Democrats 'disarming' in gerrymander wars

With the release of data from the 2020 U.S. census, which is used to draw districts for seats in Congress and state legislatures, officials in state after state have launched a mad dash to begin redistricting ahead of next year's elections. But while Republican-led states are considering extreme means to maximize their gains, some Democrats worry that their party shot itself in the foot before the process even began.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Republicans used redistricting following the 2010 census to carve out near-impenetrable majorities in state legislatures and congressional delegations in states like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. The GOP again has an advantage this year because the party has total control of the map-drawing process in 187 congressional districts while Democrats have full control of the process in just 84 congressional districts. One reason for the major gap is that some Democratic states are "unilaterally disarming," some Democratic lawmakers say, by shifting power to independent redistricting commissions or even cutting deals with Republicans to shrink potential gains.

Republicans, meanwhile, have alarmed even other members of their own party with aggressive plans to shrink Democratic districts and "crack" blue cities in red states, including Louisville, Kentucky; Omaha, Nebraska; Nashville, Tennessee; and Kansas City, Missouri. That tactic involves slicing urban areas up into multiple districts in an attempt to eliminate Democratic seats as much as possible. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has warned against such a plan and some Republican lawmakers have urged their party's state legislatures to consider the consequences. Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., warned that getting too "cute" with the maps could "end up in a lawsuit." Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., warned his party against getting "too greedy" because if "you have a bad election … instead of losing a couple of seats, you lose four or five."

Still, lawmakers like Reps. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., should be "very nervous" about being drawn out of their seats, David Daley, the former Salon editor who now serves as a senior fellow at the nonpartisan advocacy group FairVote, said in an interview.

"The advantages that Republicans engineered in 2010 and 2011 are very much still with us," he said. "In states like Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Ohio, those gerrymanders held for a decade." Although Democrats were ultimately able to claw back some seats and won critical gubernatorial races in states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to give them veto power over the most extreme maps, the party's "options are more limited" this redistricting cycle, Daley added.

"The map is just brutal for Democrats," he said.

Democrats who support the shift to independent commissions and have long decried aggressive (and sometimes illegal) Republican gerrymanders argue that the party is simply putting its money where its mouth is and practicing "good government." But with a razor-thin majority in the House and aggressive Republican plans to maximize their potential victories, those principles could also cost Democrats control of Congress. Republicans need a net gain of just five seats to recapture control of the House — and might be able to pick up that many through redistricting Florida alone. The GOP could easily stand to gain six to 13 seats overall through redistricting efforts in Florida, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina. Of those four states, only Georgia failed to gain congressional seats from the census results while blue states like New York, California and Illinois all lost seats.

On the other hand, if Democrats had not shifted power to independent commissions in three states — California, Colorado and Virginia — they would have controlled more districts than the GOP, according to Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Democrats are particularly alarmed about their prospects in Virginia, where the party sunk millions to win a majority of seats in both chambers of the state legislature under Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam. But then nine Democrats in the House of Delegates voted with Republicans to advance a ballot initiative to create a bipartisan redistricting commission, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters last year. The 16-person commission will include eight state lawmakers from both parties and at least two Republicans must approve the final map, effectively giving the party veto power. If the commission fails to reach an agreement, the state's conservative Supreme Court would decide the new districts.

"We Democrats are cursed with this blindness about good government," Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., told Politico. "In rabid partisan states that are controlled by Republicans, they're carving up left and right. And we're kind of unilaterally disarming. But having said that, I still come down on the side of reforming this process because it's got to start somewhere."

Though Virginia has steadily trended blue for years, some state legislators worry that the commission could imperil their newfound majority.

"I fully support, and voters absolutely deserve a fair, transparent, and most importantly, nonpartisan approach to redistricting," said Democratic state Del. Lashrecse Aird in a statement to Salon. "But the heavy-handed partisanship and disproportionate influence from lawmakers that's unfolding in Virginia is precisely why I was so opposed to the constitutional amendment that created our commission. The inability of this commission to remain neutral and act in the best interests of voters means Virginia's GOP-appointed Supreme Court will almost certainly determine new districts."

In Colorado, another blue state that gained a seat in the census, the Democratic-led House joined the Republican-led Senate to advance an amendment to create a nonpartisan commission that voters overwhelmingly approved. "We're fucking idiots," a Democratic state lawmaker told the Colorado Sun. Republicans, meanwhile, see the independent commission as their best shot at recapturing power in the increasingly blue state. Republican Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert publicly called it "the first step toward achieving the Senate majority for Republicans."

Though the commissions are nonpartisan, some analysts are concerned that they may ultimately disadvantage Democrats, whose voters are typically concentrated in urban areas.

"Even if you're not trying to gerrymander on behalf of Republicans, the fact that Democrats are concentrated in cities and in the inner-ring suburbs means that it is easier to accidentally gerrymander on behalf of Republicans," Matt Grossmann, head of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, told the Associated Press.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group founded by former Attorney General Eric Holder, has pushed independent commissions as fairer alternatives to partisan redistricting processes.

The NDRC did not respond to questions from Salon. Kelly Ward Burton, the group's president, told Politico recently that they simply "want fairness, and we put our money where our mouth is."

"We have pushed for fairness in the states where we have control or influence," she said. We're even doing it at the national level. The Republicans are not, because they intend to manipulate the maps to hold on to power."

The NDRC also vowed to pursue legal action against partisan Republican gerrymanders.

"We will fight tooth and nail in the states with every tool at our disposal to prevent them from locking in gerrymandered maps," Ward Burton told Politico. "We will sue them. We fully anticipate being in court. And that will be the battlefront on which we fight for fair maps. We're ready for that."

But those legal challenges will face more hurdles than usual after the Supreme Court effectively barred federal courts from weighing in on partisan gerrymanders, leaving the issue in the hands of state courts. Though courts have previously struck down Republican gerrymanders in states like Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and Democrats have already filed preemptive lawsuits in several states in hopes of getting courts involved in the process, legal experts doubt there will be drastic reversals this time around.

The Supreme Court decision has effectively given state legislatures "a green light and no speed limit as far as the extreme gerrymanders that they will be able to engineer and implement," said Daley, the author of two books on redistricting.

A majority of states where Democrats have full control of government will have maps drawn by commissions. But in certain states, like New York and New Mexico, the Democratic-led legislatures can reject the commission maps and draw their own.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul vowed on her first day in office to use her influence to help the Democrats expand their congressional delegation through the redistricting process. Some New York Democratic operatives believe the legislature can flip as many as five of the state's eight Republican districts, according to Dave Wasserman, an election analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political report.

The New Mexico legislature can also override the maps created by its advisory redistricting commission. State House Speaker Brian Egolf earlier this year questioned why "Democrats want to unilaterally disarm and give advantage to the people who are trying to make the world a dirtier place, take rights away from people, make it harder to vote — all the things that we oppose."

Egolf told Salon he has "confidence" in the redistricting committee but said the legislature would "review" their recommendations to ensure the maps are fair.

"They are gathering robust public input at meetings all over New Mexico, and I am hopeful that they will use public input, census data and their knowledge of New Mexico's communities of interest to draw district maps that reflect the geographic and demographic diversity of our state," he said in a statement. "Come December, the legislature will carefully review the Commission's maps to ensure that the voting strength of Native American voters and communities of color remains strong. We will also make sure that the maps are fair to communities of interest throughout New Mexico. This is a new redistricting process, but it is one that rightly takes into account the many diverse communities and voices of our state, and that's always been my priority as Speaker."

Democrats have opportunities to expand their gains in other states as well.

In Illinois, Democrats are planning to roll out a party-drawn map that is "very likely" to gut the exurban Chicago district of Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger and significantly change the district of Rep. Rodney Davis, another Republican, according to Politico. The state lost a seat in the census and Democrats, who now control 13 of the state's 18 districts, are expected to draw a map that will likely give them a 14-3 advantage.

Maryland Democrats, who control seven of the state's eight congressional seats, toyed with the idea of drawing an all-Democratic map in 2010. The party ultimately decided against it but, with the House majority at stake, could face significant pressure to significantly redraw the district of Rep. Andy Harris, the delegation's lone Republican.

Oregon, one of the few reliably blue states that gained a seat in the census, was expected to add a Democratic seat to its congressional delegation, where the party already controls four of the state's five seats. But Democratic House Speaker Tina Kotek stunned colleagues by agreeing to a deal with the state's Republican lawmakers that effectively gives the GOP veto power over the state's new district map in exchange for an agreement by Republicans to stop fleeing the state and using other obstructive tactics to block legislation. Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers of the Oregon legislature.

If the legislature fails to agree on new districts, the redistricting power would shift to Democratic Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, but Oregon's congressional Democrats are distinctly unhappy with Kotek's deal. Rep. Peter DeFazio called the move "abysmally stupid." Rep. Kurt Schrader said it was "like shooting yourself in the head."

Kotek's office says she is focused on making "real progress for Oregonians who desperately needed support" after the effects of the COVID pandemic and a historic wildfire season. "She remains committed to ensuring Oregon has a fair, transparent, and constitutional redistricting process," Danny Moran, a spokesperson for Kotek, said in a statement to Salon.

But while Democrats have ceded power to nonpartisan commissions in certain reliably blue states, the real reason Republicans hold such a significant edge is that they have been able to capture legislatures in purple states, which makes it hard to "see what Democrats can do if they wanted to do the same thing," said Daley.

"The long-term solution here can't be aggressive Democratic gerrymanders in Illinois and New York. That is a losing battle for the Democratic Party, it's a losing battle for democracy, it's a losing battle for the American people," he said. "It's a horrible idea. And the map is not in their favor, anyway, even if they went down that road. So you not only squander any high ground, any appeal to fairness, but you set yourself up at a political disadvantage."

It's ludicrous to describe Democrats as "powerless" given that they control both chambers of Congress and the White House, Daley observed. "If they want to put an end to partisan gerrymandering, they could pass a law."

Democrats have proposed a ban on partisan gerrymandering and a nationwide shift to nonpartisan redistricting commissions in the For the People Act, but Republicans used the filibuster to block the bill and in any case Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the Senate's "moderate" fulcrum, opposes the legislation. Manchin has thrown his support behind the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the pre-clearance requirement for electoral changes by states with a history of racial discrimination, including new district maps.

But while Manchin and President Biden have repeatedly suggested that they can ultimately convince moderate Republicans to support voting rights legislation, only Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has backed the John Lewis bill, meaning that there are not nearly enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have ruled out eliminating the filibuster and to this point Biden isn't on board either.

But Congress could also pass a more limited law aimed only at restricting partisan gerrymandering, which Daley predicted would have the support of nearly 75% of voters. "The Democrats did not have this power in 2011. They have it now. If they squander it, they will pay for it," he said. "They know full well what's going to happen to them now. And if they do nothing to protect against the worst excesses of partisan gerrymandering, shame on them."

The Supreme Court has put more than 7 million people at risk of eviction

Millions of Americans are at risk of eviction and homelessness after the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration's eviction ban extension on Thursday.

The court issued an unsigned eight-page opinion saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded their authority by issuing an eviction moratorium extension, which was aimed at areas with "substantial" COVID spread.

"It would be one thing if Congress had specifically authorized the action that the CDC has taken. But that has not happened," the opinion said. "Instead, the CDC has imposed a nationwide moratorium on evictions in reliance on a decades-old statute that authorizes it to implement measures like fumigation and pest extermination. It strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the CDC the sweeping authority that it asserts."

The court said "if a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it."

The court's three liberals dissented.

"The CDC targets only those people who have nowhere else to live, in areas with dangerous levels of community transmission," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a dissent joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. "These people may end up with relatives, in shelters, or seeking beds in other congregant facilities where the doubly contagious Delta variant threatens to spread quickly."

The opinion was part of the court's "shadow docket," where the justices hand down largely unsigned short opinions without going through standard hearings, deliberations, and transparency. Such cases had been mostly limited to uncontroversial petitions or rare emergencies but the shadow docket has dramatically grown under the increasingly conservative Supreme Court, alarming legal experts. "If (the justices) can make significant decisions without giving any reasons, then there's really no limit to what they can do," David Cole, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told Reuters.

Breyer in his dissent argued that the questions about the eviction moratorium were too big for the shadow docket.

"These questions call for considered decisionmaking, informed by full briefing and argument," he wrote. "Their answers impact the health of millions. We should not set aside the CDC's eviction moratorium in this summary proceeding. The criteria for granting the emergency application are not met."

The court's ruling effectively allows eviction proceedings to resume, putting more than 7 million Americans who have fallen behind on rent at risk.

The Trump administration first issued the ban last September after Congress failed to extend the moratorium included in the first round of pandemic relief. The Supreme Court allowed the moratorium to continue in June after conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the deciding fifth vote, said the CDC likely exceeded its authority but let the ban stay because it was set to expire last month. The Biden administration planned to let the ban expire before calling on Congress to extend it amid pressure from lawmakers. House moderates ultimately killed a last-minute effort to pass an eviction ban, which would have been doomed in the Senate regardless, prompting the CDC to issue a revised extension more tailored to areas hardest hit by COVID. Biden acknowledged at the time that the extension may not hold up but "by the time it gets litigated, it will probably give some additional time while we're getting that $45 billion out to people who are, in fact, behind in the rent and don't have the money."

But the distribution of rental assistance has been woefully slow. Congress approved $46 billion in rental aid since December but just $5.1 billion was distributed through July, according to the Treasury Department. With only 11% of the funds distributed, the federal government has tried to pressure state and local officials to move faster and issued new rules to make it easier for applicants to seek aid. But many state and local governments have struggled to set up a system to distribute the funds and some landlords have balked at accepting the aid because it requires them to agree not to evict the tenant for another year.

The eviction ban has provided a lifeline to struggling families since the pandemic began.

"Over the last 11 months, while this eviction moratorium has been in place, we estimate that there have been at least 1.5 million fewer eviction cases than normal," Peter Hepburn of the Princeton University Eviction Lab told NPR. "This has really helped to keep an extraordinary number of families in their homes."

The Biden administration said it is "disappointed" in the Supreme Court's ruling.

"As a result of this ruling, families will face the painful impact of evictions, and communities across the country will face greater risk of exposure to COVID-19," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., who slept on the Capitol steps earlier this month to protest the expiration of the earlier moratorium, said the court "failed to protect" millions of people from "violent eviction in the middle of a global pandemic" and again called on Congress to act.

"We already know who is going to bear the brunt of this disastrous decision," she said, "Black and brown communities, and especially Black women."

There's big money behind the band of Democrats looking to torpedo Biden's agenda

The House passed a $3.5 trillion budget framework Tuesday, but not before a group of centrist Democrats backed by big money groups tried to stall the vote in an effort to scuttle the unprecedented spending package.

Democrats can now move forward with votes on both the larger $3.5 trillion bill as well as a more focused $1.1 trillion infrastructure bill without the votes of Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was first forced to scrap a planned vote on Monday to advance the bipartisan Senate-passed $1 trillion infrastructure bill along with the Democrats' $3.5 trillion budget proposal after a group of House centrists led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., stalled the plan. Nine house moderates signed a letter last week vowing to block the budget bill unless the House votes on the infrastructure bill first.

Pelosi, for her part, planned to hold a final vote on the budget bill while delaying a full vote on the infrastructure bill to appease progressives unhappy with the lack of spending and climate focus in the Senate package but the smaller moderate group demanded that the House vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package first. Pelosi met with Gottheimer on Monday and offered to pass the bipartisan bill by Oct. 1 regardless of what happens with the budget resolution, according to Politico, but some members of the group "quickly balked" at the plan, setting up a potential floor fight where Pelosi could only afford to lose three votes.

"The House can't afford to wait months or do anything to risk passing" the infrastructure legislation, Gottheimer said in a statement last week.

The group grew on Monday as Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., who heads the centrist Blue Dog Caucus, joined the opposition."I'm bewildered by my party's misguided strategy to make passage of the popular, already-written, bipartisan infrastructure bill contingent upon passage of the contentious, yet-to-be-written, partisan reconciliation bill," she wrote in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed. "It's bad policy and, yes, bad politics."

After hours of negotiations, the two sides came to an agreement on Tuesday before the House Rules Committee held a successful budget vote. Pelosi moved up her promised passage date on the $1.1 trillion legislation by a couple of days.

"I am committing to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill by September 27. I do so with a commitment to rally House Democratic support for its passage," Pelosi said. "We must keep the 51-vote privilege by passing the budget and work with House and Senate Democrats to reach agreement in order for the House to vote on a Build Back Better Act that will pass the Senate."

The group of centrist Democrats, who did not get their initial demand, has the backing of several deep-pocketed groups that promote big business interests. The Chamber of Commerce, one of the biggest pro-business dark money groups in D.C., is running ads praising the group for their stance.

The centrist group No Labels, which funnels big donor money to conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans, has also launched a six-figure ad campaign describing the centrist group as "real-life heroes."

The House group also has the support of conservative Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., both of whom are also backed by the Chamber of Commerce. Both senators are "privately advising" the group, according to Axios.

"It would send a terrible message to the American people if this bipartisan bill is held hostage," Manchin said in a statement on Monday. "I urge my colleagues in the House to move swiftly to get this once in a generation legislation to the president's desk for his signature."

Manchin previously called the Democrats' proposed $3.5 trillion budget price tag "irresponsible."

Sinema has also come out against the cost of the plan, though it's unclear what she would cut.

"Proceedings in the U.S. House will have no impact on Kyrsten's views about what is best for our country - including the fact that she will not support a budget reconciliation bill that costs $3.5 trillion," a spokesman for Sinema told Politico.

Progressive groups have countered with their own push. Justice Democrats, a PAC that helps fund Democratic primary challengers, announced a six-figure ad campaign on Monday targeting the centrist group that will also be backed by the Working Families Party, Indivisible, and the Sunrise Movement.

"These nine conservative Democrats are sabotaging Biden's agenda because it would make billionaires and corporations pay their fair share," the ads say.

House leaders are increasingly playing hardball with the rogue lawmakers.

Several House centrists told Politico that Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has called members to warn that their House majority is in danger if they fail to pass the budget bill, which some of the centrist members took to mean that "their own fundraising help from the party would be at risk." The DCCC denied that it threatened resources for members.

A Republican source told the New York Post that one of the moderates has said he was facing "threats to ruin his district during the redistricting process and fire a member's relative" that works at the White House.

Pelosi on a private call last week dismissed the centrist effort as "amateur hour," according to Politico, and told Democratic leaders "there is no way we can pass those bills unless we do so in the order that we originally planned." House progressives have vowed to oppose the bipartisan deal unless the chamber votes on it at the same time as the budget bill.

"We cannot squander this majority and this Democratic White House by not passing what we need to do," Pelosi told colleagues at a private meeting on Monday, according to the outlet. "Right now, we have an opportunity to pass something so substantial for our country, so transformative we haven't seen anything like it."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., warned that if Democrats don't work together they will face "mutually assured destruction."

Other Democrats spoke at the meeting, which each lawmaker "angrier" than the last at the moderate group, according to the report. One member was caught off-mic calling the splinter group "fucking assholes."

Buffalo Democrats are trying to stop socialist nominee by any means necessary

The Buffalo Common Council, the all-Democratic legislative body for that city in western New York State, has voted to "explore" the possibility of eliminating the city's office of mayor. This comes less than two months after socialist candidate India Walton won a stunning primary upset over the incumbent Democratic mayor. Although members of the council have not specifically described the move as a way to prevent Walton from becoming mayor, the timing is noteworthy.

On June 23, Walton, a union organizer and activist, defeated four-term Mayor Byron Brown, the former chair of the New York Democratic Party and a longtime ally of outgoing Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In fact, Walton will be the only candidate on the ballot in November — Republicans have not won a mayoral race in Buffalo since the 1960s, and didn't even field a candidate this year. Walton appeared set to become the first self-identified socialist mayor of a major city in 60 years, at least until Brown launched a write-in campaign that may receive millions of dollars in support from developers. Now the city's lawmakers are considering abolishing the mayor's position entirely.

Buffalo lawmakers voted last month to study replacing the city's mayor with a city manager who would be selected by the nine-member council. Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt, who proposed the change, said the city manager would "carry out the will of the Council members." The vote set a 90-day deadline — which would fall two weeks before the mayoral election — to lay out the benefits and drawbacks of changing the city's governance structure. Wyatt argued at a council meeting in July that the city manager would not be "concerned about elections" and instead would focus on "outcomes for the people he reports to."

While about a dozen cities in New York have a city manager, only two function without a mayor: Batavia and Long Beach City. Both are much smaller than Buffalo, the second-largest city in the state after New York City.

The council vote was not without its detractors. Councilmember Christopher Scanlon opposed the measure, arguing that it would allow a bare majority of the nine elected legislators to decide who runs a city of more than 270,000.

"I'd rather have someone be appointed by thousands and tens of thousands of people than … five people," Scanlon said. "I think that, quite frankly, could lead to some nefarious behavior, where you only need five votes instead of tens of thousands."

Wyatt, who has frequently clashed with Brown, told the Buffalo News the move was in response to Mayor Brown and his predecessors, noting that over the last four decades the city's population had shrunk while poverty continued to rise. He also said the move was prompted by "backlash" he received from Brown's administration over Wyatt's opposition to the implementation of speed cameras in minority neighborhoods, which the council ultimately voted to remove over Brown's objections.

"We cannot continue to govern in that type of way where if you don't do what the mayor wants, he can attack you or not give you information," he told the outlet. "That is just not a good model and it's shown over the years, the decades, that model does not help the residents in the City of Buffalo, especially those who are poor."

Brown pushed back on Wyatt's characterization.

"Under the Brown Administration we have record economic development of well over $7 billion, the lowest tax rate in over 25 years, property values rising citywide, more than 2,100 units of affordable housing created, the largest spending on youth employment ever and the most diverse workforce in the history of Buffalo," he said in a statement to Salon. "The Mayor of Buffalo is the manager of the City."

But Wyatt's move could also serve to kneecap Walton, a self-described democratic socialist endorsed by the Working Families Party who spoke about her experience as a working-class teenage mother during a campaign focused on addressing poverty and racial inequities. Walton has called for expanding food access and affordable housing, investing in vulnerable communities, cracking down on polluters, investing in street improvements and overhauling the city's police department.

"The Common Council's recent inquiries confirm what we already knew: those committed to preserving the status quo would fight hard against the interests of working class Buffalonians," Walton said on Twitter. "But we will overcome & build a Buffalo with dignity for all. Together."

Walton's campaign did not respond to questions from Salon.

Some lawmakers expressed concerns that Wyatt's proposal would do little to help the city's residents. Councilmember Ulysees Wingo voted against the resolution over concerns that giving the council the power to select the city's executive would eliminate the balance of power.

"I'm not necessarily seeing how this would be any more equitable than what is already in place," he said.

It's not the first time that Buffalo lawmakers have considered such a power grab. Councilmember Joe Golombek said at a July meeting that the council had examined the idea more than a decade earlier and found that the city manager system has historically been a way for entrenched white politicians to retain power in the face of changing racial demographics.

Golombek said the idea had emerged in the early 20th century, "when there was a fear of people that were living in cities, people like us that are sitting here, Black people, ethnic people, etc. And the old white Anglo-Saxon Protestant ruling elite saw themselves losing power, and so there was an attempt to sort of corral government so that it wouldn't be power to the people any longer."

Wyatt did not respond to questions from Salon.

While the council is free to study the issue, actually changing the city charter to replace the mayor's position would require a citywide referendum, Shawn Donahue, a political science professor at the University of Buffalo, told Salon.

"If this were done, the office of mayor would be eliminated and a majority of the Common Council would be able to hire a city manager to oversee the day to day operations of the city," he said in an email. "One issue with this is that with no person elected citywide (all Common Council members come from individual districts), the manager could see his/her role as catering to the needs of the council members that hired them (and their districts), rather than the city as a whole. This could lead to a more unequal distribution of resources if a majority of the Common Council wanted to shift funds to their districts at the expense of the other Common Council members."

The more immediate threat to Walton's mayoral hopes is Brown, who has been mayor since 2006 and is now mounting a write-in campaign after railing against Walton as a "radical socialist" after losing the primary, claiming that "thousands" of his supporters want him to run again.

"People are fearful for the future of the city, people are fearful for the future of their families, people are fearful for the future of their children," Brown said in June, casting the choice between him and Walton as one of "socialism or democracy."

Walton called for Brown to step aside after his announcement. "We urge Brown to accept the will of the voters, end this futile campaign, and help us work towards a seamless transition," she said. "It would be a shame for Brown to ruin his legacy by partnering with right-wing real estate developers in this pointless effort. The people of Buffalo deserve so much better than this."

Brown's write-in campaign has attracted a number of Republican supporters, including Buffalo developer Carl Paladino, a former Tea Party-backed gubernatorial candidate who has come under fire for allegedly racist statements in the past. Paladino has tried to rally the city's business leaders behind Brown's candidacy and has railed against Walton's agenda.

"If I can help in an effort to take [Walton] down, I will," Paladino told reporters earlier this summer. "I will do everything I can to destroy her candidacy."

Brown said he was "grateful for and humbled by the widespread support" for his candidacy but insisted that "I did not seek – nor will I accept – support in any form, should I decide to pursue a write-in campaign, from Carl Paladino."

But Paladino, who was removed as a member of the Buffalo School Board in 2017, remains steadfast. "Walton has to be defeated," he said. "She's a nightmare for our city, the growth of our city."

Walton accused Paladino of "shamelessly smearing my name."

"The attacks have already come and people like Carl Paladino who have been long time supporters of the mayor we know are behind this," she told reporters after her primary win. "And I just hope that my supporters and my community will rally around me."

Walton also pushed back on the claims made by opponents have made about her politics.

"I am a Democrat socialist. The first word in that is Democrat," she explained. "My policies are socialist policies. Many things that we enjoyed during the pandemic like our economic stimulus, like SNAP benefits for families with children, like free health care."

The attacks on Walton, however, may be working. A recent poll showed Brown leading Walton, 50% to 40%, and analysts have predicted that as much as $10 million could flow into the heated race. Brown has focused on outreach to the "business and development community who are wary of Walton's socialist philosophies" and may create a super PAC to help with his efforts, according to the Buffalo News.

"Money is flowing, and it will be a full court press," a business supporter who backs Brown told the outlet.

"I think that the conditions are such that [Brown] has a better chance than most of winning in a write-in campaign," Jacob Neiheisel, an election expert at the University of Buffalo, told Salon. "Whether he and his campaign are able to capitalize on those conditions, however, is an open question."

Walton has also had to fend off negative news reports after Brown "sounded a dog whistle for political operatives to pry into her past," according to Jim Heaney, editor of the nonprofit Buffalo news outlet the Investigative Post.

The Buffalo News reported last month that police in 2018 investigated a complaint that a man was selling drugs out of Walton's home. Police did not find any evidence that was the case. Walton told the outlet that she left the home after her landlord made the complaint but said she was unaware he had called the police.

"Absolutely not. I would never risk my children's lives, my freedom or my license as a registered nurse," Walton told the outlet, adding that "I'm an honest person and I want to do what's right."

Another report found that in 2003 Walton was ordered to pay back $295 worth of food stamps that she improperly received due to a delay in reporting her income and that a $749 state tax lien was filed against her and her ex-husband in 2008 due to unpaid income taxes.

Walton said the incidents were an example of a "poor tax" or fees and fines that "occur because of things that you are really unable to do because of your financial situation."

But those reports caused the Erie County Democratic Party to withdraw its support for Walton's candidacy. Party chairman Jeremy Zellner had said after Walton's primary victory that she was "our candidate," but after the news reports emerged insisted that the committee had not "officially" endorsed her.

"We are not opposed, but if our party leadership has significant concerns, I will listen to them," Zellner told the Buffalo News. "Could this change? The answer is yes. Anything could change. We've asked her to be upfront with us ... but I don't know what else is out there."

Zellner, a longtime Brown ally, has drawn the scorn of leftist candidates before.

Former congressional candidate Nate McMurray called for Zellner to resign this summer, arguing that he has "used party resources and his role as chairman" to "attack progressive candidates who won unprecedented victories despite his opposition."

Zellner, who also serves as the county's Democratic elections commissioner, is now set to review a petition filed by Brown to have his name added to the ballot as an independent, which the Buffalo News editorial board described as a conflict of interest that is "impossible to ignore."

Walton has accused Zellner of using his dual role to undermine progressive candidates who run against the party's preferred picks and said he "obstructed" her candidacy throughout the primary by blocking her attempt to be placed on the ballot as a candidate of the Working Families Party. Zellner has denied that.

"He really doesn't want a fair, democratic election in Buffalo," Walton told New York Focus, adding, "I just wanted a fair shake."

Many progressive observers have linked Zellner and the Buffalo political machine to a nationwide effort by establishment Democrats to torpedo left-leaning candidates who have seen increased success in primary elections. Establishment Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Rep. Jim Clyburn recently teamed up with local Republicans to defeat Nina Turner, the former national co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, in an Ohio congressional primary. The Buffalo Republican Party is publicly considering backing Brown's effort to defeat Walton, which has also drawn the support of multiple Common Council members. Nearly a third of the signatures that Brown collected for his petition to make the ballot as a "Buffalo Party" candidate came from members of right-leaning parties, most of whom were out-of-town Republicans, according to WGRZ.

"His 'Buffalo Party' is just another attempt by an establishment politician to move right to fight the left," Walton said on Twitter, where she has repeatedly criticized Brown's attempt to overcome his primary loss, comparing him to Donald Trump.

"Brown has spent more time fighting to essentially overturn the results of an election he lost than he ever spent fighting big developers and real estate interests gentrifying our communities and displacing working class Buffalonians," she tweeted. "Our city deserves better than that."

Feds 'deliberately targeted' BLM protesters on Trump's orders: report

The Justice Department "deliberately targeted" supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement with harsh prosecutions at the "express direction" of former President Donald Trump and former Attorney General Bill Barr, according to a new report from the advocacy group Movement for Black Lives.

The report detailed 326 criminal cases brought by federal prosecutors related to last year's protests following the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Federal prosecutors aggressively sought jurisdiction over the cases even though in more than 92% of the cases there were equivalent state-level charges that could have been brought instead, according to a data analysis by the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) clinic at the City University of New York School of Law. Federal prosecutions result in conviction at much higher rates than state charges and nearly 90% of federal charges filed against protesters carried stiffer penalties than equivalent state charges.

Federal prosecutors "exploited the expansive federal criminal code" to assert jurisdiction over cases that "bore no federal interest," the report said. Prosecutors often cited federal jurisdiction in alleged offenses that happened near federal property, affected property that receives federal funding, or had some tenuous connection to interstate commerce. "The government greatly exaggerated the threat of violence" from protesters, the report said, noting that the "vast majority" of charges were for nonviolent offenses or restricted to property destruction.

Prosecutors in more than 25% of cases also "stacked" charges against defendants with multiple redundant charges stemming from the same act to increase potential sentences or coerce guilty pleas, the report said. The only two violent charges related to murder were brought against counter-protesters who were reportedly members of the far-right Boogaloo Bois.

"The empirical data and findings in this report largely corroborate what Black organizers have long known intellectually, intuitively, and from lived experience about the federal government's disparate policing and prosecution of racial justice protests and related activity," the report said, drawing comparisons between last year's federal crackdown to how the federal government historically used Counterintelligence Program techniques to "disrupt the work of the Black Panther Party and other organizations fighting for Black liberation."

"We want to really show how the U.S. government has continued to persecute the Black movement by surveillance, by criminalizing protests, and by using the criminal legal system to prevent people from protesting and punishing them for being engaged in protests by attempting to curtail their First Amendment rights," Amara Enyia, the policy research coordinator for The Movement for Black Lives, told the Associated Press, which first reported the findings. "It is undeniable that racism plays a role. It is structurally built into the fabric of this country and its institutions, which is why it's been so difficult to eradicate. It's based on institutions that were designed around racism and around the devaluing of Black people and the devaluing of Black lives."

The federal push came after directives from Trump and Barr to target protesters, which the report argued was intended to "disrupt the movement." The largest number of federal prosecutions took place in Portland, where the Trump administration deployed a heavy-handed federal force that snatched up protesters who were in the vicinity of federal buildings, followed by Chicago, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., and Minneapolis. More than 80% of federal charges were brought in states led by Democrats and were disproportionately brought in that Trump designated "anarchist cities," including Portland, New York, and D.C.

Barr in May of last year claimed that "anarchistic and far-left extremists" and "outside radicals and agitators" were hijacking the protests and vowed to enforce laws against crossing states lines using interstate facilities to "incite or participate in violent rioting." He directed the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force to go after what he described as "domestic terrorism."

Trump in June of 2020 said he was "mobilizing all available federal resources -- civilian and military -- to stop the rioting and looting." He vowed to intervene "if a city or a state refuses to take actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents." Shortly after, he signed an executive order urging the Justice Department to crack down on protests in Democratic-led cities and states.

Barr in a leaked memo in September 2020 urged prosecutors to aggressively target protesters that "cause violence," even suggesting sedition charges.

Research has found that 93% of protests last summer did not see any violence or property destruction but prosecutors "weaponized" their discretion to go after protesters in Democratic-led cities, the report said, and the vast majority of charges were not related to violence against people. And despite the administration's cries about "anarchists," only one criminal defendant was a self-identified member of the anti-fascist collective antifa. The most common charge was arson, which accounted for 32% of the arrests analyzed, because prosecutors used the expansive law to also charge people accused of "conspiring" to commit arson and other acts "not limited to the setting of a fire." More than 22% of charges involved mandatory minimums and more than 20% of cases involved "inchoate offenses, "where a defendant is accused of having attempted, conspired, or aided a crime without actually having committed that crime.

"We saw U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr overnight go from expressing some level of sympathy for racial justice protesters to labeling them as radical and violent agitators with absolutely no basis for that sort of characterization," Ramzi Kassem, the founding director of CLEAR and a law professor at CUNY, told the AP. "All of this was very transparently aimed at disrupting a Black-led movement for social justice that was happening both spontaneously and in an organized fashion nationwide."

The report also drew a contrast between Trump's rhetoric related to the Black Lives Matter protests, where a disproportionate number of arrests were Black men, and his statements about protests against Covid restrictions going on around the same time.

"These are very good people, but they are angry," Trump tweeted last summer. "They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal."

The Movement for Black Lives in the report called for amnesty for all protesters involved in the demonstrations and ending the use of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in local communities. The group also called for the passage of the BREATHE ACT, which would shift funding from policing to community-based public safety programs, and reparations from the government that includes "acknowledgment of and an apology for the long history of targeting movements in support of Black life and Black liberation."

Makia Green, a longtime Black Lives Matter organizer and co-founder of the advocacy group Harriet's Wildest Dreams, told the AP they support the group's findings and recommendations.

"Regardless of how we are often painted, activists are people who have the audacity to believe that we can live in a better world, where people are safe, where people are not afraid of being murdered by the police," Green said. "There are attempts to stifle our movement but it is truly a reflection to our supporters, to our allies, and to the folks who showed up in the streets last year, of how beautiful and powerful this movement is."

New census data should be a boost to Democrats — but GOP is likely to win anyway

The United States saw unprecedented growth in diversity over the past decade as the white population declined for the first time in history, new census data showed on Thursday. But despite population growth among nonwhite and urban voters, which have been key Democratic voting blocs, Republicans are still expected to hold a decisive edge in the congressional redistricting process.

The Census Bureau released data used by states to redraw congressional and legislative districts, showing that while the white non-Hispanic population declined by more than 8% amid the slowest national population growth the country has seen since the 1930s, the Hispanic, Black and Asian-American populations continued to grow. For the first time in U.S. history, the white population has fallen to below 60% of the total.

"These changes reveal that the U.S. population is much more multiracial, and more racially and ethnically diverse, than what we measured in the past," Nicholas Jones, the director of race, ethnicity, research and outreach for the Census Bureau's Population Division, said during a news conference. He cautioned, however, that some of the changes may be the result of improvements the bureau has made to the survey.

The population also continued to become more urbanized. A majority of counties in the U.S. (52%) saw population declines, particularly among rural counties with fewer than 10,000 people. The population growth over the past decade was "almost entirely" in metropolitan areas, said Marc Perry, senior demographer at the Census Bureau's Population Division.

Metro areas grew by 8.7% while micro areas grew by just 0.8% and the population in rural areas declined by 2.8%. All 10 of the biggest cities in the United States, led by New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, saw population growth.

Perry highlighted the case of Texas, where the Hispanic population is now roughly equal to the number of non-Hispanic whites in the state, as a perfect example of the trend.

"Parts of the Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Midland and Odessa metro areas had population growth, whereas many of the state's other counties had population declines," he said.

The Asian-American population grew the fastest over the last 10 years, rising by 35%. The Hispanic population increased by 23% and the Black population grew by 5.6%. Nearly half of all children in the country are nonwhite. The number of people reporting two or more races or "other race" also significantly increased, suggesting that some of the trends may be the result of changes to how respondents self-identify.

It will take several weeks for states to sort through the data, which they will later use to draw new district maps. That process has frequently been described as politicians picking their own voters, rather than the other way around.

It would be reasonable to conclude that a more diverse population that is increasingly concentrated in urban centers would give Democrats an edge over Republicans, whose base of voters has grown increasingly white and rural in recent election cycles. In theory, that would still be the case even as red states like Texas and Florida are set to gain congressional seats, while blue states like New York and California will lose seats, given that the population increases in Texas and Florida are largely in those states' large metropolitan areas.

But that's not likely to be how it plays out in reality. Republicans have aggressively (and sometimes illegally) gerrymandered congressional districts in previous cycles, and hold total control over the redistricting process in 20 states, representing 187 congressional districts. Democrats have control of the process in 11 states, including just 84districts. Other states have split governments or independent redistricting commissions, which offer some protection against partisan gerrymanders.

Although the 2010 census showed similar trends to those seen in the new data, Republican gerrymanders allowed the party to hold decade-long majorities in many congressional delegations and state legislatures, even as Democrats began to consistently win larger shares of the vote. That has resulted in massive partisan gains for the GOP, according to a recent Associated Press analysis. Ohio Republicans have won 75% of the state's congressional seats, for instance despite never winning more than 58% of the vote. "The Republican advantage in Michigan's state House districts was so large after the GOP drew the maps that it could have played a role in determining control of the chamber in every election this past decade," the AP reported.

This cycle could be even more perilous for Democrats. Republicans aggressively sought to counter their presidential and Senate losses in 2020 by rolling out hundreds of bills to restrict voting access, especially in states where voters of color drove record-high turnout last year. Some Republican-led state legislatures are already looking to "crack" cities, where Democrats have typically won seats, by dividing them into multiple districts that also include far-flung suburban or rural areas, in hopes of guaranteeing further victories.

Democrats have seen some success in lawsuits over overtly partisan gerrymanders, the Supreme Court in 2019 delivered a critical blow to that process, effectively barring federal courts from ruling on partisan gerrymanders.

With Democrats holding just a five-seat majority in the House right now, it's entirely possible Republicans could win control of the chamber in 2022 through gerrymandering alone. A recent study found that Republicans could gain up to 13 seats through gerrymandered districts in just four states: Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia. That analysis did not include potential Democratic gains, such as in New York, where Democrats are likely to eliminate or flip a Republican seat for example. But opportunities for such Democratic pickups appear limited.

Instead, Democrats have increasingly pushed to implement independent redistricting commissions to create fair maps, or, as in the case of Oregon, have cut deals with Republicans, offering an equal number of congressional seats in exchange for an end to relentless GOP obstruction in the state legislature.

As a result, Democrats may have shot themselves in the foot: Republicans are ready and eager to redraw legislative maps aggressively, while their opponents seek to model good governance, perhaps at the expense of their own political fortunes. In fact, population trends showing migration flows from rural areas to urban centers, where Democrats typically predominate, could actually work against them in states like Michigan with independent redistricting panels, because Republican voters are more geographically dispersed.

"Even if you're not trying to gerrymander on behalf of Republicans," Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, told the AP, "the fact that Democrats are concentrated in cities and in the inner-ring suburbs means that it is easier to accidentally gerrymander on behalf of Republicans."

Matt Gaetz's week just got way worse

The longtime "wingman" of Rep. Matt Gaetz's, R-Fla. is reportedly cooperating with federal prosecutors and has already turned over "thousands" of files that could implicate the Florida congressman as inappropriately engaged with a 17-year-old girl.

Gaetz is reportedly facing a federal investigation into possible sex trafficking of a minor but has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime. But his longtime friend and former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg, who pleaded guilty in May to numerous federal charges including child sex trafficking, has given investigators "thousands" of photos and videos, text messages, access to his social media accounts, and years of Venmo and Cash App transactions as part of his cooperation agreement, according to ABC News. Messages reviewed by ABC News showed that Greenberg met women to pay for sex online and then introduced him to Gaetz and others. Greenberg admitted in his guilty plea that he trafficked a minor and introduced her to other "adult men" who had sex with her when she was underage.

The Daily Beast previously obtained an apparent confession letter Greenberg shared with longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone when he sought a presidential pardon last year. The former tax official said in the letter that he provided cash and gifts to several women, including an underage girl, though he claimed that he was unaware that she was a minor. The outlet also obtained Venmo records showing that Greenberg made 150 payments to dozens of young women, including one who was 17. The outlet also found Venmo payments from Gaetz to Greenberg before Greenberg paid several young women.

Text messages reviewed by ABC News show Greenberg texting a woman he met online in 2018 in which he appears to discuss payment, whether the woman is of legal age and whether she would do drugs before arranging a meeting including Gaetz and one of her friends.

"I have a friend flying in and we are trying to make plans for tonight. What are your plans for later," Greenberg wrote. "And how much of an allowance will you be requiring :)"

The woman told Greenberg and she has a friend she could bring and usually requires "$400 per meet."

Greenberg then sent the woman of Gaetz posing with elementary school students, referring to him as "My friend."

"Oooh my friend thinks he's really cute!" the woman replied before asking Greenberg if Gaetz used the same website that Greenberg used to meet her.

"He knows the deal :)," Greenberg replied.

Gaetz has denied using "sugar daddy" websites where women sometimes arrange dates in exchange for cash or gifts, though The New York Times reported this spring that investigators believe Greenberg used the websites and "introduced the women to Mr. Gaetz, who also had sex with them." Gaetz's spokesman Harlan Hill told ABC News that Gaetz has already "addressed the debunked allegations against him."

"After months of media coverage, not one woman has come forward to accuse Rep. Gaetz of wrongdoing," Hill said. "Not even President Biden can say that. That others might invite people unbeknownst to a U.S. Congressman to functions he may or may not attend is the everyday life of a political figure. Your story references people the congressman doesn't know, things he hasn't done and messages he neither sent nor received."

Another Facebook message exchange reviewed by ABC News showed Greenberg apparently organizing a meeting with the women, Gaetz, and Florida doctor Jason Pirozzolo. Pirozzolo, an ally of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis who co-founded a medical marijuana advocacy group, accompanied Gaetz on a trip to the Bahamas in 2018 that has come under scrutiny by prosecutors over potential corruption-related to marijuana-related legislation that Gaetz previously sponsored, according to the Associated Press.

Greenberg, in the Facebook messages, appeared to invite an unnamed Florida media entrepreneur to Pirozzolo's home, which he described as "our safe place." He also listed the names of two girls that he paid via Venmo, according to ABC.

"I think it would be a wise investment of time. You might already know Jason Pirrazolo ... but I'd like for you to meet Congressman Matt Gaetz," Greenberg wrote. "Gaetz is a wild man, but great dude."

Greenberg added that there would be "6-7 chicks" and "just 3-4 guys."

Several days later, the unnamed entrepreneur posted a photo to Instagram including the two young women Greenberg mentioned in the messages, according to the report.

Pirozzolo's attorney did not comment on the report. Fritz Scheller, an attorney for Greenberg, told the outlet that the "only comment I can make is Joel Greenberg has executed a plea agreement with the government and will continue to honor his obligations pursuant to that agreement."

Scheller last month cited the ongoing cooperation to ask a judge to delay Greenberg's sentencing, which prosecutors did not oppose and a judge approved a day later.

"Mr. Greenberg has been cooperating with the Government and has participated in a series of proffers," Scheller wrote. "Said cooperation, which could impact his ultimate sentence, cannot be completed prior to the time of his sentencing."

How the NRA laid the groundwork for the deadly Capitol riots

The deadly Capitol riot on Jan. 6 brought together a wide variety of right-wing militia groups and fringe conspiracy theorists, officially united by former President Donald Trump's false narrative that the 2020 election had been stolen. But the ideology that connected these groups in the first place was cultivated for decades by the National Rifle Association, gun violence prevention groups say.

"The violence that we saw at the Capitol, the firepower that they brought with them, may not have been part of the NRA's call. But they're responsible for getting us to this moment," said Nick Suplina, managing director for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. "They should not be allowed to distance themselves from the Frankenstein monster that they've created. This is the NRA's handiwork. Years of conspiracy peddling, fear-mongering that the government is going to come take your guns and your freedom, and the call upon Americans to do something about it, to take action, that's what we saw on Jan. 6. That base of militia groups and white supremacist groups and other extremists has been listening to the NRA's talking points for years, and we saw it play out."

A new report from Everytown detailing findings in police documents shows that officers seized more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition and arrested nine people on weapons charges.

"Quite honestly, that is a likely undercount given the fact that Capitol Police were unable to stop and search everyone," Suplina said. Capitol Police detained only 14 people during the riot, leaving federal investigators to scour social media and hundreds of thousands of tips to identify possible suspects. More than 150 people have been charged since.

"I knew they had guns — we had been seizing guns all day," D.C. police officer Daniel Hodges told the Washington Post. "And the only reason I could think of that they weren't shooting us was they were waiting for us to shoot first. And if it became a firefight between a couple hundred officers and a couple thousand demonstrators, we would have lost."

Police later discovered some rioters had their own arsenals at home as well.

"Many of the people at the Capitol were armed," Suplina said. "There was enough ammunition seized at the Capitol to shoot every member of the House and Senate five times."

The NRA's rhetoric has long been tied to violent groups. Many mass killers have echoed the words of NRA chief Wayne LaPierre in their "manifestos." In the 1990s, LaPierre repeatedly railed against the "abuses" of the federal government following the standoffs at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, calling for people to "take whatever measures necessary, including force, to abolish oppressive government."

In 1995, LaPierre referred to federal agents as "jack-booted government thugs" and warned supporters that it was no longer "unthinkable for federal agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black stormtrooper uniforms to attack law-abiding citizens."

Days later, Timothy McVeigh, a former NRA member, bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City that housed an Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) office, killing at least 168 people.

Numerous NRA board members have also been linked to militia groups.

"At that moment in 1995, the NRA could have said, 'Oh boy, we've overdone it. We've oversold this. We're changing our rhetoric,'" Suplina said. "But they kept it up and intensified it for another two decades, right up until the days before the insurrection at the Capitol."

Some of the members of the Capitol mob, including Richard Barnett, the man who posed in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, have been identified as gun activists, the Everytown report said, citing charging documents and social media posts. William Calhoun, who threatened a "war" over the election, proudly wore an NRA hat in his Twitter profile photo and organized at least one gun-rights rally following the election. Joe Biggs, a Proud Boys leader who led a group of rioters at the Capitol, has been repeatedly mentioned as a member on the NRA website. Len Guthrie, another man charged with illegally entering the Capitol, described himself as a "lifetime NRA member" and shared the "insurrectionist theory of the Second Amendment" on his Facebook page, according to the report.

The NRA did not comment on the riot until generally condemning "all unlawful acts" in a social media statement nine days later.

"The NRA has publicly condemned the tragedy that occurred at the U.S. Capitol. It is disappointing but not surprising that Everytown now seeks to exploit that event and the tragic loss of life to attack law-abiding gun owners," NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said in a statement to Salon.

He added: "Everytown's assault on the Second Amendment is being firmly rejected by the American people. The recent rise in lawful gun ownership is a referendum on Everytown, Michael Bloomberg, and all who seek to dismantle constitutional freedom."

But gun violence prevention groups say the NRA can't run from its past.

"For years, we've been watching the NRA take this very extreme position about gun rights and being willing to say things like, 'Obama's not only going to take your guns away,'" said Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Giffords Law Center. "They have overtly said, 'Government agents are going to break down your door and take your guns away and haul you off to prison.'

"They've actually pivoted in the last couple of years, very aggressively, to saying, 'What you need to fear is the government. The government is the enemy and your guns are the only thing protecting you from a government that you can't trust.' That's been NRA messaging." The Capitol siege, Thomas argued, was the "logical end" of that process.

While the NRA seized on Obama's attempts to implement gun control measures in the wake of numerous school shootings — especially the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, in which 20 children and six adults were killed — Trump and his allies echoed the group's rhetoric for years, including in the moments leading up to the attack on the Capitol.

"So much of the rhetoric and the kinds of speeches that we heard from Trump and [Rudy] Giuliani and other people on that stage, leading to the march from the Ellipse and the White House to the Capitol, is absolutely consistent and fueled by NRA rhetoric," said Kris Brown, president of the gun violence prevention group Brady. That rhetoric, said Brown, "is all about this notion that the gun is the essential tool to take down a tyrannical government."

In an effort to sell more guns, the NRA has "painted a picture of a dystopic universe" akin to "Mad Max: Thunderdome," Brown said.

Speeches delivered at the rally that preceded the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, Brown added, were loaded with NRA talking points. "If you add guns, extremism, misinformation and white supremacy together," she said, "the natural conclusion of that, the alchemy of those things, makes Jan. 6 and Liberate Michigan and [the protests in] many other state capitals not a notable event but an inevitable event."

Though the groups that came together at the Capitol have espoused a wide range of grievances, gun rights are at the heart of their ideologies.

"The militia groups that were there, some of the far right-wing white supremacist groups that were there, the flags saying, 'Come and take it.' All of this is part of the vocabulary that the NRA has been pushing for years," Suplina said. "The NRA has adopted and really fueled the insurrectionist theory of the Second Amendment, this notion that your right to bear arms is actually about taking up arms against a government that you believe is violating the Constitution or your rights. And what we've seen is just how dangerous that is. Because who's the arbiter of that decision? The answer is, a mob at the Capitol that has been fed lies about elections or gun confiscation taking up arms because they think it's their right to do that. And that's why guns are relevant. They were there, and they are the reason that people showed up there."

Discussions of an armed revolt started long before Trump called his followers to Washington in an effort to stop Congress from making President Joe Biden's election official. An analysis commissioned by Giffords found 17 million mentions of guns and related terms in reaction to election-related events in the months leading up to the vote. These discussions often focused on coming to the polls armed, defending the election and preparing for violence surrounding the results.

Thomas said she wasn't surprised to see how much overlap there was between the different groups who discussed guns because "those connections have been intentionally drawn by groups like the NRA."

"One of the things that's really interesting to us is the way it all fits together," she said. "This idea that they're being pitched: 'You need to be afraid of your guns being taken away. You need to be afraid of the governments and how they're going to strip away your rights.' And the idea that you as an individual, or as a part of these groups, have an individual responsibility. They frame it in terms of fighting tyranny, but really what they're doing is pushing people to fight legitimate government on an individual basis, using guns as a tool."

The number of mentions of guns was "astounding" and is likely an undercount given how many of these groups operate in private on the internet, according to the report.

"When you couple it with the threats and with the aggressive extremism, it's a huge risk," Thomas said, adding that there may never have been "a more dangerous moment than we're in right now."

While militias have echoed NRA rhetoric for years, newer online-based fringe groups like QAnon and the Boogaloo Bois have adopted a similar ideology.

"It's all lodged in the same rhetoric and the same theory," Suplina said. "There's a deep conspiracy to rob you of what you care about most, and the only response is a violent reckoning. That is the QAnon 'Storm.' That is the Boogaloo call for inciting a civil war. And the fact is, again, that the NRA's language is not seen as hysterical by many of the people who hear it. They are hearing it as a call to action. We see it in QAnon. We see it in the Boogaloo boys. We see it in the militia groups."

The Giffords analysis found a lot of overlap between QAnon and other groups on the topic of guns.

Many of these groups accept "absurd premises with regard to what's happening in our government," Thomas said, but also a "secondary piece, which is that it's your responsibility to help trigger this overthrow." Thomas said. "It imparts this sense of distrust, to the point of requiring you to help with this civil war, or revolution in the case of the Boogaloo Bois or the Proud Boys. I think QAnon has a lot of those same messages. That you, individually and in connection with this group, whatever that group is, have to get involved in helping spur this revolution."

Though the NRA spread its talking points through magazines and other media for years, its foray into NRATV marked a turning point in its rhetoric. Hosts on the network repeatedly stoked anger and fear as a way to draw viewers.

"You don't need to look much further than that to see that the NRA has helped build this framework of conspiracy backed by extreme acts of violence, and brought it into mainstream discourse," Suplina said. "NRATV for years was talking this talk. I think they need to be held accountable by being named as a cause of this. We honestly are not going to fully deal with this problem until we recognize the role of the NRA."

The NRA cut ties with NRATV in 2019, calling it "racist," amid a legal dispute with the group's longtime PR firm Ackerman McQueen, which operated the network. The NRA has since filed for bankruptcy in New York, where state Attorney General Letitia James has sued to dissolve the group over allegations of illegal self-dealing. The group has claimed that it is financially solid and intends to move to Texas to set up shop there. That, however, could backfire in bankruptcy court.

"If you are a solvent entity, bankruptcy court can't be used to shed yourself of litigation you just don't like," Brown said. "We are very eager to make sure that the interests of the American public are represented here, because the American public cares, as taxpaying individuals, how nonprofits are run in this country. And what's clear from the allegations in Tish James' complaint is that the NRA has not been run as an organization that is consistent with the law. They think they're above the law. They think they're untouchable."

Gun violence prevention groups have also called for lawmakers to step up in response to the Capitol riot and the growing threat from violent extremists. The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday warned of a "heightened threat" of violence from groups potentially emboldened by the Capitol attack.

Thomas said Giffords is pushing to expand extreme risk protective orders, which are typically used to remove guns from people dangerous to themselves or others, for example, to "disarm an extremist who we have evidence is making specific threats or coordinating an attack, pending a hearing." The group also believes that hate crime laws should be expanded so they could be used for "removing guns or at least preventing violence or similar types of acts."

But many of these reforms are no different than the ones violence prevention groups have demanded for years with limited success.

"There's things that have to happen. For one, guns don't have a place in our democratic discourse," Suplina said. "There should not be guns at Capitol buildings or grounds or at protests or at polling stations. Both Congress and state legislatures should take those issues up immediately, and many are.

"But more broadly, the problem of armed extremism can't be dealt with without dealing with the gun laws that had been kept weak by the armed extremists," he added. "Background checks have a lot of good uses, but one of them is to stop prohibited people from obtaining firearms. We know that some of the folks arrested at the Capitol were former felons and would not be allowed to legally own guns. We know that those guns which completely cut the background check system — or any check at all — out of the process are quickly becoming the guns of choice for militia groups and white supremacist groups because they're untraceable, you can make them at home, and there's no paper trail."

Brown argued that leadership on the gun issue has to start at the top and expressed disappointment that President Joe Biden did not discuss the link to guns when discussing the risk posed to the country by white supremacy and extremism in his inaugural address.

"If you want to reduce the peril of those kinds of extremist groups to democracy and to the free and fair election process, to racial justice and all of those things, you have to also say how you're going to tackle the issue of guns," she said. "You can't tackle those issues without also addressing the role of guns. We want the administration to say that."

Brown said strengthening gun laws was critical to democracy: "I want to be free to share my views in a public square without being intimidated by someone who's standing next to me with a semiautomatic weapon."

"That weapon speaks to me. That weapon chills my voice, it chills my First Amendment right," she said. "In that sense, it matters to our democracy. If we want the ability of everyday Americans to exercise their voice in the public square, and that includes voices who think guns should be everywhere, then guns can't be part of that equation. That chills our ability to have a conversation about what needs to happen, and that's the essence of our democracy."

State GOPs still pushing Trump’s fraud lies, promoting QAnon and calling Capitol riot 'false flag'

Despite former President Donald Trump's departure from the White House and disappearance from social media, state Republican parties are still promoting pro-Trump conspiracy theories and moving further right than ever. Some Republican lawmakers have seized on the unfounded voter fraud narrative to try to impose new voter restrictions out of concern that widespread voting could hamper their electoral chances.

The Arizona Republican Party on Saturday voted to censure Gov. Doug Ducey, a longtime Republican Trump ally who fell out of favor when he refused to question his own state's election results and certified President Joe Biden's win in the state. The measure, which focused on Ducey's delayed coronavirus restrictions, did not mention his decision to certify the results, though it came up often among the state's Republicans. The Arizona GOP also censured Cindy McCain, widow of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who opposed Trump. The party also re-elected chairwoman Kelli Ward, who backed Trump's baseless legal crusade and filed a "meritless" lawsuit to overturn the results of her state's election.

The Hawaii GOP on Saturday defended the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, which appears to have motivated many members of the pro-Trump mob at the deadly Capitol riot who donned QAnon gear, on its Twitter account.

"We should make it abundantly clear — the people who subscribed to the Q fiction, were largely motivated by a sincere and deep love for America. Patriotism and love of County (sic) should never be ridiculed," one tweet said. Another added that people "who followed Q doesn't deserve mockery," referring to the anonymous 4chan poster who claimed to be a government insider dropping unfounded clues about a secret, cannibalistic Democratic cabal of child-traffickers and the mass arrests Trump was ostensibly planning.

Those tweets were posted by Hawaii Republican vice chairman Edwin Boyette, who has since resigned and had his tweets removed. After stepping down, Boyette blamed "leftist activists and the Democratic establishment attempting to smash any critical speech they can not control."

The Oregon Republican Party last week approved a resolution "condemning the betrayal" of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his role in stoking the Capitol riot. The members who supported Trump's impeachment are "traitors" who "conspired" with "Leftist forces seeking to establish a dictatorship void of all cherished freedoms and liberties," the resolution said.

The Oregon GOP further claimed there was "growing evidence" that the Capitol attack was a "'false flag' operation" designed to "discredit President Trump, his supporters and all conservative Republicans," even though countless photos, videos, and charging documents show the mob was filled with Trump supporters egged on by the former president's own comments at the rally preceding the siege.

Oregon Republican chair Bill Currier said in a Facebook video last week that the state party is "encouraging and working with the others through a patriot network of RNC members, the national level elected officials from each state" to issue similar resolutions.

Indeed, Washington state's county Republican Party leaders have joined the push, calling for Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., one of the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, to resign over his "indefensible" vote, according to the Associated Press. Republican leaders in Pennsylvania have also refused to seat a Democrat state legislator whose win has been certified by state officials.

The Wyoming Republican Party also issued a statement slamming Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., for aligning with "leftists" to impeach Trump. The House Freedom Caucus is pushing to oust Cheney as the No. 3 Republican in House GOP leadership in response to the vote.

But Republicans are not just eating their own for insufficient fealty to the former president. Many Republican state lawmakers are moving to impose draconian new voting restrictions to combat the alleged widespread fraud that Trump's own Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and countless Republican judges have clearly said did not happen.

In Georgia, where top Republican state officials repeatedly pushed back on Trump's false claims about the election he lost, GOP lawmakers are pushing to impose a "bevy of changes," including limiting who can vote by mail and the use of drop-boxes, according to Politico. The state Senate's Republicans and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who drew praise for standing up to Trump's lies and pressure campaign, have called to end no-excuse absentee voting in the state. Others have called for voter ID requirements for absentee ballots.

Some Georgia Republicans have cited concerns over election integrity to justify their push to limit voting access, even though Georgia already has some of the most restrictive policies in place and has confirmed the "integrity" of the November vote with multiple recounts and audits.

Some Republicans have made statements similar to Trump's pre-election admission that expanding mail-in voting would hurt Republicans' election chances, even though down-ballot Republicans generally performed far better than Trump in November, and the incumbent president himself outperformed his poll numbers in several states, including Texas and Florida.

"They don't have to change all of them [voting regulations], but they've got to change the major parts of them so that we at least have a shot at winning," Alice O'Lenick, a Republican on the Gwinnett County, Georgia, board of elections said in a newspaper interview last week.

The chairman of the Texas Republican Party called for the legislature to make "election integrity" a top priority this session, calling to shrink the state's early-voting period. VoteRiders, a nonprofit group that helps voters obtain IDs to vote, predicted that at least five other states would move to impose new voter ID requirements, according to Politico. Republican lawmakers in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have also signaled that they want to impose new voter restrictions, although Democratic governors in those states have the power to veto such legislation.

Myrna Pérez, who heads the Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Program, predicted that voting restrictions would be a top priority for Republican lawmakers, since polls show the party's voters believe the election was fraudulent even though it's been "proven time and time again that election fraud is rare."

"What I think will be the trend this year is attacks rolling back mail voting and attacks rolling back accommodations that happened in response to the pandemic, which we usually don't see," she told CBS News. "We usually don't see a lot of people wasting their time and energy on mail voting because the people that used it, liked it, and the states that use it a lot, really like it."

Voting restrictions are just one way state Republicans hope to win back power after losing the White House and both chambers of Congress but holding their majorities in many state legislatures. Republicans are poised to have the power to gerrymander nearly 200 congressional districts while Democrats hold control over the boundaries of just 73 seats. With the 2020 Census already expected to cost states like New York, California and Illinois seats in the House, Republican-led legislatures could further redistrict their way to power and make it extremely difficult for Democrats to keep their narrow House majority in the 2022 midterms, creating a scenario similar to the 2010 midterms during Barack Obama's first term.

"Although conservatives traditionally cast themselves as guardians of governing traditions and institutions, today's Republicans pride themselves on finding ways to subvert them," wrote Thomas Patterson, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "They're out of power in Washington, but the states determine most of the rules governing registration and voting. Republicans control half of the state governments and share control in half of the rest. Sadly, the lesson that Republicans took from their November defeat was that they hadn't gone far enough in their efforts to suppress the vote."

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