The comical right-wing bickering over those 'Trump vaccines'

Amid the pandemic's grim tableau of death, illness and disinformation, a moment of comic relief broke through in December. It was the darkest kind of comedy, to be sure, but we'll take whatever we can get these days. The occasion was Donald Trump's belated endorsement of the coronavirus vaccines — which almost instantly provoked an eruption of panic and fury among his cultists.

No doubt this conflict has raged within the former president's head for many months now, while he vacillated between glomming credit for the vaccines his administration supported and pandering to the ignorance and paranoia of his Republican political base. Trump needs to boast constantly about himself and his presidency, yet he also depends on the kind of conspiratorial deceptions promoted by the anti-vaccine movement. It must have been a torturous quandary for him.

Suddenly, however, he blurted the truth at an event in Dallas on December 19, when Bill O'Reilly asked whether he had gotten a booster shot. "Yes," he said, as some in the audience began to boo him. Trying to quiet the jeering, he urged his followers to "take credit (for the vaccines). Take credit for it. It's great. What we've done is historic. Don't let them take it away. Don't take it away from ourselves. Don't let them take that away from you."

What he meant, of course, was don't let "them" — whoever they may be — take credit away from him. While whether his administration's role in fostering vaccine research was essential or not is a matter of dispute, he seems determined to secure his own place in that historic development. He reiterated the point during an interview with the fanatical anti-vaxxer Candace Owens, who promotes toxic "cures" such as colloidal silver instead.

Why Trump adopted a more forthright position now isn't obvious. Is it because he wants to run again in 2024, and knows his mismanagement of the pandemic has hurt him among swing voters? Is it because he realizes that his craziest supporters are too narrow a constituency to win another national election?

Whatever his motive, Trump's decision to speak out on behalf of vaccination has irked some of his most sycophantic fans, creating hilarious consternation on the far Right. Owens, for instance, suggested that he is "too old" to "do his own research" on the internet, presumably where she finds the perilous falsehoods that she purveys for profit.

That stinging insult was amplified by a denunciation and then a threat from Alex Jones, the Texas conspiracy theorist who notoriously claimed that the Sandy Hook massacre was a staged event. On Christmas Day, Jones said the man he once promoted as the nation's savior is "ignorant or one of the most evil men who ever lived." A few days later, Jones warned that he may "dish all the dirt" on Trump, whom he said is surrounded by "bad advisers," and urged his followers to "move on" from the "pathetic" ex-president.

Meanwhile in another precinct of Cuckooland, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene struggled to defend her "favorite president of all time." The Georgia congresswoman has not only vowed never to get vaccinated but has also accrued tens of thousands of dollars in fines for refusing to wear a mask in the Capitol as required by House rules. Having spread lies about the dangers and efficacy of vaccines for months, Greene comforts herself and her followers by noting that Trump opposes any vaccine mandate — and then changing the subject to the Big Lie about the 2020 election and the perfidy of less insane Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Finally, President Joe Biden heightened these contradictions when he praised Trump for promoting vaccinations. This clever intervention left Trump "appreciative," and also flabbergasted and flat-footed.

Had Trump only possessed the courage to urge his followers to vaccinate as loudly as he lies about the election, he might have saved many thousands of lives. But if he now rejects his most conspiratorial and crazed backers — and they push him away too — that will be a healthy and entertaining turn for our politics.

A pedophile's best friend is a Trump Republican

Of all the lurid nonsense circulating among conspiracy-addled Republicans, none of their theories is viler than the libel of child sexual abuse that began under the rubric of "Pizzagate" and became the basis of the cult ideology of QAnon. So successful was the smear campaign begun by followers of Donald Trump that millions of deranged people now believe those gothic horror tales targeting the likes of Hillary Clinton, Chrissy Teigen, and Tom Hanks, with the connivance of Republican politicians in search of Jewish space lasers.

Then there's real life, in which actual, detestable pedophiles and other sex offenders can depend on their reliable defender Kenneth W. Starr to shield them from the punishment they deserve. Yes, it's that Ken Starr, the Savanarola of sexual propriety, who is the pedophiles' best friend.

What we have learned in recent days about the sanctimonious Starr, from his alleged sexual infidelities to his zealous defense of the late Jeffrey Epstein, not only strips away his pious pretensions as sheer hypocrisies but also raises serious questions about his conduct that must still be answered.

A former public relations executive named Judi Hershman opened the latest inquest into Starr's iniquities on July 13 when she published an essay on Medium titled "Ken Starr, Brett Kavanaugh, Jeffrey Epstein and Me" that detailed, among many other things, her own illicit affair with the former independent counsel. Her account of an episode with the borderline Kavanaugh and his uncontrollable temper when they both worked for Starr on the Clinton prosecution, as well as her disillusionment with the misogynistic Starr, is worth reading. Yes, that Ken Starr, who, she says, took her hand and "placed it on his crotch."

Hershman recalls Starr's attempt in 2010 to deceive her into "counseling" Epstein, whom he whitewashed as "a very wealthy, very smart businessman who got himself into trouble for getting involved with a couple of underage girls who lied about their ages." He explained that "everyone deserves representation" and that the very smart businessman had "promised to keep it above 18 from now on." By then Epstein had raped scores of underage girls, and thereafter continued to do so.

Hershman writes that at the time, it didn't occur to her that Starr himself would be lying about Epstein, or that he might have been involved in executing the "secret and egregious sweetheart deal" that allowed the very smart businessman to evade justice for so many years.

But according to a new book by Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown, who first blew the lid off that deal, Starr was zealously committed to the Epstein defense. Her earlier reporting led to the dismissal of Alex Azar, the U.S. Attorney in Florida who signed off on that agreement, from former President Donald Trump's cabinet.

In Perversion of Justice, Brown writes that Epstein brought on Starr and Jay Lefkowitz, his longtime associate and partner at Kirkland & Ellis, because of their connections in the Bush Justice Department. Starr's campaign on behalf of Epstein included a "brutal" smear of a female prosecutor and an insider lobbying effort at the department's Washington headquarters.

Apparently, Starr has a strangely protective attitude toward molesters and rapists, even when he isn't being paid big money to defend them. A few years after his crusade on Epstein's behalf, he and his wife sent a letter to a county judge urging leniency for Christopher Kloman, a retired school administrator and friend of the Starrs who pled guilty to molesting five girls at the Potomac School in McLean, Virginia. They thought he should be sentenced to community service, but the judge instead gave him 43 years in prison.

Americans first glimpsed the dark side of Starr's character when he published the salacious Starr Report (co-authored by Kavanaugh) that led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. They learned more about him when he was booted from the presidency of Baylor University for covering up the rampant sexual abuse of women on campus, including a gang rape by football players. With his partisan fanaticism and his bogus religiosity, he was a natural for Trump's impeachment defense.

Considering the smears perpetrated against Hillary Clinton in recent years, it is ironic indeed to review the unsavory conduct of a man who spent so much public time and money attempting to frame her for crimes she didn't commit as first lady. But these revelations about Starr should evoke more than bemused contempt.

What Julie Brown's book demands is a full investigation of an authentic conspiracy to pervert justice by Republican prosecutors and lawyers, including Starr. The Justice Department and the House and Senate judiciary committees must not let them get away with it.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

Yes, there is a conspiracy -- and the GOP wants to keep it hidden

Conspiracy has replaced policy as the motivating force of the Republican Party and its media minions — but only the most flimsy and imaginary conspiracies qualify for partisan attention. Actual criminal conspiracies that threaten the nation merit no concern.

That's why congressional Republicans killed the independent commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection but now insinuate that the terrible events of that day were secretly instigated by the FBI. While there is no shred of evidence to support that fraudulent and insulting claim, the Party of Trump can say anything to its moronic cultists without fear of contradiction. They're faithful supporters of law enforcement, except when they're insulting law enforcement officers, accusing them of felonious schemes or perhaps trying to maim them.

Such fabrications ought to be familiar to anyone who has been paying attention over the past few years. Concocted to distract from real events and issues, they have become the standard Trumpist retort whenever a troubling question arises.

When the collusive relationship between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and the Kremlin became too obvious to ignore, the response from the suspected perpetrators (and traitors) in the White House was to scream "conspiracy." Somebody was conspiring to mount a "witch hunt" against Trump, whether it was the Deep State, the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS, the fake news media, or all of them combined. Investigators and subpoenas uncovered the facts, which included Trump Tower meetings with Russian agents, interference by Russian intelligence assets to support Trump, and even a handoff of sensitive campaign materials to a Russian spy. Then came the cover-up, with Trump promising (and eventually delivering) pardons to Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, and other crooks who might incriminate him.

Dismissing all of that, Attorney General Bill Barr pretended to see a possible conspiracy against Trump — and even deputized a U.S. Attorney named John Durham to uncover it. By the time that probe came up empty, however, everyone had presumably moved on.

Now the Republicans want to avoid a thorough investigation of the January 6 insurrection — and the malign and traitorous actors behind it — at any cost. Any serious probe will not only incriminate Trump and certain figures around him but may well implicate members of the House Republican caucus who encouraged the violence. We already know at least a few of their names, including Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs of Arizona, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. All of them are frantically trying to conceal the horror of that day. Their actions scream consciousness of guilt.

Equally troubling for the Republican leaders is the prospect of testifying under oath about their own knowledge of what went down. They don't want to discuss the very strange failure by Trump to respond to pleas for help while the rioters hunted for members with intent to kill — as recounted by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. It's just too sickening, and so is their cowardice.

The Justice Department is prosecuting extremely violent conspiracies by members of the Trump-affiliated groups that attacked the Capitol, notably the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and the QAnon cult. When all of the connections between those scummy outfits and Trump's circle are finally revealed, McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pray that America will no longer be paying attention.

If the fascist faction in the House — and their spokesman Tucker Carlson, the Fox News fabulist — believe their own slanders of the FBI, they should be clamoring for an independent investigation. But they're manufacturing a lie — and they know it.

Fortunately, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just announced the formation of a House select committee to mount a full investigation of the January 6 insurrection. That special committee will have subpoena authority and, hopefully, a Democratic chair who will pursue the facts without remorse or fear. Unlike the independent commission, which Republicans rejected despite concessions to all of their demands, this committee will face no deadlines, nor require bipartisan agreement on investigative decisions.

Yes, there was, and is, a conspiracy against democracy, whose ringleaders will be exposed — despite the Republican leadership's desperate attempts to shield them.

It's time to dump, depose and defenestrate Louis DeJoy

Now that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has confirmed reports that he is under investigation by the FBI for alleged campaign finance violations, ordinary postal customers who have suffered under his regime may rightly wonder why he is still in office. That is an urgent question — and has been an urgent question ever since President Joe Biden's inauguration — but it is worth examining how DeJoy got the job, and how he abused a position of constitutional trust.

The FBI probe concerns an alleged "straw donor" scheme undertaken by DeJoy to illegally funnel over a million dollars in excess contributions to the Republican Party and Donald Trump's presidential campaign. It's an obvious form of trickery designed to evade federal limitations on individual donations by urging others to support a campaign or candidate and then reimbursing them under the table. Corporate executives with political ambitions like DeJoy have committed this particular felony over and over again — and if DeJoy is indicted and convicted, he won't be the first suit sent to prison for it.

During and after the 2016 election, DeJoy raised upwards of a million dollars each for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. For that he was named one of the party's three deputy finance chairmen — along with Michael Cohen, then still Donald Trump's personal attorney, and venture capitalist Elliott Broidy.

By then, Broidy had already been convicted on public corruption and bribery charges, while Cohen would soon plead guilty to campaign finance crimes as well as bank fraud. DeJoy would complete a dubious trifecta.

Last fall, a Washington Post investigation found that DeJoy had used the straw donor technique for over a decade to raise his profile as a Republican fundraiser in North Carolina. Former employees of New Breed Logistics, the supply chain firm he founded and then sold, said they had been pressured to make donations and repaid with bonuses and other compensation. The pattern dated back to the Bush administration — and appeared to have won at least two ambassadorial appointments for DeJoy's wife, Aldona Wos.

Yet while DeJoy's appointment as postmaster general was obviously greased by his massive donations, his alleged violations of election law are not the worst aspect of his regime. Even more troubling are major conflicts of interest that he has failed to resolve — and that some experts have described as potentially criminal.

When DeJoy sold New Breed to XPO Logistics, he held onto large amounts of stock and options in the merged company — which is a U.S. Postal Service contractor and might well profit from decisions made by him as postmaster. Policies promoted by DeJoy to diminish and even destroy postal delivery last year became controversial because of their effect on mail balloting — which his patron Trump blatantly sought to impede for partisan gain. But DeJoy is suspected of devising policies destructive to the Postal Service for his own self-serving purposes, too.

DeJoy and his family have invested tens of millions of dollars in companies, including XPO, that either contract with USPS, compete directly with USPS or both. Their investments in those competing firms, such as United Parcel Service, Forward Air and JB Hunt Trucking, are estimated between $30 million and $76 million, according to their own financial disclosures. Holding those interests in competing companies while serving in government is a serious violation of the law.

As Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, said last year, "the idea that you can be a Postmaster General and hold tens of millions in stocks in a postal service contractor is pretty shocking." Except that the behavior of Trump, his family, his treasury secretary and many other conflicted employees lowered ethical expectations below zero.

Incredibly, DeJoy has only pretended to shed those conflicts since they were exposed last summer — by "divesting" his XPO holdings to his adult children. He continues to represent a holdover of the corrupt administration that voters ousted in 2020. And his plans to wreck the U.S. Postal Service remain a grave danger to an agency founded in Constitutional authority.

Biden could take action to have the Postal Service Board of Governors remove DeJoy from the board, which would mean he could no longer serve as postmaster general by law. Americans who depend on the mail for their livelihoods, medications and so much more need reform now. They can't wait until the last crooked Trump appointee is taken away in handcuffs.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

The dirty little secret behind the Liz Cheney purge

When House Republicans deposed Liz Cheney from her leadership post, they were widely mocked for that display of abject servility to former President Donald Trump. But the motives behind her abrupt removal are more profound — and far more sinister — than the Wyoming representative's penchant for angering Trump.

Only a few months ago, Trump's irritation wasn't enough to undo Cheney, who easily survived a vote to remove her that was promoted by the ex-president's surrogates, notably the disgraced Rep. Matt Gaetz. Back in February, she had just voted to impeach Trump but nevertheless retained the support of two-thirds of her fellow Republicans and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

So why did the Republicans, spurred by McCarthy, feel so compelled to oust her now?

According to Byron York, a veteran right-wing columnist well-connected with GOP leaders, Cheney lost her colleagues by continuing to confront Trump's attacks on American democracy. York suggests that her opposition to the big lie about the election and its aftermath "had become a distraction from the GOP's mission to oppose the Biden agenda and win back the House." Said one Republican who switched from supporting Cheney to opposing her, "I think a lot of people have changed their minds since the first vote because she just kept it going. We're trying to go forward."

To those Republicans, going forward means never looking back — and burying the January 6 assault on the Capitol, the events leading up to that attack, and especially the embarrassing and potentially incriminating involvement of their own members, leaders and supporters.

Immediately after the caucus vote, Cheney told NBC's Savannah Guthrie what she believes is provoking "real concern" among her colleagues: the prospect of a full and independent investigation into the January 6 insurrection, like the 9/11 Commission Report. "I've been very public that that commission needs to be bipartisan. It needs to look only at Jan. 6 and the events leading up to it, not at the BLM" — Black Lives Matter — "and antifa riots last summer," Cheney said on the Today show. "I think that that kind of intense, narrow focus threatens people in my party who may have been playing a role they should not have been playing."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has advocated a bipartisan commission of inquiry into Jan. 6 for months, but the Republicans are blocking it. McCarthy seems particularly unenthusiastic about examining that day of shame, perhaps because he does not wish to testify under oath himself.

Much has changed for the minority leader since he confronted Trump on the phone during the attack — and discovered firsthand that the then-president was pleased to let his mob sack the Capitol. "Well, Kevin," Trump reportedly said, "I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." A week later, McCarthy was still furious enough to say on the House floor that Trump "bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters" and "should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding."

Today, McCarthy pretends that Trump acted promptly to quell the insurrection and deserves no blame at all. Unburdened by principles of any kind, or even a rudimentary sense of dignity, the Republican leader has become wholly complicit in Trump's betrayal of the Constitution.

Overseeing McCarthy's cooperation in the cover-up is his new political director, one Brian Jack, who held the same job in the Trump White House. Jack was directly involved in the events of January 6, including the recruitment of Rep. Mo Brooks to speak at the White House rally that preceded the riot, where the Alabama representative infamously incited the mob to "start ... kicking ass" at the Capitol.

These seditious miscreants want no part of a serious investigation of January 6. They fervently wish that it will never be mentioned again. Their own polling warns that reminding swing-district voters across the country of the insurrection — and Trump's election lies — will do grave damage to their campaign next year.

All the more reason why every patriotic American should join Liz Cheney in demanding a real investigation and complete accountability — and why Democrats should talk about Trump's onslaught against democracy every day from now through November. 8, 2022.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Why did Trump's top officials lie about China — and Russia?

Before Merrick Garland took office last week, the new attorney general surely understood that he would face a difficult and almost-overwhelming set of problems — including reconstruction of the Justice Department after the ruinously partisan rule of his predecessor William Barr; overseeing hundreds of federal prosecutions of Jan. 6 insurrectionists; and dealing with the scandal detritus of the Trump regime, which may eventually involve indictments of the former president, his associates and even members of his family.

But this week, we learned of still more troubling issues that may require Garland's attention, when the department of homeland security and the director of national intelligence released declassified reports on foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election. The classified versions of those reports were on the attorney general's desk when he arrived for his first day of work, and what they indicate is the worst U.S. intelligence scandal since the fabricated reports that justified the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence summarized the views of the nation's intelligence and law enforcement agencies concerning foreign interference in the 2020 election. They found that yet again, Russia undertook strenuous measures to assist Donald Trump and his campaign, with the express purpose of keeping him in power. Law enforcement officials and counterintelligence analysts gathered substantial evidence showing that the Kremlin's spy apparatus, both military and civilian, used Trump's network of associates — including Republicans in both the House and Senate — to spread false stories about Ukraine, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. And as the report stated, the directive came from the top: "We assess that President Putin and the Russian state authorized and conducted influence operations against the 2020 US presidential election aimed at denigrating President Biden and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the US."

As might be expected, the report dismissed the fantasy propaganda spread by Trump's attorneys in the election's aftermath about mysterious communist entities that somehow controlled voting machines — and padded Joe Biden's vote totals from abroad. "We are aware of multiple public claims that one or more foreign governments — including Venezuela, Cuba, or China — owned, directed, or controlled election infrastructure used in the 2020 federal elections; implemented a scheme to manipulate election infrastructure; or tallied, changed, or otherwise manipulated vote counts," it noted, adding that investigations by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security found no evidence whatsoever to bolster those claims. It doesn't name Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani or any of the other legal and media figures who trumpeted those lies, but it doesn't need to.

Debunking those ridiculous characters is amusing and may prove interesting to state bar authorities with ethical jurisdiction over them. But the report's most disturbing implication concerns the behavior of government officials who misled the public and Congress about the role of China — and Russia.

Last summer, as Election Day drew near, the Trump administration's top officials, including the president himself and then-Attorney General William Barr, then-director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe and then-national security adviser Robert O'Brien, publicly misled the nation with false claims about alleged Chinese interference.

On two occasions, O'Brien asserted that Beijing's intelligence agencies were seeking to influence voters, even more than the Russians. "(T)he Chinese have taken the most active role," he claimed. Barr said the same thing, citing "intelligence" sources that showed China was superseding Russian as an electoral threat. And so did Ratcliffe, who proved himself to be a partisan Trump crony when he insisted on national television that "China is using a massive and sophisticated influence campaign that dwarfs anything that any other country is doing."

Yet according to the declassified report, there was no Chinese effort that came close to the scale or intention of the Russian campaign for Trump. "We assess that China did not deploy interference efforts and considered but did not deploy intelligence efforts intended to change the outcome of the US presidential election," the report concluded. So those loud warnings from Barr, Ratcliffe and O'Brien — as well as Trump — were knowing falsehoods.

The lies about China were part of a much broader scheme by Trump administration officials and cronies to rig the election, which can be traced back to the Ukraine blackmail scheme that led to the president's first impeachment. But the attempt by the nation's highest law enforcement and intelligence officials to minimize an actual foreign-influence campaign by fabricating a false one steers perilously close to aiding a hostile power.

Was the falsification coordinated by those officials and others? Were they ordered to disseminate the lies by the president? What statutes, if any, are implicated by their misconduct? What sanctions, if any, should be brought against them?

Attorney General Garland needs to learn the answers to those questions if he means to restore integrity to America's law enforcement and counterintelligence agencies — which, in this era, remain vital to our democracy

Destroying conservatism will be Marjorie Taylor Greene's only achievement

With their cowardly refusal to discipline Marjorie Taylor Greene, the retreat from integrity of the House Republicans is now complete. Only under the threat of sanctions against Greene by House Democrats did Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) even pretend to address the Georgia representative's many offenses against decency, comity, and sanity. And when the Republican caucus met behind closed doors, McCarthy's weak leadership allowed Greene to take over the meeting, which reportedly concluded in applause for her.

What were the Republicans applauding? The gun-toting Greene has not apologized for any of her endorsements of violence, including those spittle-flecked threats to assassinate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She hasn't withdrawn any of her racist slurs against Blacks and Muslims, or her gutter excursions into anti-Semitic fantasy. Only under duress has Greene admitted the reality of the 9/11 attack and the school shootings upon which she had cast paranoid doubt, after inflicting renewed grief on the families of the dead. She didn't apologize to them, either.

Behind closed doors, Greene reportedly told her Republican colleagues that she is sorry for embarrassing them. Her alibi was that she was drawn to QAnon only because she was suffering a "dark period" in her life. Yet that too was a lie. She praised the conspiracy cult on Twitter as recently as December 4.

So this wretched character deserves to be booted off the prestigious budget and education committee assignments that McCarthy had unaccountably awarded her. But with little intellectual aptitude and no interest in policy, she will hardly suffer from that sanction. Instead she now gloats that all the attention to her baneful idiocies is elevating her profile, a boast that is surely accurate. She will bask in attention – and rake in money – from the aggrieved bigots for whom she stands.

There can be no doubt that Greene and others like her pose a continuing threat to democracy, as they proved with bloody ferocity on January 6. In their psychotic fantasies -- as she hinted in her own social media posts -- they would exterminate every Democrat and liberal in America, because "freedom" is only for them and nobody else.

But what these violent extremists are much more likely to destroy is conservatism.

In one of her many defiant public rebukes to her critics, Greene wrote that Pelosi persecutes her because she is "a Christian" and "a conservative." Obviously her brutal style does no credit to Christianity, but it is conservatives who should worry more about her claim to being one of them.

At their best, conservatives are supposed to defend American institutions and values. They are supposed to believe in civility, protocol, manners, and traditional standards. The conservative instinct is to reject excess and uphold personal responsibility. They valued reason and logic over maddening emotion. Or at least those were the things they believed about themselves.

In recent decades, however, that venerable sort of conservatism has increasingly given way to a coarser and uglier version, which is now epitomized by Trump and his followers such as Greene. If she is a conservative, with her crazy theories about a Jewish space laser and her stupid prejudices, then conservatism is intellectually bankrupt and merely a political scrim for fascism.

This was the same danger perceived by William F. Buckley, the framer of modern conservatism, when he sought to isolate the authoritarian and conspiratorial John Birch Society from his movement. With its wild accusations against Dwight Eisenhower and its hatred of democracy, he knew that the society would poison conservatism in its cradle.

Some Republicans, notably including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and a handful of Senators and Representatives, seem to recognize this peril. The question is whether they have the courage and energy for a sustained fight against it.

Uncovering the #MAGA plot against America

Investigations of the terrible crimes committed against the United States at the Capitol last week had scarcely begun when the usual suspects launched a right-wing cover-up. Rather than blame the motley swarm of #MAGA fanatics, white nationalists and habitual criminals whom we all witnessed storming into the citadel of democracy to stop certification of the 2020 election, they pointed the finger to the antifa and Black Lives Matter movements.

This article first appeared in the National Memo.

But such a preposterous political alibi, premised on nonexistent evidence, won't stand up to the kind of scrutiny that must now be brought to bear on these momentous events. Long after President Donald Trump's impeachment is over and done, and regardless of whether he is convicted or not, the myriad investigations and trials of the perpetrators of the Capitol insurrection will go on for years. Justice will be done; the truth will be revealed; and the breadth of the assault on our constitutional democracy will stun even the jaded and cynical.

Combining vanity and stupidity, the shock troops who carried out the assault recorded themselves in the process of the attack. Perhaps they believed that they would be pardoned by Donald Trump. Knock, knock. Now the FBI is sweeping them up across the country to face federal prosecution.

More than a few of these individuals have prior convictions for serious crimes. These predicate felons, who exemplify the extremist wing of Trump's movement, are likely to crack under prosecutorial pressure and disclose what they know. And no matter what they expected, Trump probably won't dare to pardon them. He is reported to be upset at the low class of his diehards apparently willing to kidnap and assassinate in his name.

While much of what occurred on Jan. 6 and the days and weeks leading up to the attack still remains somewhat murky, it is already clear that the insurrection was not a spontaneous uprising. The mob that assaulted the Capitol included highly trained fighters who came prepared with tactical gear of all kinds, often superior to the equipment of the police officers trying to hold them back, as well as a communications system. What they needed from the thousands of dupes whipped up by Trump and Rudy Giuliani was an overwhelming physical force to enable an unstoppable rush into the building.

We don't know the extent of coordination, if any, between the White House, various ultra-right members of Congress and fascist gangs like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers that came to Washington bent on bloodshed. The initial clues, however, raise deeply troubling questions. Why were members of Congress escorting groups of Trump supporters around the Capitol on Jan. 5, the day before the attack, when the building was supposed to be closed? Why did the attacking vanguard leave the Trump rally at the White House early and proceed to the Capitol? And why did the Pentagon fail to send National Guard reinforcements in time, despite desperate pleas from the Capitol Police?

The support structure for the demonstration that turned into an insurrection ranged across the Trumpist movement, encompassing figures like Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, and Charlie Kirk, who runs the far-right college outfit Turning Point USA and boasts close ties with Donald Trump Jr. Both of them have tried to erase evidence of their organizing efforts.

Equally intriguing is the role of Ali Alexander, who takes credit for staging the "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, whose militant rhetoric set the event's tone and who now seems to have gone into hiding. He has a long history of connections with Trump confidant Roger Stone and Stone's proteges in the Proud Boys. He has also received funding in the recent past from the billionaire Mercer family, which lurks behind many of the nation's most toxic far-right elements. And Alexander says that he worked on the insurrection with at least three Republican members of Congress — Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and Mo Brooks, R-Ala.

Here it is worth recalling that Stone oversaw the "Brooks Brothers riot" in Miami that stopped the vote counting in Miami-Dade County and swayed the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. Since last November, he has repeatedly called for Trump to impose martial law to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The events of Jan. 6 represented the worst threat to democracy and the rule of law that we have seen in our lifetimes. The violent authoritarian impulse within the Republican right has metastasized under Trump into a potent and very dangerous force. Uncovering the roots of that threat and isolating its sponsors will be a lengthy and complicated process that will involve the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, state and local law enforcement, the attorney general of the District of Columbia, many committees of the House and Senate, and almost certainly a national investigative commission on the order of the 9/11 commission. And there will be trials.

Nothing less will suffice to defend our democratic republic from its enemies, foreign and domestic.

Why America must hold Mike Flynn accountable

When Donald Trump finally vacates the White House on Jan. 20, his departure won't exorcise the political demons that have infested the nation over the past four years. The cult of personality that surrounds Trump has combined with his own profound disdain for constitutional norms, fulfilling the worst fears about his rise to power. He will surrender the presidency only after seeking to overturn a legitimate election, while encouraging demands among his followers for "martial law" and a turn toward dictatorship.

This article first appeared at the National Memo.

Trump is plainly a fascist, surrounded by bootlicking flunkies of like disposition, and he will continue to encourage a fascistic faction in and around the Republican Party.

How can a new administration protect America from this enemy within, as President-elect Joe Biden will swear to do on Inauguration Day? Biden can begin by appointing a new attorney general and homeland security secretary empowered to crack down on violent extremists, as Trump refused to do. He can isolate the conspirators against democracy by all legal and political means at his disposal.

But that responsibility doesn't fall to the president alone.

During these final weeks of the Trump regime, we have watched in astonishment as Michael Flynn, a retired Army general who has already disgraced his uniform, embarked on a campaign to encourage a coup d'etat.

On Dec. 2, Flynn tweeted an advertisement that appeared in The Washington Times, urging Trump to take "executive action" to avert a "shooting civil war" in the election's aftermath. Two weeks later, he expanded on that theme in a television appearance, declaring that Trump should impose martial law under the Insurrection Act, order the military to seize control of the electoral apparatus in states he lost and then "rerun" the election, presumably to achieve an unearned victory.

In that bizarre outburst, Flynn echoed an earlier call by Trump confidant Roger Stone. Days later, the retired general went to the Oval Office — with kooky conspiracist-lawyer Sidney Powell so he could sell that sickening proposal to the president in person. While reportedly intrigued, Trump hasn't attempted this treasonous scheme, presumably because the military has warned him against any such madness.

What Flynn did may have stopped just short of "sedition" under both the U.S. Code and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). According to Article 94 of the UCMJ, that includes "Any person ... with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of lawful civil authority, creates, in concert with any other person, revolt, violence, or other disturbance against that authority is guilty of sedition." Although his words have yet to result in violent acts, they set the stage for a conflagration when the Proud Boys and other fascist elements congregate in Washington on Jan. 6 as Congress ratifies Biden's Electoral College victory.

But even if he only skirted sedition, Flynn's political misconduct falls under the military prohibition against behavior "dishonoring or disgracing the officer personally" and bringing dishonor to the military itself. By violating his sworn oath to uphold the Constitution — which nowhere authorizes the use of the armed forces to overturn an election or institute martial law — Flynn invited court-martial.

And, as Flynn must well know, a retired general can be called back to active duty by the secretary of defense for the sole purpose of instituting such proceedings. Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served as a top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, has publicly called for Flynn's prosecution under those provisions.

The danger that Flynn represents is real. Holding him accountable for his despicable acts would show that in the wake of Trump, our military leaders intend to uphold their oaths and defend our democracy.

Trump will inevitably disappoint the maniacs who are spewing seditious babble after his election loss

Nearly a year before he accepted the Republican nomination for president, Donald Trump's authoritarian impulses already were too obvious to be ignored. By then he was encouraging physical attacks on undocumented immigrants, demanding the deportation of millions more, and constantly appealing to hatred and bigotry. He bragged of being the "most militaristic" candidate and denigrated the free press. So extreme was his rhetoric during those months that prominent conservatives -- including several who now spinelessly truckle to him – warned of what his rise to power might portend.

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