that is not collected in taxes. What are the practical implications of that thievery for the average American?

For example, when people are not paying what is legally required of them it means that someone else is not getting help recovering from their drug addictions, so instead they turn to crime. It means that the roads and bridges are not safe. It means that kids do not have access to preschool. Because the rich are not paying the taxes they owe and otherwise hiding income, it means that they are a de facto criminal class. The 1 percent are literally becoming wealthier and more powerful from criminal behavior. They use their influence to change the laws so that they pay fewer taxes, and this includes underfunding the IRS.

What are the tax investigators and others looking for with Trump and his inner circle? What does "criminality" in that context look like?

In Trump's case, apparently both the Manhattan DA and the New York state Attorney General are looking at tax fraud under state law. More generally, the reason why tax fraud can be so prevalent is that there is a voluntary system of compliance for the most wealthy.

Ordinary people who work for a living have taxes withheld by their employers, paycheck by paycheck. The very wealthy, however, earn money in all sorts of ways that they are supposed to self-report including investment income and consulting arrangements and sales of assets like artwork or jewelry for cash. While in some cases investment firms will report to the IRS on behalf of customers, banks do not need to report incoming and outgoing payments, so there is a great deal of unreported income. So, then it's up to the wealthy to tell the IRS truthfully and to assess losses that they can subtract from their income truthfully.

Here is the disturbing truth about the Republican Party's real vision for America

In Georgia and 46 other states across the country, the Republican Party is trying to keep Black and brown people and other members of the Democratic Party's base from voting. The goal is to keep the Republican Party in power indefinitely through a pseudo-democratic system political scientists call "competitive authoritarianism."

This article was originally published at Salon

In essence, today's Republicans want to turn back history's clock to the Jim Crow era.

The smokescreen for this assault on American democracy is that such anti-democracy efforts are intended to "protect" the "security" of votes against the threat of "voter fraud," "manipulation" and "corruption" by unseen (and of course nonexistent) forces.

But the smokescreen is transparent.

On Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp admitted the truth about the Republican plot against democracy, telling WABE radio, "A lot of this bill is dealing with the mechanics of the election. It has nothing to do with potential fraud or not."

Kemp's statement echoes other public admissions by prominent Republicans and members of the white right: That they know they cannot win competitive elections in a real democracy because their policies and proposals are broadly unpopular with the American people. This is especially true given the country's changing racial demographics, and the fact that the Republican Party's core appeal is almost exclusively based on white identity politics, racism, and white supremacy. Donald Trump's neofascist presidency only accelerated that dynamic.

Former labor secretary and political columnist Robert Reich recently wrote that while "Trump isn't single-handedly responsible" for the Republican turn toward overt racism, "he demonstrated to the GOP the political potency of bigotry, and the GOP has taken him up on it. This transformation in one of America's two eminent political parties has shocking implications, not just for the future of American democracy but for the future of democracy everywhere."

There has been much excellent writing on the legal, legislative and procedural details of the Republican Party's war on Black and brown voters and American democracy.

We know now that the Jim Crow Republicans are attempting to pass at least 350 bills and initiatives that will make mail-in and absentee voting much more difficult, narrow the window of time to vote, remove polling places in predominantly Black, brown and poor communities, add onerous ID requirements and sabotage many voter mobilization efforts, especially those used by Black churches and other community organizations.

These anti-democracy laws also literally allow Republicans to rig the outcome of elections in their favor by expanding their control of local voting boards.

In total, these are de jure examples — written in the law — of how Republicans and the white right are trying to overturn America's multiracial democracy with the goal of creating a new American apartheid state across the South and elsewhere.

But much less has been written about how these Jim Crow Republican attacks are also a de facto assault on the day-to-day lives, dignity, freedom, safety and humanity of Black and brown Americans. The long arc of the Black freedom struggle is one where the de jure realities of institutional racism and white supremacy cannot be properly separated from quotidian social inequality and injustice. These new attempts by Republicans and the white right to undermine America's multiracial democracy are an open declaration that American democracy is to be first and foremost a White democracy. The Jim Crow Republicans' plot against the rights of Black and brown people is also an attempt to make civic life and representative politics a "whites only" space. Because the Republicans and their allies are literally rewriting the rules of democracy in their favor they stand a good chance of succeeding, at least for now.

White supremacy, on a fundamental and basic level, is a declaration that white people can act however they wish toward nonwhite people, up to and including maximal cruelty and violence, without consequences. Why? Because whiteness constructs white people as dominant over other groups by definition. This is the logic of Trumpism and other forms of racial authoritarianism that the post-civil rights era Republican Party has so enthusiastically embraced.

The Jim Crow Republicans have enshrined this principle into law: The Georgia anti-democracy bill makes it illegal to give people waiting in line to vote food or water. President Biden has described such laws as "un-American" and an "atrocity," and other prominent voices have condemned it as well. But these critics are dancing around a more basic and fundamental truth about what is being communicated by the Jim Crow Republicans and their allies.

The real truth and connotative meaning of the Jim Crow Republicans' ban on giving food and water to voters who are waiting in line is that Black and brown people are not quite human — the Other, not worthy of the same respect and decency as "real Americans," understood to be white by default. If the Republicans and other members of the white right who write these anti-democracy bills were being fully honest, they would simply state, "Do not feed the animals."

To properly understand the breadth of the Republican Party and its forces' attack on multiracial democracy one must locate such efforts as part of a larger right-wing campaign to dehumanize Black people and other nonwhites. By implication, votes by such dehumanized people are deemed to be illegitimate and therefore not allowed.

So we reach a teachable moment: What is white privilege? It is understanding that one's basic humanity — as a member of a group of people deemed to be "white" in America — will not be challenged. As we see with the Republican Party's war on multiracial democracy that freedom is by definition denied to Black and brown people in the United States.

In his sweeping and essential book "Trouble in Mind" the late historian Leon Litwack described the informal rules and resulting dehumanization of black people during the earlier Jim Crow regime this way:

The indignities visited on black youths were meant to impress on a new generation the solidity of racial lines and the unchallengeable authority and superiority of the dominant race. … Young blacks underwent the rites of racial passage in a variety of ways. But the specter and threat of physical violence — "the white death" — loomed over nearly every encounter. If they themselves were not the victims, the violence fell on members of the family, friends, and neighbors, almost always with the same intent — to remind black men and women of their "place," to impose severe restraints on their ambitions, and to punish any perceived signs of "impudence," "impertinence," or independence."

With their nationwide crusade to reinstate de jure Jim Crow laws across the United States, the Republicans and their allies are also summoning these old, ugly day-to-day white supremacist cultural norms and rules.

Jim Crow was a form of terrorism, so widespread that millions of Black people (who could accurately be described as internal refugees) fled the South during two great migrations. Jim Crow involved informal rules: Black people could not make eye contact with white people, as that was "disrespectful." Black people were expected to step off the sidewalk and into the street to let white people pass. Black people could not protest or otherwise resist if they were not paid for work they had completed on their jobs. Black and brown adults were to be treated like children and addressed as "boy" or "girl", "auntie" or "uncle". Black adults were also expected to be deferential to white children. Regardless of their income, Black people should not have nicer clothes, cars, homes or personal property than white people. At four-way intersections, a black driver was expected to let white drivers go first.

These social rules were enforced by violence — and all too often by death.

The informal codes and rules of Jim Crow life were in many ways defeated by the Black freedom struggle in the 20th century. But as documented repeatedly by social scientists and other experts, the logic and expectation of Black people's deference to white people and white authority still remains. These are the expectations that fueled the Tea Party, the rise of Trump and other recent manifestations of fake right-wing populism in the United States. This is the expectation that drives the Republican Party's ongoing attacks on multiracial democracy in Georgia and across the country. These expectations of white power were also at the heart of Donald Trump's attempted coup, the Capitol attack and the broader right-wing terrorist movement.

Will America move forward as a prosperous and free multiracial democracy or will it instead jettison that project and be pushed backward into a white supremacist pseudo-democracy. These are the stakes. We face a battle for the soul of America.

Treasonous and fatally incompetent Trumpers are on the rehab trail -- where are the consequences?

Nothing good emerged from Donald Trump's regime, which combined any number of malevolent tendencies: authoritarianism, white supremacy, neofascism and anti-human ideology. Destruction and political sadism were its instruments and its goals. It was also massively corrupt, a carnival of greed, corruption, self-dealing and fraud.

As part of a coordinated campaign of terror, the Trump regime put nonwhite immigrants and migrants in concentration camps where women and girls were sexually abused. Women in some of Trump's camps were also subjected to forced hysterectomies. The regime also stole migrant and refugee children away from their parents, literally disappearing them into a labyrinthine bureaucracy. Many of these children will never be reunited with their families.

Trump and his movement went so far as to attempt a coup to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, culminating in the infamous assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Trump was impeached for the second time (which is unprecedented in American history) because of his role in these events. Of course, his Republican collaborators and possible co-conspirators in the U.S. Senate refused to convict him.

The Trump regime's response to the coronavirus pandemic led to the deaths of more than 550,000 people, through a mix of negligence, incompetence and cruelty. As many as 400,000 of those people would likely be alive if the Trump regime had acted responsibly and in the public interest.

These democidal acts were part of a much larger pattern of behavior: The people of Puerto Rico were largely abandoned by the Trump regime in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The regime also attempted to harm Americans it deemed to be "disloyal," meaning Democrats and others who do not support hm.

Where are the consequences? Where are the investigations? Where and when are the public hearings? Where is the truth committee? Why have Donald Trump and members of his regime not been prosecuted and tried for crimes against humanity?

There will be no such punishments or accountability beyond the merely performative and ceremonial — if we even get that much. Republicans in Congress, unsurprisingly, are obstructing any such efforts — they are largely determined to continue with Trump's mission, and in any case were collaborators and co-conspirators in the Trump regime's crimes.

What about the Democrats? The party leadership does not want the "distraction" of proper hearings and accountability for the crimes and evil of the Trump regime. In their eyes such proceedings would only distract energy and attention from enacting their legislative agenda. President Biden wants "unity" and "bipartisanship." He is crafting himself as the next Lyndon Johnson or Franklin D. Roosevelt with his own version of the Great Society and New Deal.

The mainstream news media wants a return to "business as usual," which in practice means that they can return to the obsolete habits and norms that helped to encourage and then normalize Trump's neofascist regime and assault on American democracy.

The elite consensus, in other words, is clear: The Age of Trump needs to be disappeared, thrown down the memory hole, so that America and the world can go back to "normal." Organized forgetting is a collective project: most Americans are cooperating because they believe (or at least hope) that it will make the trauma and pain of the Age of Trump go away.

Instead of accountability, ignominy and public shame, former officials of the Trump regime are on a rehabilitation tour, being repackaged as "reasonable" and "respectable" people, insider "experts" who will have lucrative careers as right-wing spokespeople and media personalities.

In one of the most noxious examples, Stephen Miller, a white supremacist and professional hate-monger, is now presented on Fox News and elsewhere as an "immigration expert." In a marginally just world — one in which the United States was a mature and morally sound culture instead of a pathocracy — Miller would now be standing trial for crimes against humanity at the Hague. Instead, he is further polluting the country's public sphere and discourse.

And then there is Dr. Deborah Birx, she of the fashionable scarves. Birx was formerly one of the most respected public health experts in the world. Then, in February 2020, the Trump regime made her the White House "coronavirus response coordinator." In effect, her role was to provide cover and legitimacy for the Trump regime's irresponsible, incompetent, and lethal response to the coronavirus pandemic. It is now known that matters were even more dire than was widely understood, in terms of the spread and lethality of COVID-19 and its variants. Likewise, the Trump regime's response was even more incompetent than most people could have imagined.

Instead of sharing this information with the American people and the world, Birx chose to be silent. By doing so, she became a collaborator and enabler of the Trump regime's evil. She shares responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Birx's defense is a common one among collaborators in fascist, authoritarian and other such regimes: "If I left or spoke out matters would have been even worse. I was a moderating influence."

There were many public voices who anticipated this moment, in which America stands at a crossroads, facing a decision about accountability and responsibility for the crimes and misdeeds of the Trump regime and its allies.

In an interview with Salon last March, historian David Perry warned:

We're in a moment in which the corruption of the government is running so deep and so wide and in so many different ways that there is not going to be any one pathway out of it. To look forward and not back will just enable people to continue to steal and will enable distrust in institutions.
In America, we need to have a system that is dedicated to exposing the truth. This process of truth-telling must be based upon some principles: "These are the things that happened. Here are the records. Here are the documents. Here are the things we know that have been altered, that we've been able to track down." Consider how the Trump administration changed the photo of his 2016 inauguration. That was only discovered by happenstance.
How many other things have been changed that the American people and the world do not know about? And that they won't know about unless dedicated resources and investigators go through receipts, go through emails, look at images and check for documents? How will we know? The American people and the world must know the truth.

Historian Jill Lepore, on the other hand does not want a post-Trump truth and reconciliation commission, calling that a "terrible idea." In an October 2020 column for the Washington Post she wrote:

In the end, the strongest argument against either criminal trials or a truth tribunal, should Biden win, is that it would let the Democratic Party and every other institution that is not the Republican Party off the hook for driving the nation into a flaming cauldron. The left is keen to blame the right. But what the nation needs, pretty urgently, is self-reflection, not only from Republicans but also from establishment Democrats and progressives and liberals and journalists and educators and activists and social media companies and, honestly, everyone….
No commission can demand that each of us tell the truth about ourselves and reconcile ourselves to one another. Meanwhile, as for people you disagree with, and probably hate, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it.

In a July 2020 essay for the Atlantic, Anne Applebaum reflected on the Trump regime's collaborators and questions of accountability:

The price of collaboration in America has already turned out to be extraordinarily high. And yet, the movement down the slippery slope continues, just as it did in so many occupied countries in the past. First Trump's enablers accepted lies about the inauguration; now they accept terrible tragedy and the loss of American leadership in the world. Worse could follow. Come November, will they tolerate — even abet — an assault on the electoral system: open efforts to prevent postal voting, to shut polling stations, to scare people away from voting? Will they countenance violence, as the president's social-media fans incite demonstrators to launch physical attacks on state and city officials?
Each violation of our Constitution and our civic peace gets absorbed, rationalized, and accepted by people who once upon a time knew better. If, following what is almost certain to be one of the ugliest elections in American history, Trump wins a second term, these people may well accept even worse. Unless, of course, they decide not to.

In a November 2020 column for the Washington Post, historian Samuel Huneke offered this lesson about denazification in Germany and its lessons for a post-Trump America:

What can we learn from Germany's rocky path of denazification? To state the obvious, the United States is not Nazi Germany. The Trump administration, for all that it has done, has not committed genocide or launched a transcontinental war of aggression. The crimes of Nazi Germany were of a different magnitude than those of President Trump. Nonetheless, the questions that confronted Germans in the 1940s and 1950s are parallel to those we confront today: how to make sure future governments never commit such crimes again — or worse.
The postwar German experience of denazification suggests a twofold approach. On the one hand, we must hold those who have committed crimes accountable, allowing justice free rein, even if its targets are the ex-president, his family or former Cabinet secretaries. Congressional inquiries, too, may serve a valuable role in uncovering wrongdoing and suggesting structural reforms. On the other hand, the Biden administration must be careful to avoid talk of collective guilt, for which there is no judicial remedy and which can serve only to alienate those who might yet return to the democratic fold.
We must also bear in mind that denazification was a process that took decades and was never truly complete. Trials for wrongdoers were a necessary component of staving off future calamity. But just as denazification provided only a basis for future democratic development, so would trials of Trump officials be only a starting point for the social and political reforms we so urgently need, reforms that will also require our politicians to confront this country's legacy of racism with greater clarity than ever before. Like Germany in 1945, we have an opportunity to reimagine our society. The Biden administration should seize it.

In total, the decision not to hold the Trump regime and its allies accountable for their crimes is an illustration of why America's elites are experiencing a legitimacy crisis. The United States is a two-tiered society: There is one set of rules for the rich and powerful and another set of rules for everyone else.

Trumpists are allowed to cause destruction, pain, death and misery without consequences. Even worse, many of them, including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and other members of the regime's inner circle became (even more) fabulously wealthy because of the ways they abused their power and literally ran the White House and the federal government as a personal bank and influence-peddling operation.

By comparison, many millions of poor, working-class and (formerly) middle-class Americans are now unemployed because of the pandemic. Many Americans who are lucky to still have jobs are not earning a living wage: Indeed, wages have been stagnant for 40 years and opportunities for upward economic and social mobility are increasingly rare.

Elites can fail in America and be rewarded — and in many cases be promoted upwards. Elites are also subsidized by the public purse through bailouts, tax write-offs, public subsidies, outright tax theft and manipulation of the tax code in their collective interest. The average American is told to "sink or swim" in a winner-take-all economy and society. As has frequently been observed, neoliberalism amounts to "socialism" for the rich and free markets and survival of the fittest for everyone else.

In other examples of a profoundly unequal American society, many tens of thousands of poor and working-class people are stuck in jail because they cannot afford bail, even at modest amounts. Rich people routinely break the law and are allowed to walk free.

Even the seditious and treasonous events of Jan 6. reveal the contradictions of American society and questions of justice. Trump's followers who assaulted the Capitol are being hunted down by the full force of federal law enforcement and the national security state. Many of those traitors and terrorists will be sent to prison, as they should be. But the ringleaders and coup plotters in the Trump regime and Republican Party — who inspired, commanded and perhaps even helped coordinate the attack on the Capitol — will in all likelihood never be punished.

The experience of living in a two-tiered society fuels rage, on both the left and the right, against a political, social and economic system that is manifestly unfair. Such rage is the fuel for populism, be it the fake authoritarian white supremacist and nativist populism of the right-wing or the real "we the people" outrage at injustice found among progressives and liberals.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties are viewed with distrust if not outright disdain by a large portion of the American public. They are deemed, not altogether unfairly, to be inheritors and protectors of a corrupt system in which the interests of corporations and rich and powerful individuals are prioritized over those of the American people.

Ultimately, one outcome is all but guaranteed if members of the Trump regime and their allies are not held responsible and punished for their crimes and other wrongdoing. American neofascism will be further empowered toward a renewed attack on multiracial democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law. Why should it be otherwise? If there is no punishment and accountability for the Trump regime and its allies, then their crimes were just a test run for what lies ahead.

Expert: Fascism's definitely not beaten — but there's reason for hope

The hope-peddlers and their related ilk in the mainstream news media and elsewhere would like the American people and global public to believe that Donald Trump and his neofascist movement were defeated on Election Day and by Joe Biden's ascendance as president of the United States. They were not.

Trump's forces attempted to overthrow the results of the 2020 election, a plot that culminated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Law enforcement and other experts predict that the United States may experience years, if not decades, of terrorism and other political violence by right-wing insurgents who have been inspired and mobilized by Trump's presidency and movement.

The Republican Party is the front organization — the "polite face" — of American neofascism. In that role, the party and the broader "conservative" movement (including think tanks, interest groups and consulting firms, as well as individual political operatives) have escalated their long-planned strategy to destroy multiracial secular democracy.

In Georgia and 42 other states, Republicans and their operatives are enacting legislation to stop Black and brown voters and other members of the Democratic coalition from voting. Ultimately, this is an attempt to impose a new Jim Crow-style apartheid regime in America.

The New York Times summarizes the details of this new war on voting rights:

After record turnout flipped Georgia blue for the first time in decades, Republicans who control the state Legislature moved swiftly to put in place a raft of new restrictions on voting access, passing a new bill that was signed into law on Thursday.
The law will alter foundational elements of voting in Georgia, which supported President Biden in November and a pair of Democratic senators in January — narrow victories attributable in part to the turnout of Black voters and the array of voting options in the state.
Taken together, the new barriers will have an outsize impact on Black voters, who make up roughly one-third of the state's population and vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
The Republican legislation will undermine pillars of voting access by limiting drop boxes for mail ballots, introducing more rigid voter identification requirements for absentee balloting and making it a crime to provide food or water to people waiting in line to vote. Long lines to vote are common in Black neighborhoods in Georgia's cities, particularly Atlanta, where much of the state's Democratic electorate lives.

Republican policies and ideas are unpopular with the majority of Americans. Demographic changes are also making the Republican Party's white supremacy and racism unappealing to large swaths of the public. In response, Republicans and the white right are attempting to end multiracial majoritarian democracy and replace it with a pseudo-democratic system political scientists describe as "competitive authoritarianism."

In a recent tweet, the Atlantic's Adam Serwer neatly describes this anti-democratic and anti-human logic: "The country is simply theirs; if democracy produces an outcome other than Republican victory then democracy as they understand it has ceased to function."

The hope peddlers, stenographers of current events, professional centrists and others who have consistently underestimated the Republican threat to democracy have done so largely because they deluded themselves into believing that fascism is something that happens "over there," and was defeated on the battlefields of Europe and Asia during World War II.

The troubling reality is that American fascism has existed for centuries in such forms as white on black chattel slavery; genocide against First Nations people; the creation of a white American empire under Manifest Destiny; concentration camps where Japanese Americans were imprisoned; white supremacist violence against brown people along the U.S.- Mexico border and in Texas, California, and the Southwest more generally; and Jim and Jane Crow terrorism and its legacy in "post-racial" America in the Age of Trump and beyond.

Jason Stanley is a professor of philosophy at Yale University and the author of several books, including "How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them" and "How Propaganda Works." His essays and other commentaries have been featured in such leading publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Review and the Guardian.

In this conversation he explains how the Republican Party and white right are manipulating language and symbols in their campaign to stop Black people from voting in Georgia as part of a larger attack on democracy. Stanley also details how Trump's coup attempt and his forces' attack on the Capitol was a crystallization of various elements — including Christian Nationalism, the QAnon conspiracy theory, the neo-Confederate movement, and right-wing paramilitaries and militias — which constitute the core of the American fascist movement and imagination.

Stanley also warns that the attacks on democracy in Georgia and across the country are an ominous sign: Donald Trump may no longer be president, the neofascist movement marches on and American democracy is still imperiled.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Joe Biden's approval level is high, and even some Republicans are temporary converts to his cause of healing the nation. The American people have gotten more support through Biden and the Democratic Party's survival checks and other programs. Biden is trying to be a true leader who obviously cares about the American people and loves the country. But he has only been president for two months. There is all this organized forgetting about the evils of the Trump regime. The American people have been so traumatized that they are desperate for hope. But it is far too early to celebrate given Trumpism's enduring power, his coup attempt and a growing right-wing terrorist insurgency. Am I being too cynical?

You can't have unrelenting hopelessness. At a certain point people just shut off. Hungary is a good example of a country without any political hope at all right now. Democracy is done there. Viktor Orbán is going to be in power until he dies. What happens if a people do not have any success in fighting back and resisting to save their country's democracy? They acclimate. If you are going to live your life in an authoritarian society, often with brutal dictators, a person acclimates to it. They shut off their political side.

I think it's important to have those moments, like in Georgia, those victories that people can look to. The battle there is by no means over. The Republican Party knows its weakness in terms of winning elections democratically. Now the Republicans are systematically targeting democracy. The other day I was thinking: What was it like to live during Jim Crow as a white person in the North? You knew that the South was robbing all Black Americans of the right to vote. Well, we are looking at such a situation now, with the Republicans systematically taking away the right to vote. It is an emergency. The rot is deep. The Republican Party has become an anti-democratic party and they know that they are not going to win elections by a majority vote. Democracy is not over – but there is a potentially very grim future ahead.

As an expert on fascism, what did you see as you watched Trump's coup attempt and the attack on the Capitol?

It was a moment of social chaos. With Trump's claims about the election, it gave license to his followers. But I was actually expecting much worse and I have felt that way for some time.

I am surprised the attack on the Capitol was not more violent. I was also concerned that law enforcement agents would join in the attack too. There were concerns about other formal parts of government too given the likes of Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.

How does the Capitol attack on Jan. 6 by Trump's supporters cohere into an over-arching narrative of American neofascism?

The kind of fascism here in the United States is white Christian nationalism that is connected to the Southern Confederacy "lost cause" mythos. Now there is an additional dimension, which is a new "lost cause" myth that is the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and his movement.

At the Capitol attack there were people dressed up like Vikings and other characters from Norse myths, which is more of an example drawn from classic European fascism — for example, the "shaman" wearing the horns. In total, the attack on the Capitol involved the unification of Southern white Confederacy supporters, the lost cause, and Christian nationalists. Add the worship of Trump, and it is a cult of the leader.

What is the role of the QAnon conspiracy theory, and conspiracism more generally, in American neofascism?

It is utterly central, in that the "enemy" is not legitimate in terms of democracy. The "enemy" is depicted as being a fundamental threat to the nation. The structure with this new American neofascism and its conspiracism mirrors KKK ideology and Nazism with the idea that there are these "leftist elites" — in the past and even in the present, those "leftist elites" would be "the Jews." In that imaginary, "the Jews" are trying to provoke and manipulate Black people into a "race war" that would destroy the nation. Now they have included feminism and the rights of gays and lesbians in their conspiratorial narrative.

In the end, it is really an old story about "defending the nation," which in turn means defending white Christian patriarchy. The importance of patriarchy in these neofascist conspiracies must be remembered. These conspiracy theories are deeply patriarchal. They are centered around child sex abuse and the sex trafficking of women. At its root the narrative is: "Your women are at risk and you need a strong leader to protect them." Those enemies want "your women." The enemy is going to turn your boys into girls. They're going to take "your women" and traffic them. They're going to take your children. These conspiracy theories are central to a politics of fear, and a politics of fear makes a person and group crave a strong leader.

The role of emasculation, both literally and metaphorically, is important in the QAnon neofascist imagination. That and many other right-wing conspiracy theories are fixated on embattled masculinity and weakness, and fears by men that they cannot protect their women and children. And the ultimate protector in their view of the world is the white Christian male.

That is correct. These types of conspiracy theories such as QAnon make that aspect of fascism very salient and central. If a man cannot protect "his women," then he is truly emasculated.

The "cancel culture" right-wing myth-making is also centered on similar threats and anxieties. It is all deeply existential, where the internal logic is that we white right-wing Christian conservatives are going to be "canceled," meaning destroyed by "those people." Violence, then, is a natural and logical response.

The economic is shifted to the cultural. Then the language becomes one of how it is a culture war of annihilation. You are correct: The culture war narrative is about existential enemies. What the right-wing's narrative involves are claims of existential threat because "they," "the enemy" — here being the "left," Democrats, progressives, liberals, etc. — are trying to destroy "our" culture.

Now the focus becomes central elements of childhood. The "enemy" is trying to rob you of your childhood identity. And remember your childhood? It was nostalgic and innocent. They're trying to rob you of your past! The right-wing culture war narrative is creating a narrative and logic that "the enemy" is doing a horrible wrong to you. The sense of anxiety you feel, it's because your past was stolen away. They're trying to say that your past, the nostalgic childhood things you loved, are evil. Dr. Seuss, Disney. And moreover, they're trying to tell you your childhood was racist and evil. The right-wing cancel culture strategy makes their public furious. Now the anxieties about the future are refocused there instead of on other matters.

How does one counter this?

The first thing is to remove the sense of impending doom and anxiety from them. That's what the Biden administration is trying to do. The only way we know how to do that is economically. You will always have people with immature emotional impulses. The only thing you can do is try to minimize the anxiety.

The idea that white supremacy, racism, neofascism and other anti-human philosophies and movements can be stopped through money and resources is a very orthodox left way of approaching these problems — this idea that material realities are at the root of such social problems. There is a great deal of evidence to the contrary. For example, there are many rich or upper-class white people who support Trumpism and other forms of American fascism. They are not suffering from "economic anxiety."

We are never going to get rid of the problem. We can only reduce the support for these types of fascist conspiratorial ideas and movements.

Slavery and Jim Crow are America's native form of fascism. How does that help to explain what is happening in Georgia and other parts of the country, with these efforts to stop Black and brown people from voting?

What is happening in Georgia and other parts of the country is clearly continuous with our Jim Crow past, with superficially race-neutral barriers to voting designed specifically to place serious obstacles to voting for Black, poor and urban voters. Instead of literacy tests, you have well-designed strategies based on empirical research about voter access that are being implemented to impede democracy. Most frighteningly, these laws further politicize the election administration process, to a degree that compromises the claims of states that pass such legislation to be democracies.

Republicans clearly were paying attention in 2020 to the obstacles that prevented Trump from overturning the election. They have focused precisely on those obstacles across the relevant states and removed them with surgical precision. You will now legally be able to discard votes from Black-majority cities. It's legal. That's vitally important to pay attention to — when you write into law the basis for disenfranchising populations you don't like, it's time to reevaluate whether or not you are living in a democracy.

What did you make of the anti-democracy Georgia voting bill being signed into law in a room of masked white men, under a painting of a Black slave labor prison camp, while a Black Georgia state representative, Park Cannon, was being arrested for trying to enter the governor's office to witness these events?

Politicians pay close attention to imagery. It is implausible to think that the symbolism was not intentional.

How are the Republican Party and white right using propaganda and other manipulations of language — which are in fact assaults on reality — to create a new Jim Crow system?

This is what I describe as "undermining propaganda." You use an ideal to subvert that very same ideal. "One person, one vote" is used to push voter disenfranchisement laws. You claim that you are "protecting" democracy while in fact you are undermining it. It is a standard approach to propaganda — undermine the thing you are claiming to protect. An even better description for that strategy is "immolation." Democratic ideas are being immolated. The way the destruction is concealed is by racism. The Republican Party and broader right wing, in its attacks on democracy, say that they care about "real votes" and "genuine votes." What are the genuine votes? In their mind, the genuine votes are the white votes.

Conservatives are mad at Michael Moore again -- because he's right

The right-wing "cancel culture" mob has once again grabbed their torches and pitchforks. Their newest target is documentary filmmaker and political commentator Michael Moore.

What is Moore's most recent offense?

In response to Monday's mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, Moore tweeted "The life of Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa shows that people can come from all over the world and truly assimilate into our beloved American culture," and included an image of the Statue of Liberty.

Alissa is the alleged shooter in the Boulder tragedy. He was born in Syria but came to the United States as a child in 2002.

Reasonable persons may choose to disagree with Moore's timing, or his tone. But the fact remains that his comments about the Boulder mass shooting are largely correct.

Those on the right and elsewhere who are performatively "outraged" at Moore's comment are just angry because he spoke the truth about America's gun culture and our societal addiction to mass shootings and gun violence.

A society's culture is not a buffet where a person chooses the things they like and then ignores or denies the existence of those they do not. Such thinking is immature, simplistic and lacks nuance. In other words, it confirms what research by social psychologists, neuroscientists and others has shown about how conservatives and right-wing authoritarians think about morality, politics and society more generally.

As demonstrated by historian Richard Slotkin in his landmark book "Gunfighter Nation", guns and gun violence are central to America's culture and identity.

During an interview with Bill Moyers about the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Slotkin elaborated:

And what we have in this country is we have a history in which certain kinds of violence are associated for us with the growth of the republic, with the definition of what it is to be an American. And because we are also devoted to the notion of democratic individualism, we take that glorification of social violence, historical violence, political violence, and we grant the individual a kind of parallel right to exercise it, not only to protect life and property but to protect one's honor and to protect one's social or racial status. In the past that has been a legitimate grounds.

To that end, mass shootings and other examples of gun violence are one of the principal ways that America is truly an "exceptional" nation.

As I explained in an earlier essay at Salon:

The U.S. has the highest rate of gun-related deaths among wealthy nations. The number of deaths from gun violence would be even higher if not for dramatic recent advances in trauma and emergency medicine.
The U.S. has more guns per capita than any other country in the world — even more than Yemen, a nation torn apart for years by a bloody civil war. In fact, there are more guns in the United States than there are people. Gun violence is estimated to cost the U.S. economy more than $200 billion a year, according to a 2019 report.
It is especially worth noting that just 3 percent of gun owners possess half the total number of guns in America. Some of these "super-owners" have dozens of guns. They are overwhelmingly white and male. …
While gun "advocates" have created superhero narratives, such as the fantasy about "a good guy with a gun" who stops "a bad guy with a gun," the reality is that a gun owner is much more likely to shoot a family member, a neighbor, a friend or themselves — by accident or suicide — than a criminal assailant. "Defensive gun use" statistics are inaccurate and wildly exaggerated.

Many members of the right-wing chattering class and others of that tribe are responding to Michael Moore's basic observations about guns and American culture as though they had suffered a narcissistic injury. This is true more generally in how the American right responds to nearly all attempts to enact reasonable gun safety laws.

But what is the source of this injury? For many gun owners, especially right-wing white men, the gun is a key part of their core identities in terms of privilege, sense of self and power. It is not just the gun that they fear will be regulated — they believe their literal personal existence will be imperiled if access to guns were to somehow be even marginally curtailed. Such deep attachment to guns as an extension of the self is largely explained by what social psychologists have termed "terror management theory."

This posits that because human beings are aware of their own mortality, they therefore develop compensatory behaviors which include cultural institutions like religion and patriotism. Symbols such as flags, and in the case of Christianity the crucifix, have a totem-like power which gives the believer and follower a sense of immortality. These systems of meaning and dynamics are at work on both a conscious and subconscious level, for individuals and society as a whole.

In American culture, guns have effectively become sacred objects. In that role, the gun is a means of symbolic and literal protection from death. It is also a tool for getting and keeping one group's power over others as seen with the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of black people, militarized policing, and the creation and maintenance of American empire.

Moore's tweet about guns and American culture were even more triggering for conservatives and other members of the right because he included an image of the Statue of Liberty, a sacred object in the national imagination.

It is no coincidence that death anxieties are a key factor that correlate with high levels of support for Trumpism and other authoritarian movements.

Public opinion polls show that as mass shootings and other gun violence has increased in America, Republicans actually oppose gun safety efforts even more. Predictably — and far more logically — Democrats and liberals respond to mass shootings and other gun-violence tragedies with greater support for gun safety laws.

Death anxiety has a profound influence on American politics in other ways as well: In red-state regions where coronavirus rates (and death rates) are highest, support for Donald Trump during the 2020 Election was also at its highest. In essence, death and sickness have made Trump's followers increasingly loyal to him and the Republican Party.

Ultimately, America's inability to create and enforce effective gun laws is rooted in competing conceptions of freedom. Conservatives emphasize "negative freedom" and a belief that government should be shrunk down to the bare minimum, and that "freedom from" is the most important aspect of democracy and human existence.

Liberals, progressives and other more humane thinkers understand that government can play a positive role in society. In this conception, "positive freedom" means that citizens can live better and more productive lives where, for example, they are free from anxieties about being killed in a mass shooting, or free from the fear that they may fall ill and not have access to health care, or free from the fear that their environment is dangerously polluted.

To state this equation differently, a gun owner's freedom ends at the boundaries and limits of public safety. Likewise, the "personal freedom" not to wear a mask during the coronavirus pandemic ends at the health and safety of other people.

A healthy democracy always involves a balance between these positive and negative understandings of freedom.

What Michael Moore hinted at in his tweet about gun violence is the reality that we need to embrace a new form of American patriotism, one grounded in the facts and realities of American history, life and culture.

If the American people keep on lying to themselves about who they are, then the plague of mass shootings and gun violence will continue — and all the other existential problems in our society that feed into this epidemic of violence will keep getting worse as well.

Cult expert — and cult survivor — says QAnon believers can be redeemed -- here's how

QAnon, the anti-Semitic and white supremacist conspiracy-theory cult and live action roleplaying game, may actually be a new type of American religion, as Caroline Mimbs Nyce argued in a recent article at the Atlantic. In an interview with CBC radio, sociologist Edwin Hodge offered this complementary insight:

QAnon develops like a lot of conspiratorial movements do: It develops this kind of internal logic that governs the behavior of people, that governs how people view the world, how they interact with authorities, with social elites, that sort of thing. But it's also beginning to construct a moral framework. It's also beginning to construct ... almost a cosmology, that draws in government agents, celebrities, economic systems, and has been drawing in scripture. We're starting to see QAnon begin to ... become infused with religious iconography, particularly of the sort of evangelical Christian variety. We see pastors, folks of religious persuasions, beginning to use biblical scripture to justify or support the predictions that are made by the conspiracy.

QAnon may endure. But it is more likely to become yet another bizarre and obscure cult lost to history, described in future historical footnotes but forgotten by most people. In our present moment, however, QAnon and its power are very real.

QAnon commands the loyalty of millions of mostly white, right-wing Americans. It wields increasing power over the Republican Party up to the highest levels of government, including a former president, others in his circle and Republican-elected officials on the national, state and local level.

QAnon provides a sense of meaning and community for its followers. In a country struggling through a pandemic with more than 500,000 dead, a ruined economy, a growing distrust of elites and the existing social and political order, spiraling rates of loneliness and other forms of social alienation, QAnon attracts the vulnerable and despondent. In total, the emergence and popularity of QAnon, like other cults, is a sign of a sick society experiencing a deep crisis of meaning.

QAnon is a national security threat: It was integral to the Jan 6 coup attempt and attack on the Capitol by Trump's supporters. National security and law enforcement experts are warning of its influence in the military, and it is playing a role in radicalizing members of the white right and other Trumpists into political violence and terrorism.

In keeping with its "religious" dimensions, QAnon has now become a powerful influence in right-wing evangelical churches, where it is radicalizing congregants towards ever more extreme views and actions.

Steven Hassan is one of the world's foremost experts on mind control, cults and similar destructive organizations. He was once a senior member of the Unification Church, aka the "Moonies." He is now founder and director of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center Inc. and has written several bestselling books, including "Freedom of Mind," "Combating Cult Mind Control" and, most recently, "The Cult of Trump."

In this conversation, Hassan details how the coronavirus pandemic has amplified the ability of QAnon and other cults to recruit new members. He draws upon his personal experiences to explain why Trump's followers would attack the Capitol and be willing to kill and die for their leader. In addition, he shares the insight that QAnon is much more than a mere "kooky conspiracy theory," but is part of a sophisticated "undue influence" campaign and authoritarian movement designed to cause chaos in American society.

At the end of this conversation, Hassan shares his experiences in trying to help QAnon followers leave the cult and explores how family members and friends are integral to that process.

This conversation has been edited, as usual, for clarity and length.

You are one of the world's leading experts on cults and mind control. What are some of the biggest misconceptions about QAnon?

Two things. One is minimizing the QAnon threat by calling it a "kooky conspiracy theory." The second is this language about a "post-truth world." We are not living in a post-truth world. We are living in an age of undue influence. QAnon is better understood as an authoritarian cult.

There is a myth of invulnerability: The average person believes that they could never be manipulated into joining a cult. Nobody is invulnerable. And I want people who are exiting a cult to not be humiliated and shamed. I want them to join the rest of us who were in a cult. We need to de-stigmatize the experience: We all can be deceived and manipulated. The important thing is getting out of the cult and reclaiming your power in your life.

How has the coronavirus pandemic amplified the power of QAnon and other cults and conspiracy theories?

The pandemic situation has made people more suggestible and susceptible. Social isolation is very important here: Human beings are not meant to be without touch and being in front of a screen or on a smart phone for all these hours each day. Social isolation and the pandemic are definitely influencing people's ability to function.

The Trump-inspired attack on the Capitol was an example of groupthink. Yes, of course there was the white supremacy and the Christian fascism and violence. But when I saw the coup attackers, I saw Trumpists, the vast majority of them white men, who looked as if they were almost possessed by some otherworldly force. They were maniacal. It was collective narcissism and groupthink. What did you see when you watched the events of Jan. 6?

When I was in the Moon cult in 1974, Sun Myung Moon gave a lecture to us about how God wanted Richard Nixon to be president despite Watergate. And we were a bus down to D.C. We fasted for three days on the Capitol stairs because God wanted Nixon to be president. I was watching the attacks on the U.S. Capitol and I was thinking that I would have done that. If Moon told me we had to attack the Capitol for God I would have done it. I was already indoctrinated that democracy was Satanic and we needed a theocracy to rule America and the world.

Watching the attack on the Capitol, I actually expected far worse. I thought there would be way more violence and death. I'm grateful that I was wrong, but I am absolutely not surprised that there was a violent coup attempt.

What do we know about the members of Trump's mob who were willing to kill and die for him during the coup attack on the Capitol?

Many of them are likely members of religious cults such as the New Apostolic Reformation groups. Such groups have millions of American members. The leaders of these NAR groups claim to be an apostle or a prophet of God who gets direct revelation and has the power to cast out devils and to do faith healing and even speak in tongues. These leaders also practice the BITE model — which involves behavior, information, thought and emotional control — to create a new dependent and obedient identity where your thoughts, feelings and conscience are suppressed. This also involves such things as "thought stopping." People subjected to these techniques live in a world they understand to be one of "us versus them" and "good versus evil,"

The members of these NAR groups are programmed, as I was, not to believe the news media because it is "fake news" and "the enemy of the people" and the like.

They are engaging in thought-stopping against any doubts or criticisms. They are also in an information silo, where their trusted sources may be religious talk radio or Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, Alex Jones, Breitbart, Daily Caller or some other far right-wing site. The mindset is war. The people who attacked the Capitol thought that they were actually going to save America from the evil "communists" and "socialists" who somehow put Biden in power.

QAnon is also a type of live action video game for the cult members and other followers. It gives them the illusion that they are being heroes. It also gives them meaning in their lives.

I did a TEDx talk about dismantling QAnon. One of the participants was a former developer of alternate reality gaming named Jim Stewartson. He explained to me how in that alternate gaming world, there were rules and an end point for the game.

As he sees it, QAnon is using the same principles to get people excited to solve the puzzle with these "Q drops" and trying to make sense of the secrets. The participants get into QAnon so deeply that it is not a game to them anymore. They are out in the streets. They infiltrate the anti-vaccine movement. They get the soccer moms, people involved in yoga and the New Age movement. QAnon could also be a type of psy-op being run by a hostile foreign power.

Do the leaders of QAnon actually believe in it? What of the Republican elected officials and others on the right who claim QAnon membership and support?

We would have to do a case by case evaluation. Is this person doing this because they took money from Russia? Or because they are being blackmailed? I do not know if they are true believers or not, but my guess is that there is a group of them that basically want to keep the votes and are willing to fall in line with the desires of their funder. I believe that there are probably a good number of Republican officials and other right-wingers who actually believe in QAnon.

You have been trying to help many of these QAnon people. How are they different or similar from those people who do not join cults?

The pandemic has created, in a sense, an ideal set of conditions for people to engage in mind control over others. This is because of fear and social isolation, and being online so much more. Many people are being recruited deceptively. They do not start out wanting to join a cult. But someone on Facebook or other social media is saying to them, "Would you watch this and tell me what you think of it?" If someone is not politically sophisticated and does not know how to discern credible sources versus very uncredible ones, they can be very vulnerable to QAnon.

What are members of QAnon — and those who join other cults — looking for? What is the crisis of personal meaning that they are trying to solve?

There is a tendency to blame the victim and say they were weak and that is why they were sucked into the cult. But I would argue that in my experience, all people want to better themselves, learn, improve, make more money, have healthy relationships and the like. People who find themselves in QAnon and other cults want to be involved with a community that is greater than themselves. They want to feel like their life has some greater purpose. Ultimately, in my experience they have just been co-opted through deceptive recruitment and indoctrination.

What advice would you give to families and friends who have someone they care about who is in QAnon? How can they extricate them?

Here is what you should not do. Do not argue with your friend or relative who has been manipulated into joining QAnon or another cult. Do not call them names and try to argue facts with them, because you'll just propel them deeper into the cult reality.

So what should be done? Brainwashing is not 100% effective and permanent, and people do wake up and get out of the cult. Understand that love is stronger than mind control. Maintain a regular relationship with the person you are trying to help. Agree to create boundaries. Agree to not talk about politics for example. Talk about areas where you have common ground. Empower the person to think for themselves.

The most powerful technique is asking a good question in a respectful way and waiting for an answer, and then following up. For example, the single most powerful frame to use when engaging somebody in a cult is as follows.

Say something such as, "Look, you're an intelligent, educated person. I respect you very much. It's clear that you believe sincerely that QAnon is real. I would like to think that I am an intelligent, educated person too. If what you are following with QAnon is real, and I'm not understanding it, then I need to know what you know. Let's agree to pursue truth together. If it is legitimate, it will stand up to scrutiny. And if it's not, why would either of us want to spend time believing and acting on things that aren't real?"

Then typically the Q person will send you 60 links and they'll say, "Do the research I did." Which is code and loaded language for, "I got indoctrinated. You get indoctrinated." And you should say, "You know what? I'm interested in pursuing this based on my faith and my relationship with you. So what I'd like to propose is you pick one thing that was very influential and important to you. Let's watch it together and agree to discuss it. After we do that, I get my turn and I will present something. We'll watch it together and we'll discuss it. And we'll take turns back and forth. Are you game?" If done properly, with love and respect — and the frame isn't, "I'm right, you're wrong. I'm smart, you're stupid for believing" but instead, "Let's find out together what's really true" — this can be the most effective approach that family members and friends can take to helping someone in QAnon.

The other thing I have learned in trying to help people extricate themselves from cults is that it is important to have a team or network of other family members and friends involved. It is a group that got them into QAnon, and it is more effective to have a group working to empower a person trying to leave the cult to start questioning things and doing effective reality-testing.

Two mass shootings within a week: America's gruesome 'bingo card' total keeps growing

America is struggling through a season of death. At least 540,000 people have succumbed to COVID-19, and we have suffered two mass shootings in seven days. Last Tuesday, in a possible or likely hate crime, a white man, shot and killed eight people in the Atlanta area, six of them women of East Asian descent. On Monday, another 21-year-old man, reportedly a Syrian immigrant who had lived most of his life in the United States allegedly shot and killed at least 10 people at a King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, Colorado. One of the victims was a Boulder police officer.

Those were not the only examples of large-scale gun carnage in America during that same seven-day period: There were also mass shootings in Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia, Stockton, California, and Gresham, Oregon.

These incidents are a few examples of many that illustrate the ways that America is truly an "exceptional" nation — in its astronomically high levels of gun violence and mass shootings.

The U.S. has the highest rate of gun-related deaths among wealthy nations. The number of deaths from gun violence would be even higher if not for dramatic recent advances in trauma and emergency medicine.

The U.S. has more guns per capita than any other country in the world — even more than Yemen, a nation torn apart for years by a bloody civil war. In fact, there are more guns in the United States than there are people. Gun violence is estimated to cost the U.S. economy more than $200 billion dollars a year, according to a 2019 report.

It is especially worth noting that just 3 percent of gun owners possess half the total number of guns in America. Some of these "super-owners" have dozens of guns. They are overwhelmingly white and male.

In her book "Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment," Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz describes America's obsession with guns:

The astronomical number of firearms owned by U.S. civilians, with the Second Amendment considered a sacred mandate, is also intricately related to militaristic culture and white nationalism. The militias referred to in the Second Amendment were intended as a means for white people to eliminate Indigenous communities in order to take their land, and for slave patrols to control Black people.

While gun "advocates" have created superhero narratives, such as the fantasy about "a good guy with a gun" who stops "a bad guy with a gun," the reality is that a gun owner is much more likely to shoot a family member, a neighbor, a friend or themselves — by accident or suicide — than a criminal assailant. "Defensive gun use" statistics are inaccurate and wildly exaggerated.

Like soldiers in wartime, many Americans have developed a type of gallows humor to manage the routine horrors of a culture where gun violence and mass shootings are fixtures of day-to-day life. One such example of these macabre sensibilities is the "mass shooting bingo card" that circulates online after a high-profile mass shooting such as those over the past week in Boulder and Atlanta.

The mass shooting bingo card has squares labeled with categories such as "mental health," "lone wolf," "thoughts and prayers," "violent video games," "now is not the time to talk politics" and "radical Islamic terrorism."

In a larger context, the mass shooting bingo card is a representation or metaphor of how race, class, gender, religion and other identities filter the American public's understanding of gun violence and how to assign blame and responsibility for it.

But the mass shooting bingo card is not understood and used the same way by different groups of people. For many nonwhite people and others, it becomes a way to point out the hypocrisy and contradictions around how guns, the color line and violence intersect in America, where certain groups of people are automatically deemed to be criminals and terrorists if they are involved in a mass shooting or other large-scale act of violence.

But those who are invested in white privilege and white (male) power, as well as masculinity, individualism and lack of group accountability — for whom guns (and a de facto monopoly on violence) are understood as a type of birthright, never to be restricted — use the logic of the mass shooting bingo card to support the status quo.

Applied in that way, the mass shooting bingo card deems that a white person (especially a member of the white right) who commits an act of mass violence is just "having a bad day" — as a sheriff's captain in Georgia described the alleged shooter there — is someone worthy of empathy, to be deemed "mentally ill" and therefore not responsible for his actions. In other words, this person is given a pass designed to avoid a challenging conversation about the relationship between whiteness, gender, guns, crime, terror, politics and violence.

Tucker Carlson made great use of the mass shooting bingo card in a recent op-ed at Fox News, writing this about the alleged Atlanta shooter:

Robert Long seems deranged, but his obsessive and violent behavior seems sadly familiar if you follow the news closely. An increasing number of Americans struggle with mental illness. It would be worth knowing much more about Robert Long's life, if only to try to prevent the next mass shooting.
Evidence has not been presented that Long is mentally ill, and it's infuriating how conservatives keep pinning the blame for mass shootings on people who live with mental illness, most of whom aren't violent killers.

Would conservatives and others apply the same logic about "mental illness" to Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, the alleged gunman in Boulder? In all probability the answer is no, but the exercise is instructive.

That story is still developing, but it has been reported that Alissa showed signs of being mentally unwell, and may have suffered from hallucinations, paranoia, rage issues and other problems.

The Daily Beast has reported that the alleged shooter's brother describes him as mentally ill:

Ali Aliwi Alissa, 34, told The Daily Beast in a phone interview that his brother was paranoid, adding that in high school he would talk about "being chased, someone is behind him, someone is looking for him."
"When he was having lunch with my sister in a restaurant, he said, 'People are in the parking lot, they are looking for me.' She went out, and there was no one. We didn't know what was going on in his head," he said.
He said he was sure the shooting was "not at all a political statement, it's mental illness."
"The guy used to get bullied a lot in high school. He was like an outgoing kid, but after he went to high school and got bullied a lot, he started becoming anti-social," the brother said.

Because the (white) American popular imagination is likely to view Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa as an Arab or Muslim first and foremost, he will almost automatically be categorized as a "terrorist," regardless of whatever information about his motivations may come to light. Of course it is conceivable that multiple overlapping things may be true: Alissa may be mentally unwell, and may also have political or ideological motivations.

Ultimately, the most important common denominator on the mass shooting bingo card are the guns themselves. A majority of Americans, including gun owners and even some NRA members, support reasonable gun control laws such as mandatory waiting periods for handgun purchases, a national gun database, and restrictions on certain types of firearms and ammunition.

As a true "special interest" in the worst and most damning sense of the term, the NRA, the gun lobby and the Republican Party adamantly oppose such measures for reasons that are personal, cultural, financial and political.

We have reason to hope that the COVID pandemic's season of death will soon be over. But the body count from America's gun culture will continue to grow largely unabated. Why? Because a small but vocal and highly influential minority of Americans want it that way. They wave the flag, brandish the Bible, wallow in Fox News and other right-wing propaganda and stock up on guns, all too willing to sacrifice their children — and ours — to a false god.

Don't laugh at Mr. Potato Head: The right's culture-war obsessions are a threat to democracy

Sometimes it's not the wine inside the glass that is poisoned, but the glass itself.

The Republican Party and the right wing have a new obsession: "cancel culture." They hope to turn this into a winning political theme for 2022 and beyond.

In reality, so-called cancel culture is not new, it is part of a long history of a right-wing campaign to use culture war issues to distract the public so they can keep power and influence over American society.

The right's theory of cancel culture is organized around a claim that "liberals" or "progressives" or some other "un-American" and dangerous group is trying to overturn the country's "traditions" and "values." The defenders of these supposed traditional values are of course conservatives, who are depicted as being victimized, preyed upon and somehow oppressed and imperiled by these forces of cultural change.

In the most extreme examples, these outrages can grow into a society-wide moral panic.

The foundational premise of the right-wing culture war is that some kind of Other — sometimes named and delineated, sometimes unspecified — is trying to overturn "mainstream" (white) American culture and values.

The culture war(s) have a long history in American society. There were culture war battles in the 20th century about "black music" such as rock 'n' roll and its supposedly damaging influence on white young people. Comic books were targeted in the 1950s, because they were deemed to obscene and harmful to young people and society more broadly. In the 1980s, the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons was deemed to be some type of gateway to Satanism and cults. Feminists were supposedly going to brainwash young women and girls and turn them against the "traditional family." Socialists have been a long-running bugaboo, throughout the 19th, 20th and now the 21st centuries.

And of course, efforts by conservatives to control women's reproductive choices and control over their own bodies is a recurring cultural war battle across American history.

More recent right-wing wing culture war obsessions and delusions include denying LGBTQ people their full human and civil rights. America is supposedly a Christian nation, under siege by "secularists," "atheists," liberals and progressives who intend to ban the celebration of Christmas. Transgendered people are dangerous — predators who hang around in public bathrooms to molest children, or somehow "seduce" heterosexual men. Transgender boys and girls — but especially girls —should not be allowed to play sports because their presence will somehow contaminate other children.

As with other fascist imaginaries, the core narrative of Trumpism involves the leader and his followers defending and reclaiming the nation and its "traditional values" from dangerous, alien forces. This is a dangerous performance that often flirts with absurdism.

Recently, some on the right-wing became outraged that the venerable toy Mr. Potato Head is being "reimagined" as gender-neutral (although that was is not nearly as true as they suggested). Some of Dr. Seuss' more obscure children's books, featuring offensive or stereotypical images have become another battlefield after the publisher — a private company, obeying the dictates of the market — decided to remove them from circulation. Mating racism, sexism and male insecurity (as well as a poorly-concealed desire for black women's bodies), right-wing bloviators — who somehow still have large media platforms, despite being "canceled" — have bemoaned and condemned Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's rap song "WAP."

Black Lives Matter and "woke culture" are also supposedly trying to destroy the lives of white conservatives, and other white people who do not surrender to "left-wing" political correctness. The New York Times' 1619 Project and critical race theory are indoctrinating young people and white people in general into "anti-white" beliefs. Antifa and other socialists or anarchists are supposedly everywhere, undermining America's true values.

At its core, the right-wing cancel-culture victimology narrative is an effort to deny human freedom and dignity to groups they deem to be undesirable and beneath them in the social hierarchy.

When racists and white supremacists shriek about being "canceled," their real anger is about being held accountable for their behavior, and at the revolutionary idea that nonwhite people are to be respected as equals to white people. Their rage at "cancel culture" is really a neat and convenient to laundering a desire for consequence-free speech and behavior.

Change that empowers groups and individual who were previously marginalized terrifies conservatives because it upsets their sense of natural hierarchy, group authority, and power. Moreover, the right to "cancel" in American society has historically been exercised almost exclusively by white people against nonwhites and other marginalized communities. Even a partial inversion of that power dynamic has created a world that many white conservatives (and others sympathetic to them) do not want to live in.

For those outside of the right-wing echo chamber, today's "culture war" and "cancel culture" anxieties are absurd. Those who complain about Mr. Potato Head, or Dr. Seuss books no actual children have read in 50 years, are to be derided. The adults in the room, "the serious people", are worried about COVID, the economy and other public policy crises. In this "mainstream" narrative, the rubes in red-state Fox News America are being tricked again. The fact that the right wing is resorting to culture-war appeals once again shows how badly they are losing. Joe Biden is winning by ignoring the right-wing troll-bait.

But there's a problem with this analysis. Members of the mainstream news media and other political observers (and the general public) who make such claims are underestimating the power of storytelling, emotions and systems of personal meaning.

In many ways, the culture war and "cancel culture" controversies are likely to be winning politics for the Republican Party and its allies.

At CNN, Herry Enten explains that Republican "critiques of 'cancel culture'" is one of the right's "best political plays":

While Democrats may mock them, the fear of cancel culture and political correctness isn't something that just animates the GOP's base. It's the rare issue that does so without alienating voters in the middle.
We can see this well in the 2020 American National Elections Studies' pre-election survey. This academic survey asks questions on a bunch of topics. This includes a question about political correctness, which, if anything, is a less extreme version of cancel culture.
Respondents were asked whether they thought people needed to change the way they talked to be with the times or whether this movement had gone too far and people were too easily offended.
People being too easily offended won by a 53% to 46% margin over people needing to change the way they talked.
Keep in mind, the voters in this sample claimed they had either voted or would vote for Biden over Donald Trump by a 53% to 42% margin. This just gives you an idea of how much more popular the opposition to cancel culture and political correctness is than the baseline Republican presidential performance.

A recent poll by Morning Consult and Politico shows that more Republicans had heard about the Dr. Seuss "controversy" than any other major issue, including President Biden's COVID relief bill. Cameron Easley provides these details:

Conservatives on Capitol Hill and in the media have devoted ample time in the past week to criticizing the overseer of Dr. Seuss' estate for pulling six books from publication because of their racist imagery. A new Morning Consult/Politico poll shows that messaging effort is resonating with the Republican base.
Nearly half (48 percent) of GOP voters said they'd heard "a lot" about the decision, according to the March 6-8 survey of 1,990 Americans, more than the share of Republicans who heard about any other news event tested in the poll, including the House's successful passage of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill (44 percent) on Feb. 27 and confirmation that former President Donald Trump and former first lady Melania Trump had been vaccinated for the disease (15 percent). …
Nonetheless, the attention paid to the decision reflects conservatives' confidence that a focus on cultural issues will help the party at the ballot box. Republican commentator Erick Erickson on Tuesday predicted that come next year, "more voters will remember Seuss when they vote than the COVID plan."
While that assertion remains in question, the latest poll's findings suggest that the most recent front in the culture war is registering with the conservative base.

The Republican Party and its right-wing culture war are also contributing to a public safety emergency in the United States. Law enforcement and other experts on domestic terrorism are warning that the Age of Trump has spawned a right-wing violent insurgency that will plague the country for years if not decades to come. To that end, a narrative about how "real Americans" and "conservatives" are being "canceled" is an integral part of a right-wing radicalization process where terrorism is the ultimate outcome. That radicalization process is occurring in plain sight.

There are several available examples. Consider that the theme of the 2021 CPAC conference was "America uncanceled."

On an almost daily basis Fox News and other right-wing propaganda media repeat the lie that white people are somehow being "replaced" in America by nonwhites, especially brown and Black immigrants.

The threat of "replacing" a person or a group is perceived as an existential one. Violence is then a legitimate form of self-defense, an example of natural law in action. When conservatives and Trump supporters are told by the right-wing news media, by their churches, by the QAnon cult and elsewhere that they are being "canceled," what is really being communicated is the need for (preemptive) violence against "liberals," "progressives," Democrats or the Other more generally.

Ultimately, if we laugh at the right's obsession with "cancel culture" we do so at our own risk, and at great risk to American democracy.

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