The ivermectin craze is being fueled by medical front groups with ties to right-wing dark money

Two years ago, ivermectin was an obscure drug consigned only to those who had the rare displeasure of contracting parasites like scabies or river blindness. American doctors wrote a mere 150,000 prescriptions for the drug in 2019 – roughly 0.1% of the prescriptions written for Lipitor, a widely used atorvastatin designed to lower cholesterol.

Last year, however, as the pandemic raged on and conservatives stood their ground against common sense public health measures like masks and vaccines, ivermectin became a household name. Despite lacking proper consensus from the scientific community, the drug has been widely touted by right-wing pundits, politicians, and entrepreneurs as the unofficial magic bullet for COVID-19.

In many ways, the right-wing frenzy around ivermectin can be traced back to that of hydroxychloroquine, which was last year baselessly extolled by Donald Trump and many of his supporters in media and congress. However, ivermectin appears to have taken a much stronger hold over Trump's following (and beyond), benefiting from a robust network of profit-seeking providers continuously selling it to thousands of Americans.

Over the last several months, much of the battle to normalize ivermectin as a legitimate COVID treatment has played out in courts, which have seen a sudden surge in lawsuits filed against hospitals unwilling to administer the drug. Such offensives have arisen in states like Louisiana, Illinois, California, Kentucky, Delaware, Texas, and more.

"I've never encountered this and I've been in practice over 40 years," Dr. Rodney Hood, who serves on the National Medical Association's COVID-19 Task Force on Vaccines and Therapeutics, told FiveThirtyEight. "You don't get treated based upon what you feel or think," Hood said. "There are certain approved treatment regimens for certain diseases. If [what a patient is demanding] doesn't fit within that regimen, then you cannot treat them."

In one of the most widely publicized cases from August, Julie Smith, the wife of a 51-year-old coronavirus COVID patient in Ohio, sued a Cincinnati-based hospital network for not administering the ivermectin to her husband, demanding that the hospital deliver a three-week course of the drug. That month, Smith saw a favorable ruling from Butler County Judge Gregory Howard, who formally ordered the hospital to administer the drug to her husband despite warnings from the Centers for Diseases Control that its use could be unsafe. In September, the decision was reversed by a different Ohio judge, who noted that "medical and scientific communities do not support the use of ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19."

In May, Desareta Fype, the daughter of a 61-year-old woman with COVID-19, similarly sued an Illinois hospital after all of its affiliated doctors refused to administer ivermectin to her mother. A judge later told the hospital to "get out of the way" and allow any board-certified doctor to give Fype's mother the drug, according to The Daily Herald. The hospital's attorney, Daniel Monahan, said that 20 physicians and 19 other health care workers at the hospital all refused to deliver the medicine despite the ruling, ultimately prompting Fype to hire an outside doctor to administer the drug.

While many of the ivermectin suits have been filed by seemingly unconnected individuals throughout the country, there do appear to be several common threads.

One of these threads is Ralph Lorigo, who this year became the most "in-demand" attorney for plaintiffs looking to compel the use of ivermectin in hospital systems for their loved ones, according to The Daily Beast. Lorigo helms a general practice law firm in West Seneca, New York, and has reportedly worked on at least 60 ivermectin cases, per a Journal News report. The attorney, who represented both Julie Smith and Desareta Fype, claims to be "largely successful" in delivering wins, allowing patients to force ivermectin's use.

Citing an array of dubious studies, Lorigo told the Beast that his legal actions are aimed at delivering "last-ditch" treatment for patients that have exhausted every option. But many medical professionals argue that the suits put unnecessary strain on hospitals that are already buckling under the weight of a pandemic.

"Hospitals are dealing with the unvaccinated COVID-19 patients at a very high pace," Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Beast. "And then you're going to burden them by filing a lawsuit or creating legal problems over them trying to provide the best care for these people who chose not to be vaccinated and who are now crushing their hospitals?"

Timothy Brewer, an epidemiology professor at UCLA, added that Lorigo's "why not?" approach is far from justified, largely because the studies proffered by Lorigo are hardly conclusive, potentially adding complications to drugs patients are already being given. For instance, many of the studies use statistically insignificant sample sizes, deliver unsafe doses of the drug, or were written by doctors with clear conflicts of interest.

In recent months, Lorigo, the chairman of New York's Erie County Conservative Party, has said that his business has become effectively consumed by ivermectin suits, telling SpectrumNews1 that he receives "somewhere between 80 and 150 emails and requests for information and help" on a daily basis.

"We freely give the information. I've been here seven days a week for the last seven weeks without a day off, trying to get people the information that they so desperately need," he added.

It remains unclear how much the attorney profits from each suit – or how the suits are structured. Asked who fronts the money, Lorigo refused to answer. According to Bloomberg Law, he alleges that he offers his services at a "reduced rate."

Aside from Lorigo, another common thread in the ecosystem of ivermectin litigation is America's Frontline Doctors (AFLD), a conservative political group founded by Dr. Simone Gold in 2019.

AFLD is arguably the most dominant force currently working to legitimize ivermectin as a valid COVID treatment, connecting hundreds of patients with drug providers happy to fuel what's become a multimillion-dollar industry in ivermectin sales, Time reported. The Intercept estimated that, between mid-July to mid-September of this year, AFLD and its partners raked in roughly $6.7 million in revenue by coordinating telehealth consultations for the drug. But in the process, the group reportedly bilked hundreds of unsuspecting customers out of thousands in consultation fees by, in many cases, failing to deliver the drug at all.

Irwin Redlener, who directs the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University said that the group AFLD is "the 21st century, digital version of snake-oil salesmen."

"And in the case of ivermectin, it's extremely dangerous," he added.

Throughout the pandemic, AFLD waged a whole host of right-wing disinformation campaigns. It advocated for the use of hydroxychloroquine, called lockdowns "mass casualty events," disputed the efficacy of mask-wearing, and alleged that death certificates were being forged to artificially inflate the pandemic death toll.

While Gold has reportedly labeled the group "grassroots," AFLD is led by a cavalcade of high-brass conservatives with roots in think tanks and advocacy groups like the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and FreedomWorks. Its founding director, Jenny Beth Martin, is the co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, a right-wing group started in opposition to President Obama's domestic agenda before becoming a pro-Trump outfit.

On top of AFLD's connection to the Tea Party Patriots, the group is also affiliated with the Council for National Policy (CNP), a "shadowy coalition" founded in 1981 "that coordinates initiatives among conservative megadonors, political operatives, and media owners, many of them Christian fundamentalists," the Washington Examiner reported. Conservative businessman Richard Uihlein gave the group $4.3 million over a five-year period through 2020.

Marco Rubio wants to go after corporations — but there's a catch

Marco Rubio is trying to get ahead of the Republican pack, unveiling a legislative offensive against the left's so-called "woke" agenda, introducing a bill that would incentivize shareholders of large public companies to sue company directors who engage in "wokeness."

The 21-page bill, dubbed the "Mind Your Own Business Act," federally prohibits corporate executives from making "non-pecuniary" decisions to promote the company's "public image" or "employee morale," creating a cause of action for shareholders aggrieved by a company's interest in "wokeness" over profit-maximization. Shifting the burden of proof onto executives, the measure would "require corporate directors to prove their 'woke' corporate actions were in their shareholders' best interest."

Rubio's bill rattles off several examples of how executives have apparently allowed "political bias" to undermine their fiduciary responsibility to shareholders. It implies that businesses have in the past denied goods and services to particular states and industries, promoted race and sex stereotyping, and used board and members to advance political agendas.

"No more legal tricks that shield these corporate executives from accountability," Rubio announced in a press release. "If they really believe that being woke is good for business, they should have to say so – and prove it – under oath in court."

But critics say that the bill's nebulous nature casts endless doubt over how it would actually be implemented, with some even arguing it applies the very kind of big government approach to big business that Republicans typically detest.

"It makes no sense," said Richard Painter, a Democrat who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush. "Corporations don't have to maximize profits," he told Salon in an interview. "It's a complete fallacy that directors have to maximize profits. They can focus on the interests of labor, the environment, and a range of concerns."

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"What if business firms don't think "profit maximization" is the most important thing?" echoed Lawrence B. Glickman, a professor in American Studies at Cornell University, over email. "What if they believe that investments in the future—and thus lower or no dividends to shareholders—are more important? And what about their duties to their employees?"

At present, there is no provision in federal corporate law that mandates corporations to maximize their profits or returns to shareholders – a fact recently affirmed by the Supreme Court's 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. "Modern corporate law does not require for-profit corporations to pursue profit at the expense of everything else, and many do not," the court wrote. To boot, neither state codes nor corporate case law have ever set a clear precedent for such a requirement. In fact, both confer broad discretion to executives when it comes to ensuring corporate welfare.

When shareholders sue company directors for breaching their fiduciary responsibility (i.e. derivative suits), they again do so under the jurisdiction of state laws. But Rubio is pushing for the "federalization of corporate law," Painter said – and that's an approach Republicans would normally decry as fascist or anti-capitalist.

Such Republican rhetoric has been common in the past decade, with politicians like Rubio repeatedly emphasizing the apparent need to protect state rights' from federal overreach, particularly when it comes to social issues.

Back in 2015, just months before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, Rubio argued that same-sex marriage should be individually resolved on a state-by-state basis, saying in a CBS interview: "States have always regulated marriage. And if a state wants to have a different definition, you should petition the state legislature and have a political debate. I don't think courts should be making that decision."

This year, Rubio again alluded to states' rights in his opposition to the John Lewis Act, a Democratic-backed voting rights overhaul. "Democrats want unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington to run our elections in Florida," he said in a June press release. "Not only is that unconstitutional, it is reckless."

Other critics of Rubio's bill have claimed that it would be shut down by existing legal precedents.

In fact, a doctrine already exists to prevent aggrieved shareholders from filing the kind of frivolous suits that would arise from Rubio's bill, argued UCLA law professor Stephen Bainbridge. "At present," he wrote on his blog, "the sort of woke decisions … almost certainly would be insulated from judicial review by the business judgment rule." This rule makes the presumption that business directors are serving the interests of their corporations, placing burden of proof to on plaintiffs to argue otherwise. But Rubio's measure fails to make explicit mention of this doctrine, posing questions around how the two would be compatible.

Rubio's "Mind Your Own Business Act" comes amid a broader GOP effort to offload the responsibility of law-and-order onto Republican voters.

Last month, Texas enacted a near-total abortion ban that incentivizes its residents to sue anyone who aids, provides, or receives an abortion after six weeks into pregnancy. The measure effectively puts a $10,000 minimum bounty on wrongdoers, allowing plaintiffs to collect tens of thousands of dollars in compensation. In the lead-up to both the 2016 and 2020 elections, Donald Trump similarly encouraged his supporters to engage in illegal poll watching over baseless fears around voter fraud. Voting rights advocates widely condemned Trump's rhetoric as an intimidation tactic that might lead to voter suppression.

In some cases, Trump has overtly promoted vigilante violence, Salon's Heather Digby Parton noted last month. Ahead of a 2017 rally, Trump promised his supporters that he'll "pay the legal fees" if they "knock the crap" out any protesters at the event. That same year, the former president claimed that there were "very fine people on both sides" of Charlottesville, Virginia's "Unite the Right" rally, which drew hundreds of neo-Nazis and counter-protesters together in a violent clash.

The GOP's deputization of its own voters can be traced back to America's brutal treatment of racial minorities, Glickman said. "I think this is part of a long tradition of the sanctioning of extralegal violence—you can go back to the Fugitive Slave Act, the KKK and other vigilantes during Reconstruction, and lynching."

In 1850, Congress passed a second version of the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed slave-owners to contract private bounty-hunters to recover enslaved people who had escaped into free states. The law also punished anyone who aided or abetted in the escape of fugitive enslaved people with a six-month prison sentence and a fine of $1,000 (roughly $35,000 in 2021). Slave-owners were known to publish reward offers in newspapers for runaway enslaved people.

During the Jim Crow era, Stefanie Lindquist wrote in the The Conversation, the country saw a privatization of the electoral system that was again weaponized against Black Americans. For example, from 1889 to 1953, Lindquist wrote, the Jaybird Association, an all-White Democratic political organization, single-handedly ran its own "pre-primary" to vet party candidates for office. The effort was designed to combat the biracial coalition of former Republicans that had maintained control of the county government since 1869.

Rubio's law also comes amid an apparent growing rift between the GOP and corporate America.

Back in April, big businesses like Coca-Cola and Delta backed away from Georgia's GOP-backed restrictive voting bill in response to progressive outrage over the bill's potential to suppress minority voters, even though these very companies had donated to the measure's sponsors. The move earned corporate America harsh criticism from the GOP, which accused it of falling into hands of "woke" left operatives. In the aftermath of the fatal January 6 Capitol riot, a number of corporations similarly promised to suspend donations to the 147 Republicans who voted to nullify President Biden's 2020 election win. However, many of these pledges were summarily jettisoned, according to The Los Angeles Times, which found that companies like Cigna, AT&T and Intel broke their promise many months later.

But Painter, Bush's chief White House ethics lawyer, told Salon that it's in Corporate America's best interest to dispense with the Republican Party.

"This thing keeps accelerating, but this can move toward authoritarianism, where corporations are used – with their money and so forth – to install authoritarians to power," he said. "An awful lot of businesses supported the Republican Party enough in 2016. They didn't like Trump, but they helped Trump get in through contributions made to the Republican Party, because they didn't like the Democrats."

Commentators on both the left and right have expressed extreme doubt over the "Mind Your Own Business" Act's potential passage. Matt Stoller, Director of Research at the American Economic Liberties Project, told Salon that the measure is "not going to pass and it would likely be unconstitutional."

Why former Trump Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin is making a last-minute plea to Mitch McConnell

Donald Trump's secretary of treasury Steven Mnuchin reportedly held private meetings with Sen. Minority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to resolve the current debt impasse – but his efforts failed, with McConnell reportedly concerned that too high of a debt limit would threaten the nation's economic integrity.

The development, first reported by The Washington Post, comes on the heels of a now months-long standoff between Democrats and Republicans over the alleged potential for Biden's infrastructure deal to cause dangerous levels of inflation. According to a Tuesday analysis by Moody's Analytics, a federal default could spell a loss of six million jobs within the U.S. economy and is predicted to double the unemployment rate to 9%. During the Trump administration, the national debt climbed by about $8 trillion, according to the Post.

According to the Post, Mnuchin shared McConnell's concerns about raising the debt ceiling in private meetings with the senator. The former treasury secretary also reportedly discussed with McConnell the "mechanics of how the debt limit would be lifted, as well as the difficult negotiations with Democrats over the debt ceiling under Trump in 2018." However, his efforts to talk McConnell down from his cliff were apparently to no avail. Punchbowl News reported that Democrats reportedly sent McConnell other "intermediaries" prior, but none made any progress.

On Monday, Democrats in both the House and Senate leadership announced a proposal to raise the debt cap through December 2022. If Democrats failed to garner the support of 10 Republicans for the bill – a near certainty – then they will have the ability to pass it through budget reconciliation, which necessitates a simple majority vote.

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This week, Treasury Janet Yellen demurred the GOP's fiscal conservative, writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the Congress must raise or suspend the debt limit.

"The U.S. has always paid its bills on time," Yellen argued. "But the overwhelming consensus among economists and Treasury officials of both parties is that failing to raise the debt limit would produce widespread economic catastrophe."

Although Democrats largely balked at GOP concerns about raising the debt ceiling, they have largely been insistent on conducting the move in a bipartisan fashion.

"The debt limit is a shared responsibility, and I urge Congress to come together, in that spirit, on a bipartisan basis as it has in the past to protect the full faith and credit of the United States," House Speaker Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a Sunday letter.

"We took on this debt in a bipartisan way. We're prepared to expand the debt in a bipartisan way," Larry Summers, President Obama's economic advisor, told the Post. "I don't see why it's justified to refuse to acknowledge reality," Summers said in an interview. "Reality is not a partisan thing. Raising the debt limit is acknowledging reality, not making a partisan choice."

On Tuesday, the House approved a measure that would prevent a government shutdown and suspend the debt limit if a compromise is not reached in time, though the bill could still be impeded in the Senate.

California recall shows Republicans will never give up the Big Lie

Fox News is stirring concerns that the California recall election may be in need of an audit – a conservative tactic now being widely used to discredit Democratic wins throughout the country.

During a Tuesday broadcast of Fox News' "Outnumbered," Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren argued that "the only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud."

"So as they say, stay woke, pay attention to the voter fraud going on in California, because it's going to have big consequences not only for that state, but for upcoming elections," she added.

Newsom "knows that mail-in ballots, which by definition lack any form of voter ID, cannot be verified," echoed Fox News host Tucker Carlson last week. "Those [sic] kind of ballots overwhelmingly benefit his party because they abet voter fraud."

The main promulgator of the GOP's Big Lie about the myth of voter fraud, Donald Trump, has even jumped in on the action.

"It's probably rigged," Trump, who baselessly blamed California for his 2016 popular vote loss, said about the recall during an interview on Newsmax. "They're sending out all ballots ― the ballots are mail-out, mail-in ballots. I guess you even have a case where you can make your own ballot. When that happens nobody's going to win except these Democrats."

The growing right-wing message, reported on by Media Matters for America, comes as numerous polls put incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom way ahead of all of his challengers.

According to AP News, election security experts are already calling on California to conduct a recall, even when all the ballots have yet to be collected.

"It is critical to recognize that the release of the Dominion software into the wild has increased the risk to the security of California elections to the point that emergency action is warranted," the experts wrote to the secretary of state's office. Election offices throughout 30 different states use Dominion's equipment.

Back in August, proprietary copies of Dominion's software were distributed at an event hosted by Trump-supporting pillow salesman Mike Lindell, according to The Guardian. The copies originated from Mesa County, Colorado, and Antrim County, Michigan – both of which saw Trump-backed challenges to the 2020 election results.

"We told election officials, essentially, that you should assume this information is already out there," Matt Masterson, a Trump election security official, told The Guardian. "Now we know it is, and we don't know what [hackers] are going to do with it."

The experts – which include cybersecurity researchers, computer scientists, and election technology experts – are demanding that California implement a ""risk-limiting audit," AP noted, a statistical method used to compare actual and reported election results.

In response to their letter, Jenna Dresner, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Shirley Weber, outlined myriad ways in which California sets heightened election security requirements, which includes routine testing and physical security policies. "California has the strictest and most comprehensive voting system testing, use, and requirements in the country, and it was designed to withstand potential threats," Dresner told AP.

Dominion is reportedly aware that its software images have been made public, but it maintained that the development does not pose a significant security threat.

Trump fans lash out at Republican Ron Johnson after senator admits Wisconsin election 'not skewed'

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., an ardent promoter of Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud, had a bizarre moment of clarity this week when he argued that "there was nothing obviously skewed" about the 2020 election results in Wisconsin.

In what appears to be an undercover video filmed by The Undercurrent at the Wauwatosa GOP Chicken Burn on Sunday, Johnson was captured trying to disillusion The Undercurrent director Lauren Windsor (who posed as a Trump supporter) from the notion that the former president lost as a consequence of systemic election fraud.

"In Wisconsin, do you know the vote totals?" Johnson asked Windsor.

"I don't, no," she responded.

"So without knowing the votes totals, you can't even state that opinion," he shot back.

Johnson continued by rattling off a number of vote counts across presidential and congressional candidates in the 2020 election, suggesting that fraud would have been statistically implausible.

"Prior to this election, I was the number one vote-getter statewide with under 1.5 million votes," he explained. "This election, Trump got 1.61 [million]. No Republican has ever cracked 1.5 million. Numerous Democrats have gone over 1.6 [million] and 1.5 [million]. Just the Republican state assembly candidate got 1.661 million votes. The eight congressional candidates also got 1.661 million."

Johnson continued: "So we obviously counted enough Republican votes. The only reason Trump lost Wisconsin is that 51,000 Republican voters didn't vote for him. They voted for other Republican candidates."

But Windsor pressed on, continuing the ruse. "So you're telling me Joe Biden won this state fair and square?" she asked.

"It's certainly plausible," he said. "There's nothing obviously skewed about the results."

Needless to say, Johnson's admission was met with shock and derision from Trump's most diehard supporters:

Though Johnson conceded to Trump's electoral loss, the Republican lawmaker nevertheless believes in the necessity of a "forensic audit" in his home state.

"I'm the only one who had a hearing on the irregularities of the [2020 election results]," he said in another video released by Windsor. "The last thing I would focus on would be the [voting] machines. We have paper ballots, we have the machines logs, we've got the machine totals. We should be focusing on that."

Back in December, Johnson held a widely-mocked hearing as chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Trump's allegations of widespread voter fraud. State officials have repeatedly rebuffed these concerns.

Johnson's comments come just after a GOP-led state committee last week approved a $680,000 budget for an official probe into the state's 2020 election results.

'It's horrifying': Dr. Fauci reacts to CPAC crowd celebrating low vaccination rates

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, expressed horror on Sunday over a crowd at a conservative gathering this past week celebrating the federal government's inability to meet its vaccination goals.

"It's horrifying," Fauci told host CNN's Jake Tapper in an interview. "I mean, they are cheering about someone saying that it's a good thing for people not to try and save their lives."

Fauci's comments come in response to a speech made by Alex Berenson, a former New York Times reporter who acquired a reputation last year for scaremongering over the safety of the vaccine and disputing the value of taking basic public health precautions.

"The government was hoping that they could sort of sucker 90 percent of the population into getting vaccinated," Berenson said cheerily at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday. "And it isn't happening."

Fauci also expressed grave concern over the differences in vaccination rates between voters of different political leanings.

"We've got to put aside this ideological difference or differences thinking that somebody is forcing you to do something," he said. "The public health officials, like myself and my colleagues, are asking you to do something that will ultimately save your life, and that of your family and that of the community."

"I mean, it's ideological rigidity, I think," he added. "There's no reason not to get vaccinated."

Tapper later pressed the doctor on concerns over a federal vaccine mandate – a policy floated last week by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for schools and businesses. Fauci acknowledged that he would support the policy, saying: "I have been of this opinion, and I remain of that opinion, that I do believe at the local level, Jake, there should be more mandates. There really should be."

Just under half of all Americans are vaccinated according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of all COVID-related deaths in June, 99% were among people who were unvaccinated.

"If you're not vaccinated, you should be concerned," Fauci said on Sunday in another interview on ABC's "This Week."

He added: "We know from extensive experience, not only in our own country, here in the United States, but in other countries, that the vaccines that we are using work extremely well against the Delta variant, particularly in preventing advanced disease that would lead to hospitalization and likely death in some circumstances."

A number of studies and analyses have found that vaccine hesitancy is disproportionately present amongst conservatives. Back in March, a PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll found that the plurality of those who intend to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine are Republican men. A New York Times analysis similarly found that the "willingness to receive a vaccine and actual vaccination rates to date were lower, on average, in counties where a majority of residents voted to re-elect former President Donald J. Trump in 2020."

Over the past several months, vaccine hesitancy has no doubt been buttressed by the reckless rhetoric of high-profile right-wing pundits who've cast doubt on the efficacy of the vaccine and argued that President Biden's vaccine rollout portends a slide toward authoritarianism. As Salon reported last week, a whole host of Republican politicians and far-right pundits spread the erroneous notion that Biden health officials were gearing up to go "door-to-door" to compel Americans to be vaccinated against their will. A number of these conservatives compared Biden's vaccine rollout to Nazi Germany, suggesting that the administration is trying to enact a kind of authoritarian regime under the auspices of public health.

Right-wing anti-vaccine hysteria hits fever pitch as Nazi comparisons grow

Right-wing scaremongering about the COVID-19 vaccine hit a fever pitch this week, from Fox News to some of the conservative movement's more fringe characters, with pundits placing particular emphasis on the apparent connection between President Biden's vaccine rollout and Nazi Germany.

The hysteria appears to have its roots in a Tuesday speech the president gave in which he encouraged volunteers to knock on doors.

"We need to go [sic] to community-by-community, neighborhood-by-neighborhood and, oftentimes, door-to-door, literally knocking on doors to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus," Biden said.

The White House later clarified the president's remarks, stating that only community volunteers would be leading the door-knocking effort to encourage vaccination — but that didn't stop right-wing pundits and politicians from pouncing on what they said was America's slide toward authoritarianism.

Fox News in particular dedicated hours of programming to its crusade against the administration's push to vaccinate the country against a virus that has already killed 600,000 Americans — with Tucker Carlson equating workplace vaccine requirements to forced sterilization, guest and right-wing activist Charlie Kirk using his appearance to compare vaccination to South African apartheid, and a rash of other hosts decrying the Biden administration's emphasis on vaccination.

"The focus of this administration on vaccination is mind-boggling," Fox host Brian Kilmeade said on Fox & Friends Thursday. "They're going to knock on your door, they're going to demand that you take it, and they're going to give you a third shot," he added during a bizarre rant the next day, giving no indication of what the third shot is or why it would be required.

Longtime Fox host Laura Ingraham also added to the fear mongering with a chyron that read "THE LEFT'S CONSTANT COVID POWER GRAB"

The message filtered down to the Republican party's Congressional members, who hammered home the idea that Biden was sending people door-to-door to force vaccines on people who did not want them — which is, of course, not true.

"The Biden Administration wants to knock on your door to see if you're vaccinated," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, tweeted. "What's next? Knocking on your door to see if you own a gun?"

"How about don't knock on my door," echoed Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas. "You're not my parents. You're the government. Make the vaccine available, and let people be free to choose. Why is that concept so hard for the left?"

Missouri GOP Gov. Mike Parson – whose state saw the highest COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations in the last week, baselessly warned Biden "that sending government employees or agents door-to-door to compel vaccination would NOT be an effective OR a welcome strategy in Missouri!"

Other Republicans were more bombastic in their reaction to Biden's speech, not only bandying misinformation but painting an explicitly totalitarian picture of the president's vaccine rollout, often explicitly using the Nazi regime and the Third Reich as a comparison point.

"Biden has deployed his Needle Nazis to Mesa County," Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., tweeted on Thursday. "The people of my district are more than smart enough to make their own decisions about the experimental vaccine and don't need coercion by federal agents. Did I wake up in Communist China?"

Freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., called the officials handling Biden's vaccine push "medical brown shirts." Historically, brown shirts refers to the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party, called the SA, which carried out much of Adolf Hitler's bidding. Green's comments came on the heels of her last Nazi-related comparison, in which she said that mandatory mask-wearing was similar to the Nazi-era requirement that Jewish people wear identifying Stars of David on their clothing.

Conservative pundit Tomi Lahren also joined the chorus on Thursday, tarring flight attendants who enforce COVID health precautions as "Nazis of the air." Last year, as the Daily Beast noted, Lahren made headlines when she said that those who comply with social distancing rules are engaging in a form of "willful slavery."

Meanwhile, Charlie Kirk, the founder of conservative youth advocacy group Turning Point USA, eschewed a Nazi-era comparison, instead calling Biden's vaccination push an "apartheid-style, open-air hostage situation." He claimed that the administration would only let you "have your freedom back if you get the jab."

Conservative vaccine hesitancy, fueled by this militant anti-vaccine messaging, remains strong — despite pleas from numerous Republican governors to get vaccinated. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., admitted on Thursday that he's "perplexed" as to why so many Americans are refusing to get vaccinated.

Some on the left have speculated that it's the administration's very encouragement of vaccination – rather than the safety of the vaccine itself – that is largely contributing to right-wing resistance.

"The only solution may be reverse psychology," as Salon's Amanda Marcotte wrote last month. "People who want the pandemic to end need to, paradoxically, release the desire to see conservatives get vaccinated. The more zen that liberals (or people perceived to be liberals) are about vaccination rates, the less fun it is to try to piss liberals off by refusing to get the shot."

Disinvited from Trump country: Why some red states suddenly want less of Donald Trump

Donald Trump, steadily losing support from his voting bloc since Election Day, appears to suddenly be losing touch with leadership in some red states that supported him during the election. Officials in both Alabama and Florida have reportedly rebuffed Trump's recent attempts to hold self-promotional rallies.

Florida's Ron DeSantis, the state's Republican governor who is eyeing a potential presidential bid for 2024, reportedly "made a direct plea" to the former president to cancel his upcoming campaign-style rally in Sarasota. The rally, which Trump has so far refused to call off, is set to take place about 200 miles from the Miami suburb where part of an apartment building unexpectedly collapsed last week due to structural deficiencies, leaving 16 residents dead and over 100 still missing. One Florida Republican told the Washington Examiner that Trump and his team should "read the room" amid the tragedy.

"The governor is getting tested here as to how far he's going to be pushed before he breaks ranks with President Trump. And he has to be very careful because this is Trump country," the source continued. "The base loves the president. But they equally love Ron. It's a showdown going on right now."

According to one political operative interviewed by the Examiner, Trump's team is keeping the rally on schedule because of an apparent beef between DeSantis and Susie Wiles, a former Trump campaign official who was charged with leading his post-presidency political operations.

Back in 2019, during the 2020 Trump campaign, DeSantis reportedly urged Trump to fire Wiles over a "leak of internal correspondence showing how the new governor [Ron DeSantis] appeared to be selling access to special interests on golfing trips." According to Politico, the firing, which many disagreed with, estranged many Trump campaign officials from Florida's Republican leadership. One operative told the Examiner that "because Ron DeSantis doesn't want [the rally], [Wiles is] gonna make sure it happens," this source said.

Liz Harrington, a spokeswoman for Trump, said that the former president "sends his deepest condolences to those who've lost loved ones or been displaced by the terrible tragedy in Surfside."

She continued: "The event in Sarasota, however, is on the other side of the state, 3 1/2 hours away, approximately the same distance from Boston to New York, and will not impact any of the recovery efforts. In fact, President Trump has instructed his team to collect relief aid for Surfside families both online and on-site at the Sarasota rally."

Trump saw more resistance from a red state when park commissioners in Mobile, Alabama canceled his Saturday rally.

"It became apparent that it was going to be a partisan political event, rather than just a patriotic event planned for that evening," commission chairman Bill Tunnell told NBC-15 this week. The rally was set to be held at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park.

"I'll be honest," Pete Riehm, a local tea party activist, told NBC 15. "I feel some people just didn't want it, not just it but President Trump."

Alabama and Florida's recent pushback against Trump come amid increasing Republican rebukes of the former president's attempts to undermine the results of the 2020 election.

Last week, a Republican-led investigation by the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee found "no evidence of widespread or systemic fraud in Michigan's prosecution of the 2020 election, calling Trump's claims "ludicrous." On Monday, Republican leaders from Wisconsin, which is mulling its own 2020 election audit, told the former president that his grandiose theory of election fraud is "misinformed."

A Trump supporter could be the first Floridian prosecuted under Ron DeSantis' new anti-protest law

A Florida man was arrested and charged with multiple felonies last Thursday after intentionally performing a "burnout" with his car over a Pride-themed mural painted on an intersection in Delray Beach, opening him up to become the first person charged under the state's controversial new "anti-riot" bill pushed by Republicans.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed the bill meant to crack down on protests in the wake of the George Floyd uprisings earlier this year, just as the trial against former Minneapolis police officer Derick Chauvin was wrapping up. The legislation was heavily opposed by first amendment activists and Black lawmakers in the state. Now a young Trump supporter may be the first person entangled by the new law.

Alexander Jerich, 20, is accused of deliberately making skid marks across a mural meant to commemorate the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting, in his Chevrolet Silverado. According to WPBF, Delray Beach Police have since charged Jerich with criminal mischief, reckless driving, and evidence of prejudice. Just prior to the incident, Jerich was allegedly participating in a pro-Trump rally in celebration of the former president's birthday that was put together by the Palm Beach County Republican Executive Committee.

A witness told the police that heard someone holler "tear up that gay intersection" before Jerich shortly defaced the mural with his car. The incident was also caught on video, which allowed the police to identify Jerich, who turned himself in, through a license plate search.

Rand Hoch, founder and president of the Palm Beach Human Rights Council, told WFOR that Jerich carried out "a deliberate act of violence against the LGBTQ community. We've made such progress here in the last 30 years on LGBTQ issues. To see someone do something like this took me by surprise."

"Kudos to the Delray Beach Police Department for swiftly identifying and arresting this hateful criminal," Hoch added.

The city had just unveiled the mural two days before the incident, according to law enforcement, and paid north of $16,000 for its creation.

Jerich could now be subject to heightened penalties imposed by Florida's new GOP-backed "anti-riot" law signed back in April. As WPEC's Sam Kerrigan noted: "When it comes to this case, the key here is that this new anti-riot law also stops someone from damaging historic property or a memorial. And under the law, this new Pride mural in Delray Beach, here, qualifies as a memorial because it's dedicated to the lives lost in the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando."

Hoch, too, suggested that Jerich could be charged under the new GOP measure.

Details leak from highly anticipated US government UFO report

U.S. intelligence officials reportedly found no evidence that the UFOs witnessed by Navy pilots in recent years were extraterrestrial in origin, though questions still remain about where the aircraft originated and how they appear to defy known laws of physics.

The overwhelming majority of unidentified aircraft seen by various military personnel were not related to any known U.S. government projects, the New York Times reported, citing senior officials who had reviewed a classified report acknowledging the sightings. The admission marks a sharp departure from the Pentagon's previous attempts to stifle dialogue into the string of unexplained incidents.

The report, a declassified version of which is expected to be released to Congress later this month, details a total of over 120 sightings — many of which involve incomprehensible aircraft movements. In one instance, Navy pilots caught sight of an aircraft that looked like a spinning top hovering 30,000 feet high in the East Coast. The pilots claimed that the object, which could reach hypersonic speeds, had no identifiable source of propulsion.

In another, detailed in a recently leaked Navy video recorded in 2019, an unidentified object was seen flying above the water before vanishing into the ocean.

Perhaps the most striking sighting occurred back in 2004, when two former Navy pilots were dispatched to investigate "multiple anomalous aerial vehicles" off the coast of San Diego that plummeted 80,000 feet in less than a second. "It accelerated like nothing I've ever seen," Commander David Fravor, who saw the vehicles, told the Times.

Christopher Mellon, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, said in an interview with NBC News that there was "a lot of continuity" between recent sightings and those of the past.

"What we're seeing are a number of distinct and different things," Mellon explained. "Sometimes we're seeing a 50-foot object that can travel at hypersonic speeds and seemingly go into orbit or come down from altitudes of potentially above 100,000 feet."

One official told the Times that some of the sightings could be attributed to Russian or Chinese military projects. Both countries have reportedly invested heavily in hypersonic technology — though the existence of such aircraft would suggest that their technology is far superior to anything the U.S. has developed in the field.

While the Pentagon has generally stayed mum on UFO sightings until quite recently, it has quietly been studying the phenomena for over a decade. Back in 2007 the Pentagon established the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, a project spearheaded by then-Sen. Harry Reid that reviewed unexplained radar data and video footage taken by Navy pilots and senior military officers.

The program shuttered in 2012 due to underfunding, though it was partially resurrected in 2017 under the auspices of a private group, called "To the Stars Academy," co-founded by Tom DeLonge, the guitarist for pop-punk band Blink-182.

Pentagon watchers also believe that deep in the military bureaucracy something similar to the AATIP program may still exist today, albeit in a more informal manner.

Gaetz-Greene 2024? Don't blink

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., the embattled conservative firebrand who is the subject of a thus-far-inconclusive Justice Department investigation into an alleged pattern of sexual misconduct that may include statutory rape, says he's eyeing a presidential bid in 2024 — but only if Donald Trump decides not to run.

"I support Donald Trump for president. I've directly encouraged him to run and he gives me every indication he will," Gaetz wrote in a Thursday text message to the New York Post. "If Trump doesn't run, I'm sure I could defeat whatever remains of Joe Biden by 2024."

Gaetz echoed that message on Thursday to Steve Bannon, Trump's former campaign "CEO" and White House chief strategist. "I'm for Donald Trump in 2024. This is Donald Trump's party and I'm a Donald Trump Republican," Gaetz declared. "But if for whatever reason President Trump decided to enjoy the swamps of Florida a little more than the swamps of Washington, D.C., I'm certain I could whoop Joe Biden up one side of the country and down the other. Because the people in America want passion and excitement and inspiration in the executive."

Last week, Gaetz friend and associate Joel Greenberg, a Florida tax collector, pleaded guilty to knowingly soliciting and having sex with an underage girl. Greenberg has alleged that Gaetz paid for sex with multiple women as well as a 17-year-old girl, according to a letter obtained by The Daily Beast. Recently, Gaetz's former girlfriend was said to be cooperating with investigators, though the Florida lawmaker has not been charged with a crime.

Amid the investigation, Gaetz has launched his "America First" speaking tour alongside freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who has come under recent scrutiny from both sides for comparing the House's mask mandate to the Holocaust. One prospect that appears to be tormenting many liberals on Twitter is that their joint tour could lay the groundwork for potentially nightmarish joint campaign.

Last week, during a speaking engagement in Arizona, Gaetz presented his political worldview, borrowing considerable verbiage from the Trump lexicon.

"Thousands of miles away in the swamp of Washington, they kind of hope that this was all over, that our populist little revolt would run away and no longer be a part of our national identity," Gaetz said. "Oh, we are just starting."

He continued: "It's been too many years since an inspirational President Ronald Reagan told us that it was 'morning in America again.' Too often now it seems like it's twilight for Joe Biden. If it was morning in America under Reagan, it sort of seems like naptime in America when Joe Biden is the president. I think it's about time to wake up our fellow countrymen."

An unnamed source told the Post that Gaetz may be considering a presidential campaign as a tactical maneuver designed to benefit his Republican ally, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is also said to be mulling a 2024 bid. DeSantis "might like someone else on the debate stage who can torch his opponents and lay down ground cover for him," the source claimed, adding that Gaetz has "clearly been vetted and smeared like a presidential candidate."

It remains to be seen whether Gaetz's political career will be ended or severely damaged by the continuing investigation into his alleged sex crimes. As the congressman is no doubt aware, multiple accusations of sexual assault did not prevent Donald Trump from winning the presidency in 2016.

Pushback to Trump from within his own party slowly grows louder as his 'unhinged' rantings lead to a bizarre scene

The Republican Party is finding itself increasingly fractured as more members of the GOP disavow Donald Trump despite concerns within the party that it cannot survive without him.

On Sunday, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a fierce critic of the former President and one of ten House Republicans who voted to impeach him, declared in an NBC interview that policy takes less of a priority in the GOP than one's fealty to Trump. "I think what I'm used to saying to any Republican that's maybe kind of confused by the moment we're in is policy doesn't matter anymore," he argued. "It literally is all your loyalty to Donald Trump. As I've said before, this is something that, like, echoes a little bit out of North Korea, where no matter what policy comes out, you're loyal to the guy."

The Illinois Republican went on to spell out the hypocrisy between the party's treatment of Trump and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who last week was ousted from her leadership role as the party's conference chair over her staunch criticism of the former president. Kinzinger explained that when it comes to Trump, people claim: "I don't like what Donald Trump tweets, but I like his policies, so I'm going to support him." But in the case of Cheney, people say: "Look, I like her policies, I don't like what she tweets, so she needs to leave."

"What that shows to me is an inconsistency that is built solely around allegiance to one man: Donald Trump," the lawmaker added. "And we have to recognize that as a party. And we have to recognize that four months ago we allowed, basically, the narrative to lead to an insurgency on January 6. And until we take ownership of that, we can't heal."

Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan echoed Kinzinger on Sunday when he said during a CNN "State of the Union" interview that Cheney's ouster was "kind of doubling down on failure."

"Liz Cheney is a solid conservative Republican who voted with the president 93 percent of the time," Hogan said. "I thought she just stood up and told the truth and said exactly what she thought. We've lost the White House, the House, the Senate over the past four years, and to continue to do the exact same thing and expect a different result is the definition of insanity."

Trump has also seen some defection from his inner circle. On Sunday, Trump's former White House adviser, Alyssa Farah, indicated that she would not support him in his potential 2024 presidential bid, signaling an allegiance with Cheney.

"The GOP is careening down a strategically unwise path and morally reprehensible one, to be completely candid with you," she said in an interview with MSNBC's Mehdi Hasan. "Liz Cheney did the right thing. We shouldn't condemn people for simply telling the facts. Like, facts matter, she did the right thing. But that shouldn't be brave or heroic but just what our leaders do."

Farah added: "But there's a perception we care more about loyalty to the former president and wanting to gloss over the election and Jan 6. My unsolicited advice to my fellow Republicans would be: the truth tends to come to the top. It's better to address it now, come to grips with what went wrong, and accept it. Because we're going to be dealing with it in the midterms and 2024."

Farah reportedly left the Trump administration back in December of last year, prior to the Capitol riot on January 6. In February, just ahead of Trump's impeachment trial, Farah questioned the constitutionality of proceeding, instead suggesting that the former president should be censured.

Trump has also seen some pushback from his own party in Arizona, where an extremely questionable GOP-led recount in Maricopa County is being held to determine the validity of President Biden's presidential win. On Saturday, Trump baselessly alleged that Arizona Senate's election auditors found an "unbelievable Election crime."

"The entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been DELETED!" the former President exclaimed in a statement.

Maricopa county recorder Stephen Richer immediately demurred Trump's claim as "unhinged."

"I'm literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen," he tweeted. "Right now. We can't indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country. This is as readily falsifiable as 2+2=5."

The Maricopa County board of supervisors has been vehemently pushing back against Trump's claims of foul play.

'Bizarre, shameful and untrue': Clinton comes to Biden's defense after generals attack his health

Over 120 retired military generals and admirals penned an open letter questioning the legitimacy of President Biden's win in the 2020 election and whether the president has the mental fitness required to perform his job.

"Without fair and honest elections that accurately reflect the 'will of the people' our Constitutional Republic is lost," the signatories wrote, per their letter first obtained by Politico.

"Election integrity demands insuring there is one legal vote cast and counted per citizen," they continued. "Legal votes are identified by State Legislature's approved controls using government IDs, verified signatures, etc. Today, many are calling such commonsense controls 'racist' in an attempt to avoid having fair and honest elections. Using racial terms to suppress proof of eligibility is itself a tyrannical intimidation tactic."

The signatories, which have declared themselves part of the Flag Officers 4 America – a group of retired military officers that have pledged "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic" – include Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, who is running for senate in New Hampshire; Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin, the former deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence for former President George W. Bush; Vice Adm. John Poindexter, the former national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan; and Army Maj. Gen. Joe Arbuckle, a Vietnam War veteran.

"Under a Democrat Congress and the Current Administration," they argued, "our Country has taken a hard left turn toward Socialism and a Marxist form of tyrannical government which must be countered now by electing congressional and presidential candidates who will always act to defend our Constitutional Republic."

The cohort also took aim at President Biden's fitness, saying his "mental and physical condition … cannot be ignored."

They continued: "He must be able to quickly make accurate national security decisions involving life and limb anywhere, day or night. Recent Democrat leadership's inquiries about nuclear code procedures sends a dangerous national security signal to nuclear armed adversaries, raising the question about who is in charge. We must always have an unquestionable chain of command."

During the 2020 campaign trail, former President Trump routinely referred to Biden as "Sleepy Joe" and "Slow Joe," alluding to Biden's various public gaffes, which some speculated were due to a stutter. It goes without saying that Trump himself was a purveyor of a great many gaffes during that time as well.

Earlier this month, the president's personal physician, Dr. Kevin O'Connor, affirmed that Biden was in good health for his age and is "fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency."

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton took to Twitter to call the letter "bizarre, shameful, and untrue."

The letter also regurgitated timeworn conservative talking points about security at the border and the military prowess of China. "Establishing cooperative relations with the Chinese Communist Party emboldens them to continue progress toward world domination, militarily, economically, politically and technologically," it read. "We must impose more sanctions and restrictions to impede their world domination goal and protect America's interests."

On immigration, the ex-military officials went on to write: "Illegals are flooding our Country bringing high economic costs, crime, lowering wages, and illegal voting in some states. We must reestablish border controls and continue building the wall while supporting our dedicated border control personnel. Sovereign nations must have controlled borders."

The letter sounded alarms amongst military experts, as well as officials in the Biden administration, according to Politico, considering those in the military are instructed to remain as apolitical as possible.

"We've seen isolated statements from retired generals and admirals like McChrystal or McRaven, but this statement is the first full-blown partisan attack from a large group of retired officers that is not explicitly tied to an election or specific issue," Jim Golby, a senior fellow at the Clements Center for National Security at The University of Texas at Austin, told Politico.

"I think it hurts the military and by extension it hurts the country," echoed retired Adm. Mike Mullen.

The letter comes amid a national effort led by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to root out right-wing extremism within the ranks of the military. In late April, it was reported that at least 52 active or retired military, law enforcement, or government service employees were connected to the violent breach of the Capitol on January 6.

Right-wing funders are waging war to keep dark money secret — and some liberals are joining them

More than a decade ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its historic ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, opening the door for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political causes (although not directly to political candidates). As corrosive as that decision was to democracy, it came with a slight proviso. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: while "the Government may not suppress [corporate] speech altogether," it may "regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements." Citizens United found, in other words, that corporations could spend without limit, but government had a right to force public disclosure that spending to the public.

Since then, it's become abundantly clear that money in politics takes numerous forms, far beyond the obvious subterfuge of a corporation donating to a political action committee that then funds a political candidate. In the nonprofit world, big-money donors pump hundreds of millions into politically-motivated 501(c) organizations, which are not required to disclose their donors. Those groups then funnel this money into patently political ventures, even though they are technically forbidden from engaging in significant lobbying. That two-step process describes the phenomenon known as "dark money," which allows wealthy individuals and corporations to exert enormous influence on the political system behind a veil of anonymity.

Last year alone, more than $1 billion in dark money was spent in the 2020 election, a record high. Contrary to some people's assumptions, "both sides" actually do it — dark money flows to and from Democrats as well as Republicans. In truth, anonymous money has been part of America's political bloodstream for decades now, but not until relatively recently has the debate around it rose to a national level. Last month, in the first major case of its kind since Citizens United, the issue of nonprofit donor disclosure returned to the highest court in the land.

In this case, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta (consolidated with another, functionally identical case, Thomas More Law Center v. Bonta) the Supreme Court will decide whether political nonprofits can be compelled to disclose who their largest donors are. This case in question specifically concerns donor disclosure rules in California, but its implications are unmistakably nationwide. And while the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and the Christian-oriented Thomas More Center are distinctly right-wing in ideological terms, they have some surprising allies before the high court.

As things work now, the IRS annually collects from every nonprofit a form called Schedule B, which lists the personal information of each nonprofit's largest donors. The stated legal purpose is to regulate or prevent various financial crimes like fraud and money laundering. California is unique in requiring nonprofits to submit their Schedule B forms to the state attorney general's office — if they want to keep on raising tax-deductible donations.

To be clear, California collects the information, but does not release it to the public. But this seemingly innocuous bureaucratic regulation has sent shockwaves throughout the conservative nonprofit world — not to mention a number of liberal-leaning or civil-libertarian nonprofits as well, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the ACLU and the Human Rights Campaign.

Broadly speaking, the strange coalition of plaintiffs in the Americans for Prosperity argue that the state's interest in collecting Schedule B's — which, once again, would not be made publicly accessible — does not outweigh the burden that the law would impose upon them. They further argue that this burden may be acute for nonprofits that advocate for or against controversial causes, like abortion. Furthermore, the plaintiffs have argued that if their donors are unmasked — by means of a hack or leak, for instance — these donors could be at risk of severe reprisal, causing a chilling effect on future donations.

John Bursch, vice president of appellate advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative-libertarian group, told Salon in an interview he sees this as "a free association problem."

"Whether it's a conservative organization or a liberal or progressive organization," Bursch said, "they all recognize that publicly exposing donors to groups that engage in public advocacy risks chilling — causing people to not donate, or to donate below thresholds where they won't appear on a Schedule B."

Bursch currently represents the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian conservative legal nonprofit that briefly embraced Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the presidential election and is now battling on behalf of donor privacy. He alleges that there have been several cases when donors have felt threatened because of their connections to Americans for Prosperity Foundation or Thomas More. Court documents detail purported instances of doxing, death threats and even assassination attempts. It's worth noting that the plaintiffs also fear "economic reprisal," such as boycotts or criticism of their businesses, activities that are clearly legal and constitutionally protected expressions of free speech.

To make their case, the plaintiffs draw upon an unlikely parallel: the Supreme Court's seminal 1958 ruling in NAACP v. Alabama, where the justices found that Alabama officials could not force the NAACP to turn over its membership list due to the possibility of violent public retaliation against its members.

At the time of that decision, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote that the NAACP had made "an uncontroverted showing" that the "revelation of the identity of its rank-and-file members has exposed these members to economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and other manifestations of public hostility." Alabama's effort to expose NAACP members was largely understood by racial justice advocates as a clear attempt to dismantle the civil-rights group through the use of racial terror.

Bursch acknowledged that the historical circumstances around NAACP do not resemble those of the current case, but insisted, "To think that [Thomas More] donors might not face life or death is not really accurate."

Unsurprisingly, many critics of the corrosive force of money in politics reject any comparison between the cases. In a statement to Salon, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., drily observed "an enormous gap between the Supreme Court case cited by petitioners — a civil rights-era decision where NAACP members had reason to fear state-sanctioned bombings, assassinations and other violence — and the problem of billionaires secretly running dark-money-funded political covert ops in our country."

Daniel Weiner, deputy director of the Brennan Center's Election Reform Program, echoed that analysis in an interview with Salon: "I always pause at any contemporary actor analogizing themselves to the NAACP in the South in 1958. And that includes folks on the right and left. AFP, whether or not it is right on the merits, represents some of the most powerful interests in the country. This is not comparable to the NAACP in the South prior to the civil rights movement."

There's another important difference between the two cases: While the plaintiffs in the Americans for Prosperity case are alleging a largely hypothetical risk of reprisal, they are demanding a result that in goes further than in the NAACP decision. As Vox's Ian Millhiser explained, "the plaintiffs insist that they are entitled to facial relief — meaning that the state's disclosure rule must be tossed out for all nonprofits, regardless of whether donors to those nonprofits face harassment, or even if they want to keep their donations secret."

Weiner said that a universal ban on mandatory donor disclosures is not warranted, arguing that the plaintiffs' case goes no further than claiming "that the law should not be applied to them. It's hard to see how all this adds up to 'the law is facially invalid,' which is a really sweeping position to take in light of a couple incidents."

Bursch responded that Americans for Prosperity "is precisely the type of case where a facial ruling would be appropriate," saying, "It's almost nonsensical to suggest that thousands of charities should have to individually sue California to keep their donor information confidential."

Even though California has no plans to release "dark money" donors' names, Bursch argues there is still likely to be a chilling effect, claiming that the state does not maintain a secure record-keeping system and leaves an "open door" for hackers. It's true that in 2012, a Schedule B for Planned Parenthood was leaked in California, potentially revealing hundreds of donors' names and addresses. But such occurrences have been rare.

As mentioned above, nonprofit donor disclosure is a particularly hot topic when it comes to dark money, which typically moves through 501(c)(4) nonprofits, or "social welfare organizations," which collect money from anonymous donors and then spend it on campaigns or candidates on said donors' behalf.

Americans for Prosperity Foundation, however, is a (501)(c)(3), meaning that in order to preserve its tax-exempt status, it's supposed to designate its funds for "charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals," according to IRS rules. However, Americans for Prosperity, the group's sister organization, is a 501(c)(4), meaning that it can more significantly engage in political advocacy and lobbying — largely in favor of reduced taxes, deregulation and other business-friendly policies — and has done so vigorously.

Bursch claimed earnestly that dark money has "nothing" to do with the current Supreme Court case, reminding this reporter that 501(c)(3) charities like AFPF are barred by federal law "from participating in any political advocacy, which is where the dark money issue arises." Explaining the relationship between Americans for Prosperity and its affiliated foundation, he said, "My understanding is that the 501(c)(3) can't fund the 501(c)(4). So,although they share a name and perhaps some common goals, the work they engage in is completely different. You can't cross those lines."

AFP did not respond to Salon's request to comment on its relationship with AFPF, which has been known to cross some lines. In 2010, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee accused AFPF of financing blatantly political commercials that criticized the Obama administration, alleging that the ads "made the Americans for Prosperity Foundation a de facto political action group in violation of the federal tax code," according to the New York Times.

Bursch said that he believed or understood that AFP and AFPF had a "different office, different directors, different employees and different purposes." In fact, a comparison of AFP and AFPF's 2018 tax filings shows that a significant number of officers, directors, trustees and key employees work at both entities, including Nancy Pfotenhauer, Mark Holden, Robert Heaton, Emily Seidel, Slade O'Brien and various others.

Supplemental information on AFPF's filings also states that "certain employees of Americans for Prosperity Foundation may perform services for Americans for Prosperity, a related organization, through a service contract between the organizations." (This relationship also goes the other way.) AFPF is additionally listed as AFP's "direct controlling entity," a designation whose legal meaning is not entirely clear but certainly suggests an intimate relationship.

Not all contributors to political nonprofits count as "dark money donors," to be sure. Some are ordinary citizens, no doubt, genuinely interested in contributing to what they believe are nonpartisan endeavors. But it's precisely the lack of donor disclosure that makes the whole process opaque.

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., a staunch critic of money in politics, affirmed the need for more effective disclosure in light of the AFP and AFPF's purposefully mysterious relationship. "Because we're dealing with dark money, we don't really know the relationship between AFPF and AFP," he said. "When a 501(c)(3) gives money to a 501(c)(4) to engage in electioneering activities, that's what dark money is all about." (Salon could not find clear evidence that money has flowed from AFPF to AFP, let alone how it might have been used.)

"The Federalist Society and the Federalist Society Foundation both share the same goals and aspirations," Johnson expressed. "People are trying to exert influence. That's the reason why they contribute to these organizations that have a political agenda."

'It's basically the Titanic': Republican dissent grows louder as GOP preps for a NeverTrump purge

Anti-Trump detractors of the GOP are growing louder in their criticisms of Donald Trump, even as the party grows increasingly hostile toward anyone that breaks from absolute praise for the former president.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

On Sunday, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., likened the Republican Party to the Titanic amid the internal battle currently being waged against Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., for her anti-Trump record. Reports have speculated that the Republican Party is planning to oust Cheney as chairwoman of the House Republican Conference and replace her with budding GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y.

"Right now, it's basically the Titanic," Kinzinger warned in a CBS interview on "Face the Nation."

"We're like, you know, in the middle of this slow sink. We have a band playing on the deck telling everybody it's fine. And meanwhile, as I've said, you know, Donald Trump's running around trying to find women's clothing and get on the first lifeboat."

Kinzinger acknowledged that "there's a few of us that are just saying, 'Guys, this is not good,' not just for the future of the party, but this is not good for the future of this country."

The Illinois representative also took specific aim at House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who Kinzinger said quickly changed his tune about who is to blame for the Capitol riot.

"Liz Cheney is saying exactly what Kevin McCarthy said the day of the insurrection. She's just consistently been saying it," Kinzinger explained. "We have so many people including our leadership in the party that have not admitted that this is what it is, which was an insurrection led by the president of the United States, well-deserving of a full accounting from Republicans."

The congressman concluded that his party must have "an internal look and a full accounting as to what led to Jan. 6" and "quit peddling in conspiracies."

Kinzinger, one of the ten House Republicans that broke party ranks and voted to impeach Trump following the Capitol riot, has been a vocal apostate of the Republican Party since Trump's departure from office. In March, Kinzinger launched a super PAC dedicated to supporting anti-Trump Republicans in the 2022 elections, called "Americans Keeping Country First."

Kinzinger's comments came just as Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan drew upon yet another metaphor to describe the madness of his own party. On Sunday, Hogan called the GOP "a circular firing squad" hellbent on excommunicating any member who dares utter a modicum of criticism against the former president.

In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Hogan addressed Cheney's potential ouster. "It just bothers me that you have to swear fealty to the dear leader or you get kicked out of the party, it just doesn't make any sense," Hogan lamented. "It's sort of a circular firing squad where we're just attacking members of our own party instead of focusing on solving problems or standing up and having an argument that we can debate the Democrats on some of the things that the Biden administration is pushing through."

He concluded: "We had the worst four years we've had ever in the Republican Party losing the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate."

Echoing Kinzinger, Hogan shamed his colleagues for brushing the Capitol riot under the rug and not pinning enough blame on the former president.

Many party veterans have argued that the GOP will need to let go of Trump in order to build a broader coalition for the next cycle of elections. Others have suggested that Trump's effect on the American psyche will be extremely difficult to shake off.

"It's becoming increasingly difficult, it seems, for people to go out on the stump and defend somebody like Liz Cheney or Mitt Romney," said former Senator Jeff Flake, who was censured by the GOP this year. "About 70 percent of Republicans probably genuinely believe that the election was stolen, and that's debilitating. It really is."

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